My grasp of international finance is not quite up to Treasury standards, and you’ll have to wait a while if you’re expecting me to concoct a cogent explanation of how unpegging the yuan from the dollar will affect the bond market. I don’t even know how a huge national debt can be a bad thing one year and good the next. At least I'm in good company there — the Japanese Ministry of Finance is stuck with the old-fashioned notion that it’s not that hot an idea. Which is a bit tough, given that the country owes somewhere of the order of 600 terayen (that’s around 30 teraquid).
The trouble with national debts — like the personal sort — is that they only go away if you spend money on them that you’d prefer to spend on something nicer, i.e. almost anything. Governments have the additional problem in that they don’t actually have any money of their own, they have to extract it with menaces from the populace. Who then go and vote for someone else, the ingrates.
So the Ministry has had a bright idea. It’s put up an online game on its Web site called Zaimudaijin Ninatte Yosan o Tsukurou! Yosan Sakusei Game, or the 'Let's Be The Minister Of Finance And Work On The Budget' Game. In it, you get to be the Japanese Gordon Brown and get to set various spending targets on things like defence, building, health and so on. The game then chomps away on these in its own model of the national economy and lets you know what the effects will be of your decisions. Unsurprisingly, it’s blooming difficult to do anything that keeps everyone happy and wipes out the deficit — and so, as games site Insert Credit so ruefully notes, it’s a lot less sexy saving Japan these days than when Godzilla stalked the earth.
Nevertheless, the game has been very popular. I’d love to see something similar on our own Treasury Web site — especially with those notorious five tests for the Euro and some of Gordon’s golden rules plugged in. In fact, the same idea would work well for managing the NHS or public transport, areas where the man on the Clapham omnibus has strong views not necessarily based on an in-depth informed analysis of the situation.
Now, all I need to do is find one that handles the international bond market and I’ll be right back to you with that piece on yuan revaluation… next stop, publishing the Economist in Playstation Portable format.