Towards A Good Samaritan World

Friday, December 10, 2004

PEOPLE POWER

This Dick Morris column is gratifying to read if you're a Republican. "Elites lost to people power."

I think class is interpreted all wrong in this country. Money doesn't have much to do with it. The real aristocrats are those who get to do what other people admire and would like to do. If you spend your whole life toiling to become a Wall Street partner or the executive of a company, you're just a workingman, really, and your money is just fair compensation for giving the best years of your life and most of your time to something miserable and boring. It's the writers, the professors and the students, the musicians, rock stars, movie stars, Big Media columnists, models, who are the real aristocrats; those who get to do what they love.

In this sense, 2004 was the Republican workingmen against the Democrat aristocracy.

5 Comments:

  • What makes you so sure that professors and musicians and writers (and models) are doing something they love and not something they consider miserable toil? You implicitly assert that other people desire something closely approximating your own desires (a reasonable assumption).

    But how could these professions be better off than others in the free market? I mean if the market is so great, and all, wouldn’t wage compensation rise (or fall) to create indifference between professions (especially when you assert some uniformity of preferences across agents, as above). I mean, there are no real barriers to entry for these professions- you could at any time pick up a guitar, learn to strut on a runway, enter grad school, or bloviate (already have a decent start there, and I don’t mean that facetiously).

    I mean, it’s not like you have to be successful in any of these professions to be liberal. There are probably few conservative wait staff in Hollywood. Students are hardly at the pinnacle of their profession, yet they are liberal elites. So it isn’t only the successful elite of these professions that form the ranks of liberals.

    Maybe you really are a liberal after all. If writing or professing or modeling or playing music or acting is what you “love” (it maximizes your utility), then by the market you should quit any MBA-ish job you have and post your resume (or manuscript or demo or whatever) for a job in these professions, thereby joining the aristocracy.

    So, why don't you join the aristocracy?

    By Blogger TheJew, at 8:52 PM  

  • What a delightful response! It initially reads with an accusatory flavor, but on second glance seems like it might possibly be complimentary. And it gives me an excuse for exploring interesting questions further.

    Re: "What makes you so sure that professors and musicians and writers (and models) are doing something they love and not something they consider miserable toil? You implicitly assert that other people desire something closely approximating your own desires (a reasonable assumption)."

    One reason to assume that professors, musicians, writers and models have jobs that other people envy is that they do things for pay that for other people are pastimes and forms of entertainment. When millions of people play electric guitars or write blogs in their spare time, and when people spend lots of money to study in prestigious universities or to dress up and look good, it's reasonable to assume that those who get to do these times full-time, for pay, are uncommonly fortunate. Of course, a lot of them may be miserable, much more miserable than people with gruntwork jobs; this is true of all aristocracies, and the misery of aristocrats and happiness of commoners is a perennial theme of literature.

    Re: "But how could these professions be better off than others in the free market? I mean if the market is so great, and all, wouldn’t wage compensation rise (or fall) to create indifference between professions (especially when you assert some uniformity of preferences across agents, as above)."

    All of the professions I've mentioned are characterized by tournament models. For every tenured professor at a prestigious, every rock star, every movie actor, every well-known writer, there are many others who strove desperately to enter these professions and either failed, or ended up as the pond scum of their respective industries (e.g. teaching in community college, writing owner's manuals, stripping in sleazy clubs, living with Mom and Dad playing guitar while they encourage you to get a real job, etc.)

    Re: "I mean, there are no real barriers to entry for these professions- you could at any time pick up a guitar, learn to strut on a runway, enter grad school, or bloviate (already have a decent start there, and I don’t mean that facetiously)."

    On the contrary. One barrier to entry is talent: you have to be much more talented to be a well-paid op-ed columnist than to be an equally well-paid cubicle-dwelling corporate apparatchik. Grad school is expensive. Learning to play instruments or sing takes (not only talent but) years of lessons, and to write songs requires that maddeningly elusive piece of luck: inspiration. In the blogosphere, of course, barriers to entry are low, but becoming well-known is very difficult.

    Re: "I mean, it’s not like you have to be successful in any of these professions to be liberal. There are probably few conservative wait staff in Hollywood. Students are hardly at the pinnacle of their profession, yet they are liberal elites. So it isn’t only the successful elite of these professions that form the ranks of liberals."

    But unless you're independently wealthy, you have to make a living at it, or become something else.

    Re: "Maybe you really are a liberal after all. If writing or professing or modeling or playing music or acting is what you “love” (it maximizes your utility), then by the market you should quit any MBA-ish job you have and post your resume (or manuscript or demo or whatever) for a job in these professions, thereby joining the aristocracy.

    So, why don't you join the aristocracy?"

    I work at a think tank, so arguably I am at the margins of the aristocracy. I've got a suitcaseful of defeated dreams, like everybody I guess, though sometimes it seems like there must be more in my case than for most people. A half-dozen half-written novels that I'll probably never finish, let alone publish... One CD of songs I recorded last year (which I'd like to post sometime)... Meanwhile, I have far too much student debt to consider attempting the bohemian life.

