Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Amadeus and Economics - Are You Salieri or Mozart?

Last week, I had the opportunity to go see the play Amadeus at the Old Globe Theatre here in San Diego. Many of you are undoubtedly more familiar with the movie version from 1984 which starred F. Murray Abraham as composer Antonio Salieri and Tom Hulce as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Nevertheless, it was originally a play, and its original Broadway cast featured Ian Mckellen (Gandalf!) as Salieri and Tim Curry as Mozart.*

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the work, Amadeus (fictionally) dramatizes the relationship that composers Salieri and Mozart had. The work dwells quite a bit on Salieri’s jealousy towards Mozart, so much so that Salieri starts out the play by suggesting that he had a hand in the untimely death of Mozart. Much of the dramatic tension focuses on Salieri’s systematic dismantling of Mozart’s opportunities towards composing work and Mozart’s subsequent inability to take care of himself or his family. At the end of the play, Salieri, in comparing his own middling music with Mozart's genius, declares himself the “patron saint of mediocrity,” and this pronouncement seems to play out in the real world as Salieri is largely forgotten while Mozart is certainly within the first few classical composers nearly any person can name.

This leads me to my personal finance point. Salieri is shown in the play spending much time coming up with ways to destroy Mozart, but he is never shown composing music. Contrariwise, Mozart is frequently shown scribbling away in efforts to write his next piece of music which he hopes will provide him with economic stability.

My point is that every dollar that you or I spend is a dollar that cannot be spent somewhere else. This is the basis of much financial writing, such as the Latte Factor (if I buy a coffee drink every day, that’s three bucks that I can’t save for retirement or other life goals).

Similarly, each hour we receive on earth is a gift, and each hour we spend on one task is an hour that we cannot spend on something else. For example, I have stated that one of my goals is to write and submit a play to a playwrighting contest by the end of the year. However, if I spend my hours away from work watching television and not doing any writing, then I’m not achieving my goal because I am choosing to spend my time in a way other than one that is personally fulfilling.

Had Salieri spent more time writing music, and less time hating on poor old Mozart, perhaps he could have been better remembered by posterity.** Instead, if Salieri is remembered at all, it is generally as a fictionalized character in a play.

Each and every hour of our lives is precious, and once these hours are spent, they are gone forever. One key difference between the economics of time and money is that while money can be saved, hours cannot be.

So, how are you spending your time? Are you a Salieri who complains while others forge pathways to their dreams? Or are you a Mozart, who takes what you’ve been given, and uses it in a mighty way?

*What a cast! What a production it must have been! I wish I could have seen it.
**While one might argue that propensity towards a skill is more important than just spending a lot of time on that skill, I’d argue that even all the propensity in the world won’t pay off without putting a butt in a chair and starting to work.

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