Once upon a time humans found their own food. Mama nursed baby, then mama and maybe papa too helped baby find food, but after that you found your own food: or you didn’t eat.
Until the group got bigger, and decided somehow that orphans should be helped: that in fat times fat could be stored and shared.
And that’s the modern nation: taxing everybody to store fat, whether the times are fat or not: and making sure there’s fat fat for the bureaucrats no matter how lean the times are.
When I was a kid I coughed up my nickel or quarter for whatever it was I wanted: a malted milk, a Clark bar, a Dixieland record. I didn’t know that Roosevelt, then Truman, was taxing my father so that the FBI had a budget with which to beat up anarchists, I thought the country was supposed to have free speech! Later on, the state was taxing my mother: and the city. By the time I was paying slightly better attention there was free Shakespeare in the park! Who wouldn’t be for that?
Well, now, I wouldn’t. Nothing is free; stop pretending it is.
Carnegie made billions. Carnegie donated millions, and more millions. Carnegie endowed schools, universities, graduate schools … Bravo Carnegie! See? Wealth isn’t so bad …
But then Bucky Fuller explained that Carnegie was endowing graduate schools to keep the talented young out of the market, out of competition with him, Carnegie, until they were no longer quite so talented or so young, and had become accustomed to be subsidized, in unemployment, in dependence, too old to be rascally anymore: and Carnegie could be the mega-rascal, unchallenged. No more king of the hill, the king has reelected himself, in perpetuity.
At first things seem simple. Human existence depends on charity. We compete, but we can’t compete completely, or everyone will soon be dead: mothers won’t nurse, won’t let the male bully them quite so completely. The alphas won’t have a chance to be alpha for more than three seconds if everyone is stabbing everyone in the back. No: the war lord gets to strut, while Mother Teresa changes diapers, while the peasants plant the rice. But then a priest comes along and tells you to be charitable. (Huh? How would the priest know what to instruct you in if you weren’t already charitable?) In Jesus’ story the Samaritan helped the Jew by his own inclination. But now we hand our “charity” to the priest and rely on him to distribute it. Does your priest give your penny to the Samaritan? Does the kid starving in Bangladesh get your penny? or did the priest give your penny to his own retirement fund? or to some junkie on 125th Street?
OK, maybe that will be enough Prelude for the moment. Here, back to pk as a kid, buying a record:
I loved jazz. I collected jazz records. Eventually people gave me what they thought were jazz record presents. No, no thank you: I’ll pick out my own jazz records if you please: you can’t guess what I want, you don’t have my ear. Don’t you dare give me Paul Whiteman when I want Louis Armstrong. But then I’d get bundled to the concert, where Beethoven was played. Actually, I liked that. I liked that fine. Beethoven is great. I could hear that, even at twelve. But dig this: at fifteen I went to a famous jazz club for the first time: Birdland, Lester Young was the headliner, the Pres. A line of people were paying $2 a head to get in. Pee Wee was checking draft cards as he took tickets at the door. He stopped me cold, but then the owner let me in under his surveillance, the waiters instructed not to bring me anything from the bar. Now, the adults could go to the bar, or ask for a table: could spend beaucoup bucks on booze, or order dinner, and drink. Like any club that place had more than one cash cow. Lester took the stand. God, I was in love! He fronted a trio. Lester won the Best Sax award year after year in those years: mid 1950s. Meantime, the club had a string of employees: one gal sold the tickets, then Pee Wee took the tickets — twice as many employees as were really needed to take money from people coming in. Then there was the maitre D, the bartender, the waiter … And, on the stand, was Lester! and his bass, and his drummer. But: beer, which I could buy at the local bar for 15¢ a glass, at Birdland, in a bottle, was $1 or so. Dinner, that would have cost my mom $1 to buy ingredients for and another 25¢ to heat in a pan was $6, or $10! And lurking about was Mr. Goodman, the owner, counting the money, paying the bills, and stuffing whatever was left over in his pocket.
A different club with Frank Sinatra or with Carmen Miranda wiggling her banana might have pulled in more, but jazz wasn’t unpopular, Lester was at the top, Lester was drawing money for Mr. Goodman, and providing me with unprecedented bliss: my first trip to Birdland! Leonard Bernstein didn’t court Peggy Guggenheim so that Lester could be paid; Mr. Goodman ran a business, he was trying to make a profit. Jazz was a product that he tried to buy low and sell high: or at least high enough so that he could keep himself and his family. If no one came that night, he’d take a bath, or the band wouldn’t get paid, the waiters would growl, the bartender would think of something else to do: and never mind the poor schmuck holding towels in the mens room.
