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Working for Fun Is No Laughs in Market Capitalism
In an affluent society, more people can find jobs they love.


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Michael Barone

Some of my friends in the conservative blogosphere have been ridiculing a New Yorker named Joe Therrien. I want to put in a good word for him.

Therrien appears in the lead paragraph of a story in The Nation on Occupy Wall Street. He’s an example, writer Richard Kim wants us to know, of the “creative types” ingeniously protesting capitalism.


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It’s one of those no-violence-or-anti-Semitism-here-just-nifty-people articles you find not only in the avowedly leftish Nation but also in mainstream media.

Conservative bloggers and commenters have been making fun of Therrien, who quit his job as a drama teacher in the New York City public schools to get a master of fine arts in puppetry at the University of Connecticut.


Now he’s saddled with $35,000 in student loans and unable to find a puppetry job. So he’s substitute-teaching at half his former pay and is a member of Occupy Wall Street’s Puppetry Guild.


“Could he not see this coming if he spent $35k on a degree in puppetry?” asks cartcart on lucianne.com. “A hopeless case.”


But actually, it turns out that some Americans do make a living doing puppetry. And not just the famous ones like Burr Tillstrom of the 1950s TV show Kukla, Fran and Ollie, or Jim Henson of The Muppets.


Some do so working for outfits such as the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, the Sandglass Center for Puppetry and Theater Research in Putney, Vt., and the Spiral Q Puppet Theater in Philadelphia.


Reason’s Mike Riggs notes disapprovingly that these organizations got federal money from Barack Obama’s stimulus package. But they also receive money from people who buy tickets for performances and those who make larger voluntary contributions.


They look like good examples of the Tocquevillian voluntary associations that crop up all over America and benefit from the prosperity generated by market capitalism.

Therrien, according to Richard Kim, thought his master’s in puppetry would bring him “a measure of security.” But I think that in quitting a tenured job he was giving up security and taking a risk to achieve his dream.


He presumably felt that he could be a good enough puppeteer to make a living at it and could find a job doing so. That’s the sort of thing the late Steve Jobs told Stanford graduates that they ought to do.


Therrien didn’t know that we were going to have a financial collapse in fall 2008 and that a lengthy recession would follow. Neither did most economists — including the very good ones in the Obama administration — and most people in banking and financial services.


Or perhaps Therrien didn’t understand that a lengthy recession could reduce the market demand for puppetry, as fewer people could afford tickets or make generous gifts.




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