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May 03, 2009


Sure. Where do you suppose silt comes from?

Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households.

CIA Factbook on the US.

Redistribution of wealth? Sounds Socialist to me....

Where do you suppose silt comes from?

Clay -- which, in gardener's terms, is the opposite of sand. Not that I'm gardening today -- the forecast "light rain" seems to have been upgraded.

Dr. S. You might check this out.

Risk of threadjack here. Sorry.

This chart makes the same point, IMO more informatively. I'd like to see it in a lot more places and a lot more often. (link to original source in linked post)

Nell, you know how the White House Press Corps and the MSM is at Obama's beck and call so I am sure that if he wanted this kind of information out there then it would be.

Nell: yeah, but that's not about the growth, or lack thereof, in wages. It is a great chart, though.

Two things come to mind.

First, what is fair pay for an orchestra musician? They are among the finest musicians - that's got to be worth something. But most symphony orchestras require fund raisers to survive. They cannot sell enough tickets for high enough fees to survive without gifts. Apparently the public does not think they are worth more than they are receiving now, otherwise the public would be willing to pay more. But this doesn't mean they are less valuable people in other ways. Why do people do it? I'm guessing it is because they love music, and love to play it at a high level. There is probably some prestige that comes with the job. Aren't these a form of reward? Why is it that people who chase these other rewards feel that they should be rewarded financially as well? I'm sure they would LIKE to be rewarded, but this article is not talking about what the WANT it is talking more about what they deserve. Do they deserve more money than people are freely willing to give them? Does the free-lance musician busking in the subway deserve as much as the orchestra musician? What is 'deserve' anyway? Who gets to decide values? And on what basis? Suppose I want to trade my wealth for musical ability - who will give that to me? It's not possible. Yet, someone wants to make things flow the other way.

Second, when I was in high school 30 years ago there was a career guidance program that we all had to participate in. One thing they stressed over and over was that the US economy was changing and those who did not get college degrees or technical training would be left behind. The pointed at engineering fields and other such technical fields as the coming things. They pointed at manufacturing type, semi-skilled jobs as the losing things. They pointed to how computers would change the workplace and that unskilled workers would have to compete against low wage unskilled labor in the entire world.

Now, 30 years later, we see the results. Skilled, technical labor does well. The opposite (unskilled is an inaccurate word, maybe general skills is better) does not do so well. Skills that are transferable from one workplace to another do well. Who functions have been displaced by the computer. Who has a secretary for writing correspondence anymore? It's easier to draft things in a word processor than tho deal with a secretary. The accounting field has been changed dramatically. There is no longer a need for hordes of bookkeepers because the computer does most of the work.

Anyway, my point is that the income distribution, in many ways, is just the fruit of what was predicted years ago. Why isn't there more blame put at the feet of the school system? They knew 30 years ago where things were headed yet did not prepare students for it.

There are whole industries that have shrunk in the US in the last 30 years. Steel, autos, textiles, even electronics manufacturing. Sure we design electronics here, and software, and machine tools for electronics manufacturing but the gadgets themselves are made elsewhere. Should the last workers in struggling steel, auto and textile jobs earn ripe amounts of money when their very industry is struggling? It doesn't really make sense.

@Hilzoy: Both charts deal with percentage of shares in national income; I'm not seeing how the one in the post deals any more explicitly with wages than the one from Afferent Input (source of the chart, for those who haven't followed the original link).

Two things come to mind.

These are all good points.

Regarding musicians, most people who make their primary living as musicians do so by wearing a number of hats. They play more than one instrument, they teach privately or in schools, they play in variety of settings.

I'm not familiar with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra specifically, but an orchestra paying its members $30K a year is most likely a mid level regional or community orchestra, and the folks performing in it no doubt have a number of irons in the fire.

Regarding the broader question of "what should musicians be paid", performing musicians are the primary generators of a product that is the basis of a pretty large and lucrative industry.

Live and recorded music makes a lot of dollars move. IMO in a reasonable world good musicians should therefore be able to make a decent middle class living, and in fact in many markets that's exactly the case. It takes a lot of work, and you have to bring a lot of skills above and beyond just your playing ability to the table, but that's true in a lot of fields.

