09 March 2017

Budget day or The tale of the villagers and the pie

Figure: The proverbial pie. Image: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/dining/marian-burros-plum-torte-recipe.html (Accessed: 2 Jan 2021)

I wrote this short short story in 2017 after another "budget day" at the University of the Fraser Valley.

What usually happened on budget day was that Chief Financial Officer Hogan would present next year's budget to the administration, faculty, and staff. Of course, few faculty ever showed up to this. Mid-level bureaucrats, on the other hand, were not only required to show up but also to appear supportive of Hogan.

To be sure, the budget at any large organization is finicky work, and no blame for the circus should go to the operational specialists. Furthermore, most of the budget goes into salaries and benefits, which both are tightly controlled by contracts and the collective agreement.

Where the whole thing becomes ridiculous is around discretionary budgets, the money that can be spent according to whims and fancies of administrators. For example: In 2017, the History department at U.F.V. had no money to pay for a hot-dog lunch for their History majors, about a hundred students in number, with a maximum estimated cost of $1,000. The same year, U.F.V. spent $34,576 on retreats for senior administrators at Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa(1).

Anyway here is ...


Every year on her birthday, the queen would send a royal pie to every village in the country. It wasn't a big pie. It wasn't a fancy pie. And it didn't even look royal.

Every year the villagers would gather on the village green, and every year the mayor cut the royal pie so that everyone could enjoy their fair piece.

And so she proceeded to hand a piece to the baker.

"Hold on," said the baker. "That's a rather small piece. I am the baker. I bake bread for the village. And without bread the villagers would all starve. I deserve a bigger piece of pie."

"You're right," said the mayor. And she proceeded to hand the piece to the cobbler.

"Hold on," said the cobbler. "That's a rather small piece. I am the cobbler. I make the shoes for the village. And without shoes the villagers could not go about their business. I deserve a bigger piece of pie."

"You're right," said the mayor again. And she proceeded to hand the piece to the doctor.

"Hold on," said the doctor. "That's a rather small piece. I am the doctor. I take care of the sick in the village. And without my care the sick would die. I deserve a bigger piece of pie."

And on and on it went. The butcher, the grocer, the blacksmith, the farmer, the teacher, the barber, the soldier, the tailor, the lawyer, the sailor, the banker, the builder, nobody wanted to take the piece.

"That's enough!" cried the mayor. "Everybody wants a bigger piece of the pie. But if any one of you gets a bigger piece that means that somebody else must get a smaller one."

"Mayor!!" the villagers cried in unison. "You should have gotten us a bigger pie. And since you didn't do your job, you should get the smaller piece."

"Hold on," interrupted the bookkeeper. "We had the same situation last year."

"Aha!!" the villagers cried again in unison. "And then what did we do?"

The bookkeeper studied his notes and said: "The philosopher told us that we are all selfish, and that the mayor's job is to distribute the pie fairly amongst the villagers, just as it is the queen's job is to distribute the pies fairly amongst the mayors."

"It all doesn't look fair to me!!" cried the villagers a third time in unison. "Let's ask the philosopher again."

"The philosopher?" said the mayor. "We cut his piece of pie last year. He doesn't live here anymore."


(1) https://www.ufv.ca/media/assets/finance/UFV-SOFI-17_Final-Report_Ministry.pdf (Accessed: 17 Dec 2020)