We're Being Abused
Maybe it's all just about money, this problem I have, this thing with the bean counters taking over almost everything. Bean counters – you know, the bottom-liners, the balance-sheeters. In so many areas we've lost sight of what we really value and are equating goodness with profit.
Take publishing (he said, selfishly). Years ago publishers would publish an author through two, three of more books before they expected him or her to really sell. People like William Faulkner and even the (eventually) popular James Michener come to mind.
Today, however, publishers greet a manuscript with, What has this person published before? How much money did it make? Will this manuscript make money? This forces authors to turn to small presses which offer little to no financial support and even less post-publication publicity. Very few authors today can live on the money they make writing, which forces them into alternative occupations that leave only a marginal amount of time for writing. Keep in mind we depend on books not only to read, but also as the source of many of our other entertainments such as movies and television shows.
Or consider higher education. There's hardly a college or university anymore that doesn't feel the pressure – and yield to it – to translate their offerings into job prospects and the income potential of their graduates. Regularly do we see charts showing not the intellectual value of all manner of fields and occupations but, rather, their entry-level salaries.
I'm not naïve. Of course college is expensive, but we've lost so much of what we think higher education ought to be doing. Nearly gone are the paeans to a liberal arts education and the value of teaching students how to think critically, to reason, to evaluate, to solve problems. To be widely-read also gives students the ability to separate the substance from the scream, to take the chaos of an increasingly chaotic world and make sense out of it. A familiarity with the depth and breadth of thinking through the centuries gives us, as well, the ability to understand the tragedies and failures of our lives. Lacking those skills we are easy prey for the demagogues and extremists that give us falsehoods in place of reality. We need to revisit that most serious of questions: Do we want our young people educated or trained?
I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't bring health care into the picture. Pick a disease, any disease that's recently had some wonderfully effective drug developed to cure or alleviate it and you will find a price tag that will make your jaw drop. The usual response to this is that the drug companies spend zillions of dollars developing new pharmaceuticals and they need to recoup those investments – except that this ignores the zillions of dollars those companies receive in both government support and tax breaks.
I think the overall question here is why, even within a cutthroat capitalistic system, something as critical as health care and illness should be open to profit by any health care provider. You can charge someone whatever you think they will accept in selling them a new car, but they can't just walk away from a lifesaving treatment because they don't like or can't afford the price (even if that price is only a hefty co-pay on an insurance plan). Perhaps the greatest irony in all this is that the bean counters have seen to it that we don't actually know the price before treatment is begun.
Obviously, any of these areas would warrant book-length treatment but, finally, if you want to talk about money and its abuses you only have to peek into the world of professional and collegiate sports.
I've long since lost interest in being a "fan" of any particular professional team. I do like to watch football simply because of the complex logic behind the plays. As for the rest, I simply find it all too distasteful, whether it's the news of this or that athlete signing a multi-million dollar contract or this or that team ripping off the taxpayers of some municipality for a new stadium.
On the Division I collegiate level the NCAA now (due to a court order) will allow college athletes to earn money through various sponsorships or the sale of their images for advertising purposes. It continues to raise the question as to what these athletes – marginal "students" at best – are even doing on college campuses. What's also quite annoying is to see the president of a major university earning a salary of a few hundred thousand dollars while the football coach is earning in excess of four or five million (or more) dollars a year.
Complaining about money, of course, is nothing new. We've always felt some guilt about our consumerist/materialistic side. But I worry about what is going to happen to publishing, and I worry about higher education becoming nothing more than trade schools for the elite and unaffordable for anyone else, and I worry that health care is forgetting its most cherish dictum of "first, do no harm," and I worry that the sporting world will become nothing more than a game show about as interesting as "Wheel of Fortune."
One of our least impressive presidents (no, not him) once said, "The business of America is business."
I think we're better than that.
G.K Wuori ©2022
Photoillustration by the author