"Bill James, the pioneer of Moneyball-style statistical baseball analysis, points out that modern America is already very good at generating geniuses. The problem is that the geniuses we’ve created are athletes." We basically value athletes & sports more than science, (classical) music, painting (although this one is valued quite much by certain rich people, you can own a painting after all, something that can't be said about music for instance) and so on.Ah yes, what is the value of genius? I think the original article falls down badly in its analysis of what created clusters of genius such as we find in 5th century BC Athens, 15th century Florence, 16th century London and, for we music-lovers, 18th century Vienna. The article claims that:
We can begin to make sense of the “clotting” of creative talent. The secret, it turns out, is the presence of particular meta-ideas, which support the spread of other ideas. First proposed by economist Paul Romer, meta-ideas include concepts like the patent system, public libraries, and universal education.Uh-huh. Does anyone even edit these off-the-cuff essays? Because if the "secret" is those "meta-ideas" there would seem to be a bit of a flaw as 5th century BC Athens, 15th century Florence, 16th century London and 18th century Vienna had none of this. Composers in the 18th century had no way of protecting their copyright and they had no access to any public libraries nor universal education. I guess we aren't supposed to notice glaring errors of logic these days.
But there is one element that we should examine: compensation. Is the reason that America is good at generating "genius" in the field of athletics (and I'm pretty sure that's the wrong word) is that they get paid enormous amounts of money? Let's have a look. Here is the Forbes list of highest-paid athletes for 2013. The top five range from around $50 million to nearly $80 million. Not bad! Now let's compare that to the earnings of some of the highest paid pop musicians. Now, of course, the article does not say "pop" musicians, but just musicians tout simple. It just happens that, through some quirk of fate, that all of the top musicians are in the pop field (including country, rap, and one dj). The top five here run from $64 million to $125 million. So, obviously, if compensation attracts genius, then we have a lot of genius in the field of pop. Aesthetically that doesn't seem to be the case.
Let's have another look at that quote from the article:
Bill James, the pioneer of Moneyball-style statistical baseball analysis, points out that modern America is already very good at generating geniuses. The problem is that the geniuses we’ve created are athletes. As James says, this is largely because we treat athletes differently. We encourage them when they’re young, chauffeuring our kids to practice and tournaments. We also have mechanisms for cultivating athletic talent at every step in the process, from Little League to the Majors. Lastly, professional teams are willing to take risks, betting big bucks on draft picks who never pan out. Because of these successful meta-ideas, even a small city like Topeka, Kansas—roughly the same size as Elizabethan London, James points out—can produce an athletic genius every few years.But do we treat athletes differently? I don't think so. A lot of young music students get treated exactly the same way and there are also mechanisms to encourage success. Most places have music festivals and there are extensive programs (even though cut back somewhat in recent years) for music education from Suzuki up to youth orchestras.
Just out of curiosity, how are the superstars of classical music compensated? I'm not sure where to get the numbers for opera singers and other virtuosos, but a good indicator is how conductors are paid. Here is an LA Times article with the numbers. The top five range from $1.52 million to $2.17 million. That's just ... embarrassing! These are some of the greatest classical musicians alive and they get paid about what a successful real estate agent in a major urban center like New York can make. Yes, really.
My conclusion is that all of these explanations are off the mark. Genius does not come out of nowhere, as these clusters seem to show, but it certainly does not seem to be the product of careful cultivation through copyright protection, public libraries or universal education either. Because it would be fairly easy to demonstrate that the clusters of genius that we know about were not the result of any of this. And, as the figures for pop stars also seem to show, genius is not a product of huge amounts of money either.
So why not? I think a little quote from Einstein I recently ran across might give a clue. When the Nazis came up with 100 scientists who said Einstein was wrong about everything he simply replied "Were I mistaken, one would have sufficed." What I take from this is, for one thing, genius is not to be judged by mediocrity. Which is one reason why systems of education, universal, restricted or high-tech, do NOT produce genius. All systems of education are run by mediocrities for their own benefit and they, almost without exception, resent highly talented students because they always create problems for the institution.
Just as a speculation, I think that what creates clusters of genius are two things: genius itself and leisure to exploit it. You don't get an Aristotle by sending him to an Ivy League school with highly-paid professors and deluxe student dorms. But you do by exposing him at an early age to the thinking of Plato and Socrates. You need one potential genius exposed to another with the leisure to develop. So there does have to be some compensation. But I call it leisure because what genius really needs is not huge paychecks, but just time. You can't be a genius if you are slinging burgers because that just takes away too much of your energy.
Haydn was a potential genius who, through the patronage of the Esterházys was given the leisure to develop his abilities. In turn he was able to positively influence the genius of Mozart and Beethoven.
Let's listen to pieces by those three geniuses: