Using simulation to make sense . . .
"Cool Simulators, Smarter Citizens"
First, a few links . . .
Simcivic's Java-Based Social Security Solvency Simulator (takes time to load, please be patient)
. . . and now for a website update
Hello. I'm Steve Johnson, the President of Simcivic.org. I'm not a webmaster by nature, so the design of this page is VERY simple. You may have visited this site before - everything you've encountered before is still here. Just follow the links above. Or you may be a first time visitor. If so, welcome! This page will serve as an update for everyone. [As you will sense, this is a legacy website. It reflects work done 2001-2004. Since the overall analytic approach retains its value, the site remains posted on the web.]
A few background comments
It began with my research on Social Security solvency. I read intensively, on all sides of the issue. Something seemed wrong. Conservatives made impossible-sounding claims about the stock market's power to fix Social Security. Liberals made equally impossible-sounding claims about the long-range soundness of today's Social Security system.
As I researched the issue, I built my own Excel model, carried out my own research on stock market return rates. Both my suspicions turned out to be correct - conservatives were blowing smoke. So were liberals. I created my first website, Common Sense on Social Security. I wrote a small group of essays on the issue and posted them on the site. I invited visitors to email me, offering them a copy of the Excel file I'd developed. I found modest interest, but knew this wasn't enough.
At the same time, I also sensed a larger issue. Social Security isn't the only "black box" problem that citizens face. Many other issues might benefit as well from the same kind of modeling. Why not a website with a greater sense of purpose than Social Security reform? From this thinking, the Simcivic.org website was born. And a Simcivic 501(c)3 nonprofit as well.
I decided to give visitors an online simulator, so they could test different reform scenarios for themselves. I learned Java. I wrote a high-level solvency simulator in Java, and posted it here on the Simcivic.org website. And I discussed what I had developed with others. I quickly ran into a natural question. "This is interesting, Steve, but it doesn't tell us what happens to the individual retiree. Can you expand the simulator to account for different reforms and how they affect individuals?"
I thought I could. I started down that path. It was detailed indeed. My progress was slow but steady. The Java code grew more and more voluminous. I became concerned, on two separate fronts. One - would anybody with a dial-up connection have the patience to download a Java program that was sure to run several hundred kilobytes at least? Two - how could anybody else possibly do a quality check on the code I'd already written? To anyone else but me, the code was sure to seem impenetrable, opaque. I paused, and made a brief attempt to build the same model using PowerSim, a systems dynamics software tool.
Then paying work intervened, in another domain. I turned my modeling skills to public education, and am presently part of the team at Education Resource Strategies. (My wife, who had been my sole funder, breathed a sigh of relief.) My unpaid simulation work on Social Security was set aside in 2002. [And has now been resumed in summer 2004 with a simulator-based critique of Bush and Kerry on Social Security.] Although the work posted on my two websites has yet to make its way into the public debate, it has earned serious appreciation.
"For those with the patience to work with the model,
you are providing an important educational vehicle on the complexities
of Social Security financing."
"Steve - I think this simulator is fabulous!"
"Compliments on your analysis regarding the Stock Market.
Excellent for someone who's business ISN'T the stock market; indeed, superior
to the vast majority of economists and strategists working in the market."
"I've just discovered your simulator, and find it a
wonderful idea for helping people to come to grips with the implications
of various plans to 'save' social security.... I teach a class on use
of software to deliver Operations Research solutions, and hope to use
your site as an illustration of how public policy issues can be analyzed
online, using java applets and other software tools. I'd like to be able
to tell the students where things stand on this project."
"I want to congratulate you for your excellent simulator.
I teach pension mathematics in Venezuela at Catholic University and I
consider this tool simply excellent."
What's Next - Cleaner Fairer Larger Better
I deeply appreciate these endorsements.
But there is a larger issue to be tackled, and it is time to go after it. I am presently developing a book proposal whose working title is "Cleaner Fairer Larger Better: Shaping the Story of our Common Future." Perhaps such a book shouldn't be necessary, but clearly it is. Our society is in a phase where we have become too timid to muster up a larger sense of purpose for ourselves. If we had a clearer sense of the global common good, I think we'd have more confidence in ourselves and where we're headed. For more on this new theme, click on the link below.
Current Work - Integrity at Scale
Cleaner, Fairer, Larger, Better has evolved. Integrity at Scale is the successor theme. A book-length manuscript is now posted online; please visit Integrity At Scale: Big Answers for America's Challenges.
Revision Date 2011-09-02
Simcivic.org was an initiative of
The Wallcharts Workshop
This work continues at Integrity At Scale Blog