Lay Down Your Bets

This is not a post about world building, though it is that too.  It is mostly a post about life – though I’ll come at it through writing, which might make it easier to understand.

It is a cliche, tired and worn, that one has to remind new writers that magic must have a price.  This is because, particularly when you bring in something that doesn’t exist in our world, it is all too easy for young – in age or craft – people to get carried away and think all laws of reality can also be suspended.  While these books can be lots of fun to write, (kind of like those Saturday morning cartoons where your character suddenly achieves the ability to draw things and make them come to life), they are tedious to read (even that sort of cartoon throws in an archenemy or someone who’s chasing the kid to get the wondrous crayon.)

This is where life differs from writing – maybe.  I think – because acquiring that sort of power in real life would be a blast.  Well, okay, maybe it would grow tedious after a while, but frankly that’s the sort of challenge I’d like to have “how can I stop life from growing wearisome while I have everything I want and a magical pony on the side?”

Annoyingly, it is also the sort of challenge no one has.  Not in real life.  Probably part of the objectionable (or obnoxious) nature of the books where there’s no price for magic is that it’s not nice to taunt us with images of a world we can never live in.

In fact, humans so much wish they could live in a world where there’s no prices, that we often pretend those prices don’t exist, because it makes us feel better.

I don’t mean by this the price of goods and services, though the most amoral among us like to pretend that those have no cost either.  This is where the bright idea comes from that one should just take goods and services and give them to other people, in a sort of fairy-godmothery way, because…  Because when you’re a morally blind idiot you don’t realize the people who produced or acquired goods or who provide services pay a price for them – in learning or sacrifice or even a narrowing of life options – and therefore you don’t realize what you’re advocating is nothing less than slavery.  (All objections of course are removed when people voluntarily share with others things or services for which they’ve paid the price.  That’s their choice.)

It goes both ways of course.  Businesses engaging in “Hollywood accounting” (including those in Hollywood) are engaging as much in theft of another person’s life as those in the bureaucracy who legislate that type of theft.

It’s very easy to think “oh, he’d write screenplays, anyway.  And we paid him.  He doesn’t need the extra howevermuch.”  But while the screen writer might have written screen plays anyway, trust me, to get to the point you want to make a movie of it, he engaged in learning his craft, he wrote a lot of unusable screenplays, and he sacrificed time and effort without which you wouldn’t have that play.  So when taking the extra compensation that accountants make disappear, you are in fact engaging in stealing years or months of his life.

No, I’m not endorsing the Marxist theory that labor equals value.  I’m simply saying that nothing of value was produced without labor – or without learning, or without talent, or without…

I’m saying there is a price to magic.  There is a price to anything and everything in life.  You pays your dust, you takes your chances.  And, as I’ve said before, in the end you always get more or less what you want. … unless what you want is the magical crayon that can draw things and make them come to life – because that violates the rules of life in this particular universe.

Do you want to be the best runner ever?  Well, you exercise, you practice, you put in your effort and you’ll be a very good runner.  You might not be the best ever – or the best in your team – because you have the wrong body type, or because you fall and break your ankle, or…  But you’ll still be a million times a better runner than you were when you started out.  The same goes for playing an instrument, for writing, for any of the arts, crafts or sports.

Most people understand that price.  Most people even understand what we’d call “the price of fame,” where the character becomes ruler-of-the-world or the most famous musician since Elvis left the scene to open a diner in Arizona.  That type of price has been shown again and again in movies, and even though it’s a variant of “poor little rich boy/girl” we know it by heart now.  You become rich and famous, and spoiled, and you lose the contacts in your small town, and your best boy/girl (or for the more edgy movies, both) sends you a Dear John.  You either chuck it all to go back to your origins (happy ending) or you die of an overdose (unhappy ending.)

But Sarah, you say, I never want that kind of fame, so why should I consider that kind of price?

I don’t want that kind of fame, either, and – Praise the Lord, Brothers and Sisters! – I’m very unlikely to ever achieve it.

However, what most people – myself included a few years ago – fail to grasp is that there is a price to more mundane achievements, too.  For instance, having children.

Robert and I were talking yesterday about some woman about my age who said she had to find herself.  Although I despite that trite phrase, when Robert said “How do you EVEN lose yourself?” I had to point out you do.  You can’t help it.  When they’re little you’re not you, you’re mommy.  H*ll, even when they are teens, you still are giving up a major portion of your life to being mommy – to being the adult.  Someone has to do both of those.

