Prestige Jobs Don’t Pay
Matt Yglesias smacks down Leon Wieseltier for his suggestion that the Internet is a chief reason writers are paid so little. In addition to rightly pointing out that a lot of bloggers make more money than the junior staff at prestige outlets like Wieseltier’s New Republic, he makes a surprisingly capitalist argument for a fellow at a left-of-center activist group:
People are going to get paid what other people want to pay them. The New Republic exists because its owners are willing to subsidize a money-losing magazine. When they become less willing to subsidize losses, there need to be cutbacks. And it’s been a money-losing magazine forever, just as The Atlantic has. On the internet you have some sites (like the ThinkProgress family) that are supported by donors, and others that are supported by ad revenue. The staff gets paid what they get paid—in a nonprofit context it’s determined by donors’ willingness to support things, and in a for-profit context it’s determined by the volume of ad revenue that comes in. I don’t really know what whining is supposed to accomplish.
I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve never held a job where I thought I was making too much money. Quite the contrary! I’ve worn many hats: Army officer, college professor, book editor, defense contractor, and think tanker. All of them pay better than a lot of other jobs I could have had but not as much as other jobs I could have gotten. But, alas, the jobs that paid more were either uninteresting to me, led to a much lower quality of life, or both. So, I worked in jobs that provided psychic rewards and generally (but not always!) avoided grumbling about the fact that other people made more money.
Recall Ricky Nelson’s quip that, “if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.” Certainly, long haul truckers make more money than most college professors or opinion writers. But we didn’t turn to teaching or writing because we’d been turned down for truck driving school. Money ain’t everything.
TNR pays promising young writers next to nothing because they can. Despite very low wages, I would wager they have dozens if not hundreds of applicants for every job. Because it’s TNR and provides not only a venue for expression but the imprimatur of a venerable magazine to validate that the writer must be worth reading. It’s hard to put a price tag on that.