If I were to suggest that no author should be paid more than, say, $100,000 per book, some readers would actually accept the premise, if not the exact amount. I have spoken to such people. I have listened, not very patiently, to a proposal that great books should be paid a higher advance than lesser books. This was by a literature major who had graduated from Harvard, a renowned local college which has recently lowered its standards. I have even read a proposal that there be a minimum placed on what a publisher can pay per word. This was in a promotional brochure for a proposed “writers union.’
The absurdity of all of these ideas relegated them quickly to oblivion. But nevertheless, they will be proposed again, and again. It is a smallness of mind which is tightly bound to an egocentric view of the universe. It is a verbalization of the thought that if I cannot get such rewards, then no one should have them.
Yet I see that there are proposals in the newspapers to limit the salaries of executives at ‘big’ corporations. I suppose the same proponents of this omnipotence would agree that the multi-billion dollar corporations behind Random House (Bertelsmann–Germany: 6 billions in 2006), or Viking (Pearson—UK: 7 billions in 2006), or Harper Collins (Harper-Collins—US: a mere 1.3 billion in 2006) should not be allowed to pay Jodi Picoult, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, Stephen King or any of those other fat cats the millions they get.
No! It’s different! Yes! I suppose so. The AIG executives who have been pilloried for their greed are responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, and the employment of tens of thousands and the welfare of millions of people world-wide.
But, they lost a whole lot of money you say. You mean, of course, that Stephen King should be held responsible for the returns of other Viking authors that are later dumped for $6.95 on the discount tables at Barnes and Noble. Oh, yes, I forgot. Stephen jumped ship from Viking and is now with Scribner (Simon and Schuster/CBS—US: a paltry $800 million in 2006). Did he do that just for the money? I wonder?
The issue here is not only that there are no two authors who are created equal nor any two executives, but that any attempt by a government to reduce such inequities of life will result in a government that very few of us would want to rule our lives.
The true danger here—no, not just a danger, but the damage—is that human beings are being tagged as something other than what they are, and dealt with as mere names (businessman, traitor, heretic).
I have known many thousands of business people in my life. I am one myself, albeit a truly bad one. I have never met a successful business person who was careless or stupid. Wrongheaded at times, yes. As any human being might be. But more often the successful entrepreneurs I have known have been the most concerned about values beyond money. And, not ironically, those people I have known who are the most often concerned about money and who too often value money above principle, have been like myself, poor.
For quick and insightful reference on these matters I recommend two short articles. One by Holman W. Jenkins in the Wall Street Journal of March 24th, 2009 and the other by Jake DeSantis in the New York Times of March 25th, 2009.
I fear that with politicians bent on power driving a popular sentiment of greed and avarice fed by media who do not care about right as much as they do ratings, the damage of these days will live with us for many years to come.