Every year my part-time photography business does a little better than the year before. A few new clients, a few new venues, a few more visitors to my web sites. It’s not a meteoric rise by any measure, but considering the current economic situation I am counting my blessings.
Naturally, of course, when business is good I muse about expanding it. What would it take to become a full-time professional photographer?
If I replaced all the time I spent running PCRs with time spent calling up potential clients and marketing my wares, and replaced the time I spent writing papers with time spent writing magazine articles, I could probably approach the modest paycheck I make as a postdoctoral researcher. If the money were really flowing, I might even hire an assistant to look after the books and assist with some of the photo shoots. You know, job creation.
What I might not be able to muster, though, is the full suite of affordable benefits I get as a university employee. I’d have to either forgo insurance or buy into the pricey individual market where I’d be lucky to find coverage half as good for twice the price I currently pay. The cost difference between large employers and individuals is insane. And it’s not like university work merits lower premiums by being any healthier than photo work. Hell, the lab has all sorts of hazardous chemicals.
So here we are, all we potential founders of new businesses and creators of new jobs. We are stuck facing a massive industry-sponsored disincentive for moving ahead.
The American employer-based system introduces a significant inefficiency in the labor market. It prevents people from moving to jobs where they may be happier or more productive. It kills small business. It’s a drain on job creation. The net effect is that our system puts the country at an economic disadvantage.
Which is why I find the present dialogue over reform maddening. I’m sick of all the banal accusations of “socialism” and “Obama-care”. This isn’t about ideology, or about having the government take over health care. It’s about how we are already sinking under the weight of a system that primarily benefits the entrenched corporations and the already wealthy at the expense of the remaining 95% of us. We can’t afford not to have reform.
[an addendum: In all seriousness, I am not contemplating going full-time to photography; I am primarily a scientist and me dropping research would be like ants giving up honeydew. I enjoy research too much to leave it. ]