Gary Shapiro Does Not Approve of Your Sloth

Fractured Atlas has campaigned tirelessly to make benefits like health insurance available to artists and other creative entrepreneurs. So we couldn’t help but notice this blog post by Gary Shapiro, President of the Consumer Electronics Association, attacking House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for promoting the idea that artists should have access to affordable health insurance.

The article trots out all the tired old clichés about how the poor and disenfranchised just need to be ignored so they can learn the value of a hard day’s work. But Shapiro’s most head-scratching argument is when he condemns “ObamaCare” for “allowing anyone to quit their job and pursue their passion.”

Here’s the full quote from Pelosi:

You want to be a photographer or a writer or a musician, whatever - an artist, you want to be self-employed, if you want to start a business, you want to change jobs, you no longer are prohibited from doing that because you can’t have access to health care…

To Shapiro, this proves that “this view [that able-bodied individuals should not be expected to work and should instead be allowed to feed from the public trough] has infected our leadership at the highest level.” In other words, artists and creative entrepreneurs are lazy and would rather leach off the government than get a real job.

This is so grossly misguided that it’s hard to know where to begin. Not only has Shapiro apparently never met an actual working artist, but he completely ignores the enormous benefits that society derives from a thriving creative economy. (He also seems to have a rather poor understanding of the health reform law, which for the most part has nothing to do with government handouts.) When a creative individual leaves her safe if soul-crushing day job to pursue an entrepreneurial passion, it’s not lazy. It’s courageous and quintessentially American.

Our society erects plenty of legitimate (if harsh) barriers to pursuing a career in the arts or starting a new creative business. That historical quirks of our dysfunctional health insurance system make it harder still is not just adding insult to injury. It impoverishes us all by stymieing untold creative potential when our economy needs it most.

We applaud Pelosi’s leadership, not just for championing the under-served and the under-privileged, but for recognizing that America prospers when creativity thrives.

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9 Responses to “Gary Shapiro Does Not Approve of Your Sloth”

  1. Fred Andersen:

    I feel obligated somehow to respond to this blog post, as an artist and a gay man, and — shockingly to many, I’m sure — a conservative. I know that all of the above should, in the minds of many, cause me to agree wholeheartedly with Emily Gray’s post. But I don’t. Gary Shapiro doesn’t mince words, so his article might seem harsh to some; however he doesn’t say most of what Emily Gray accuses him of saying.

    1. Nowhere does he attack Nancy Pelosi for promoting the idea that artists should have access to health care. It’s the idea behind her statement that the government should be there to support anyone’s dream or new career — that it’s somehow mean-spirited to expect people to support themselves. Affordable health care isn’t the only impediment to starting a business or being an artist: most important you need to pay the rent, eat, stay warm… Gray’s paraphrase of Shapiro’s arguments as saying that “artists and creative entrepreneurs are lazy…” is untrue and disingenuous. I would venture to say that Shapiro has met at least one or two working artists and has no problem with anyone — artist or not — who is earning his or her own living.

    2. Shapiro makes no mention of the poor and disenfranchised being ignored. He acknowledges that many of the laws on the books are “well-intentioned” but have been misused and played by the many (and they are many) who are able to work but would rather not. In fact he says that “…our legal benefits (are) INTENDED TO HELP THE TRULY NEEDY…” (emphasis mine).

    3. I’m glad Ms Gray understands the “health reform law” so well “for the most part”, since even the vaunted Nancy Pelosi averred that the law needed to be passed before it could be understood. Her response, when asked about its Constitutionality was “Are you serious? Are you serous?” The bill is thousands of pages long and now even government agencies are taking a second look at the negative consequences of some of its provisions. It’s not a question of government handouts — handouts are more benign than the gov’t just taking over a whole sector of the economy and putting into the hands of unelected bureaucrats. Is that who we want determining how we are cared for?

    4. As a creative individual I have left “soul-crushing” jobs (several times) to pursue my true passion and ambition. The problem is, as with most artists, the world didn’t beat a path to my door so I was forced to take temporary, part-time “soul crushing” work to survive. I didn’t expect the government, on any level, to support me just because my goals were supposedly loftier than those of any other businessperson. I even started a second business as a house painter in order to write and act. It was hard work but it paid off at the time. I am now at another desk job, offered to me just at the time I was preparing to launch a little theater company. I opted for the security and a good thing, because I was shortly thereafter diagnosed with a cancer that needed immediate treatment. I shudder to think how long I’d have waited for the kind of care I’ve been receiving if Obamacare was the law of the land.