Ah, good. But now what about the Beethoven concert I got dragged to? Somebody else bought the ticket for me. I doubt that the ticket cost the $2 that Birdland cost. The Beethoven ticket might have been $1.50 for an adult, $1 for a kid. I guess there were sixty or eighty people in the Malvern Auditorium. The music was played by more than two dozen musicians. Not one of them was Lester Young. The conductor was named: the rest had a group name, the Something or Other Orchestra. There was no bar, no tables, no menu: just Beethoven, and maybe a little Brahms. No one showed me any pay stubs for the violinists, for the kettle drum guy. But even if we forget taxes, rent, heating, air-conditioning, someone to sweep up, a mortgage on the auditorium, what can the couple of dozen musicians have been sharing? even if they were Communists, which I doubt! No, no: jazz paid its way; Beethoven had to be subsidized!
Stand on a street corner, mount a soap box, and give a speech. Will anyone give you a penny? Maybe. Mark Twain rented a hall, stood on the stage … and became rich and famous. If you rent a hall and hire Hal Holbrook to recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, people might pay. Hell, people pay through the nose to hear watered down versions of three thousand year old lies who wouldn’t give you a nickel no matter what you said, even if you were smarter than Einstein. People are always paying top dollar for last year’s genius while ignoring this year’s Messiah. So once upon a time Beethoven had to struggle to eat too. So how about when his stuff was fresh from the pen? Did Mr. Goodman sell tickets, and beer, and drink, pay Beethoven, and make a profit?
No. Beethoven was subsidized from day one. If some duke didn’t pay you, confiscating the money from somewhere, you didn’t get paid.
Amadeus shows Mozart writing for some duke, but also shows Mozart selling his stuff through a popular theater, where people paid to hear the music, to see the singers … (PS I’ve made related points elsewhere.) The big orchestral stuff was subsidized. If the society didn’t have an authoritative state, taxing things, making decisions, then you could have no Ninth Symphony!
The gospels tell of Jesus giving his Sermon on the Mount. Who paid for that? Well, according to the story itself, Jesus did! He taught the people, he healed the people, and he fed the people! There are whispers that Mary Magdalene became his Peggy Guggenheim, but the Bible would have you believing that God himself was paying: for everything.
If God pays, I don’t mind. If Mary Magdalene pays, without making a fuss about it, without rubbing everyone’s nose in it, I don’t mind. But I hate it when Mary Magdalene puts her hand in your pocket, takes your money, and then gives you Jesus.
I think we ought to buy Jesus, or not have Jesus!
People stopped buying jazz records. They stopped making jazz records. Birdland closed down. Lester Young stayed in his hotel room (reminiscing about Billie!) Now we don’t have any damn jazz. And it serves us right. If the junkie buys smack instead of food, then the junkie has smack: when what he needs is food!
If caterpillars stopped climbing for the light and finding leaves to eat, but all started smoking bongs instead, the world would swiftly be without caterpillars.
Should the state subsidize caterpillars? Should Carnegie endow a hospital to force-feed the bong-gonged caterpillars?
I’ve repeated for decades that no one understands let along pays attention to what I say. Here’s a non-communication story on this subject of subsidies. (I’ve already told at least one story (Algorithm) illustrating that my married family understood me no better than my own family. Here’s another involving those same in-laws.)
I was at my mother-in-laws. (It was 1970 or so. I had founded the Free Learning Exchange, Inc.) She, Etta, an economist employed by the UN, married to a famous economist professor at Columbia, was saying something about the government needing to put money behind something or other. I said, “I don’t believe in subsidies.”
Like everyone else in her family, now my family too, she left the room, she didn’t come back. Never again did she say anything to me about government responsibility for this or that, though she was one of those taking money from here and there and using it to pay for this and that: everything far removed from the toddler learning to put what in its own mouth.
In my view Etta could have played straight man. She should have said, “Why Paul, what could you mean by that provocative barbarism?”
Henry Ford said, “You can have any color you want, so long as it’s black.” In America, in this secular world-wide world, you can say anything you want, so long as it’s vanilla. Familiar no-thought thought.
I think what I say is right. But I offer it for exercise regardless.
People really ought to learn to chew: or prepare to do what we’re doing: losing everything: dying.
Killing everything while we do it.
Maybe killing sentience in the cosmos, maybe before it’s been born.
Jesus is paying?! No. You‘re paying!
Apropos, among my joke collections, check out the one about Little Rocco.