It is impossible to experience Seattle without a visit to Pike Place Market. Encompassing a total of nine acres, the market, one of the country’s oldest farmer’s markets, allows you to experience it all. From the famous “Public Market” red glowing sign, the market takes you through winding alleys to an assortment of different shops, a plethora of incredible restaurants, a fish throwing show, flowers, stands filled with fruits, vegetables and crafts, and finally, to a wall covered in gum.
I spent my summer busking in the heart of the market. “Busker” is an English word used to describe a street performer. There are 13 different locations around the market that are designated for performers. A painted musical note marks the spot where the performer is allowed to entertain tourists or shoppers. The spots work on a “first come first serve” basis. If the spot is open, it’s yours to perform at! However, if someone is already performing, they have an hour to play until they must give up their spot to the next person in line. All performers are required to purchase a permit, which expires April 14 of every year and costs $30 dollars.
You will find a wide variety of performers within the market. The man who hauls a piano and performs across the street from Beecher’s is a regular. There are magicians, talking birds, singers, accordion players, and even a hoola-hooping-guitar-playing-rubix-cube-solving-harmonica-playing man. And for many who perform in Pike Place Market, street performing is their main source of income.
Now it is easy to look down on begging or street performing as one’s main source of income, but some annual reports may have many heads turning. One article suggested that a reasonable estimate for how much can be made begging/panhandling is $15 dollars per hour. This equates to $30,000 dollars per year, which, according to the same article, was more than some graduate students from an engineering department made.
Buskers or street performers on the other hand, were said to make somewhere between $30 and $45 dollars per hour. I can testify to this accusation seeing that throughout my experiences busking over the summer, I made an average of $60 dollars per hour.
Aside from being the main source of income for a variety of different people, street performing also produces a positive externality to society.
By definition, positive externalities are all the benefits that accrue to a third party who is not involved in an economic activity. Street performers who make music or entertain in the public for tips provide a positive externality for anyone who enjoys the performances as they walk by on their way somewhere else.
For those who don’t have any money or time to spare, the enjoyment and pleasure they obtain from either listening or watching a street performer perform is free. Many people obtain this externality without tipping the performer, but judging by the various annual reports, it seems like many street performers and panhandlers are doing just fine.
However, the government does not subsidize this externality. In many cases, the incentive for street performers to keep performing is the money and experience they acquire.