Life in the ivory tower? – I.
Written by Csaba Tőri
20 March 2019
The following question arises on countless occasions: is it worth playing music as a profession in this modern world, should we let our children enter the music field, or does it mean several financial issues and problems?
There are people who’re so committed that it doesn’t even worth talking them out of it. But there are people, who are interested in different professions and they even have the talent needed. How can they decide whether to enter the music community or not and which things help them make this serious decision?
Of course, the best thing would be if everyone could get well-paid for doing what they love. But it isn’t good if the professionalism is so strong that you’re satisfied with low salary – in other parts of your life it can cause serious problems in the future.
Nowadays, many people working on certain fields where don’t get enough salary to be able to live a healthy life. Even though it’s the same in other countries too, it doesn’t mean that it is easy for people dealing with this issue every month. People working as a nurse, a bus driver, a teacher, a social worker or even as a doctor get a salary that is not even close to the lower end of the wage range.
Let’s forget about the bad consequences it can cause for a moment and let’s try to think differently.
As we try to examine what decides the amount of salary given to the workers of each job, it’s easy to recognize that certain professions are moving at a generally higher wage level, while other workers are low-paid even they think that the importance of their job is higher.
After talking about this topic a lot (which lead to several conflicts about whose job is better etc.), I started to realize that the “importance” is totally subjective. There are just a few people that can fully understand all the different specializations, if there is any. However, it’s a good measure of how much society considers it important. Of course, we don’t have a full range of knowledge (and the consumer society commercials also affect our desire), but we must admit that we can spend a lot of money on things that we consider as important one.
I can give you a good example that happens a lot to me: sometimes I don’t want to spend 500 forints on half a kilo of oranges (because it’s relatively expensive) but I can spend 700 forints on two packs of chips with no problem because it was on sale, but it was only 200 gramms.
If we look at the price-value rate, it is striking that we attribute some value to everything, and if (comparing to our value to the product) the product is being sold cheaper, we’ll buy it. And if we see a 40 forints worth of pastry we consider it too cheap, that is probably not even good.
But what decides the value of something on our minds?
(Sorry about the long financial attachment, I’ll turn back to the musical side of it.)
We’re more likely to believe what we see, that’s why commercials are so successful. Commercials need to influence people to buy that product, so it is made to make people emotionally connected to the product.
It’s not surprising that when I was a child, I’ve seen more chips commercials than orange ones. Maybe that’s why I felt more attracted to chips than oranges (and because as a child I wasn’t allowed to eat as many packs of chips as I wanted to because it’s unhealthy and my parents didn’t let me do it).
Because of that as the years passed by, I couldn’t help but buy chips that was on sale. I felt more attracted to a 200 g of unhealthy stuff for 700 forints, than to 1 kilo of oranges full of vitamin for 500 forints.
This long introduction was important because the same process can be tracked in several steps in the proportion of wages between different professions. So, what decides how much we value the job of a doctor, a social worker, or a nurse etc.?
Setting the right price is even harder because in this case commercials do not help us. There’s no specific product so it’s difficult to identify exactly its value: we need doctors in case of emergency, and feel the importance of disinsectisation when we have to face with the bedbugs.
If a bus driver/carpenter/fast food waiter doesn’t get paid, doesn’t get the expected wage, that he/she won’t go to work tomorrow. There are some serious collective contracts that guarantee that this person will eventually go in at least if he/she expect the situation to improve over time. As a consequence, the importance of his/her job will be moved higher.
On the other hand, a doctor/nurse/teacher chooses his/her job because of the dedication and quality of the job. They will do their job even if they don’t get enough money for it. A doctor wouldn’t go on strike and miss saving patients’ life because they’re not satisfied with their salary. Unfortunately, this unintentionally pushes down the value of their work.
It’s also bad going on strike as a teacher, skipping lessons for weeks: we teach the kids, because their life is important to us. Sometimes their lives become more important than ours, because we’re grateful for the predecessors who did the same for us.
It only takes a few steps from this to start making more compromises, and even if we don’t get enough money to make a living, we keep on working, because the sense of vocation is as important in our life as the financial security. But it means that we make more value of it, than we can earn. Everyone has been accepting a smaller sum for years, so this image of value for society has been already on this unrealistically low amount. It’s a reversed example but it’s very similar to cartel, but now at low prices.
Because of the lack of market competitions, those jobs where the sense of vocation is crucial, can get valuable wages if they ask for the price of their work, even though it’ll hurt in the first period to leave school/hospital for a while. As soon as everyone requires a certain appreciation, changes will happen.
This question is similar for the musicians as well. In this culture at least there are some market competition. However, in the history of humanity, authors, painters, musicians didn’t make a living out of their basic earnings, but instead they gave private lessons to get enough money – so that they can write their 9th symphony-maybe even for free.
These days it’s clear that the true value has no price. But we want to create it even if nobody pays for it. But this has some serious consequences. The ivory tower came into existence: high-cultural people, actually create things for each other – but people outside the tower are almost unaware of what’s happening inside.
(Second part of this article: Life in the ivory tower? – II.)