There are so many games in economic life rigged such that “the house always wins.” This cliche comes, of course, from casinos, where the games are literally designed so that the house always wins.
(Editor’s note: You get less than 70% of your money back playing anonymous, dull slots and 98% of your money back standing next to loud, sweaty ruffians playing craps. The house always wins, but, hey, order another cocktail and play some craps, will ya? Bet the pass line. You’ll come out way ahead of those timid souls at the penny slots.)
Many other industries design these games where you take a big risk to be one of the few who will come out on top:
- Law school
- Business schools not named “Harvard” or “Stanford”
- Publishing books through New York media companies
- Buying treasure maps off Barbary pirates
- Writing stupid songs about your ex-girlfriends, printing albums, trying to make it big as a pop star
- Real estate speculation
- Multi-level marketing of household commodities
- Super sexy fashion modeling
I found this piece by Jenna Sauers, bikini and pumps notwithstanding, arresting for its description about the high-risk, credit heavy world of being a fashion model, and how the house usually wins even for those who can be paid stupidly well for a day of standing around looking breezily sexy and urbane. Her story is one of individual contractors putting their hard-earned cash into travel and accommodations in astonishingly-expensive European cities to work modeling jobs that pay barely enough to cover the debts incurred. The hope is to encounter That Job, always just around the corner, the engagement that will put you Ahead of the Game.
Like so much, That Job never comes.
It reminds me of the great number of gigs that work this way. Musicians on tour are regularly sleeping on couches and paying for gas on credit cards, even with major label deals, just trying to get to That Level where they make some real money.
Lots of people sign on to 30-year mortgages hoping to be in the one neighborhood that increases dramatically in value despite no effort of one’s own to actually improve the civil infrastructure, commercial vitality, or culture of the place.
There are innumerable sales jobs with MILLION-DOLLAR earning potential that are really 98% likely to end up with compensation at our near the minimum wage.
And years ago, I did freelance work for a certain consultancy that wanted you to work for a flat rate, no matter how much writing and editing went into the final product. When you blew your brains out night after night, they told you, “the next job will be easy and you’ll make up your time then – just finish our 160-page analysis of chemical industry trends.” It didn’t take many of these “opportunities” to realize that when the house sets the rules, You Can’t Beat the House. No matter what you’re doing.