    Life is trade-offs and, contrary to the title of the book, doing what you love does NOT mean that “the money will follow”. Or healthcare. Or, for that matter, happiness.

  2. Barbara McAdams:

    After 9/11, NYC needed incentives to get people back downtown spending money in lower Manhattan businesses. They noted that the small arts organizations in lower Manhattan created an economy for restaurants, shops, etc. So they created some grants to keep small theaters moving forward. Our “sloth” brings people into the City to spend money. We are a vital part of a thriving economy.

  3. Adam Huttler:

    @Fred Andersen

    What specific aspects of the health reform law amount to “the gov’t just taking over a whole sector of the economy and putting into the hands of unelected bureaucrats”?

    I hear this talking point all the time and I’m genuinely baffled by it. If anything, the law could be criticized as a subsidy for the PRIVATE health insurance industry, since it penalizes folks for not buying their products and in some cases provides subsidies to facilitate said purchases.

    Does ObamaCare result in any government-controlled health care delivery? NO.

    Does ObamaCare result in any government-controlled insurance program (e.g., the abandoned “public option”)? NO.

    So, with all due respect, what are you talking about? This is not a rhetorical question.

  4. Jim Plaxco:

    I find Emily’s characterization of Shapiro’s statements a gross mischaracterization.

    Reading Shapiro’s commentary, I found nothing factually incorrect and agreed with pretty much everything he had to say. In fact I find it surprising that anyone would disagree with Shapiro’s main points of work and individual responsibility. Bottom line: a mentality of entitlement will lead us to ruin. Witness Greece.

    @Adam: re Obamacare, it is worth noting that the government is the one writing the checks for ever increasing portions of the healthcare industry. When you’re the one paying the bills, you’re the one in control. Also, Obamacare greatly expands government bureaucracy and regulatory/paperwork requirements that will both increase government control of healthcare and increase the cost to society of healthcare.

    Re your statement about the law could be criticized as a subsidy, yes but that was done with the realization that the law forces insurance companies into an unlimited liability situation while placing restrictions on what it can charge in premimums - which otherwise could cause a collapse of the insurance industry. Regardless I oppose the mandate - both for individuals and for companies.

    You ask “Does ObamaCare result in any government-controlled health care delivery?” Your answer is inaccurate. A better answer is “sort of.” because the goal is to increase the number of people relying on government to pay for their health care. That increases government control. Also recall the gov’t task force that called for a change of policy re mammograms for women, In this example, the government controls delivery by controlling what procedures it will pay for.

    You ask “Does ObamaCare result in any government-controlled insurance program?” Again the correct answer is “sort of” because the government is now defining what type of policy the insurance companies must offer. It’s a government mandate - added on top of various different state mandates. It is also setting price controls on insurance. I think an appropriate analogy is that of censorship. You can still paint - but this is what you will paint and this is what you will sell your paintings for.

    I may now be an artist but I got my BS in Economics - the science dealing with the allocation of scarce resources and the role that incentives/costs/prices/taxes play in the process. To the extent that people making policy fail to understand the basic tenets of economics we will wind up with bad policies. It is my judgement that Obamacare is bad policy.

  5. Fred:

    Does ObamaCare result in any government-controlled health care delivery/insurance program? I’m afraid so: To begin with, the bill mandates that 18 to 20 million more people go on Medicaid. Employers may decide it’s cheaper to drop health care plans for their employees, and just pay the $2,000/employee fine and pay for the employee to enroll in the gov’t exchange. The CBO estimates that over 150 million people have care thru their employers. If employers get out of the HC game, the majority of people will have to look to gov’t exchanges to purchase HC. (So if business and individuals are dropping health coverage, how is it a subsidy for private insurers?) Then the gov’t exchange premiums will become so expensive people won’t be able to afford insurance anyway - govt. or private. States are required to establish insurance exchanges, and if they don’t the federal government (HHS) will take over and do it for them. Sounds like government control to me.

