Long ago, shortly after I’d moved to the area, I read a story in the paper.

I wasn’t familiar with the background, due to my recent arrival, but the article covered some of it. There were big tensions in budget negotiations with a local town and its school district. It had either come to the verge of or actually resulted in limited striking. Until now. Because an agreement had been reached.

It wasn’t something the district was happy about, because it involved teachers and other staff paying a higher percentage of their benefit costs (health insurance premiums, pensions, etc). However, they’d been convinced on the grounds that those benefits now applied to more people, and for longer. You could keep the school health insurance througout your entire retirement, I think.

None of that’s really why the article stuck with me for all these years. I mean, obviously. If it were that, then you’d think I’d remember just a couple of specific details, right? Nah. Pretty boring inside-baseball negotiation stuff. For the most part, the fact that school would actually open was the point.

Except… there was a quote.

See, there were some criticizing the move. By the numbers, it looked as though, while this measure would temporarily allow the budget to balance and the school year to continue, the extension of benefits to more classes of employee and throughout their reitrement would cause the associated costs of the system to swell and, in time, completely overwhelm reasonably expected available money.

And the response, which I will never forget (even though I’ve already forgotten who said it), was “Those are just numbers on an actuarial table.”

Which is hilarious. But also painful. Because so many people actually believe this. “How can you talk about money when people are suffering!?” Like money is some sort of completely abstract concept, existing only inside the hands of the shadowy elite and having no relation whatsoever to existing goods and services.

It almost makes you wonder why anyone hires actuaries at all.

Anyway. In honor of that long-ago newspaper article (and wow, I wish I remembered what town it was, as I’ve been living here for almost a decade and I’m very curious how their balance sheets look these days), I’d like to pass on a parody music video recently shared with me which, while it doesn’t tend to address numbers in a spreadsheet in particular, I feel does a fantastic job of encapsulating the entire issue.


All right, folks. No ballpoint pen sketch today. But my friends have volunteered to watch the baby this weekend, so I’m hoping that, in addition to finishing the last scene or so of the novel, I’ll get the chance to draw something neat.


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