…food was at the heart of this French Quarter: The Santopalato Supper Club featured a different chef’s cooking each night. I traveled there, and everywhere, from my tent using the festival’s preferred mode of transportation: a bicycle. It’s amazing what you can discover peddling through the dust, like the Pacificana pop-up at Santopalato. Marketing consultant Victoria Davies grilled ginger flank steak and chile-laced sweet-potato cakes over an open fire. Down the street, Darias Jonker and other volunteers at Black Rock Bakery turned out crusty breads from an old airport Cinnabon oven. The efforts of these temporary restaurateurs are astonishing. Yehonatan Koenig, an Israeli-born ad agency director from California, started planning six months out for his special boil dinner, for which he flew in 100 pounds of live crawfish, cooking everything in two 80-quart pots…
…To find the popular Dust City Diner — a ’50s-era greasy spoon run by California artists Michael Brown and David Cole — I biked into the central open sand, searching for its LED sign. At a Formica counter jerry-rigged in a flatbed truck, servers in blond beehive wigs sporting names like Dixie dished out coffee and pancakes on classic blue china. At other eateries, some of my favorite things are the sweets. When you’re tussling with sandstorms, you just kind of want a treat — something like Davies’ yogurt cake with passion fruit sauce — to keep your spirits lifted and primed for yet another crazy experience on, say, a 30-foot pendulum swing or an animal-shaped art car
The underlying premise to this post is an interesting one: taking. Is Burning Man like a shopping mall, where you just pick where you want to go and what you want to do; then when you show up, you’re entitled to get that for free? Or is it more like Christmas? A world of one wonderful surprise after another. You never know what you’re going to get next…and whether you like it or not, you have to say thankyou because it’s a gift.
I have enjoyed free food gifted to me by others at BM before. I’ve even gone to seek out specific camps because I was hungry and thought they might have food. But I have never thought to take a connoisseur’s approach – planning my meals around all the epic cuisine available, so that I may sample and compare. Seems like there could be a lot of queuing up involved, not to mention navigational challenges. Soon we will need TripAdvisor and OpenTable at Burning Man…
As the party grows beyond the limits, it seems that these are the type of things that will come under the most pressure. The pile of money floating to the promoters gets bigger and bigger, while at the same time the money required from camps to Gift something to an ever-expanding population increases. Our expenses go up as their revenues go up. The logistics of arranging food for 50,000 people were significant; the logistics of arranging food for 70,.000 people are at least 40% more expensive, and probably more complicated. Every year, the lines get longer.
The party is only going one way: bigger. Ticket prices have only ever been going one way: up. Food, energy, labor, and other logistics costs are all increasing due to inflation. These have to be borne by the camps, while Burning Man relies 99% on volunteer labor- even those few who do get paid, choose “labor of love” wages over the lucrative, stock option-laden employment packages that are floating around this scene in San Francisco. This year BMOrg’s costs to put on the party went up to a whopping $11,232,928. Revenues also went up, to $30 million. BMOrg increases its prices much more than inflation, from $35 in 1996 to $200 in 2000 to $448 in 2014. Ticket prices feed back into the production costs, camps have to bring more people out to cater for a larger event, and there are many “hidden” costs like driver access for re-supply. Ticket prices also feed directly into BMOrg’s tax-free treasure chest, since most of their fixed costs are actually for their year-round staff, not the week-long annual event. Even the party-related expenses include $2.5 million in royalty payments to the owners.
Is there a limit to growth in this model? Or has The Burning Man Project truly mastered the sharing economy, and is offering us a revolutionary new business model? Maybe Burner benefactors just shrug their shoulders and say “last year, we made grilled cheese sandwiches for 50,000 people. They were all gone by the second day. So, this year we are going to bring triple the amount of sandwiches and kitchen staff”. Even if they do, is that infinitely scaleable? Is it replicable in places like Israel and Africa and Australia? If so, thirty years of social engineering experiments in conjunction with Stanford and other colleges have truly resulted in a disruptive breakthrough for capitalism. A corporate structure where:
- 99% of the workers are free
- the workers are responsible for all their time and expenses
- workers have to get their own insurance, in case the work they did was sub-standard
- the workers bear all the cost increases
- more, better work = more customers and higher prices = more costs for the workers, more revenues for the owners
- the owners can increase revenues and customer numbers (workload) without reference to the workers needs or capabilities
- a middle management layer is not required, the workers self-manage
- there is no transparency, oversight, or accountability on the owners
- the whole thing is tax-free
Forget the Maker movement or the Nobel prize winning idea of micro-finance! This magical organization model could be the economic miracle that fuels the New American Century.