Little margin for error
So here are a few of the messages from Alistair Darling's first budget.
1) Don't be a four-wheel driving, cigarette-smoking, non-domiciled, boozer. Life is becoming much more expensive for you. Perhaps it's time to move to Switzerland, where at least you're allowed to smoke in public places and they don't look too closely at what's inside your bank account.
2) If you run a power company, you're being pressurised to cut prices for those with lowest incomes. You can't relocate your business abroad. And if you fail to comply, you can expect the government to name and shame you, or even use statutory powers to reduce the tariffs on pre-pay metres.
3) Most of us will notice tax rises, especially after 2009. But most of them are expenditure taxes and therefore avoidable.
4) The Treasury is sailing closer to the wind, in respect of the health of the public finances, than it has been for many years. It is projecting a £5.8bn fall in tax revenues in 2008/9 compared with what it had been expecting last October. But it has chosen to allow public borrowing to rise rather than make good that shortfall with immediate tax increases.
That makes sense, at a time when the confidence of businesses and consumers is fragile. Tax increases that bite straight away could have seriously damaged the economy.
But there are many economists who believe that the Treasury's central growth forecast of 1.75% to 2.25% for this year is far too optimistic. If they're right, the public finances may end up in worse shape than the Treasury expects. And with the public finances projected only just to meet the fiscal rules, there's little margin for error.
For Alistair Darling, as for the rest of us, 2008-9 looks like being a hair-raising time, economically speaking.