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New Intersections podcast episode explores Fiscal Ship game and US debt problem

In a new episode of the Intersections podcast, host Adrianna Pita spoke with Brookings Senior Fellows Louise Sheiner and David Wessel about the new “Fiscal Ship” interactive game that allows players to pick from a mix of tax and spending options to reduce the U.S. debt over the next 25 years. Sheiner, policy director for the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy, explained that “We set out to make this game because we think that the national debt is an important issue that budget experts talk about all the time but it is very hard for the general public to really understand, so we thought to do it in a way that is more entertaining and more fun.”

Wessel, who directs the Hutchins Center, added that one of the goals of the game is to “give people the big picture in their mind so that when some person runs for president or Congress they can say, ‘hey, this person’s numbers don’t add up.’”

Pita interviewed both scholars not only about the game, but also about the debt situation that the game illuminates. “I don’t think of [the debt] at all as a massive crisis,” Sheiner said, especially since interest rates are “incredibly low.” But, she added, “we know that there is going to be rising pressure [and] you can’t just keep on spending more forever. … So you want to be thinking about it and start preparing and gradually make changes to address the issue.”

Wessel offered his view that he’d like to see “some action on policies that wouldn’t take effect now, when the economy is still far from robust, but would begin to put in place … tax and spending policies that we think would be likely to reduce the debt in the future.” Looking ahead, Wessel said:

we see we have a problem out there in the future and we see we have a political system that seems incapable of dealing with anything that’s not immediate crisis. So I think that it’s important that we push our politicians to say that the long term budget deficit, like climate change—there’s a lot of uncertainty, the ill effects might not happen for a decade, or two, or three—but it is time to begin to put in place policies today so that we avoid the crisis in the future.

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