Regarding the question of technology and the "two tier" job market, it's definitely true that unskilled and less skilled jobs are disappearing, at least the kinds that used to generate a reasonable livelihood.

So, that explains some of the erosion of income.

But even within the more technically oriented areas of the job market, the rise in income (if any) has not kept pace with the increased value of the economy as a whole.

The efficiencies afforded by technology has generated enormous value, and that has not gone primarily to the top half of income earners, or primarily to those who work in technical jobs or industries. It's gone to the top 20% of income earners, and in fact by far to the top few percent of that group.

It's gone primarily to capital, to ownership, and quite often to folks who contribute nothing other than there investment dollars to any of the enterprises in question.

"performing musicians are the primary generators of a product that is the basis of a pretty large and lucrative industry."

But unless they're distinctively different and better as individuals, they're in much the same position as copyists after the invention of the printing press.

Uh, not really. Someone still has to perform the music that appears on recordings. (I suppose one person could meticulously multitrack every instrument of a symphony orchestra, but that seems unlikely.)

And unless one is a tin-eared cretin, the kinds of people who listen to music performed by orchestras are actually interested in the difference between, say, a current live performance of a Shostakovich symphony by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Franz Welser-Möst and the 1959 New York Philharmonic performance of the same conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

I agree that capital has gotten an unusually high share over the last few decades. I don't call it good, healthy, or desirable for such unevenness to occur. But, I don't think capital has been evil, or has been stealing. I think the economy has shifted fundamentally and imbalances are a natural resort of equilibrium changes. Things will stabilize when a new equilibrium is reached and labor will be a larger factor. In my opinion, artificial fixing of the situation through govt intervention will only serve to delay the eventual equilibrium - it won't fundamentally alter it.

By the way, thank you for the dialogue you usually provide.

they're in much the same position as copyists after the invention of the printing press.

Seriously, Brett, you have no idea what you're talking about.

But, I don't think capital has been evil, or has been stealing.

Nor I.

But some, I would say some large, part of that inequity is due to specific decisions that we've made in public policy over the last, say, 30 years.

It's not just the natural dynamics of the market playing out as it will. And even if it were, IMO that would still not be a sufficient reason for government to stay out of it.

Thanks for the kind words, I'll do my best to live up to them.

I'm not clear. Is he keeping the $750,000 "bonus"? Or was that someone in another line of work.

Agree with Russell. The disequilibrium is, in part, because of governmental influence wielded by those who control the capital. They have been lobbying for favorable conditions. In the specific case of musicians the music industry has lobbied for changes in copyright regulation that maintains this disequilibrium in the face of technological changes that should bring the sides back in balance (e.g. the DMCA, the CTEA, etc.). Internet and telecommunication regulation is largely the same story.

The gap is intentional. The gap is engineered. And government is capital's chosen implement.

So why is labor forbidden to use government as its own implement to negate this engineered advantage?

Labor isn't forbidden to use government as its own implement to negate engineered advantages; but to expect those that tend to be supporters of those who use capital not to push back, not to use the tools at its disposal to maintain the environment that supports capital's predominance is downright foolish.

Seriously, Brett, you have no idea what you're talking about.

Sorry, that was perhaps overly harsh.

A better analogy would be to say that musicians in the age of recording are like actors after the invention of moving pictures.

Which is to say, unless one and only one performance of any piece of music is all that is ever wanted, they are far from obsolete.

'labour' has recieved much of the income, but it is a certain form of labour: particularly skilled and well-known professionals. Movie stars, surgeons, VPs and other top managers, etc. These people do work, and contribute (mostly) to prosperity, but are overcompensated. Use of 'tournament/lottery' style institutional structures where many people compete to be promoted to the highly-compensated position also is to blame. What makes it hard to correct is that it isn't just ne're-do-wells and incompetents that are given outsized salaries, or a rentier class that spends all its time boating on cape cod, its people who are competent and intelligent and hard-working. So one has to make an argument that relies on merely the degree of overcompensation. People who might earn 20% or 40% more than the average person in a more just world instead earn 500% or 5,000% more than the average. So while this argument is true, the narrative the meritocracy elites use to justify their take of the national income has a greater plausibility than ones in teh past.

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