The colours most associated with finance are red and black. For once, black represents the good guys. Being in the black means that you have money in the bank while being in the red means you are overdrawn. I used to think I was numerate and had reasonably good business acumen. Perhaps I still do yet I can’t seem to get my head around public finances. They beat me.
In the private sector everything seemed easy. You took what you had sold and took off the cost of buying or making the products you sold. This gave you the gross margin. You then took off the cost of running the business to realise the sales and this gave you your net margin. A positive number gave you a profit and a negative number a loss. It was simple. Everything was either black or red.
Public finances however conjure up a completely different colour to me called caput mortuum, a sort of sludgy dark brown with a hint of purple. It is a colour that lacks clarity, is heavy and oppressive. Its name comes from alchemy where it signified a useless substance left over from a chemical operation such as sublimation and the epitome of decline and decay. Alchemists would represent this residue with a stylized human skull, a literal death’s head.
Now I’m not saying that public finances are like alchemy. Any such link with the black arts are entirely within the mind of the reader yet I struggle as it seems the whole aim is to balance against your budget. I can have a budget of zero yet spend millions. As long as outgoings match incomings then this is not a problem except when you come to work out if what you do is of value or not. All monies are accounted for, to the penny, but in a way that I struggle to comprehend. It appears that everything is kept in buckets and as long as they fill up or empty to an agreed level then the world is fine.
It doesn’t matter how many times I add the numbers up or subtract them I am always left with a useless amount left over from the operation. I am left with a caput mortuum.