Monday, December 17, 2012

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra And The Social Contract

The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra is on strike . Money is the issue, and I'm sympathetic. these are skilled artists, with neurosystems and senses of beauty (probably a false distinction, but just "neurosystems" seems too cold) developed far beyond those of the people for whose pleasure, and especially, at whose pleasure, they perform. Maybe the occasional surgeon in the audience operates at that level, but mostly, it's just us duffers.

As the economy contracts, this is how it happens: faced with fewer resources, the MBAs who control the budget will reduce expenses where it's easiest. They know they can't get very far, asking for give backs from suppliers, bankers, and taxmen, and audiences and grantors are contributing at their limits, so they relieve the pressure on themselves by demanding help where it's easiest: subordinate (!) members of the team.

Quick review: There are twice as many mouths to feed as there were forty years ago, and there were a lot then. Also forty years ago, it took one unit of oil to drill eighty, now it takes twenty; we're pumping a lot of what's, near as I can figure, the real basis for our currency, but we burn a fourth of it for the privilege. Global warming and other forms of pollution (and pollution control) take a bite out of our wealth. Borrowing made sense as the economy expanded, because we could expect to service debt with wealth we planned to create with borrowed capital; now, as the economy contracts, payments to creditors will come from society's operating budget. And there has been a major concentration of wealth in the same forty-year period, so capital that might have gone to innovation and compensation, feathers the already plush nests of the SPCO's directors and major supporters.

I don't believe that workers, even workers as noble and virtuous as classical musicians, can justly expect compensation commensurate with "world-class music." But neither can performers in New York.

And neither can MBAs, and the venal lightweights who get rooms at the Crowne Plaza because it's too far to drive back to fucking Wayzata after the concert.

What the musicians, and other workers going forward, need to realize is that we're on the brink of the precipice, and we're in a struggle for standing room as it crumbles. Some old fart in a thousand-dollar suit, hundred-dollar haircut,  and a one-of-a-kind pair of gold cuff links is gonna try to knock you into the abyss, but the ground really is crumbling.

Forget ticket prices. Negotiate the social contract.

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