Ah, the memories.
Ah, Will Wright. He was the legendary genius that gave us the SimCity games, The Sims games, and Spore. The success of his work was unparalleled, as can be seen by the release of the latest SimCity next week. It's fun, it's engaging, and most of all, it's incredibly time-wasting.
I still have lasting memories of playing SimCity 2000 as a kid. Creating these incredible empires with hundreds of thousands of citizens, only to watch them fall apart to disasters (sometimes at my own choosing), was just awe-inspiring. Whatever kind of city you wanted, you could do it. A thriving metropolis? It's yours. A low-crime, egalitarian society? Go for it. A mass transit system that would be the envy of the world? Nothing's stopping you. A polluted wasteland? Hey, it's just a game. But regardless of which way you went, the real trick of SimCity 2000, and any SimCity for that matter, was to run a city whose budget was in the black most of the time. Did that, and you were set. Failed to do that, and you were screwed. Even as a kid, I discovered early on that there were several sure-fire ways of making that happen. Not following these principles was not an option if you wanted your city to survive.
1. You will reap what you sow. I always put a ton of money into all the city services to make sure that the citizens had excellent schools, very safe streets, and a solid transportation network. If they wanted a basic service improved, such as having better fire coverage, I didn't bat an eyelash over whether that was going to hurt the bottom line. Why? Because smart investments in your cities ALWAYS paid for themselves in the long run. Without exception. Good schools took awhile to pay off, but once the intelligent kids grew up into intelligent adults, the economy experienced a major boom. Mass transit systems cut down on traffic and air pollution, which increased the ability of citizens to get to and from work and raised property values. It didn't take me long to realize that a well-functioning city required a symbiotic relationship with its government, which required a balanced tax rate and as many services as were needed. Speaking of taxes, you could lower them for the short term if you needed to spur growth, but that was no way to run a city long-term. In order to maintain that city, you needed to have a moderate level of taxes--not too low, not too high, just right.
2. Avoid debt as much as possible. At certain times, there was no way to avoid it: A tornado hit your power plant, and now half your city is without power. Your airport is in desperate need of expansion, now. But when times were good--which they usually were if you followed rule #1 closely--debt was rarely an issue. And when you did go into debt, it was imperative to pay off those bonds as soon as possible.
3. Austerity is a recipe for disaster.
He wasn't kidding, either.
Debt may have been bad, but austerity was far worse. Nothing except for fires (fires were wickedly strong in SimCity 2000) and your bulldozer could kill a city faster than austerity could. If you cut transportation funding, portions of road would literally turn into rubble, crippling your transportation network and costing you far more over the long run. If you cut police funding, crime would scare away people and cause real estate values to drop. In short, you could not cut your way out of tough times: doing so would almost always backfire, hard. Neither was raising taxes past a certain point. So what could you do, then?
You had to spend. You had to spend your way out of trouble. If traffic sucked, then it was time to start a mass expansion of mass transit (highways were super-cool but caused a lot of pollution problems). If commercial development was unusually impaired, then it was probably time to build or expand an airport (and the citizens usually requested one when this happened). In short, you had to see what the citizens needed and give that to them.
There were several other principles that you needed to follow as well--don't zone mass industry next to residential areas, spread out your police stations and don't cluster them up, etc. But really, the three principles above were, IMO, the big ones. Followed that, and you were well on your way to success. Violate them, and your city was doomed (which you might have been shooting for all along!).
I specifically remember being on both ends of this with one of my cities. I got over-exuberant with my airport expansion, cutting into those pesky factories to make room for all the spiffy new runways. Well, runways long enough to land a space shuttle won't help an economy that is being gutted. The predictable results occurred: jobs left town, and revenues declined. I started cutting back on fire and police services, but wow, that did not go over well at all. Raising taxes on the one profitable sector of the city--the surviving industries--did not help, either. So how did I get out of this mess? I splurged on new industrial zones. I invested in the economy again. And it worked--once the new factories opened, the economy returned to life. Lesson learned.
It's a lesson I wish our government would learn. Nations that kept that cycle of smart taxation and spending going showed a far better ability to weather the Great Recession than those who resorted to austerity. Why? Because contrary to the Tea-Bagger myth, revenue flow is not linear, from people and institutions to governments, but cyclical, with smart governments returning the favor. A good SimCity 2000 mayor knew this, and a good political leader in real life knows this. Smart government spending works.