France to release a balance-the-national-budget video game

So, taxpayer. Sick of watching your federal politicians dig the country deeper and deeper into debt? Ever think you could balance the budget, if only they’d hand the reins over to you?

If you lived in France, you could find out for yourself — because the finance minister, Jean-François Copé, is about to release an online video game that challenges you to design France’s federal budget, and drag the country back into the black. It’s called Cyberbudget, and it’s supposed to come out any day now. As Copé told The Guardian:

“The idea is that when we cut taxes, we can’t do it without creating deficits,” Mr Copé told France 2 Television. “In this game each French person can pretend they are the budget minister and make decisions to understand how much each [ministry’s] budget costs — education spending, military spending, how it’s all organised — and see what kind of decision we can make when we want to cut taxes.”

I love it! Why doesn’t the US government do the same thing? Then everyone could compare their budgets online, or even vote for their favorite one.

Of course, this description of SimFrance elides the fact that you could never create a sim that would satisfy all political stripes. Budget assumptions are notoriously ideological. Libertarians would argue that massively detaxing capital gains would produce a blizzard of economic growth; left-wing critics say it only concentrates wealth in the hands of a few rich folks, and ultimately decreases the tax base. Since a game would have to adopt one or the other set of assumptions for its simulation of reality, it would necessarily have an ideological bent.

It reminds me of how Will Wright’s Sim City included the rule that when you increase property taxes, it drives businesses away from the city. I remember reading the manual back in the late 90s and thinking hunh? That rule seemed utterly context dependent. In New York, for example, high taxes don’t chase any businesses away; they pay astronomically high ones merely for the allure of being located in Manhattan.

(Thanks to Greg for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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