Thursday, June 20, 2013

La Fortuna

This is going to be less humorous than my last post. I titled this one "La Fortuna" because it is really about eliminating chance and misfortune from life. Godfrey Moase writes in the Guardian:
Imagine the creativity, innovation and enterprise that would be unleashed if every citizen were guaranteed a living. Universal income provides the material basis for a fuller development of human potential. Social enterprises, cooperatives and small businesses could be started without participants worrying where the next pay cheque would come from. Artists and musicians could focus on their work.
A lot of people have commented negatively on this, but I would like to put in my fifty centavos worth.

I always struggled personally with the commercial aspects of a career in music. To the point that I decided, a number of years ago, to quit my decades-long performing career entirely. I'm sure I could have figured out a way to continue, but I had reached a frustration level that was just too much, so I quit.

Nowadays I call myself a "non-commercial" musician, meaning that I do what I feel is worth doing, such as this blog and my composition, and don't bother with anything else. I don't have to earn a living doing music, which I always felt skewed my career. So I should be supportive of proposals like the one above, right?

But I am not. The reality of life is that if people like your music, they will pay you for it somehow. The details of how that works can sometimes be hard to figure out, but that's just the way it is. Making a living as an artist off grants and subsidies I have always felt was misconceived. Why should waitresses in Moose Jaw be forced to pay taxes to subsidize serial composers in Halifax? Make up any example you like. While on the one hand I appreciate that society should support its artists, on the other hand, I don't think that these decisions should be made by government. I don't think that government does a good job of supporting the arts and there is always the risk that the subsidy will suddenly disappear for political reasons.

I am on the board of directors of a music organization where I live that exists entirely because of the support of private patrons. There are no government subsidies. Organizations that have relied on government support over the years have often disappeared when that support dried up.

But imagine if Godfrey Moase's plan was put into effect. Apart from the really stunning effect it would have on the economy in general, imagine what most people would do if they had $30,000 a year flowing in with no need to earn it. Just off the top of my head, one-tenth of one percent might do valuable creative work, the true artists and musicians, and the rest would sit around eating potato chips and watching reality television. You just know it's true! This guaranteed income would simply destroy most people's lives. "Poverty, insecurity and economic anxiety" are actually strong motivators to get off your ass and do something.

The other day I read that some international body (the UN? the World Bank?) was proposing to end absolute poverty by 2030. Seems like a good goal. But then I thought, what about Franciscan monks? There are people on this earth who, for various reasons, choose poverty. For Franciscans it is a solemn vow. Can we take that away from them?

Here is what I believe is an excerpt from Olivier Messiaen's opera St. Francis transcribed for organ. It is the music of the angels:

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