Issue 257: 2020 11 26: Paying the Piper

26 November 2020

Life in an Uncertain Environment

Who pays the piper?

By Vic Leader

What do Premiership footballers, Hollywood stars and Pop idols have in common?  They all earn more than nurses; and most others besides, of course.  Yet in this unusual year more and more people have noticed the discrepancy between the rewards afforded to those who do essential jobs and those who ‘merely entertain’.

There is an argument to be had about what constitutes “essential” in this context.   We are complex creatures and our “needs” expand with the ever- increasing provision of new objects and experiences.  In short we are open to addiction.  But let’s put this aspect to one side for the moment.

It is true also to say that Premiership footballers earn a great deal more than League footballers, many of whom in the lower leagues probably earn less than nurses.  Hollywood “A” and even “B” and “C”-listers receive more than the vast majority of actors in general.  Many of those in turn would not doubt love a regular nurse’s salary, if not the work involved in earning it.

As for Pop Idols, don’t get me started!  Well OK then, they are labelled as musicians.   While many clearly are, a lot are not.  How many could sit in an orchestra, for instance?  Members of those have to be able to pick up musical themes and work through their variations; at the drop of a hat.  How much do they earn for that?

A school mate of mine was a genius musician, able to create sounds and rythms from almost any instrument and to create instruments from almost anything else.  When we met again some 25 years after we had left school, I assumed him to be a professional musician.  He had tried, he said, but there was “no money in it”.  He went into IT.  No disrespect to the IT world, not on this count at least, but that seemed an awfully wasted talent.

To reach the pinnacle of any profession requires a great deal of perseverance, effort, and most of all, confidence.  Those who reach it will have given up a lot, some of it happily and some as necessary compromise.   At various stages of my life and in various contexts it has seemed that confidence and talent are often present in inverse proportion.  Maybe it is nature’s way of compensating, or a de-limiter to ensure we don’t get ‘carried away’ with ourselves.  In any event we must not assume necessarily that the highest paid are the best at whatever they do.

Returning to the beginning, at least one Pro footballer has made a good name for himself outside his chosen profession.  A wholly decent young man who wanted to give back and who used his own humble background to highlight the struggles that ‘ordinary’ folk endure and the benefit a quite modest act can bring.  Many others do significant amounts of good work with little recognition other than at a very local level.  Similarly actors, singers and musicians do their bit for local communities.

Sport and the Arts are often ways chosen to escape harsh backgrounds.  For most a decent living doing something they enjoy is their target but along the way the riddle of life sorts them out.  Some finish at the top and others sink back.  And let’s be honest, if someone offers you riches that you might never have dreamed of are you going to turn them down?

But who pays for these seeming excesses?  Here lies an answer that would truly surprise many: it is you (the many, that is).   In the old days (just a few years ago) Dads would take their two kids to a football match at maybe £30-60 or more a throw and then spend another tenner on a Programme, then more for drinks and a pie maybe.  For a club that could attract 40,000 or more that raised a decent sum.  Not yet enough for mega wages.  Why not sell the kit at inflated prices in the club shop.  Still not enough, let’s change the kit year by year and include ‘away’ kit, needed when there was a colour clash with the host team.  Plenty of Dads were by now saying too far, too much.  They could see that the addiction was getting out of hand.

Now we’re talking bigger bucks.  But the real game changer was still to come.  TV rights.  Football fans the world over want to see top teams play and the broadcasters can sell the matches ‘per view’, or in ‘packages’.  So the product is now mass-produced.  And, as we all know, that means the price per unit comes down.  Doesn’t it?  Well if it hasn’t then its time the many, you, ought to ask why, or at least realise that you are why your hero gets paid rather more than the nurse.

While this article has focused on the soccer phenomenon you can see that Pop Idols, Mega stars and all your similar heros attract similar audiences and are reaping your same generosity.  Of course, a lot of others are enjoying the ride along with them, agents, managers, publicists, gig organisers; the list is long.  So maybe your ‘excess’ funding is serving a useful purpose.  Maybe you are one the beneficiaries as well.  Even better.

I’m guessing nurses are equally admired globally, but there are a lot of them.  So what can we do to promote them?  Maybe handclaps and our love and appreciation are as far as we can go.  Although perhaps we could insist they are better looked after by their employer, made to feel more wanted, less frustrated at the lack of support in times of especial stress.  It’s worth a thought next time we ponder those differentials in pay.

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