SMOKE: Budget Boy

Originally published: 19 February 2004

Back in August of last year I wrote a piece about my unseemly excitement at the announcement of an interest rate cut and explained that although I understand that the dropping of the repo rate is a good thing for me, that's about as far as my fiscal knowledge extends.

I quote:

What really kills me though is that I'm just simply not that guy - the one who scans market reports, understands the significance of fluctuating crude oil prices, and who keeps on top of his personal finances by managing his bond portfolio and associated investments with a ruthless, professional efficiency.

I'm simply an oke who enjoys a smoke, a cuppa tea and a good game o' crickers, not to mention the odd dabble in the worlds of the occult, hardcore sex, drugs and arms dealing, as the occasion arises.

I shouldn't have to know about finances - I should be standing in a loin-cloth on top of the hill after conquering my foe, beating my chest and emitting a primal scream into the rapidly-darkening sunset - not having what amounts to gay sex with myself over some press release about a 100-basis-point (bps) cut in the repo rate.

I'm no Alec Hogg, but that's as fair an assessment of my twisted financial affairs as you're likely to get.

Assuming that the above it true (and it is), you can imagine my horror at being dragged along to South African finance minister Trevor Manuel's 2004 budget speech at Cape Town's parliament on Wednesday.

You might as well force me to sit through an hour of some Harvard professor going on about his theory of Scientific Computing and Parallelism in the 21st century - no go, dude.

But I slapped on my glad rags in an effort to be positive (my wardrobe's finest - a pair of ironed jeans), and set out to hobnob with the financially-gifted.

I was the only person there who wasn't in a suit and tie, and since I'm too old to be claiming a victory for non-conformism I had to go on the slant that I'm simply far more impoverished than anyone else there, and can't afford a suit, but dammit - I'm a South African, and I have a Right To Know.

My camera was confiscated within minutes of being there, by some vicious little queen of a security guard with a David Niven moustache and Issues, and due to a bungle with our tickets had to spend the hour in a viewing room, watching Trev on a big screen dish up his stuff to the paid seats.

It wasn't long before I began fidgeting - a hangover from my church-going days, when as a kid I was forced to listen to hour-long sermons given by German priests in a strict Catholic order (little boys should be outside punching other little boys, not listening to the supposed wisdom of someone who's never even had sex).

Trevor lost me the moment he started on about primary rebates, exchange control reforms, negotiable certificates of deposit, private sector investment growth and murder.

The murder bit was a story I had running in my head, but you get the idea.

I was waiting for the Big Announcement - the one we always wait for every year, agog with barely controlled excitement. Is Trev going to scrap sin tax? Will Trev announce a basic income grant? Is Trev going to announce a new underground subway system for Cape Town?

Something - anything - a little titillating. The sort of thing you can fondly imagine while late at night in bed when nobody's watching save for the dog under the covers and Grandma up above.

And every year it's the same thing - budgetary reforms, social services, sin tax increases, yadayadayada.

Where's the fun in finance? Where's the curve ball? Essentially it's the same thing year in and year out, and while the moves made by our finance minister and his team may be extremely positive and setting in place good systems for the future economic growth of our country, I only ever seem to end up less wealthy.

Which is the way it should be, of course. I think Manuel has been one of our most valuable national assets in the last decade and few would argue the wisdom of many of his fiscal policies. I am firmly of the belief that distributed wealth can only lead to a stronger economy in years to come. Same goes for social services.

But none of it really helps me right now, does it? If I look at the budget through selfish eyes I should be putting a gun to my head anytime soon - I'll be paying 64 cents more for a pack of fags, the petrol prices are going to rise again, I write off most of my expenses to tax so I don't really benefit from the light tax breaks that have been made, and if I want to get pissed it's going to cost an arm and a leg.

I'm the target - I'm the guy who has been earmarked to help prop up the poor. Which is a little silly when you consider the fact that I am the poor.

I'm in my 30s, a white male with a good education and bad habits - I'm not the bloke whose life they want to make better.

Sure - there are millions who are less fortunate than me. But it riles me a little that I'm always the guy who's "had his turn", and who now must give back to the society he took from.

Because I'm not that guy. I'm a feller who's bungled along with the rest of them, scrapping for my bones. And now I must pay for my "success".

All that - as I mentioned - was through selfish eyes. We all want our lives to improve, but this country is only geared to improving the lives of those who are less fortunate, not those who are just OK.

If I look at the budget through unselfish eyes, however - let's say the eyes of the guy who was refused a decent education because of the colour of his skin, leading to an inability to earn anything over the minimum wage and then very rarely even that - I'd probably be pretty happy.

The government is looking out for me - they know I'm out there, and they want me to be somewhere better.

And in the greater scheme of humanity and sound financial planning - that means old Trev is doing something right.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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