I remember the first time I went to the grocery store without the kids, because they were old enough to be left at home alone.  It felt weird.  It was like I didn’t know how to be in the store alone, by myself, anymore.  My habits of shopping from when I was childless were quite gone.  Ditto, the first time I took a walk alone.  The first time I sat down and read a book because I wanted to (and the kids were both at school.)

It’s not just time or habit, either.  During those intensive child rearing years, my thoughts were different.  I wasn’t me.  I was Robert-and-Marshall’s mother.

As the child-rearing pressures ease (do they ever go away completely?) I’m starting to re-find myself; to see the outlines of the person there, who is Sarah Hoyt, not Robert-and-Marshall’s mother (though she is that too.)  This is not the same as the Sarah Hoyt many years ago.  For one, she doesn’t look nearly as good anymore.  For another…  She’s changed through the years and the experiences.

There’s a price.

When I chose to really try to write and publish, I started devoting vast chunks of time to it.  This means I lost some of the kids’ childhood.  There were days I wanted to just take them to the park and watch them play, but I was on deadline.  There were times I wanted to sit around and enjoy them, but I had writing to do.

Now, a lot of what I paid to have a writing career was dictated by the boundaries of the old model.  However, Indie will have its own boundaries too.  Sure, you can write and put things up there, but if you want to sell significant number, you’d best learn the craft.  (And if you haven’t read Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, why NOT?)  And that will take time.  More than that, it will take effort.  You’ll emerge on the other side, not just as a selling writer, but changed.  Years will have passed that you weren’t even aware of, and you’ll be a different person.

This is true even if what you choose to pursue is a more normal career, like, say, cab driver or server.  You will have to train, and then you’ll have to practice and your rewards are likely to be commensurate with your effort.

The same is true for every hobby, at every level from casual to serious.

Achievement – magic – has a price.  It always has a price.  Mostly what you pay is your ability, your vitality, your time, your life.  But you also pay all the things you could have been doing instead.  For instance, when I chose to be a writer, I chose not to be a translator anymore.  Now if I tried to be a translator, I couldn’t.  The ability is gone.  To get it back would take almost as long as to learn it in the first place.

Ah, you say – but I won’t pay. – I’ll just sit here and do nothing.

But then you pay the price of doing nothing.  You won’t learn, you won’t do, you won’t BE.  In the end, doing nothing, choosing nothing, deciding nothing has the highest price of all.  You find yourself pushed aside from the world.  You find you have in fact paid your life, your time, your talent… for years and years of doing nothing and being nothing.

So, when you’re considering doing something, learning something, trying something; when you’re considering what you wish to concentrate on; when you think one path has no cost and the other is expensive; when you shy back from doing things and take the path of least resistence, remember – everything has a price.

Yes, sure, magic has a price.  It might take years of the magician’s life.  BUT if he doesn’t use the magic, he might instead lose his home, his friends, his kingdom.  He might have to live out his life in vile slavery.

Everything has a price.  Action and the lack of action have different prices, but nothing is free.  TANSTAAFL.

You pays your dollar.  You takes your bet.

What will it be?

68 responses to “Lay Down Your Bets

  1. Yes, sure, magic has a price. It might take years of the magician’s life. BUT if he doesn’t use the magic, he might instead lose his home, his friends, his kingdom. He might have to live out his life in vile slavery.

    Unless he’s studying temporal effects, then he can gain all that power and knowledge and simply go back to before he started studying. Of course, he has to deal with are paradoxes and they can be managed if you keep feeding virgins to them.

    Thus, the only real cost is to the virgins.

    • And the time finding the virgins. They’re rather a rare item these days.

      • Naw…just head down to the local slutwalk. That’s mostly overcompensating bluster, so they’re plentiful. Or traipse over to a nearby college and check to see if they have a chapter of Omega Mu.

      • We have a joke in our family: Priest saying to a family member– “Since we have been sacrificing virgins, I have been getting all the ass I ever wanted.”

        • Yes, I was thinking down the same line. There would be a paucity of virgins if the loss thereof was a survival tactic. I am sure that many a male would take full advantage of the argument to gain entry to his target. This means that said Scott’s magician would have to catch them very young and keep them in isolation. And that could lead to all sorts of vignettes which I will let The. Very. Bad. Men. (TM) amuse themselves with.

          • It’s amazing how many books and movies one sees where virginity is a requirement of something awful happening to somebody and nobody ever says, “You know, a solution presents itself.”

            The only one I can ever remember is the vampire comedy “Once Bitten.”

