Where can I find resources for using Fiscal Ship in the classroom?

Visit teach.fiscalship.org for lesson plans and resources for teachers.

How did you define “fiscal sustainability?”

We define fiscal sustainability as lowering the ratio of the federal debt held by the public to the gross domestic product in 2042 from a projected 126% to 75%, roughly where it is today. Although there is no consensus on just how much debt is “sustainable,” experts generally agree that the current trajectory of ever-rising debt is economically risky. To be sure, some economists and some politicians argue that reducing the debt/GDP ratio to 75% over the next 25 years is not enough.

How did you come up with 25-year baseline projections and what did you assume to make them?

We built our 25-year baseline from Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections for revenues, outlays and deficits assuming current law. We construct our baseline—that is, a projection for the debt assuming no changes in tax or spending laws—by beginning with the most recent CBO 10-year estimates, and then extending each component of the budget those at the growth rates assumed in the most recent longer-term CBO outlook.

How did you put a price tag on the various tax and spending options?

Policy options in the Fiscal Ship come from a wide range of sources: CBO’s Options for Reducing the Deficit, proposed legislation in congress, presidential budgets, other think tanks, and government agencies. Wherever possible, we begin with cost estimates from CBO, the Office of Management and Budget, the Social Security Administration, or the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center. These estimates typically cover 5 to 10 years. We extend them to 25 years. Hutchins Center staff developed cost estimates for policies not scored by these organizations. All estimates are approximate.

Who picked the tax and spending options and how did you decide which to include?

The Hutchins Center staff, with input from our advisory committee, chose the options. We aim to include policies most discussed by budget experts and policy wonks and those most frequently mentioned by presidential candidates or policymakers. We do not pretend this is a comprehensive list; rather, we want to offer a wide range of options to both reduce and increase spending from projected levels and to raise and cut taxes.

What is a governing goal?

Governing goals represent the player’s priorities for government. While there are many other issues or values that may be important to players, we chose ten to represent a variety of common values:

  • Reduce Inequality: The disparity between Americans who have the most and the least income is growing, mirrored by disparities in in education, health, and family structure. You want to narrow the widening gaps in incomes and well-being at the top and the bottom.
  • Strengthen National Defense: Projections of current policies show defense spending, measured as a share of the economy, falling over the next decade and then plateauing. You’d bolster the U.S. military by providing it with more personnel and more arms. (To reach fiscal sustainability, you’ll have to pay for these somehow.)
  • Fight Climate Change: You want to use government policies to promote a cleaner, healthier environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the damage that global climate change could cause.
  • Strengthen Social Safety Net: You believe it’s important for the federal government to give a hand up to those in poverty and protect those at risk of falling down the income ladder when times are tough. You want to expand and protect programs that protect the vulnerable.
  • Tax Cutter: You believe lower taxes will boost economic growth and want to allow Americans to keep more of what they earn. Your goal is to substantially reduce federal tax revenues as a share of the economy. (To reach fiscal sustainability, you’ll have to cut spending, too.)
  • Shrink Government: You believe that we’re better off with a leaner federal government, shifting responsibilities to the private, non-profit and state and local sectors. Spending on general government operations and federal programs (other than health and retirement benefits) is projected under current policy to decline over the next decade. You’d reduce it more.
  • Protect the Elderly: Under current policy, about 60% of the increase in federal spending over the next decade will go to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other major health programs, much of that for the growing number of people who will be over age 65. You want to protect benefits for senior citizens.
  • Invest in the Future: You believe in planting seeds today that will be harvested in years to come. You want policies to increase, above what’s currently projected, government and private investment in children and young adults and in education, infrastructure and research that will pay off in the future. (To reach fiscal sustainability, you’ll have to pay for these somehow).
  • Fiscal Hawk: You’re not satisfied with restraining the projected increase in the federal debt so that in 25 years it’s roughly where it is today, measured as a share of the overall economy. To put the government and the economy on a sounder footing, you want to reduce it substantially below today’s levels.
  • Rein in Entitlements: Spending on retirement, health and other government benefits, much of that for the elderly, account for two-thirds of non-interest spending today and threaten to squeeze out spending on everything else—from equipping soldiers with modern gear to repairing old bridges to pursuing cures for cancer. You want to restrain this spending to make room for other priorities.
  • Donald Trump’s Priorities: The President has fresh ideas to stimulate the American economy and protect its interests at home and abroad. You want to see the policies he talked about on his campaign brought to fruition.

How did you decide what policies give you credit toward your governing goals?

For each goal, we selected from the policy options in the game those that we judged would take the country closer to or further from the goal, weighting them to reflect the fact that different policies affect the goals to varying degrees.

I got a notification that I couldn’t win the game with my governing goal combination. Why not?

Among the possible combinations of governing goals, most have at least one winning set of policies. However, a small number of combinations exist that make earning three stars for each goal and lowering projected debt to today’s level essentially impossible. Many of these combinations include the Tax Cutter goal for one simple reason: the more you decrease revenue, the harder it is to decrease the debt. Doing so requires you to decrease spending even more to make up for losses in revenue. In the real world, you might be able to find or create policies that could make it possible to reach all the goals and reduce the debt, but in the game we limited the policy options to those most discussed by budget experts and policy wonks and those most frequently mentioned by presidential candidates.

Why didn’t you use “dynamic scoring,” that is, incorporate the impact of tax and spending policies on the pace of economic growth?

dynamic scoring is very difficult to do well, and impossible to do for all but the biggest changes in policy. The CBO and Joint Tax Committee of Congress are now required to estimate these effects, but only on very large pieces of legislation, such as immigration reform. Creating a dynamic score for each of the 100-plus policies in the game would be an immense challenge and likely produce bad estimates.

How did you choose policies for the Trump governing goals?

We identified a number of tax and spending policies that are similar to those supported by Donald Trump. Choosing one of these policies gives you points towards achieving Donald Trump’s priorities, and towards other governing goals that the policy impacts. The policies in the game may not precisely reflect those advocated by Trump during the campaign or from the White House. Moreover the game does not include all the policies that the president has endorsed. But we believe they properly reflect the scope of the President’s interests and the legislations he has pushed forward since the beginning of his campaign.

Who built the game?

The Hutchins Center at Brookings and the Woodrow Wilson Center, both non-partisan and independent non-profit institutions, created The Fiscal Ship and are solely responsible for its content. We solicited advice from an advisory committee that represents a broad spectrum of political views. The game itself was built by 1st Playable Productions of Troy, N.Y.

Who paid for the game?

We are grateful to our funders – the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Lounsbery Foundation. They exercised no editorial control over the game, and neither approve or disapprove of the content or the choices we made.

Can the game be played on a mobile phone?

Yes. The game is playable on phones, tablets, and desktops.

What data do you collect, and what do you do with it?

The Fiscal Ship tracks limited personal and gameplay data while you play the game. We do this in order to improve the game, and to aggregate and share with the public the kinds of choices players make during the game.

  • We use Google analytics to track player’s service provider, player’s internet protocol address, and information about how you arrived at the game’s website.
  • We track the goals and policies you choose and the order you choose them in
  • We track how long you play the game and if you finish the game
  • We may share the aggregated data with researchers and journalists.
  • We will not use this information to identify individuals.
  • We will not obtain personally-identifying information about you when you visit our site, unless you choose to provide such information.

For more details please view our Privacy Policy.