Budgets as cultural documents <debate>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 17 Feb 1996 09:19:30 +0900

Mike Cahill writes,

"I only wish that my comment in the "Aduncts..." thread that
budgets be
considered critical cultural documents had taken off in the
same way that
"fascinatin rhythm" did."

Let's see what we can do.

First, let me say that I believe that Mike's proposition that
"budgets be considered critical cultural documents" is
absolutely on the mark. Arguably almost all the great and
small political debates of our times are debates *about budgets*
i.e., about how the world, nations, states, towns, villages,
NGOs are going to allocate scarce resources.

Second, even a cursory acquaintance with accounting reveals
the enormous importance of how items are categorized and
the working assumptions that govern their interrelations.
What may be even more revealing is what items are excluded

Thus, for example, there is now an on-going thread about
ethnicity. Arguably, a great deal of the heat in this debate these
days is generated precisely by the question who counts as a
member of a group *for accounting purposes.* (Wherever
there are goals or quotas couched in "ethnic" terms, who gets
what is going to be the fuel feeding the flames of debate.)
"Restructuring" the corporation, university or NGO is a
budgetary matter. "The middle managers are parasites. Let's
get them off the budget and help the bottom line." "The
anthro department has too few students. Let's can the
department and make room for another couple of
administrators." "The costs of pollution-control or social
insurance? That's somebody else's budget."

As I think about these issues in a properly self-reflexive
manner I come upon another one of those dirty little pieces of
false consciousness of which I myself have long been guilty.
"Take an accounting class? Yuch, that's what the bozos taking
business classes do."[Undergraduate memory.] "Thank God
I'm in creative, so I don't have to shuffle paper and chase the
yen the way the guys in account service do." [That's
advertising agency speak.] "God, I hate the bean-counters who
are ruining my life." [They aren't just 'Other.' They are
obviously a lower form of life.] "It's great that Ruth does the
taxes, so I can think about 'higher' things." [Yes, it intersects
gender issues, too.] I am slowly driven to the realization,
which I still resist acting on, that for all these years of
pontificating on things like "the logic of late capitalism," I
have resolutely averted my eyes from one of its central
mechanisms, and, if I'm honest, the reason is plainly
rank distain for "trade."

I wonder how many of us share this experience?

John McCreery
February 17, 1996