          • A friend, watching the movie Dragonslayer, says, at the point where the heroine says she has to stand with the other girls for the dragon because the dragon isn’t dead and she’s still a virgin, a guy in the audience yelled out, “Somebody help that poor girl!” Brought down the house, but you know everyone was thinking the same thing.

            • That’s pretty damned funny. Though, my geek Gold Card mandates that I remind you that it wouldn’t have mattered if the Princess had been banged three ways to Sunday and sideways as she had rigged the lottery.

              • In the movie, the virginity thing is mentioned but not really emphasized. In the novelization, it’s made clear that offering a non-virgin at the main ceremony would be a violation of the Pax Draconis, and while the dragon will still happily eat them, she then would almost certainly express her displeasure at this insult. Loudly and violently and all over the place. With fire.

                IIRC, however, there are also times when people who are explicitly not virgins (whatshername’s mother, again IIRC) are also offered up. I have a vague recollection that this is to propitiate the dragon when some idiot tries to slay her, but don’t quote me on that.

                The novel also explains why instead of a sword, the protagonist is offered a lance. “The blacksmith is a superstitious idiot” is the short answer. However, the lance is way awesomer in the novelization, so there’s that. I don’t think the movie even specifically points out that the lancehead is magical, although the trick with cutting off the horn of the anvil certainly implies it.

                • The apprentice says something like “No, we need a greater fire” and then uses the ring to heat the lance blade, so I suppose the implication is there.

                  • Good point, but in the novelization the lance is inherently magical (it actively does things, and it was magical when it was made) whereas that’s more of a coat of magic-anium slapped on at the last minute. 🙂

                    • See…I’m looking that the serial number on the geek Gold Card I was issued back around puberty and realizing that my card number is nowhere near as high as yours. In traditional deference, I will fireball ten kobolds in your honor, sir.

          • One of the characters in The Belgariad is a boy with no evil in him. (It’s required as part of a magical plot.) When one of the heroes casually observes to one of the villains that another villain went to a lot of trouble to raise such a boy, he snorts and said, “That’s why I let him do it. Think of all the natural urges he had to repress.”

            Now I think about it, that could be an implication that the other villain is a pedophile, but I don’t think it was – just an acknowledgement of how hard it would be to raise somebody like that. Especially if you were a villain!

            (Later we find out that he didn’t exactly “raise” the boy, but that’s a separate story.)

            • Wayne Blackburn

              He probably was, though, as far as that story went. I mean, his “amusements” made Belgarath’s stomach turn. And he could shrug off all kinds of things that people did to each other.

              • One of us is confused. Belgarath was talking about Zedar (aka Belzedar,) who while he was an apostate, a villain and a traitor, wasn’t an inherently nasty person. (He was converted against his will.) He was talking to Ctuchik, a Grolim high priest and a thoroughly nasty person. I don’t get the impression Zedar was a pedophile or that anybody thought he was. If Ctuchik wasn’t, it was only because children break too easy.

                Although it was in fact Belgarath who commented about all the natural impulses Zedar had to repress, I thought and still think he meant the boy’s natural impulses, not Zedar’s.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  I’ll take the default that I am the one confused. I was thinking it was Ctuchik talking to Belgarath.

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Clean-up in my cubicle after that spit take!

          (Notes – may have to start own religion, with virgin sacrifice…) 🙂

  2. When I was a professional musician, we got paid at the end of a gig and the person paying said, “Wow… all that money for only four hours’ work.”

    Whereupon I said, “Actually, the performance was for free — that’s our reward. What you’re paying for is the countless hours of practice and rehearsal, the time spent driving here and setting up all the gear, and the time we have to spend dismantling it all and driving back home, while all of you are asleep in bed. Oh, and by the way: there’s close to $50,000 worth of equipment on that stage.”

    You’re NEVER paying only for the finished product; you’re paying for everything that went into it.

    • Everything comes down to some level of reward for the time and effort involved in producing whateveritis. Be it thousands of hours writing to produce a good novel, thousands of hours practice, rehearsal, setting up, tearing down and so forth for music, or hours in a field plowing.

      No-one can say which is more valuable – it’s always a matter of whether the reward is valuable enough to the producer to keep him/her doing it, and the end result is valuable enough to the buyer to induce him/her to part with the reward.

      • Kate, for sure. We need to remember that sometimes, hours of labor still produces dreck — which is one reason (of so many) why the Marxist model ultimately fails: they believe that input is just as valuable as output.

