The Red Queen’s Race — Part II

There’s a very personal side to the Red Queen’s Race, and that’s what happens to individuals. For example, to people like my wife. As a professor of music and an opera director, she’s theoretically on a nine month contract — except theory is far different from practice. Admittedly, instead of working the 60-80 hour weeks, and weekends, she works during the school year, she’s only working 40 plus hours pretty much every week of her “vacation,” just to handle all the aspects of her job that don’t fit into the year, as well as: (1) counsel incoming freshmen during the three one-week sessions the university has scheduled in order to compete for students; (2) develop three new courses to help implement the new degrees offered by the University and the Music Department; (3) write the two scholarly papers due before school starts again in August; (4) track and assign incoming students; (5) develop the ground plans, staging, and rehearsal schedules for the coming year’s opera productions… and about ten other things, all during her theoretical vacation. She’s far from the only one at the university. In fact, dozens of them all laugh, and not cheerfully, at what they call “the myth of the nine month contract,” because it really amounts to the equivalent of a 25% pay cut, or 25% more in work for no more pay.

But they’re certainly not the only ones with this kind of problem. There’s a doctor I know well, who’s a surgeon and a researcher, as well as a department head, at a major medical center and who spent the last year carrying not only her job, but that of her non-existent assistant [also a doctor’s position], because budgetary constraints meant holding off filling the position for a year. The director of human resources at a major chemical company has told me that the company is always juggling these issues, because of cost and resource constraints.

Certainly, the effect has also hit the fiction publishing field. Writers whose work has won critical plaudits have been forced to move to small presses… or not have their work published at all because of the ever-increasing pressure for efficiency and profitability. Other writers are told that certain kinds of books can’t be accepted because they’re unlikely to meet expected financial and sales goals.

All across the United States, those in management and professional positions are finding themselves handling both their jobs and those once held by subordinates. Middle management positions have been trimmed everywhere, in the name of efficiency. But the work load hasn’t been cut anywhere close to commensurately. On a other economic levels, everyone has heard about all the renegotiated salaries across industry after industry, from pay cuts for pilots and flight attendants, to bankruptcy-forced pay cuts, to the replacement of full-time employees with part-timers without benefits. In fact, the only area where this hasn’t hit is CEO compensation, which for the moment seems to remain above the effect of the Red Queen’s race.

And the bottom line still remains… run faster, because running as hard as you can only leaves you in the same place.