Friday, April 15, 2011

Deficits, Taxes, and Bicycle Generators.

I thought I would try to explain how the government works with a simple machine, a bicycle generator. This one I borrowed from my wife's Schwinn 10-speed from the '70's, the kind with the tiny seat and the super skinny tires. The bike is hanging in the garage here, sans generator obviously. As for my old Schwinn, the way badass Hevi-Duty Paper Route Bike, that baby will never hang from the ceiling in a garage. Its parked on the floor and ready to go right now. Anyway..

OK, so the taxpayer is the guy pedaling on the bike. He needs a light on the bike so he affixes a "Deluxe Bikeway" generator/light assembly to the frame to engage the spinning tire to steal a little power for the light. The guy pedals a bit harder than required to make the light shine.

The light represents services the Government provides.  How much light does the guy want?  Well that depends on how hard he feels like pedaling.

The generator represents taxes, a parasitic drag on pedal power that provides resources to the Government.  The faster the bike goes, the more power the generator makes and the brighter the light will shine, but if the generator tries to make too much power the guy won't be able to pedal the bike up to speed.

As for the question of where does the USA sit in regard to this analogy, here's my take.. The guy pedaling the bike wants a lot of light but doesn't like to notice the generator's drag on his pedal power so he uses a battery to augment the power from the generator to help the light shine brighter than it would just from the generator power alone. That battery is the budget deficit. Now, the weight of the battery is hardly even noticed by the guy pedaling and it makes pedaling so much easier, so whats not to like? Well, the problem is once the battery is dead, you have to keep carrying it with you and in the analogy the guy is pulling trailers full of dead batteries (aka national debt) behind his bike.

If I assume a national debt of 14 trillion dollars, 5 bucks for each D-cell battery, and use 32mm diameter x 57mm height for the dimensions of a D-cell battery, then here is a nice ballpark estimate. 50 Americans pedaling the bike for each semi truck trailer full of dead D-cell batteries.

And the most pressing matter in Washington right now is to raise the debt ceiling.  Because we need more trailers for dead batteries.


  1. So nice information. I appreciate your sharing.

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  2. I injoyed your analogy of the situasion in washington, most people need to read your stuff so that they may understand the goverment better, or at all! I just hooked up a bottleneck generator to my bike and was looking for information on how much voltage it producted,and bumped into your collum. My problem is that the generator is old,like me; and I need to modify the lighting for LED use. LED,s use less electrical power and provide more light, however the generator produces to much power; so the Idea is to connect a nicad batter from a Ipod and fusibly link the LED,s to a switch,on/off? subsequently, using the battery to hold charge and supply the lights. Here,s the question I have for you, what happens to the equation if we reduce ower needs,and use better products; modernizing ? Is this the answer to the problem, modifing behavior?

    1. Hello and thanks for the kind words. To your question, conservation is another energy source. Reducing waste in energy consumption is good for the environment and for economic growth as the lower demand for energy will lead to lower prices for all consumers. I have written on this topic in earlier posts so you might get some ideas from here.