        • No input is not automatically equal to output. In a free market competency or better at the necessary skills to produce an item and the item’s desirability to the consumer are among the many things that also need to be taken into account. But the managed economy solution is not to offer choice between a well made or poorly made item, but anything like it at all. Hence the Yugo.

        • Few would argue that a lifetime spent perfecting one’s skill at playing polkas on the accordion merited any reward not involving burning pitch. Marxism would accord the same value to playing Lady of Spain as playing Freebird.

          • Perfecting one’s skill at polka and parody, though, has been quite lucrative for Weird Al. So there’s that argument.

            • Yes, but like any good Marxist, Weird Al used his labor to suck the marrow out of the fruits of capitalistically-produced goods. I’m not suggesting Weird Al is a Marxist. I’m suggesting he’s White And Nerdy.

              • Wayne Blackburn

                Darn it, when I read that, I had to go watch the video.

                • SO DID I!!!! LOL!!!

                  My favorite part of that, aside from that fact that DONNY FREAKING OSMOND is it, is Donny and Al doing the “pop-pop” move. For some reason, that’s that funniest part of the whole thing.

                  • The Daughter has a copy of the Star Wars Holiday Special on VHS, obtained we don’t know when or how — we have never been able to watch it through.

                  • Hey, have some empathy for Donny! Along with Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy you’re talking about a guys who could get laid as much as they could stand, but nobody of legal age would have them. Talk about Life In Heck.

                    Donny Osmond: ‘I was washed up by 21’
                    With a UK tour with Marie coming up, Donny Osmond has proved himself a master of reinvention
                    By Judith Woods6:20AM BST 10 Sep 2012
                    Donny Osmond – yes, the Donny Osmond – is staring at me in polite bewilderment. His arm is outstretched mid-air, his big brown Bambi eyes wide with alarm. “Talk to the hand, Donny!” I cry, raising a palm at him, my eyes firmly trained on my phone. “I’ll be with you in a moment, once I’ve… nrrgh… texted my sisters to… grrgh… remind them that I swore one day, one day I would be hanging with Donny Osmond in his hotel room. And now I am! Ha!”

                    Right, back to you, Donny. I turn and, despite having promised myself I would be cool and nonchalant, I am so overcome by the sight of the first dreamboat I ever loved that I burst into a snatch of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which he famously aced on stage and in film.
                    [MORE: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandpopmusic/9530383/Donny-Osmond-I-was-washed-up-by-21.html }

                    • That video would have been more campy fare from Weird Al, but adding Donny Osmond pushes it into awesomesauce territory.

                    • One of the films I put down as a guilty pleasure is Music and Lyrics The movie has lots of nice moments, but it never quite puts it all together. There is a lovely ridiculous send up of 80s music videos — best seen with the pop-ups that explain references.

        • I remember a story one of the embassy people from Moscow told us where I worked in Germany that GUM, the huge department store, had a sale on shoes. The only problem were, all that was offered were LEFT shoes, because that’s all this one factory made, and that was all that was in the shipment. Central planning at its finest…

          • I heard that story too… a long long time ago.

          • the problem is not the incompetence, it’s the perverse incentives. If you have to make 345 shoes to meet your quota, why change patterns and do the left ones/ If you’re paid by the government, why do what people want, and not work to order? etc. The end is always the same. Equal poverty. Except for the functionaries who get to buy good foreign stuff.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      My dad tells a story of a locksmith who was called to open a bank safe (obviously not one of the modern time lock ones). He opened the safe and said, “That will be $1000.” To which the safe owner replied, “$1000 for 20 minute work? Are you crazy?” The locksmith said, “No, $1000 is for the time I spent learning what I do, so that I COULD open that safe.”

      • I figure if someone can open a bank safe, you pay the charge so he doesn’t come back later and open it again when you’re not there. 😉

    • “Invoice

      Kicking Machine: $1.00

      Knowing Where To Kick: $99.00”

      (It’s the punchline of a very old joke.)

    • Incidentally, have you seen all the flak about Amanda Palmer’s crowdsourcing (for free) backup musicians for her latest tour. It’s hysterical.

  3. The value of something is what someone is willing to give for it. To some people, mastery of a sport is worth three or four hours a day of practice. To others, that time is more valuable spent watching the clouds.

    Hollywood cheats screenwriters because the producers know the writers will put up with it. Writers put up with it because writing movies is worth it.

    • I believe it was Magic Johnson who would comment that he knew many who more naturally talented basketball players then he when he was young. The difference is that he practiced. He kept practicing. Then he would practice some more.

