Category Archives: general

how to enact a balanced budget

(Moving here from a separate file for greater visibility.)


Suppose each member of Congress were to name a budget amount, and the median number is made law. Why the median? Because this is a number such that half the members have approved at least that number.

Of course, this number is likely to include a deficit. What to cut?

There are 435 numbers for each budget item. Let B(i,m) be mth-lowest amount chosen for budget item i; let T(m) be the sum over i of B(i,m). Let k be the highest number such that T(k) < revenue. If each budget item is enacted as B(i,k), then the budget is balanced. (Of course, if B(i,k) is higher than the median in one house or the other, it must be lowered.) This rule has the effect of temporarily requiring a supermajority for spending. Congressmen won't gain by inflating their numbers; that would just lower k. Pork-barrels would be highly vulnerable to clipping, while programs backed by a consensus would be immune.

bubbling shelves

I have more books than shelf space. I assume that some of my readers can say the same.

In my previous apartment, where space was even scarcer, I had one shelf beside my desk for the reference books that I use most often. After consulting such a book, I put it at the end of that shelf nearest my hand (I’ll call that end the head). How might I extend that principle to many shelves, without shifting all the books every time?

Initially all the books are in boxes (with a catalog telling me which box each is in). When I take a book from a box, it goes to the head of the first non-full shelf. If all shelves are full, it goes on the last shelf, and the last book on that shelf goes to a box.

When I take a book from a shelf, I return it to the head of the previous shelf (if any) and, if necessary, move a book from the tail of that shelf to the head of the next shelf.

Can you improve this scheme?

mood swing

Thursday I saw that my favorite bookshop is hiring. I got a bit of a buzz from the fantasy of working there. Friday I went to the shop and had a polite chat with one of the owners. When I got home, I was depressed, perhaps because the fantasy wore off. After dinner I went straight to bed “for a nap”; slept three hours, woke up feeling rested but still depressed.

For want of some fractional measure of devotion

I’m too literal-minded. When I hear corporate puff like

None of this would have been possible without the complete dedication and teamwork of every one of you in this room

I think, wow, just imagine all the grand projects that vanished without a trace because one of several hundred drones either lacked complete dedication or was hit by a bus.