Brown Study

Brown study

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

5 October 2013

9:00 AM

With the unrelenting march of time, I have been giving a lot of thought to what I want to do when I grow up. There is quite a list of possibilities, but I have whittled it down to three serious contenders.

First, I have long toyed with the idea of being an arts administrator — in any field really, from films and opera to dance companies and on through galleries, workshops and even into the big league of arts festivals, provided, of course, that my employer is financed with public money, or ‘funding’ as they like to call it. You might think this an odd criterion, but people who put their own money into artistic undertakings tend not to like losing it. That makes working for them a nerve-racking experience and the more so the closer they come to bankruptcy. But public arts bodies, financed as they are by public money, have no such concerns, for they are expected to lose money and, when they do, there is always more of it to draw on. Indeed, their success is really measured by their failure and it is the latter, rather than the former, that is encouraged. After all, if a public body succeeds and pays its own way, it shows it does not need the public handouts to which it has become addicted. If, on the other hand, it runs at a loss, there is an unanswerable case that it needs more money, consultants, conferences and urgent trips to New York to help it survive. So the trips and free tickets through the arts mafia make working for a public arts body a relaxed and rewarding experience.

Moreover, if you make a minor human error like burning down the theatre, the worst that will happen is counselling, which really means don’t do it again. Arts management also means being invited to first nights, written up in the Age, going on ABC panel shows and asked for your opinion on deep issues like whether the ALP should have quotas for gay, climate change-challenged couples, to rapturous applause if you say yes.


My second choice is to be an economist for one of the big banks or one of those bodies that end in the word ‘Institute’ that gives them such an air of respectability. My main reason for liking this field of endeavour is that you do not have to know anything, but are assumed to know everything. This must be pretty clear by now because economists are so far out in their forecasts and assessments that they may as well be talking about the economy on Mars; and yet still they are revered. Sometimes they are simply wrong, like predicting that the Reserve Bank will raise interest rates or lower them, when it does the opposite or neither. About the only forecasts that are accurate are those that say an event was within market expectations, which of course they all are, as the market is so obliging that it expects almost anything. But none of this matters; you will keep your job no matter how wrong you are and how often, so long as you keep up the illusion that you have been initiated into the holy rites of economics, understand the mysteries within and are able to invoke them when needed.

In fact, what I really like about the job is that, apparently, all you need to know is a series of clichés, just as the witchdoctor knows his spells, words like sustainability, quantitative easing, market forces, level playing fields and trading partners (a field in which that renowned economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn excelled). Once you can demonstrate such knowledge, people will believe anything, giving you guaranteed security of tenure.

But the job I really yearn for and the one at the top of my list is to be a celebrity refugee lawyer. This is the job that has everything, fame, prestige and moral authority. You do not even have to work full time on refugees so long as people think that you do; in reality, a bit of pro bono dabbling here and there is enough, leaving you time to spend on what you really like doing — making money. You also have prestige, like a bishop in the new priesthood that ministers to our public guilt that we live in one of the few countries in the world that people actually want to go into rather than escape from. You also get the moral authority that comes from the admiration of the left for all your good works; thus, you can do no wrong. This in turn gets you on Q&A where the lynch mob listen in deferential silence to hear your views, not only on refugees, but on global warming, peace, the republic and any subject known to man, after which they break into rapturous applause at your profundity and thereafter at the very mention of your name. Fame and honours will be heaped on you. People will not interrupt you in a debate or even in conversation, as you are assumed to be right on refugee law and on everything else, for you have entered the pantheon of the good. If a job can get you to Heaven, this is it.

Well, I could possibly become a climate change expert, foretell the flooding of St Kilda and the end of the world and then become a professorial fellow and a living treasure; I hovered over this possibility, but you have to draw the line somewhere: the other jobs on my list are sublime; but this one is ridiculous.

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