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The Fiscal Ship as a teaching tool

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Vivien Lee

Senior Research Assistant - Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy, The Brookings Institution

Finn Schuele

Senior Research Assistant - Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy, The Brookings Institution

The Fiscal Ship challenges you to put the federal budget on a sustainable course. Measured as a share of gross domestic product, the federal debt is higher than at any time since the end of World War II and projected to climb to unprecedented levels. America is looking at a permanent, growing mismatch between revenues and spending, and policymakers are faced with difficult decisions about how to reconcile important government priorities—including retirement and health benefits promised to the growing number of old folks—with the tax revenues that the current tax code will yield. Today’s tax code won’t yield enough revenue to pay for basic services of government plus the retirement and health benefits promised to the growing number of old folks. So your mission is to pick from a menu of tax and spending options to reduce the debt from projected levels over the next 25 years. Small changes to spending and taxes won’t suffice. The choices are difficult, but the goal is achievable. But budget decisions aren’t only about fiscal sustainability. They also shape the kind of country we live in. To win the game, you need to find a combination of policies that match your values and priorities AND set the budget on a sustainable course.

The Fiscal Ship emphasizes that budgeting is more than a spreadsheet with pluses and minuses. One of the main reasons we created The Fiscal Ship was to help students understand the federal budget, because budgeting isn’t just about numbers. It’s also about priorities. If you’re a teacher, you can use The Fiscal Ship as an interactive and engaging lesson plan. Whether your students are studying civics, government, or economics, The Fiscal Ship can help them discover what policies they support, what those policies cost, and the tradeoffs involved in governing.

Download the full Fiscal Ship game guide here.

The Fiscal Ship is produced by the Hutchins Center at Brookings and the Serious Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson Center. We solicited advice from an advisory committee that represents a broad spectrum of political views. We are grateful to our funders, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Lounsbery Foundation. Brookings and the Wilson Center are solely responsible for the game; neither the advisory group nor the funders had approval or veto power over its content.

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