Economics, Gangs, and Why I’m Not Published

Honestly, I haven’t wanted to be published since I was in high school. I lost that desire when I hit college and realized that, for all the unpleasant work involved, the likelihood of me being the next H.P Lovecraft was slim to none. Maybe I’ll give my impressions of the publishing industry and what I mean by “unpleasant work” another day; the point is that a long time ago I realized that, no matter how hard I worked, I was probably not going to be the next Terry Brooks or Stephen King. In my opinion, true or not, success in that field was largely determined by factors other than how much or how well you wrote. So, basically, I quit the gang.

What?

Yeah. The gang. I quit it.

I’m making my way down my list of Books to Read Eventually and I finally got to Freakanomics.. It’s an entertaining attempt to use statistics and economic analysis to get answers to perplexing questions that, on the surface, have nothing to do with either. Such as: “If selling illegal drugs is so lucrative, why do so many crack dealers live with their mothers?” and “Why isn’t Dark Icon Published?”

Here’s the answer:

Because only the crack dealers at the top make any money. This isn’t mere conventional wisdom; it’s backed up by actual numbers from an actual street gang over the course of a four-year period. The guy running the neighborhood drug-dealing gang is making around $100,000 a year, or $70 an hour. Not a lot, considering the risks, but it’s a serious improvement over what I’m making right now. The “soldiers”… the people out selling drugs and shooting at each other, are making the equivalent of $3.00 an hour. There is a level below the soldiers who don’t make any money at all; in fact they PAY dues to the gang for the privilege of one day becoming a soldier.

So the next question is: why are these guys risking their lives for $3.00 an hour… less than minimum wage? Because they all want to be the guy at the top. Don’t they realize that there is only room at the top for a few of those guys and that, statistically, they don’t have a chance in hell of making it? Some do. Some don’t. Those that do, usually end up getting out of the gang. Those that don’t usually end up getting out of the gang an entirely different way (a coffin). And then there are the one or two out of a hundred that actually become that $100,000 a year drug-dealer, only to get arrested by the feds the following year.

Sounds sad and rather stupid. Who in their right mind would sign up for such a thing? But then the authors go on to compare this to other, legitimate professions… like sports: Thousands of kids busting their asses (without pay!) and hitching all their hopes on the slight chance that they’ll become a high-paid professional athlete. They are surrounded by people who are making money (legal or not), but they themselves don’t make any until some point in the future when they turn pro. IF they turn pro. Sure, there are a lot of pros out there making money, but their numbers are staggeringly small compared to the number of kids who want to BE them. There’s not enough room for all of them at the top, but the kids either don’t know or don’t care.

Then the authors compare crack-selling to the acting, scriptwriting, and publishing professions. People put in a lot of work under crappy conditions for little pay, on the odd chance that maybe they’ll be one of the few people who can become a superstar. There isn’t enough room for everybody at the top, but we’ll all work ourselves into an early grave trying to get there. A few make it. Most don’t.

The analogy doesn’t fit 100%. Enjoying what you do for a living means something over and above the amount of money you make doing it; and I personally don’t buy into the whole mentality of scarcity. But on the surface, was the young Dark Icon in high school any different than the kids down the hall playing basketball, trying to be the next Michael Jordan? Some of those kids were pretty talented, too. None of them is famous now. Neither am I. Somewhere along the line, we all stopped trying to be that $100,000 a year drug dealer. I bet they still play basketball, though. And I still write.

Hey, anybody wanna buy some crack?


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