"What is it that makes aikido so 'cheap'? Why are many of us unwilling to give compensation for these people who are our teachers? I'm not talking about giving them enough money to become rich, just enough to let them live comfortably instead of scrounging for cash?"
American culture is just soaking in puritanical judgements of what qualifies as work, and is therefore worth money. Work should be seen as "necessary", and for some crazy reason is often better to justify if it is boring and unfulfilling drudgery. Budo, like many arts, doesn't qualify as work *because* it involves doing what one loves or playing for a living, which is really annoying to a culture that priviledges shutting oneself up in an office all day and attending to tasks that just don't matter. Budo is also not deemed "necessary" in a culture that priviledges short term fixes, like shopping or taking medicine, over long-term approaches to health, well being, emotional growth, the life of ones soul, etc etc.
In this busybusy quick-fix culture, arts like Budo are relegated to the status of "hobby" - unnecessary luxuries, fluff that occupies people who aren't busy enough. The sensei is, in this model, arrogantly proclaiming that the culture is wrong, that one can play for a living, that there is a better answer to the nagging existential question than the word SALE! At best he is Prof. Harold Hill, gently fleecing wholesome people who suffered for their dime. At worst, he is a parasite, fattening himself without doing anything valuable in return.
Problem: who comes to your dojo (or buys your art, or whatever) if you don't temper the arrogance of your choices? The sensei in this model has no choice but to adopt the values of the rest of the culture, albeit in a different way. He proclaims himself in word and deed "beyond money". He makes choices that devalue the role of money in his life, he makes aikido cheap, and puts himself into debt, because if he didn't he would be unmasked as an arrogant, grifting bastard who for whatever reason thinks he's too good to hold down a useful job.
I'm not saying that the sensei in this example is really an arrogant bastard. I'm saying that culturally speaking, anyone who decides not to buy into our puritanical cultural ideal of what is worth money has to figure out some way to fit into a culture that seems to hate the very idea of "the useless profession". I think people who choose to live as artists, to work part time, etc, can fall into a nasty self-deprecating trap, in which the "useless" individual is constantly cheapening his/her own talent, experience, and very real contributions.
Who cheapens aikido? We all do it to ourselves by believing that work should be drudgery and is more important than aikido, a playful diversion. People who are earning money for something that is culturally considered "play" should go ahead and arrogantly claim their due. The consumers of art, music, budo, etc, should fully understand the value of what they are buying and pay accordingly.
I think it's interesting that this doesn't happen very much in yoga circles. I have never heard anyone whine about the price of a yoga class or seminar, and I personally have spent WAY more on yoga than I spend on aikido. I think it's because yoga teachers talk a *lot* about how valuable yoga is, in effect, about what you're getting for your money.
Obviously, this topic completely incenses me, I have been thinking about it all day... just my opinions though.