An American president once enigmatically said: “It’s clearly a budget. It’s got lots of numbers in it.” True, budgets do have a lot of numbers. We just hope the one to be presented today has fewer words.
Budget speeches have been getting progressively longer every year. They usually had fewer than 60 paragraphs till the end of the 1950s. Successive finance ministers added unwelcome verbiage with every passing decade, at the rate of around 30 paragraphs every decade.
Manmohan Singh’s seminal 1992 budget speech went on for 126 paragraphs. Too long? But then he had a lot to do, including junking many decades of bad policy. We would have thought that the speeches would get shorter after that, but they kept growing and now come close to 190 paragraphs.
This is not just about the imposition on our time. As taxes have moderated, the role of the government has shrunk and the economy has matured, all we are looking for is a clear statement on taxes and spending, not empty words.