Diminishing Returns

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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Take a look at the three cars in the image above. On the left we have a base model Volkswagen Polo. This car costs £11,815 and contains every basic convenience that you will need in a car in order to get where you are going.

It has a steering wheel so you can point it in the right direction and a stereo so you can listen to Radio 4 and wonder why that station exists at all.

There's a brake pedal so you can make it stop and an airbag will deploy should you be unfortunate enough to accidentally collide with a post box. Given that this car only has a 1 litre engine you probably won't be going fast enough to hurt yourself even if you do hit a post box but it's the thought that counts.

The car has a heater if you're cold and a windscreen to stop bugs hitting you in the face as you fly down the motorway at 35mph. Volkswagen have also, generously, fitted springs and shock absorbers to the wheels so when you drive over a bump in the road you won't end up with spinal fractures.

For all intents and purposes, the VW Polo is a car.

Magic Bodies

Next to the VW Polo in the picture is the Mercedes Benz S500L. For the not inconsiderable sum of £104,020 you will receive a car that makes almost no noise either inside or outside when it drives along the road.

There are so many safety sensors and cameras in this vehicle that only a monumental fool would be able to crash into a post box. Even if you do crash, and this car can hit 155mph, so many airbags will deploy that you will simply step out of the vehicle to call your lawyers so they can start legal proceedings against the Royal Mail for their inconsiderate positioning of the post box.

Does this car have a heater? Never mind a heater, this car will give you a hot stone massage (not making that up) as you drive along to your, presumably, luxurious destination. The Mercedes doesn't have anything as crass as analogue dials to tell you how fast you are going. This car has two (count 'em) hi-resolution computer screens powered by the same processors you get in top of the range computers.

Sitting in the back? Then enjoy, because the seats are fully reclinable and come complete with a footrest. Bumps in the road are no problem at all thanks to a system called "Magic Body Control" that scans the road ahead and actively adjusts the suspension so that you don't feel a thing inside the car.

The Mercedes Benz S500L is a demonstrably better car than the VW Polo.

The third car in our image, on the right, is the Rolls Royce Wraith (try saying that 10 times quickly! Ed!) and it is not demonstrably better than the Mercedes even though it costs almost £150,000 more.

At a full price of almost a quarter of a million pounds it is not more comfortable or more luxurious than the Mercedes. It's not safer, faster or better equipped. The Wraith is a very nice car, it should be, Rolls Royce is owned by the German car maker BMW and the Wraith is made from BMW parts, but it is not tens of thousands of pounds nicer than the Mercedes.

All you really get for the extra £150,000 is the Rolls Royce badge and an insurance headache.

What we have outlined above is the basic rule of diminishing returns. When you pay more money you can get something better but beyond a certain point the benefits are almost completely subjective.

Let The Fat Lady Sing


Simon Rattle, probably not worth as much money as a lot of people think he is.

It is well known in the wide world of the arts that the Music Director of the Royal Opera House in London, Antonio Pappano, receives an annual salary of more that £500,000. For some recent years that pay level has exceeded £775,000.

Over at Opera North, based in that slightly more shabby part of the country called Leeds, their Music Director, Richard Farnes, earns just over £110,000 per annum.*

Here in TheLab™ we would wager that if both of those men switched jobs and didn't tell anybody, the patrons of each opera company's performances would be hard pressed to tell the difference in either the way the company was run or the performances they staged. Mr Pappano might feel somewhat constrained without the ROH's largesse on his own productions though.

Over the last week or so it has been widely reported that Simon Rattle, currently the principal conductor with the Berlin Philharmonic, will become the new leader of the London Symphony Orchestra in 2017.

The current leader of the LSO (Valery Gergiev) receives a salary of £160,000* per year. Although no details have been announced of the salary Mr Rattle will receive when he moves to his new job (nor will there be) there is a strong suggestion that his compensation will be substantially more.

Mr Rattle is held in such high regard by some that his mere suggestion that the LSO needs a new building prompted our famously tight fisted Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to hand over £1Million for a feasibility study to find out just how ludicrously expensive it will be.

As with Mr Pappano and Mr Farnes we suspect if you put an audience in front of the LSO and they played the same piece of music conducted by Mr Rattle and Mr Gergiev and each was hidden from view nobody would be able to tell the difference?

Sure, the music might sound a little different but would anybody be able to tell which conductor was doing the conducting? Would anybody be able to tell if an experienced, professional conductor that nobody had ever heard of was behind that screen?

An unknown, experienced, professional conductor is the Mercedes S500L in this scenario. If you're paying money for the Rolls Royce Wraith (Mr Rattle and Mr Pappano) then all you're getting for the money is a badge along with the chassis and engine from a BMW 7 Series.

Of course, an unknown conductor wouldn't stand a chance of getting the job since the LSO didn't advertise the position. Also, where are all the women in the high and mighty music world?

Diminished Return

The more you deal with the arts in the UK the more you come to realise that the whole set-up is a complete basket case. As the arts struggle for their very existence in some places, with 100% cuts to funding, the music world is swooning over Simon Rattle and his ridiculous hair.

People who love Mr Rattle will tell you that they know something that you don't know, you know! They will tell they get why he's different, why he's better, why he's more deserving, you know!

Perhaps he is (we suspect he's not! Ed!), but he, and the rest of the over-paid men in the arts world, should show their commitment to the cause with wage caps set at £125,000 per year. That's more than generous enough as salaries go especially when you're working in the publicly subsidised arts sector.

Some might wail that on lower salaries they would not be able to attract this kind of talent. This is of course complete nonsense. Maybe the LSO wouldn't get Simon Rattle but what they might get is an unknown musician/conductor that has just as much talent but is without the right connections to land the job.

Finally, if we extropolate our car analogy to the extremes the actual performing artists, like dancers and musicians, are also the Mercedes Benz S500L specification, the arts just uses them at VW Polo prices.

*salaries were determined using the most recent published accounts of those companies. Apart from Antonio Pappano the recipients of those salaries are not named so we assume the highest ranking member of the company is in receipt of the largest salary.

Images courtesy of Volkswagen Group, Mercedes-Benz UK and Rolls Royce Motor Cars

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