By Pete Moss
As my 40th birthday has come
and gone and I'm still working as a lowly messenger, I've had the irritating
experience of being lectured by successful people I know. These people
used to be friends of mine, so I thought, but as their lives blew up
and mine didn't, I became an embarrassment to them, although I didn't
realize that, until the lectures started up.
The subject of the lectures
invariably comes around to why don't I 'Make something of myself'. In
other words, why do I stubbornly remain a failure? To the people doing
the lecturing, not being a failure is as easy as falling off a log.
One friend of mine thinks it's just a matter of joining the Libertarian
party. But I've found that Libertarian principals sound good on paper,
but once you start delving into it, shortcomings crop up.
Anyway, I don't consider
myself a failure. Only perhaps by the exalted standards of someone who
is a famous magician in Las Vegas or a Vice-president at a major Frisco
consulting company. For an average guy I'm doing fine. I'm employed,
reasonably sober, I get along with my kids, I have some strong long
term friendships with good people and I'm still capable of forming new
friends, a skill that many people seem to lose somewhere in their 30's.
But enough autobiography…
The really irritating thing
that my famous friend in Vegas e-mailed me about the other day was Harry
Potter. I assume that everybody on earth has heard of Harry Potter by
now. I enjoy the Harry Potter books. My kids liked them and I try to
read what my kids read, so I can know what they're talking about when
they refer to 'muggles', though the truth is, among kids, Harry Potter
is getting kind of passé.
There is a background story
though, and that is how Harry Potter came to be written by JK Rowling.
Let me say here, something
that we all know, and that is this: successful people never want to
admit how luck and subsidies figured into their success. It's always
all about their own hardwork and brilliance. That's why Libertarianism
seems to appeal mostly to people who have it made.
One excuse I've used for
years for the reason I've never written a book, is because I don't have
the time or money. I'm a single parent working two jobs. I'm raising
one kid and paying support on another. I have debts. Plus I like to
have a little social life, and what with one thing and another I'm usually
pretty lucky to have 20 minutes or half an hour, here or there, to write.
Over the course of a week I might be able to snatch two or three hours
altogether. Keeping the thread of a novel going under those conditions
is difficult at best.
But my magician friend decided
to trump me by bringing up JK Rowling and Harry Potter. It seems JK
Rowling is also a single parent, and that she wrote the first Harry
Potter in her spare time. So I went and did some digging. As it turns
out, Harry Potter was a bad example for my friend to use. Here's the
JK Rowling was indeed a
single parent when she wrote the first Harry Potter, and she was living
in some crappy place in the rustbelt of north England. But like a lot
of people in England, she was unemployed, and on the dole. And she had
a great deal of spare time. Matter of fact, she wrote most of the original
Harry Potter, sitting in a cozy mom & pop café for 4 or 5 hours a day,
where the kindly owners would slip her free hot chocolates, and shoo
away anybody who bothered her.
Well whatever, it worked,
we've all seen what an industry Harry Potter has turned into. The point
is the author had a direct government subsidy. Also direct private patronage,
if I might use such an archaic term.
I wonder, now that JK Rowling
is rich and famous, probably beyond her wildest dreams, is she going
to pay back any of the money she collected when she was poor and obscure?
And does she still drop by that mom & pop café and hang out? I'm sure
that would do wonders for their business. But these questions are beside
I'm not going to bag on
JK Rowling because I'd be bagging out of envy and I have an aversion
to letting my actions or words come from base emotions. Truth is I have
to admire the way Ms. Rowling manipulated the system. I wish I had the
balls to do the same thing. But I've always had it drummed into me that
if you don't work, you don't eat, and I've never been able to blot that
out, no matter how much Olde English I consume.
What it really comes down
to for me is that I can't get behind the Libertarian view that all government
subsidies should be abolished. The truth is government is willing to
fund all kinds of ventures, from struggling writers to the internet,
to biomedical research, without any regard to making money. This is
a good thing.
It takes money to make money.
Like all truths it has the ring of cliché. But where's a poor person
supposed to get money? Banks are like women: they won't give you any
unless you don't really need it, then they're begging you to take it.
Theoretically, banks aren't
playing with their own money. There are people called 'shareholders'
that a banks board of directors have to answer to.
But with the government,
there's no such constraint. Theoretically, we're all the 'shareholders'
in the government. You can use the formula they use in Hollywood: 1
hit pays for 19 flops, 10 times over.
The private sector, with
its incessant demand for profit, is all well and good. And the human
race and the market benefit from competition, sure they do. But there
must be an alternative: A space where people can do pure research, without
the incessant pressure to produce results, or move product.
If you don't believe me,
read a Harry Potter book. The amount of entertainment you get for your
dollar will make a socialist out of you.
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