HALFWAY into the Nation's Pre-Budget Seminar, an audience member got on his feet, interrupted the proceedings and started speaking. He was addressing all the featured speakers but primarily the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance, Shaukat Tarin. His rustic ramblings were peppered with the usual populist references to the common man. Had he been asked about specifics, he would not know what exactly it was that he wanted. This is not, however, to begrudge him his resentment: to the disenfranchised, resentment, lamentation and the occasion bits of humour are all they have to deal with their sorry lot in lives. But behind the public's understanding of the economy, indeed all of governance, there seems to be an idea that there is a lever in the executive offices throughout the country. That all the leaders have to do is to pull it and you'll get what you desire. As one of the speakers, Tariq Saeed Saigol said, referring to an editorial of this paper, the government wants to get the public's goodwill that comes from large public spending programmes but doesn't want to risk the public ire that comes from increasing the taxes that will finance those programmes. That is because the government knows that the public, even in countries like the US, does not understand that wanting one (more government programmes) automatically rules out the other (lower or same taxes). The public - and, it must be admitted, the media as well - rails on and on about, say, spending on foreign tours and procuring luxury vehicles. But even though governments should be spartan, cutting these really wouldn't do all that much to solve our problems of limited fiscal space. The masses, if they insist on cuts in these bits of spending, however small their proportion is to our overall fiscal outlay, should be humoured. But the really big issues of our economy are not as easy; they are those of uncomfortable trade-offs. The taxation/public spending trade-off. The inflation/unemployment trade-off. The growth/inflation trade-off. The ease of indirect taxes versus the necessary slog that our direct tax structure needs. The fact that the government needs, out of bare necessity, the revenues it generates from duties on petrol goods. The list goes on. In a lively seminar, the Adviser rubbished all rumours about a planned increase in the sales tax rate but expressed his desire to broaden the tax net. This would ensure that the system does not simply increase the taxes on those sectors already paying taxes; undertaxed sectors need to be zeroed in on. Mr Tarin has his work cut out for him. He is going to be drafting the federal budget at what is an undoubtedly difficult time for the economy. Managing the economy while courting public wrath over unavoidable steps isn't easy. But such are the burdens of governance.