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Special People Are Not Special, Irreplaceable or Even Competent
January 14, 2014dissention13 comments
One of the more peculiar aspects of modern financial capitalism is its effect on the price of art. Today, it is not unheard for a painting by an artist who died a century ago to fetch many millions of dollars. While the effect of financial capitalism on art prices raises many questions, one of them is often ignored or seldom asked.
How can the works of a person who lived, and died, in near poverty many decades ago command millions of dollars today?
Proponents and supporters of capitalism, including its more virulent financial strain, never tire of telling others that capitalism rewards innovation and hard work. They also like to tell others that capitalism is a meritocracy or supports a system based in merit. But how do those belief interact with the prices for art by long dead artists?
Let us start by trying to first ask ourselves why artists like Van Gogh, CÃ©zanne, Pollock and Klimt never made a lot of money off their paintings when they were alive. I am not implying that all of them died in poverty or madness. But it is quite obvious that creators of art pieces that fetch over 100 million dollars in auctions today lived rather modestly or close to poverty.
The supporters of capitalism preach that the free market pays each person according to their worth. So how can the artwork of somebody who lived in near poverty like Van Gogh command over a hundred million dollars today. Why did he not receive a fraction of that sum (even inflation adjusted) in his lifetime? Why was his art unappreciated in his own time? Were the capitalist of that era unable to see the true value of his paintings? Also, capitalism believes that all people are principally motivated by the amount of money made during their lifetime. So how does paying over a hundred million dollars for artpieces many decades after the death of their impoverished creators encourage people to create great art?
But we are still not talking about the real elephant in the room. Why are the paintings of Van Gogh, CÃ©zanne, Pollock and Klimt so expensive? What is the source of their value? Do they confer any superhuman power on its owners? Does owning them confer immortality? Do they even add 2 inches to the length of the owners penis? Can any the owners of these 100 million dollar-plus paintings even appreciate art? And what about paintings by contemporaries of these now-famous artists. How many of them fetch that sort of money? and why not? Were all their contemporaries unskilled or incompetent hacks?
Then there is the issue of art fakes. Why is an almost perfect copy of an multi-million artpiece by a skilled chinese artist worth close to nothing when compared to the original? Does the fact that the original was painted by van Gogh or Pollock imbue it with magical properties or a divine aura? and did Jackson Pollock even paint? And how come all these paintings never appreciate much as long as its creators are alive? My point is that the cost of a painting has no correlation to the skill, insight or creativity of the artist who created it.
So what peculiar rationale underlies the valuation of artwork?
Before we answer that question, let us look at a similar problem in the world of entertainment- specifically the money and fame achieved by a few actors, sportsmen, singers and other celebrities. Why do certain actors command millions of dollars while others who are equally good-looking and talented languish as extras for the rest of their lives? Why did some get the lucky breaks or roles that lead them to stardom? Was it competence or just dumb luck?
Why does somebody who plays in the NBA make so much more than an equally talented athlete in something like say high jumping? And what about those guys who for some reason or another just missed getting drafted by some NBA team? Were they really that untalented or just unlucky? Why do certain sports, such as cycling or golf, now attract much more money than they did a few decades ago? Why does cycling quickly through rural France entitle you to almost 100 million dollars over a decade? Or why does playing golf well let you make over 500 million dollars?
How does any of that benefit society? What about famous singers? Why are mediocre and manufactured singers like Katy Perry or Britney Spears in the same income range as far more talented ones like the late Freddy Mercury or even someone like Eminem? How do people like Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian make millions off being famous for inserting empty wine bottles in their vagina and having rough sex with a black athlete respectively?
Clearly there is a massive disconnect between the value of what these so-called â€œspecialâ€ people provide and their remuneration. What are we paying them for anyway? and who is really paying them and why?
But is this disconnect restricted to art and entertainment, or is it more pervasive? How do CEOs and the senior management of corporations make millions regardless of whether the company they are supposed to run well is making a profit or loss? Do they even understand the products or services provided by the corporations they benefit from? Or take professors and senior faculty at the supposedly prestigious ivy-league universities. How come massive increases in funding to these elites since the 1980s by depriving others of it has not yielded any real breakthroughs.
Sure.. we get lots of irreproducible research, exaggerated press releases, colorful brochures and magazines, polished presentations- but where are the breakthroughs. What about all those new generations of antibiotics, new drugs to treat common types of cancers with minimal side-effects, batteries with very high power densities they keep on promising? What about controlled energy-positive nuclear fusion? Where is all the stuff they have kept on promising for the last 30 years?
What about all the promises made by politicians? Did Bush43 fulfill any of the promises made to the idiots who voted him in twice? What about all the talk about hope and change by Obama? Would Clinton be seen differently if he had not been accidental beneficiary of a freak combination of geopolitical, economic and technological windfalls? Would we worse of if we elected chimpanzees and dogs to political office? Then there is the issue of bankers and other people involved in the higher echelons of the financial sector. Who gets those jobs and how? What do they do anyway? How hard is it to make lots of money when you make it irrespective of whether your clients lose or make money?
Here is my take on all of this.. Human societies (whether they are feudal, capitalistic or communist) are basically giant stagnant ponds that support the growth of liars, fakers, con-artists and other assorted parasites. Special people are just those parasites who got especially lucky and successful by scamming, manipulating and extorting others and hiding from the consequences- not unlike many parasitic protozoa and worms. However this problem cannot be fixed, at least not easily, since the very existence of large stagnant ponds creates opportunities for parasites to evolve and perfect their craft. One of only two ways to fix this problem to any significant extent involves changing the very nature of human societies, either by force or accident. Another way, is to permanently drain the stagnant ponds, even if doing so kills everything else in it.
What do you think? Comments?
- Junior Poster
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Take the avg USA salary of $45K. I don't think any human is worth more than around $100K. I make way more than that and am the first to say I'm not worth it!!! Taking more is just stealing from others.
Steve Jobs for example, it's all the smart hard working people around him that made Apple work. He keeps their compensation low compared to company profits, steals a little bit from each worker, and that's how he gets paid billions. Apple cannibalized the music industry in order to sell iPods, again stealing from one to pay another.
Bankers, same story. One person makes millions by exploiting enslaving the masses with debt. They aren't "worth" millions, they don't do or create anything.
But my view (reality) is a very uncommon view in the USA.
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