Hollywood and “Creative Professionals”

I want to think aloud for a bit, and maybe by the time I’m done I will have said something coherent and even something illuminating. Blogs are meant for experiments like this, after all.

So. Fact 1: people who make movies are pretty much by definition creative professionals*. This implies but does not necessitate that a good number of characters in movies are the sort of people who wish to pursue some sort of creative career. In any case, their proportion is considerably exaggerated.

Fact 2: one almost universal lesson/moral in many of these movies is that one should always ” follow your dreams”, even if they seem impractical.

Fact 3: most creative professions are, if anything, over-served (I think there’s a more precise term for this). From a basic econ101 point of view, this should depress wages automatically. Adding to this the fact that many of these professions are just intrinsically less valued by society, at least in terms of how much it is willing to support the average professional, leads to people being paid much less than they would get for a similar amount of work in an alternate, more “conventional” profession.

Fact 4: also consider that many of these professions have very unequal payouts. Charlie Stross had a great post where he showed that the median salary of a writer was a ridiculously low figure by western standards, even though the average is a fair bit (still not that much, though) higher, because a very, very small minority of writers make oodles of money. The same applies to actors, artists, etc. Naturally, the media in general tends to greatly play up the successes and play down the vast hordes who never make it- and no, the starving artist trope is hardly proof against this.

Fact 5: while fact 3 should ordinarily deter those without an “unstoppable” drive from making a career out of these fields, facts 1,2 and 4 considerably alter the situation, mostly by distorting reality- 1 by subtly implying that to be a real character in your own life, you must be some sort of creative person, 2 by suggesting that your life is incomplete if you do not go on to “make the most of your talent”, and 3 by strongly misrepresenting your chances of ever being successful in a material sense by making a career out of what should really stay a hobby. This leads to what is basically mis-informed consent and manufactured preferences, and you know how the rest of this goes.

Proffered conclusion: Hollywood may be ruining your emo teenager’s life.

*As you may have noted, I’m using this phrase in a slightly skewed sense here, not just the literal meaning of the two words strung together. It is not an original usage, so I think I’m safe with it. I think programming is a creative profession, for instance, like much of engineering, but this analysis is far more relevant to the miniature furniture builder or paper sculptor who quits his accounting job than to an engineer.

Gambling Lives

Came across this from a link on twitter:

Right now, your company could have a life insurance policy on you that you know nothing about. When you die — perhaps years after you leave your employer — the tax-free proceeds from this policy wouldnt go to your family. The money would go to the company.
…Hundreds of companies — including Dow Chemical, Procter & Gamble, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney and Winn-Dixie — have purchased this insurance on more than 6 million rank-and-file workers…. These policies, nicknamed dead janitors or dead peasants insurance, soared in popularity after many states cleared the way for them in the 1980s.

The article takes a rather strong position against the practice. Obviously, the fact that a company is essentially making money off an employee’s death without doing anything to help his/her family(besides whatever is already in its labour contracts/policies, that is) is a little repugnant. The prime motive is not, apparently, “insurance” against losses caused by key personnel leaving but purely profit, since these are basically tax-free returns:

Sales of the policies came to a virtual standstill in September 2003, according to the insurer trade group ACLI, when the Senate Finance Committee approved legislation that would have taxed payouts made to companies if the employee had left more than a year earlier. That indicates that most policies aren’t being sold to protect companies financially against the loss of key current employees.

However, try as I might, I can’t come up with any reason to condemn this from a libertarian perspective. What it amounts to is two entities-the company and the insurer- making a contractual agreement based on some uncertain event. You can call this gambling (which again I find nothing wrong with, so I shouldn’t need to justify that at all), but it works exactly like other perfectly legal, even encouraged contracts (i.e. insurance in pretty much any other situation). As long as the company does not work the employee to death- a factor that is mentioned in the article, but surely there are other laws to take care of that explicitly, not just as it relates to insurance- what’s the harm? I agree that they should probably tax the income earned, though, given that society needs taxes to function and that this behaviour is not something we want to subsidize. The fact that that would apparently wipe out the market is not something I would necessarily lose sleep over, since I don’t see any other justification to not tax it.

OK. Since that is almost the same thing as condemning it anyway, I have no idea why I wrote this post.