Budget Hero

Budget HeroScreen Shot from the Marketplace Web site.

It’s next to impossible to find an economist who will support a gas tax holiday, but cutting the gas tax altogether is an option in Budget Hero, a surprisingly entertaining online game that puts you in charge of balancing the federal budget.

Based on budget models from the Congressional Budget Office, Budget Hero starts by asking you to outline three priorities (say, defense, social safety net, and energy independence).

You are scored by how well your taxing and spending strategy meets your priorities, and how long it takes for your budget to go bust.

Let us know how you do!


"The assumptions are generally wrong in the system. It's based on zero sum assumptions, cut taxes = less income, raise taxes = more income. It Completely ignores the taxes' effect on the economy."

It also ignores spending's effect on the economy. I'm sure that government spending on benefits, infrastructure, low income tax cuts and other things would have much more stimulus effect than equal cuts for the rich. But that stuff is so hotly debated that I'm not sure they could make a judgment call without taking heat.

And in that vein of reasoning, I think the game prevents dramatic changes to SS, health care, them military, and pretty much everything. I mean, cutting SS while cutting payroll taxes would just eliminate the "insurance effect" of having that pooled safety net, rather than creating any free lunch net gains in economic growth. So the game only lets you operate on the fringes.

It is more of an educational tool than a policy game, focused on letting you get a sense of proportion of what things really cost and what the budget situations really are for each item.


Mark O

The game uses static budgeting which makes the game unrealistic past the first year, and even suspect in the first year.

Quentin We

What I found most interesting in the comparison section is that the year of the budget bust decreases steadily as age goes up, from 2060 at age 20 to 2033 for those in their 70s (with 80 and above an exception, perhaps due to the minuscule population size). I guess Americans are more concerned with their own prosperity versus their children's, despite what they may say.


Great game...and good thing I'm not in politics!


I would like to see Barack Obama's health care costs on the site. I do not think it will be as expensive as the one they currently have on the site and I would put it in my budget.


This isn't a game but success is not too difficult.

1) Get out of Iraq and cut war spending by 60%. (Face facts - you don't have a "defense" department)

2) Increase taxes on all non renewable energy sources to European levels within 5 years.

3) Recognize that the 15% of GNP spent on health care is a TAX and 1/3 is wasted by insurance company bureaucracy and lobbyists. Get a single payer system like EVERY other country worth emulating and save a bundle.

4) Eliminate all earmarks and publicly hang all corporate lobbyists and any politician that tries to sneak pork into any bill.

5) Don't ever vote Republican again but establish a true CONSERVATIVE party not beholden to racists, fundamentalists, tax evaders and the anti abortion crowd. Pass legislation that keep these scum away from the polls.


The best part is the end, where you get to see the choices that different groups made (republicans, democrats, greens, independents..).

The most popular choices among the varied groups -

- Cut military spending by 10%
- Bring the trips home soon
- Cut social security for the wealthy
- Eliminate pork barrel projects
- Increase mass transit


I did competitive advantage, smaller government, and energy independence.

I cut debt down to 18%
I delayed the budget past 2070
Shrank the government
Ran a surplus

It's pretty easy to add value to the US economy if you know where to put your money and what taxes to add/remove.


On my first attempt, I managed to:
- Cut the budget deficit to $1.7T by 2018
- Delay the budget bust to year 2070+
- Reduce the federal budget (size of government) government to 18.6% of GDP

All you slackers counting on social security and Medicare benefits at a tender age of 65 would be disappointed in my plans.


is it me, or does the long term outlook of the CBO show that there is no projected shortfall for social security?- thus belying the republican and Obama's lobbying for SS 'reform'- medicare, on the other hand.... (cue the Jaws music)


I had already played that before. Let's see if I can find my report.

I reduced debt from 37.7% to 7.5%
Delayed budget bust to 2070+
Shrank the government size from 20% to 17.6%
Got green, health & wellness, Efficient gov't badges.


The assumptions are generally wrong in the system. It's based on zero sum assumptions, cut taxes = less income, raise taxes = more income. It Completely ignores the taxes' effect on the economy.


So, debt less than 12% of GDP in 2018 and government spending less than 16.5%.

I'm a downsizer.

dePaul Consiglio

Regarding Defense I would use a condom.
Regarding a Social Safety Net I would still use a condom.
And regarding Energy Independence I would buy stock in NBC.

dePaul Consiglio


A nice review/critique from talented game author Emily Short:


Able to push budget bursting back till 2056. However, in order to do that, I had to enact more taxes which made my skin crawl. I am curious where they got their projections for items such health care. I doubt they fully appreciated the long term costs of an imagined single payer system. Also, I would love it if the program was more sophisticated in the manner of collecting taxes. How would replacing the income tax with a federal sales tax affect the budget? Still, a good start and should be eye-opening for those who have little clue just how friggin much money it costs to run the federal government as is.


I balanced the budget and had enough left over to fund a mission to Mars. How? The same way you beat any game: I entered the cheat codes! That's what we need to fix our nation's problems . . . cheat codes!


Reduced debt from 37.7% of GDP ($8.4T) to 13.4% ($3.0T)

Delayed budget bust to 2063

Shrank gov't from 20% of GDP ($4.4T) to 19% of GDP ($4.2T)


A topic request, if I may:

I was reminded that it's often reported that Americans carry on average something like $8000 balance on their credit card.

I'd love to see a Freakonomics perspective on this. Is it that simple: look at any given American's credit card bill, and they'll have a long-standing balance of some thousands of dollars? Or is it more complex than that? Perhaps "average" is the wrong analysis for even a simple statement? is it skewed by some particular segment of society?


The lack of a "repeal No Child Left Behind" card more or less sums up this game's biases, I think...