Sunday, November 30, 2008

"High-Value Professions"

Required reading from Ezra Klein:

Money Quote:
If you're in a high-value profession, hard work can do you a lot of good. If you're not, it may not do you any good at all. And though anyone can work hard, we're mostly able to admit that not everyone has the specific constellation of opportunities that lets you go to law school, or spend your time goofing off in amateur political punditry.

My response below (in his comments section)

Thank you! I've been struggling recently with my own chosen profession--theater--and getting increasingly angry at the fact that people who graduated, say, in the field of investment banking, will make money hand over fist.

I recently saw a statistic (it was quoted as being from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) that said that the median wage for actors in Actor's Equity Association (which not everyone can get into) is roughly $6,000.

$6,000. It's not as though we in the theater are doing something selfish--we raise property values, supplement education (not to mention the esoteric upside of things like cultural value). But we rarely turn a profit.

From a capitalistic point of view, our profession is a waste of time. The "entertainment" and "culture" slots are filled much more effectively by the internet, by the film industry, etc.

When I apply for a job outside of the theater (which obviously I have to, since I don't make anything from my theater yet), they don't look at my theater experience as being ANYTHING at all.

I've fulfilled the role of "stage MANAGER" but I could never be considered for a managerial role; I've led a team of artists on an independent project, raised funds, and controlled a budget. But what is the best job I can land in the quote unquote "real world"? I sold popcorn for Regal Entertainment.

So the question I'm saying that your question raises is, WHAT ARE THE HIGH VALUE PROFESSIONS. And why? Is a teacher not a high profile profession? Is Bill Kristol worth more to the news business than the arts reviewers, who are getting shed like flies? Are hedge-fund managers worth more to us than the much maligned "community organizers"?

A little context: Ezra Klein is a lucky guy, and also a talented guy. He's a political pundit. He's one of the few that I follow regularly, and I've very much enjoyed his status; I don't think it's ill deserved. And he has always used his powers for good--unlike Bill Kristol, who I took a shot at in the comment.

As you can tell, I've been a little irritated by this for a while, and it's kind of building. Because it's the assumption we all work under: only the true, true geniuses will break even--because someone wealthy will back us up.

I'm not bitter at Ezra, or at people who are successful in their fields. But when actors come to politicians for support, we get brushed off, as though we're some sort of luxury. I mean, theater is associated with wealth (because of the cost of high-end theater), but we in the theater business tend to be the poorest of poor. If you go to a Congressman and say, "will you help our small business?" or "Will you help our farmers?" they will at least pretend like they care. But theater? So far from their priority.

We are workers. We fight because we think this is a worthwhile industry; we benefit our communities. Why are we low value?