  4. Sometimes the price is the reward. I’m a technician, a pretty good one too. I tot the pleasure of learning the craft, and daily experience the joy of practicing it. Even the days I am cursing a recaltriant piece of equipment to the nether hells. A price is only a price if you look at it as one

  5. Sarah, once again you hit it out of the ballpark!

  6. Everything has a price –
    Definitely a law of our universe. I wonder what chaos would ensue if “nothing had a price.” ummm thought-provoking

    • If we didn’t pay for it, would we value it? Or is it just that we didn’t recognize what we paid?

      • Good question Pam. If we didn’t value it, what kind of chaos would ensue? Would we degenerate from civilized behavior?

        • I think we’d find little satisfaction in much of anything–spoiled brats whose parents bought them everything. Scary to think of a whole civilization with that meme.

          • Thankfully, they do graduate from college, and then no matter how hard they try to Occupy our attention with temper tantrums about the unfairness of life, the landlord, cell phone bill, and utilities rapidly do their best to educate that particular “civilization” to reality.

  7. I have just discovered you. I will begin reading some of your commentary. It looks really good. It sounds like you are one of those small national treasures. Long may you live and wide may your opinions be spread! I hope you have a dozen children.

  8. It’s very easy to think “oh, he’d write screenplays, anyway. And we paid him. He doesn’t need the extra howevermuch.”

    Ah, unfortunately you made a contract with the screenwriter, a legally binding business agreement set on paper. Yes I am confident that you are sure that you can put that money to far better use than he can. I suspect that your accountants are the best you can buy. What you are doing in saying that the screenwriter doesn’t need the money you said you would pay him is proving yourself a liar, a cheat, a fraud and generally untrustworthy. I guess weasels are weasels whether they have two or four legs and wherever you put ’em.

    • Yeah, when I read articles like this one, I have a really hard time crying over all the money Hollywood is losing due to illegal filesharing. The people who really deserve the money (the screenwriters, the actors, the director) aren’t getting squat anyway (well, don’t know about the director — he/she may have had enough clout to sue for their fair share, as Peter Jackson did), so the fact that the pirates aren’t paying for the movie? Doesn’t bother me in the least. Doesn’t make what the pirates are doing legal or right, but when thieves get stolen from, I have a hard time caring.

    • Though, according to the Save the Cat author, a screenwriter, there was a time, not too long ago, when screenwriters were making 7 figures regularly. They’ve cut back since then, but he implied that the money was still pretty good.

      • Oh, yeah, they could buy and sell us novelists several times over. THIS even though we require greater skill. (Not a brag. It’s harder to fool people when all you have is words, is all. The actors and the visual medium hides a multitude of story telling holes.

        Life isn’t fair and Marx was a poopyhead.

  9. I almost exclusively write stories where the main character has, in fact, just been granted some kind of enormously powerful power. And, may I say, I heartily agree that while it sounds great as a daydream, trying to make a story out of it other than, “And then he went forth and did whatever the Hell he wanted. The End.” is bloody tricky. The initial part is great fun to write. That’s the daydream part. But then you have to come up with some kind of believable conflict and what could stand against the power of the UberGuffin?

    If you’re not familiar with it, Superman’s “World Made of Cardboard” speech can be inspirational in this regard:

    Trope: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WorldOfCardboardSpeech

    Speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cl_5UwS57X8

  10. One of my grad school profs put it like this: “The Masters is to prove that you know how to do research. The PhD proves you have the stamina and willingness to put butt in chair for however long it takes to find the information you need to write what you love. If you don’t want to put in the butt-time, stop with your Masters.” it can easily be amended to “willingness to spend hours in the lab/ sitting in front of the computer processing the lab results/ sweating in the Gobi Desert excavating a new dinosaur with a dental pick.” Not much different from the price of being a full time fiction writer or professional musician. I’m sure Celia Hayes has spent as much time in the archives as some PhD students.

  11. Agree with all here.

    I’ve also noticed that people don’t value what is simply given to them, particularly given by strangers, though I noticed that every kid I knew in high school whose parents gave them a shiny new car wrecked said car within six months. People take better care of things when they have some skin in the game, or put some of their own sweat into it.

    But I still want a magical pony.

    • Our trick with our kid has generally been, “We think you need X and we will give you X, but if X gets broken for avoidable reasons, it comes out of your allowance.” This includes her computer, phone, etc. That’s be a lot of weeks of allowance…

      (She has quite internalized this — when she dropped her phone and the case broke, she was figuring she’d have to replace it. In that instance, we got the replacement (and a much sturdier one) gratis, since the case had done its job: breaking so the phone didn’t. Arguably, the case wouldn’t have broken if the thing hadn’t been dropped, but they’re little and Drops Happen now and then. It wasn’t a habitual thing.)

