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National Budgets On Your Mobile
Jamais Cascio, 16 Apr 05

Speaking of serious games and political simulations, the UK's Liberal Democrats party has made available IraqCost, a Java-based mini-application for mobile phones that allows participants to re-allocate the £5 billion the UK government has so far spent on the Iraq war. Download is free (and even available outside the UK, should one be so inclined); the results of the alternative budget choices can be sent back to the LibDem site.

Simplistic? Sure. Overtly political? Of course -- there's a Parliamentary election going on in the UK right now. But it's also an interesting evolution of the use of mobile phones as a political tool, moving beyond communication and organization into the realm of interactive policy advocacy. It also foreshadows the possibility of doing something like this for real -- sending out the budget to every citizen for allocation decisions. The notion of collaborative budgets has been a staple of science fiction for decades; the reality would undoubtedly be riddled with problems (from the sheer complexity, at the very least). Nonetheless, the idea of being able to tell your government precisely how to spend its money will be compelling to a great number of people.

In the case of the IraqCost site, the budget decisions are completely moot, as they refer to money already spent. But this djinni is out of the bottle: how long will it be before the mobile phone budgets reflect upcoming decisions, and a political party makes a big deal about how "millions of citizens" are "demanding" that the money be allocated -- as determined by a tiny app on their phones?

(Note about the IraqCost website: perhaps reflective of the LibDem's status as the UK's third party, a number of the links appear not to work. They do, but they've been mis-entered. All of the real pages have .HTML suffixes, but some of the links go to .HTM. If you get a "page not found" error, add an "L".)

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I like this. We should do it in the U.S., with some educated guesses about the expenses we aren't being told about.

I did a rough calculation about how much each vote--each vote--in the recent Iraq election cost us. I never saw that figure anywhere else, but by my calculations, it was somewhere around $25K per vote. Even Texas politicians would consider that a tad pricey.

Posted by: Pamela McCorduck on 18 Apr 05



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