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 4:53 PM  

  • Well, OK, I admit that if you limit “liberals” to only the most successful educators, artists and writers, then I suppose they are part of an elite class. Then again, if we limit the discussion to those already successful, plenty of Wall Street players and big company CEOs do things that others would like to do- things that are hardly miserable or boring; and more directly evident of their membership in an aristocracy, they can actually tell other people what to do. Maybe ordering people around is something many would take up as a hobby if it were convenient (perhaps people like to organize parties so they can order around the caterers, or upgrade their kitchens to order around the carpenters, or hire cleaning agencies…).

    The idea that these professions will not recognize new talent and expand as the talent pool increases (i.e. operates on a tournament model) is simply not true, especially in the case of writers. Wonkette and Andrew Sullivan are examples of writers who have effectively expanded the market. Michael Moore is an example of a film maker operating outside the traditional Hollywood model and who to a certain extent creates new market share rather than capturing other film maker’s shares. However, to the extent that $20 million movie stars are limited to tournament model markets, one could argue Fortune 500 (maybe Fortune 200 is more appropriate) CEOs are as well. After all, there only exist at most three huge brand name companies in any given industry, just like there are only a few huge brand name big budget movies in any given year from the studios.

    Talent is a barrier to entry for all professions except the world’s oldest.

    There are plenty of people who make a living at all levels of the arts and education. One doesn’t have to be a TV promoted pop star to make a living as a musician (not really a fan, just happens to be a moderately successful band I am aware of that doesn’t have a whole lot of big media exposure). I would hardly call Idaho State a prestigious institution, but their professors make a living. Same with high school English teachers.

    So I suppose, yes if we define elite as the extraordinarily successful members of professions, extraordinarily successful writers, entertainers, artists, and educators are part of the elite. But I see no reason to exclude the successful MBAs from this elite. Struggling writers and artists, community college professors, local TV reporters, and stand up comedians vote democrat as much as future CEOs vote republican. So while there is an “elite” they are hardly united in their political affiliation.

    However, I agree that members of the professions you listed are relatively wealthy in at least one commodity that the MBA professions are not. I also believe this results in a market imperfection whereby members of the listed professions actually achieve a higher utility than the MBA professions.

    By Blogger TheJew, at 6:37 PM  

  • We may be converging here to some extent.

    But you have to be quite good at music to make a living as a musician at all, whereas big business has room for dozens of cubicle-dwelling mediocrities. A bad businessman ends up working in the mailroom. A bad musician ends up... also working in the mailroom. Not in a band. Just to be a writer or a musician or a professor, however lowly, is a mark of unique success in a way that working for a corporation is not.

    Medieval knights were admired for what they did. People who were not knights talked about them and told stories about them. Knights featured in the narrative of medieval life. In our society, rock stars and actors and professors and writers and politicians feature in the narrative of American life, while business is just background material. Far more non-entertainers read the entertainment news than non-businessmen read the business news.

    If you introduce yourself at a party and say "I'm a writer," people look at you differently. If you say, "I'm a singer," that's interesting. If you say, "I work in accounting at such-and-such a firm," people try to feign non-boredom out of politeness.

    That's what I mean by an aristocracy.

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 3:25 PM  

  • (blockquote) But you have to be quite good at music to make a living as a musician at all, whereas big business has room for dozens of cubicle-dwelling mediocrities. A bad businessman ends up working in the mailroom. A bad musician ends up... also working in the mailroom. Not in a band. Just to be a writer or a musician or a professor, however lowly, is a mark of unique success in a way that working for a corporation is not.(/blockquote)



    Well, yes, it may be true that to be a art type and make a living one may (probably) have to be in a higher talent percentile than say an accountant. However, if that makes them an aristocracy, then so are the business types that earn more then X dollars (where X is the amount that one is required to be in the upper Y percentile, Y being the percentile necessary to earn a living at music). Honestly, I would have a hard time imagining any job besides secretarial work or sales that I would find uninteresting. I promise you: anyone who would be interested in a writer would be completely bored by Axel Rose. Personally, I think I would be bored with any entertainer (possible exception for comedians because they also write).

    So being in the popular imagination is what defines aristocracy? Those damn elitist, um, cops? Most dramas involve the legal or medical professions, and this is apparently what people choose to watch. Peace officers never struck me as very snobbish. While I admit broadcast media tends to glorify itself (Sitcom- Prime bread winner, Full House- TV anchor, Frasier- Radio host, Seinfeld- TV writers, Mary tyler moore- TV station writer, Dick Van Dyke- TV show writer, Newsradio- News Radio, Larry Sanders Show- TV host, Home Improvement- TV host, WKRP in Cincinnati) I have yet to see the show based on professors (though Ross was a paleontologist on Friends, but Chandler was a business executive of some sort). That said, there is the Drew Carey Show which was about a middle manager type, Working which was about an office that had an ambiguous purpose, and of course currently we have The Apprentice in the top twenty.

    And if you believe The Donald, “More than anybody has applied in the history of television for a show, 215,000 and out of that, they took 16.”, which of course means more people wanted to be an “apprentice” then wanted to be an American Idol (which only had 70,000 applicants).

    By Blogger TheJew, at 9:13 PM  

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