The need for Web-O-Matic arose from work being done at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, an independent economic research organisation set up to promote public understanding of fiscal policy. Much IFS research involves the use of ``what if'' economic modelling programs, analysing for example the effect of a minimum wage on low-income earners, or the effect of reducing alcohol duties on loss of revenue from cross-Channel alcohol shopping.
In late 1994, the IFS decided to make its findings more accessible by starting a Web site for research reports and other publications. After this had been running for a year, it was decided to take public access one step further, giving Web users the opportunity not only of reading about the economic models, but of trying them out.
To start this project, we used a stripped-down version of the IFS Tax and Benefit model, TAXBEN. The full version [Giles and McRae 1995] allows its users to change the parameters making up the UK tax and benefit system - VAT rates, tax thresholds, etc - and analyse the effect on a sample of the UK population, namely 7000 households, collected as part of the Government's Family Expenditure Survey.
By replacing this sample with ten representative families, and providing the model with an interface to a Web form whereby the user could change the main tax parameters, we gave Web users the opportunity to play the rôle of Chancellor, making Budget decisions and investigating their effect on the families' tax expenditure, and on the Government's revenue from these taxes. This program, Be Your Own Chancellor, has now (October 1996) been run over 20000 times in nine months, and we have just replaced it by its successor for the 1996 tax system, Be Your Own Chancellor 1996.
On Budget Night 1995, we released another version of the program, Budget 95[Ireson-Paine 1995c]. The idea here was that Web users could enter details of their own expenditure and income. The model, fed with the pre- and post-Budget tax systems, would estimate the effect of the Budget, telling users how much better or worse off they would be after it. We are pleased to note that our models have received some very favourable comments about their usefulness as educational tools [Stark 1995]. These can be found from the IFS home page [Institute for Fiscal Studies], which also contains links to the models themselves, and to IFS research and history.