When budget allows

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Annie, get your gun
In which the curmudgeonly old sod puts the world to rights.
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The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun
Just thinkin’ about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow ’til there’s none
Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow! —
You’re always a day away.

— “Tomorrow”, from Annie (1977)

When budget allows
/wɛn ˈbʌʤɪt əˈlaʊz/ (adv. clause.)

1. (Management): Never. (see also, later; domani; mañana; when the lion lies down with the lamb; when monkeys fly out of my butt, etc.)

When budget allows” is a hypothetical time in the future that, like Little Orphan Annie’s Tomorrow, is always there, dangling tantalisingly before us, as each day turns, getting no nearer. It is a sunlit dream-time in which there will be budget to hook up that feed, build out that API or invest in that show-stopping legaltech, for which there is no budget now.

Logicians will immediately sense a paradox. If this grand expedition fails to pass muster today, the present value of the promise to embark upon it at an unknowable point in the henceforth is, surely, smaller still. The aperture constricts the further out we push. What kind of contortion in spacetime must we therefore crawl through to reach that happy, iridescent upland?

Minds will hardly be put at rest by that glint in the middle manager’s eye — the unbidden ease with which he issues forth his wooly phrase.

Presented with some supplicant’s exhortations, he will, without pause, agree to sort it all out “just as soon as budget allows”. This he will volunteer with confidence, sans regret, maintaining eye contact the whole time. He can assure her, in good conscience, that all will, when the appointed time comes, be well. For at that time — the notional point in the future when budget allows — is quite unknowable, in the literal sense that it will never be known.

The root of the paradox is this: in a world where the conventional laws of physics hold — and, to be sure, there are more times in commerce than you would expect where they do not — if there is not enough interest to shell out for some expenditure now, how will it get any closer to that threshold next month, next quarter, or by the time the next fiscal budgeting cycle rolls around?

Rhetorical question.

See also