    Gov’t will be effectively “taking over” a large chunk of economy in jobs lost (due to the estimated $760 billion in taxes, penalties and fees levied on businesses and investors); there will be a shortage of doctors, there will be a 40% excise tax on health plans valued over $10,200 for employee-only coverage; there will be a limit on itemized deductions for health care; higher taxes on prescription drugs and medical devices. The bill will increase the federal deficit by an additional $115 billion over original projections and the national debt by $753 billion.

    This is a partial list of consequences - intended and unintended - of ObamaCare.

    I suppose at some point is seemed like a nice thing to do, but it’s a regulatory and financial nightmare, and if it doesn’t mean gov’t controlled delivery of gov’t programs, what is it for? Why is it a law?

    And all of this is tangential to my original response, that in my opinion the government does not owe artists a living or a leg up, just because they’d otherwise have to do “soul crushing” work to sruvive. (And anyway, does all art merit support?)

  6. Adam Huttler:

    @Fred - the policies sold on the state-run exchanges are all provided by private insurance companies.

    “What is it for? Why is it a law?” - because the health insurance system in our country represented a classic market failure, which all but the most ardent libertarians admit warrant government intervention. The system was rife with perverse incentives, cost-shifting, and monopolistic conditions. ObamaCare doesn’t solve this entirely, but it’s a big improvement on a lot of fronts.

    I 100% agree with you that the government does not “owe artists a living or a leg up”. Emily is arguing that, as a society, it’s in our best interests to dismantle barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship. The world is full of gatekeepers who will judge your work as an artist: agents, producers, critics, etc. There’s absolutely no good that comes from erecting additional barriers - like access to health insurance - that are essentially arbitrary and have no relationship to artistic quality.

    @Jim - the regulations you cite are necessary in the context of a broken, non-competitive marketplace. Regulations are never ideal, but they are sometimes the only way a market can function in the real world. I suspect we agree that health reform could have gone in a different direction, to try to improve the marketplace by increasing competition. But the status quo was/is dysfunctional and unsustainable.

  7. Fred:

    Thanks, all, for your comments. Initially I was sure that the “battle lines” on all this were clearly drawn, yet I see glimmers here and there that, to some extent, we all share some of the same sentiments — I agree the insurance system as it is is a mess (not necessarily “broken”) — but I also believe that if the government got even just a little bit out of the way, things would improve. E.g. allowing insurance companies to do business across state lines and increase competition. Not the whole answer, but a start. I guess I just don’t have the faith in government that a lot of people have, considering that so many of the problems we face started as apparently good ideas in Washington.

    Artists are, by definition, creative people. It might be interesting to see what kinds of creative ways artists have come up with to create, survive, thrive and take care of themselves.

    (I’ve had to sandwich my creative pursuits between a variety of other jobs and endeavors, but I’ve been writing, acting and producing for decades. A friend of mine is the producing artistic director of a theater company in a severely under-served community that just finished its 7th season; he writes and publishes his plays; and he managed to build a brand new theater in a neighborhood that’s being rebuilt and reborn around it — all while holding down a full-time job. I want to sit down and ask him more about how he did it…I think it would be really interesting.)

  8. Jim Plaxco:

    Hi Adam,

    Sorry about the delay in following up.

    Re your statement “the health insurance system in our country represented a classic market failure, ” I would argue that it is much closer to the truth to say that the market failure in question is a consequence of government interference in the market.

    Something that still sticks with me was a comment made by someone being interviewed on PBS back during the Congressional debate on Obamacare. That person stated that our health care system was a product of the worst combination of a free market and a government mandated system. And who is to blame for that - none other than the politicians we elected to represent us. They took a reasonably good system and in the name of helping us made it worse - and by worse I mean making it more costly and inefficient from a system perspective.

    Here is really where we differ I think. You say that the status quo was/is dysfunctional and unsustainable. I view the Obamacare solution as making the system even more dysfunctional and unsustainable. While the system may weather these changes in the very short run, in the long run it’s going to leave us wishing for the good ole days of pre-Obamacare,

  9. Gary Shapiro:

    I appreciate all the comments and the high level of discourse. Reading various comment sections on news sites, one can only question our national ability to have any serious discussion.

    I have views on health care and they are in my book..but the commenatry at issue was on sacrifice and self-reliance…and few if any poitical leaders are talking about either. That was my point. Pelosi is just an example of fostering an entitlement mind set.

    Sorry for the delay. Have a new baby.