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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Skilled Labor

"VFX artists have a huge passion and love of their skill and trade, and because of it are taken advantage of."       - Pixel Magic
This is what happens when you test us.

When I was a freshman in college, it seemed like I couldn't stop talking about Utopia. I dreamed of a world where we were free to pursue the things that inspired us without worrying about our next meal or paycheck.  I thought if we all just bought into the dream, everyone could live the life they always wanted, or do the things that made them happy.

In reaction, a friend of mine argued, "Who would you get to do the bottom-rung jobs? I mean, nobody wants to shovel poop for a living, but it needs to get done! How do you incentivize the jobs nobody wants?" Of course my mind immediately jumped to poop shoveling robots, because honestly, who doesn't like designing robots? Had I discovered the secret to a sustainable Utopian society?

Fecal robotics aside, his point brings up a good lesson: in a capitalist world, everything boils down to an exchange of value. Let's take doctors for example. Every doctor is required to go to school for an extraordinary amount of time at a significant opportunity cost to the individual, but certain doctors get paid more than others. If you are an anesthesiologist, you likely make more than a veterinarian. Clearly veterinarians find more personal value in their work than anesthesiologists. I mean, honestly, when was the last time you heard somebody say "I just LOVE numbing people! It's so fulfilling!!" or "Don't get me started on ether! My patients can't get enough of that wiggly feeling."

It seems obvious that the supply of veterinarians is outweighing the demand from pet owners. So to be a vet you have to be willing to accept less compensation. The only people who are willing to accept that are the types of people that are more passionate about animals than they are about the money they could be making as anesthesiologists.

Then again, look how many actors there are in the world! Millions of dreamers out there just dying for a shot at stardom. The supply of actors is unparalleled in any industry, yet movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio can command 20 million dollar paychecks for memorizing a line and channeling your inner crazy (not to mention their back-end percentage points). Of course there's only one Leonardo DiCaprio so I guess you could say the supply is "extremely limited", but is it really?

That said, there are certain inelastic thresholds in this world, below which, things fall apart. Hollywood cannot stand to loose another Rhythm and Hues. Can you imagine what would happen if Industrial Light and Magic closed its doors? Perhaps George Lucas saw the writing on the wall when he sold his enterprise to the Mouse Kingdom. It's in everyone's best interest to keep companies like this one afloat. If the market is too chaotic for these businesses, must we intervene? Whether that's unionization, or corporate merger, can something be done to buffer this important but unstable market?

For more information regarding the Bankruptcy of the academy award winning VFX studio Rhythm and Hues (Life of Pi) please consider reading the following.

David Applebee

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