    • Glad I didn’t have the money to give them the shiny new car.

      Their present was (will be – one kid left) the shiny new expensive education from a good school. And the connections they made with fellow professionals at said school.

      BTW, how many people did you know who wrecked their cars? I find it extremely irritating that half my friends have kids who had an accident in their first year of driving – thus raising the rates for MY kids, who had no such accidents (in my car).

      Kids want cars? They will have one when they can pay for it. Until then they can borrow mine or Dad’s – and ask nicely.

      • Have to say everybody I knew in high school whose parents bought them a car either wrecked it, or absolutely destroyed it by abusing it. Now I do have to admit to wrecking my first rig also, but I bought it with my own money, took good care of it, and when I did wreck it (after I graduated high school) I both paid for my next vehicle and then fixed up the one I wrecked myself (and then sold it to help replenish the bank account I practically drained to buy my second rig).

      • We paid for the REALLY expensive defensive driving training. While Robert had an “accident” the first month of driving, it involved miscalculating in ice and scratching someone’ bumper (the person was being aggressive on ice, but it was technically Robert’s fault — i.e. the other driver was too far forward, and Robert miscalculated his turn.) It raised his rates because the other person insisted on going through insurance for a couple hundred dollars repair. OTOH he hasn’t had one since (3 years). He did get a (used) car — we didn’t pay for it — with the understanding it best last him till he’s done with his education and can afford one, because we sure as heck can’t buy him one. (I need one, before my transmission parts company with this world.) He’s very careful — knock on wood. His brother is driving Dan’s nearly-dead secondary car, and so far — knock on wood — also very carefully.

        • But we were talking about this yesterday. When we talk to other people about the driver training — Masterdrive — our kids took, they say “it’s too expensive” — and at 2k or so, it is expensive. So, instead they buy their kids a car. No explanation.

  12. what a delightful post. I had expected you say something about stories where every time the wizard does a miracle a kitten must drown. Instead, you focused on the price in Rick Cook’s novels that Wiz Zumwalt pays up front to become a top-notch software engineer prior to being teleported to the magic world where he can use those mad skilz. Bravo gentle lady.

    You have grokked the mind of the trained & professional expert whose expertise was not a trivial acquisition. I recently read a young writer’s novel where the heroine was a PhD in some arcane matter of physics, dies, gets transported 50 years forward in time, and then never laments the out-of-date-ness of her expertise. Maybe they do it in post-colonial gender-studies, but in the hard sciences they don’t hand out PhDs like cracker-jack prizes. The effort is so great that it transforms the person from a student into a doctor. Which is what I believe you were saying in different words. Bravo gentle lady.

  13. ” that labor equals value” – :-)The labor theory of value is actually Adam Smith – An Inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations 1776 (which has the peculiar status of being the philosophical foundation of two opposing economic philosophies). Where Marx (or at least those who followed his doctrine) got it wrong is that the relative values of labor are not considered adequately. ie. the labor of ditch digger does not have the same value as that of a concert pianist. To ascribe a realistic value to labor is complex. Firstly there is the innate ability (and rareness of that), secondly there is the training (and how few are capable of completing that), thirdly there is the level of experience. And finally there is how desirable the product of that labor is to others. Pubic hair macrame may take a great deal of innate hairness, a lot of training… but may fall at the third hurdle. It’s here of course that publishing (and hollywood) apply Animal Farm Marxism – all labor is equal (and, except for theirs, interchangeable), but some are a lot more equal than others.

    • Sorry. Marx applied it to his theory. And it was wrong. Yes, labor might create value — but value in a free society seems to be what others value — ie are willing to pay — for your work. To Marx it was literally time + effort equals labor which equals value. Hence the misguided point. So… While my first novel took time and labor, I doubt it had the value of the paper it was printed on…

      • A mentor of mine, worth his weight in gem-grade diamond, once recalled his first paying job of digging ditches. One of the older men on the crew looked him up and down after an exhausting, blisteringly hot day, and said, “Remember, Boy. You’re only worth fifty cents an hour from the neck down.”

        Decades later, I learned the same lesson on a farm myself – harvesting tobacco was the best motivation in the world to learn skills more valuable than raw labor. Every now and then I regret getting the college degree instead of becoming a tool & die maker, but I hold no regrets at all for staying in scool and finding something, anything, better.

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