Business 101 vs. Econ 101
By the way, Wicked has taken in $793,000,000 on Broadway alone from 2003-2013, higher than the domestic totals of even either of James Cameron's last two movies. That's a lot of money. And that's not the most, either. The Lion King has now surpassed one billion dollars just playing at one theater on Broadway.
As you would expect, various parties have staked their claims to a slice of the pie. After all, you can't outsource Broadway, and it's resistant to insourcing.
Here's a good article on Local 1, the stage hands union in New York that works Broadway and other top tier live events in Manhattan. Their work rules guarantee that they'll put in huge amounts of overtime, for which they are lavishly compensated. A few at the Met opera get over half a million per year in wages and benefits. (The NYT doesn't have access to compensation stats for profit Broadway theaters, but presumably they pay in the same ballpark.)
Not surprisingly, the demographics of stage hands are similar to those of film crews in Hollywood, only more so:
Jobs are often passed from father to son, and some members are now the fifth generation of their families to hold Local 1 cards. [Union boss] Mr. Claffey, whose total compensation in 2011 as Local 1’s chief was $277,000, is one of six Claffey brothers in the union.That's Econ 101, as rendered in Business Strategy 101: find yourself a defensible piece of monopoly power, and defend it.
(It is most definitely a band of brothers. The union is still overwhelmingly white and male. Two years ago, it convened a meeting of its Sisters Committee for the first time, drawing 28 women, which the union’s newsletter said was nearly 20 percent of all the women in the local, suggesting that there are around 140 [out of 2,600].)
The NYT article is a very interesting (and astounding) read. The Locak 1 stagehands have parlayed their occupations into substantial six-figure salaries, a cost happily borne by Broadway's many customers.
From one of Local 1's newsletters: “We are a proud, unified, hard-working, family-oriented bunch of people with only the welfare of our families, the future of our children and the pride of being the best stagehands in the world deeply embedded in our hearts.”
This is the sort of area where economists get tripped up over their own premises. If nice, cozy guilds and trade monopolies are advantageous, then they're an economic good and people are going to pursue them. So maybe the policy path of least resistance is toward policies that let people find their own, cozy little levels* instead of brutal, all-against-all cage matches where the referees are constantly adding more contestants. After all, George Mason University doesn't just throw up a few classrooms and charge rent to whoever shows up and can draw the most paying students. Instead, they set up a cozy little Bubble from which George Mason's Econ department can lecture the rest of us about churn, creative destruction, barriers to entry, price elasticity, etc.
Which reminds me, a lot of the most dogmatic anarcho-capitalists are academics at public universities. Recognizing that we all have to earn a living and compromise to some extent, wouldn't they have more influence in the federal bureaucracy? Or raising a private army to take over Honduras? (On second thought, maybe that's not a good idea.)
Anyway, back to the quote from Local 1. That is powerful, primal stuff: "the welfare of our families," "the future of our children," pride of place and work. Isn't that also the terminology we use when we talk about nationhood?
I'm coming around to Vox Popoli's view on free trade, namely that 'free trade'--the economists' dream of perfect competition--is not really 'free.' It depends on a lot of externalities in the form of powerful militaries, government immigration policy, currency manipulation. Go back to hard currency, and trade imbalances (and a lot of other things) take care of themselves. In the meantime, any nation whose people want to preserve themselves as a sovereign folk with their unique culture and geographic redoubt had better follow the Local 1 Path and protect their comparative advantage. This means you pay more for Broadway shows, and Broadway producers don't take as big a cut to pay for their second, third and fourth homes, but you've provided a nice living for a larger number of people.
We have already arrived at the appalling outcome where the only outlets for our lower-g citizens are name tag-jobs in fast food, and what can't be off-shored is going to be automated in the near future. That's why there's all this temporarily fashionable uproar about living wages in the fast food industry--that's all these people have left before they bottom out on welfare. These jobs were never meant for people trying to raise families; they were for teenagers, housewives earning grocery money and semi-retired seniors.
In other words, we either spread more wealth around at the cash register, or we pay people welfare for not even trying to work, and the consequences of the latter strike me as far more problematic than the former.
* - What I've previously called small pond strategy.