Budget Humour

There are so many wisecracks about budgets. World over, budgets have managed to create madness, hysteria, protests, and satire. It is basic to the human mind that no other mind is possibly capable of carefully handling and allocating that joyous commodity, money. Add this sense of insecurity to the Orwellian point of view that all politicians are equal (in their incapability) but some politicians are more equal than the others, and you quintessentially have, what our Parliamentarians fondly call ‘The Budget Session’.

Budgets are largely an exercise in philosophy; you deliver the numbers only to realise that they are never deliverable and never have been, to begin with. “Deficits satyam, Budget mithya” could well be the Indian take on the issue. Americans, those descendants of immigrants and revolutionaries, have scant regard for things as deep as the Shankara philosophy. Their philosophy about budgets goes about as deep as, errr, a bean bag. It was the inimitable Will Rogers, who in his loud style commented, “The budget is a mythical bean bag. Congress votes mythical beans into it, and then tries to reach in and pull real beans out.”

American budgets have inspired perhaps the biggest quips and laughs. George W Bush, never quite revered across the globe for his intelligence, much to the delight of his critics, is believed to have said, “Of course it’s a budget. It’s got a lot of numbers in it.” Can’t get more dubiously Dubya than that, eh?

Greeks, the other race that pride themselves on their philosophical underpinnings, have a different way of looking at budgets and debt burdens. When in trouble, they have a strange Greek way of using wonderful quotes by their forefathers in a most inappropriate fashion. “Speaking the truth and repaying your debts is not a correct definition of justice,” once said Plato. And now says Tsipras, to the great horror of Merkel and Co. It was humour in its blackest form that the Greeks recently passed an ‘austerity’ budget.

Even the late Sophocles, that great master of tragedy who is believed to create despair even in Heaven, started laughing uncontrollably when he heard about that one. Merkel showed her technical German wit when she primly commented, “Austerity makes it sound evil. I prefer to call it balancing the budget.” Even the British raised their eyebrows in appreciation.

Because, perhaps the greatest kind of budget humour can only come from the stiff upper lip of Europe, Great Britain. Unwittingly and unknowingly, George Osborne, the finance minister of UK, created complete confusion in Britain when he dared to claim last year in the British parliament, “This will be a budget for working people.” The Brits paused for a minute over their seventy-third cup of tea to exclaim, “I say, what does he mean, working people? We thought they were called Germans!”

Back home at North Block, the entire team is getting serious about how to get funny. The FM has been braving suggestions on taglines that could scroll on the bottom of the TV screen whilst he would read the budget provisos. Senior advisors have suggested sher-o-shayari, but Ghalib makes you feel depressed, and Iqbal, Congressed. The younger interns are all for filmi taglines.

Imagine, the FM would declare the fiscal deficit target for FY17 to be 4.2 per cent, markets would tank, only to be assured by the tagline scroll, “Bade bade deshon mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain.” Or whilst talking of subsidies, “Hum AAP ke hain kaun.” The FM is hoping for an ‘Airlift’

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By Manasi Phadke

Consultant Economist & Analyst | Visiting Faculty @Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics et al. | Blogs @ www.manasiecon.wordpress.com

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