Budgets and fingernails

–Berthe Morisot, the painter, wrote:

On Thursday Degas said the study of nature was trivial; painting being an art of convention, it was better to learn to draw after Holbein—that Édouard himself [her brother-in-law, Édouard Manet], though he prided himself on slavishly copying nature, was the most mannered painter in the world, never executing a brushstroke without thinking of the Old Masters, not putting fingernails on hands, for instance, because F[rans] Hals didn’t draw them.

What if our descriptions and evaluations of significant policy issues are are as mannered as Manet’s paintings? Namely: What’s missing in our so-called realism is in an important sense systematically left out.

–In the 1970s at the advent of policy analysis as its own field, a key indicator of what is now called “a failed state” was its inability to produce an annual government budget. That happens all over the place in the US today.

What I don’t understand is why such changes are taken to be proof that things have gotten worse. We can only conclude that if we have answered: How does what’s missing in the budgeting panorama from the 1970s to the present change our picture of it?

Would bringing back Manet’s missing fingernails change the manner in which we see his paintings? Maybe not. Would finding what’s missing about government budgeting change the manner in which we think about budgeting now? Maybe yes.

But either way, “What’s missing?,” is to be asked.

The first words in Shakespeare’s Hamlet are, “Whose there?” Indeed.

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