playing a lot of Sim City 4 doing a lot of job hunting and applying to schools lately, but every now and then my mind wanders to fun times gone by, and the current fiscal crisis triggers within my mind fond memories of an urban planning strategy game I played last night many years ago called Sim City.
This game taught me a lot of things about taxation and budget-crisis management which may be useful for Congress to know.
I understand our Congress’ dilemna. The issue is overwhelming, as well as the lengths to which they must go to compromise, considering the House majority’s position is “we will do anything but compromise.” They made a pledge to their constituents, or to a fat guy named Grover, or to themselves. And so their natural inclination is to walk away, which I totally get, since when I have too much work I am more likely to take a nap than I am to accomplish anything.
But I think Sim City can help. Here are some important lessons I learned from the game, and how they can apply to the budget crisis in Washington.
1. You can’t balance a budget by just cutting shit:
In Sim City, there are a lot of social services you can provide, and they are expensive: education, health, etc. But these services are the only reason people are in your city in the first place. Get rid of them, and people just start to leave your city. Your roads suck. Fires start all the time and there’s nobody to put them out.
This makes your cutting useless because then the property taxes go down as the population goes down.
So basically, no matter what most people say about deficits, they don’t actually want you to cut programs.
Now, people can’t just up and leave the United States like they can Dormanville II, but they CAN not get a job, or a good education, and then have no skills so they can make enough money to pay enough taxes to generate revenue.
So you can’t just cut things.
2. Taxing industry is easier than taxing commerce or individual income.
Ironically, Sim City is conservative in that it really punishes mayors who put high taxes on rich people, as individuals. They just up and leave your city, “Atlas Shrugged” style.
HOWEVER, if you tax corporations, who Mitt Romney says are “people” but are really not people, things don’t really change much. Obviously, if you do something crazy, like double or triple the tax rate for industry, they can’t afford to stay in your city. Many new businesses are discouraged. But if you raise it slightly, it has a much smaller affect. And if you have a lot of industry, it really helps to balance the budget.
What does this mean for the real world USA? Well, Sim City makes a big distinction between commercial enterprises (like a mall) and dirty industry (like a factory). The Sim City gods seem to be saying that heavy or dirty industry is too large and/or too entrenched to be affected by small swings in the tax rates, at least EXISTING COMPANIES.
But there is a big environmental relationship to this as well. Heavy industry in Sim City is very costly as it destroys the land value around it and forces you to pay for things like water treatment plants to help offset the cost of the environmental degradation. Heavy taxation of industry in the game is seen not only as a way to offset such destruction, but also to encourage cleaner companies, like high-tech, instead of the former.
This is a great thing to remember as we try to look to the future. It might be helpful to remind our Congressmen that for any number of reasons (unnecessary to recite here) we should be trying to move away from fossil fuels, particularly in our energy sector, and heavy-polluting industries. They should have to pay for the hidden costs that often they can put on future generations, and more importantly, that in turn should cause us, as a nation, to more seriously consider moving towards a future that values sustainability and efficiency.
That means, hey douchebags, stop fantasizing about a giant pipeline, or horizontal gas drilling, or any of these short-sighted homoerotic nods to the oil and gas industry.
Instead, how about a carbon tax?
3. Balancing the budget takes a long time.
In Sim City, the only way to cut costs AND maintain a good city is to start general trends, and not try to fix the budget in one cycle. In Sim City, that means slogging through, say, an hour or more of play, waiting to finally finish paying off loans and having your city on financially sound footing again.
In real-time, that might mean trying to figure out deals that work on time scales of more than a decade.
The shrill, apocalyptic nature of the budget talks, which the media eats up, is disingenuous and unproductive.
Fiscal cliff? How about “opportunity to gently reduce the bottomless pit of debt so we are fiscally solvent by the year 2172”?
I don’t think I have anything else to add here.
4. If you are responsible for fucking up the budget, you pay the price.
That’s right, Paul Ryan. And friends. Obama inherited a deficit, it’s not HIS fault he’s stuck with one. You guys were around when there was a surplus, and YOU created a deficit. YOU and YOU and YOU!!!! You are the assholes who caused the crisis, you should do the honorable thing and admit that it’s time for new leadership on the issue.
The Democrats, in large part, HAVE paid the price of their complicity in the matter. So many of them lost their jobs in 2010 because of spending issues, among other things.
But a really neat trick was pulled by many politicians, where all the problems of the Bush years were placed on the shoulders of Bush and only Bush, and when he disappeared, so did any responsibility for those issues. The Iraq war? The deficit? All on Obama. It was as if the people in Congress who authorized such things have no responsibility to run on their record.
Sure, many conservatives are new to Congress, the Tea Party, etc, but their leaders aren’t. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, basically everybody with visibility on this issue over the past month has blood on their hands. Or just red ink.
So my humble recommendation: do the right thing, admit you suck and raise taxes on the rich again, then allow yourself to be primaried out by a more conservative or more ethnic Republican next election cycle, and live out your life in shame.
Is that such a difficult request?
It’s simple. Cut everything. Or at least, everything that isn’t the military.
Just think about it.
Why do we need public education? I barely attended school, I sure didn’t learn nothing, and I sure didn’t need to go to some fancy college to not-learn some more. Although the women’s colleges are a good place to hang out and sit on a bench and have a smoke for a few hours.
All the education you need is in the fields. In your daddy’s fireside wisdom. In the thrill of the hunt.
Okay, so maybe you need a rifle. The government should probably provide free guns. But that’s about it.
If we educated ourselves with the wisdom of the outdoors, if we finally embraced our internal intuition, our understanding of good old American know-how, we wouldn’t need fire departments or police because we would know how to put out our own fires.
We wouldn’t get sick because we’d eat the right amount of meat and not this tofu shit in the stores and we’d know the right herbs and spices to stay alive in case of cardiac arrest. We’d be able to police ourselves with our guns and our guts.