Money & Community Service

I can think of lots of wonderful things I could do to enhance (if only a little) the lives of people in my community. I could give free concerts. I could teach stuff to kids at the library after school. I’d love to do both.

But where would I find the time? I’m way too busy scrambling around trying to earn enough money to pay my rent.

And failing. I’m paying my rent out of my savings. I can go on this way for quite a while, but it’s not a stable situation. I need to earn more — significantly more. But there seems to be no way to do even that, let alone a way to earn more and also have more free time!

The roots of my own economic malaise date back at least ten years. In 1998, while on staff as a senior editor at Keyboard, I noticed that my rent (on a very nice 2-bedroom apartment in San Mateo) was going up at the rate of 10% a year, while my salary was going up much less. I don’t remember if this was before or after the salary freeze went into effect.

I whipped out a spreadsheet and did a quick calculation, which showed that if that trend continued, in the year 2009 I would become a full-time white-collar employee who was homeless. At that point, my rent would be more than my take-home pay.

This calculation was somewhat artificial, of course, because economic trends twist like pythons. But it was very clear that my salary was not keeping pace with the continually inflating cost of living.

Nor has it since.

In 2002 I was downsized out the door. Since then I’ve done a lot of freelance writing in the music industry, for Keyboard, Electronic Musician, Mix, and several other magazines. But none of them adjusts their fees to freelance writers to match inflation. I earn no more today for the average article than I did five years ago for an article of comparable length. And of course, music products are continually getting more complex, so it takes more time and effort today to write a given article than it would have five years ago.

I’m feeling only a slight pinch from this year’s economic meltdown. My real problem is, I should have become a lawyer or a banker instead of an artist. Our economic system is set up so that those who can best contribute to the cultural vitality of the community suffer great economic hardship, while the parasites get rich and stay rich.

I think Karl Marx said something about that, didn’t he? In these times, we could do worse than go back and take a fresh look at Marx. He seems to have been wrong about a lot of things — I’ve never read Marx, but I seem to recall that he thought the State would naturally wither away once the workers owned the means of production. He may have badly underestimated human greed as a motivating force. But I’m curious to learn how he viewed the economic problems of 19th century capitalism.

In the meantime — no free concerts in the park for y’all, not from me. I’m too depressed about money to even write any music, let alone try to put together a band to play it.

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