Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Green USA Experiment

As I mentioned last week, I've been playing the government simulation game Democracy 3.

I'd been toying around with the idea of running simulations where I try to implement the platform of each of the 2016 presidential candidates.  For my first experiment, I tried my hand at governing Green USA, with the goal of implementing as closely and fairly as I could Jill Stein's Green Party platform.

To learn the specifics on Stein's platform, I mostly read her website and several interviews. Calling her platform the Power to the People Plan, its cornerstone seems to be what she calls the Green New Deal - a massive mobilization to create "millions of jobs by investing in 100% clean renewable energy by 2030." Broadly speaking, she also supports a massive state infrastructure including free education through college, a government jobs program with guaranteed government employment as a last resort, free universal childcare, state-owned banks, and single-payer public healthcare.

She also supports ending police brutality and institutional racism within the criminal justice system, ending war, a progressive tax arrangement where the rich are taxed more than the poor and middle-class, and cutting military spending by half.

Very generally, it is a laudable ideal to want to eliminate poverty and guarantee basics such as housing, jobs, and healthcare while cutting spending that goes toward military action. On a practical level,  the platform is broad and details seem lacking on how these steps would be accomplished.

Nonetheless, I gave running Green USA a try:


This was a golden year.

I entered the first quarter of my Presidency having inherited a large debt and a polarized electorate in which conservatives and patriots outnumbered liberals and environmentalists.  Intelligence reports also indicated that extremist environmental groups were up to shenanigans due to dissatisfaction with high pollution levels.

Now, how the gameplay works is that you, as the President, get a certain level of political capital to spend in order to implement or change policies each quarter. You implement policies with the help of your Cabinet, with loyal Cabinet members having higher political capital than disloyal ones. Cabinet members remain loyal if they like the policies you implement. And, while you can fire Cabinet members, you will piss off certain voter groups (trade unionists, minorities, etc) by firing specific Cabinet members, thus losing voter approval.

So, it doesn't perfectly mimic the US legislative process, but the general idea is that, as President, you cannot walk into office and immediately implement your entire agenda without political consequence - you have to work with other people and keep them happy, while also keeping different voter groups happy.

Soooo, there are those factors.  And then there's Stein's platform.

Realizing that environmental issues are a large piece of her platform, during the first year I implemented a hybrid cars initiative, invested in biofuel and clean energy subsidies, and maxed out public investment in mass transit.  Now, in anticipation of having to start somehow paying for all this stuff, I decreased military spending by 50%, which is a specific number referenced in Stein's plan.

To touch on other aspects of the platform, I used my last bits of political capital for the year to also max out state school funding and eliminate private school vouchers (corresponding with her wish for tuition free education and an end to public school privatization). And, corresponding with Stein's disapproval of surveillance, I decreased funding for intelligence activities.

I said this was a golden year and it mostly was.  For three straight quarters, the deficit trend was reversed (the US was spending a lot of money on the military!) and we began seeing relatively small quarterly surpluses of about $35 billion (which, sadly, barely made a dent in the overall debt situation). My approval ratings went from a starting point of 30% to a high of 40%.  We also started to see reductions in poverty and improvements to the environment.


With environmental progress a-cooking, I began to tackle other issues mentioned in the Power to the People Plan. Specifically:
  • Cannabis was legalized;
  • Labor laws moved from being pro-employer to pro-union;
  • State housing funding was increased;
On the plus side, poverty continued to decline during Year 2.  However, somewhat unexpectedly, crime began to increase each quarter - possibly due to the reduction in intelligence funding?

During this year, I began to see quarterly deficits, thus beginning a downward trend.  The previous cut to military spending was not enough to cover the increased costs of new programs - particularly the state housing program. I increased income taxes to try to make up for the revenue shortfall.  

At the end of the year, Green USA's credit rating was downgraded from A to BBB.  Approval rating; 29%, a decrease. People don't like higher taxes, even if society on the whole is getting less poor.


Still seeing quarterly deficits, I used a significant amount of political capital to increase corporate and luxury goods taxes to try to make "the rich pay their fair share of taxes" (as Greens believe should be the case).  It was in Year 3 that I realized 4 years is not a lot of time to implement massive state-run programs. Green rhetoric does not leave much room, however, for incremental change.

So, more than halfway through my term at this point without having implemented a single-payer public health insurance plan, I decided to spend political capital on this endeavor so as not to break an important promise to my voters.

During implementation of the state healthcare program, the quarterly deficit grew larger, but 43% of people now approved of me, albeit with greatly diminished support among capitalists and greater support among liberals, socialists, and environmentalists. 

Even with max spending on state schools, the country now had a "brain drain" situation going on, where US talent was supposedly leaving for more hospitable capitalist countries. On the issues, we still saw increases in crime each year but improvements in the environment and health. GDP was down, a trend since the end of Year 1.

During Year 3, Green USA's credit rating dropped to BB, then B, and then C.


Desperate to raise revenue (while also benefiting the environment!), I passed a plastic bag tax, which added like $5 in revenue per year and made zero dent in the quarterly deficit.

A few of my Cabinet Ministers, particularly those with patriot and capitalist sympathies, became disloyal and had to be fired/replaced with people sympathetic to the socialist environmentalist cause.  These changes cost political capital, so I had to less to spend on policy during the final year of my first term. I also began receiving vague warnings from my "completely ineffective" intelligence services that an extremist capitalist group was on the rise.  

By the end of the final quarter in office, the country was in a debt crisis situation and my approval rating was 20%. (You need 50% approval to be re-elected - *sad trombone*).  And, this is super-melodramatic, but I was eventually attacked by that aforementioned capitalist extremist group. I guess because I had cut intelligence spending and gotten rid of surveillance while also pushing through a slew of anti-business policies.

On the upside, poverty, pollution, and homelessness were down and population health was up. The main negatives seemed to be that crime remained up, GDP was down pretty much my whole time in office, and we simply could not find a sustainable way to pay for the promised state health care, housing, environmental, and education programs. The businesses that generated tax revenue under the previous capitalist regime were either leaving the country or slowing production.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I found this experiment exceedingly difficult.  Remember - my goal wasn't to govern in what I thought the best way would be, but rather, in what I thought was most true to the candidate's platform, promises, and rhetoric. And, that's just really damn hard to do without a super detailed policy plan. So, maybe these results are way, way off.

Perhaps the biggest question I would have for any serious Green candidate is how the heck do you implement all of these programs without completely bankrupting the country. Gods, that makes me feel like such a Republican for saying out loud, but there we are.  Some of us aren't shills, we just need more than someone's word and good faith that this revolution stuff will all somehow work out just because this platform consists of mostly-noble-sounding ideals. It also seems like pushing through major policy programs within a short timeframe would lead to a lot of political instability.

What do you think? Flaws in the game's algorithms and assumptions? Yes, possibly, in my opinion (why did crime keep increasing when poverty kept decreasing, for instance?).

Would you have implemented the platform differently?

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