More on celebrity

July 10th, 2010 by ftobia

In re-reading my previous post, I notice I was less than diligent in ensuring the case for taxation of celebrity was well-supported. I imagine that someone not quite as tax-happy as I am would be able to argue that, no, celebrities are not hurting anyone, and taxing them impinges upon their economic freedom or something like that. I’ll just lay out a few more ideas that hopefully clarify my position.

The urge to become a celebrity is not a societally-useful urge, in and of itself. Now, if by trying to become a celebrity, someone does something societally useful, then that’s another story. But we need not encourage children to grow up to be famous moreso than they are already encouraged. I’m willing to posit that the desire for fame is a consequence of the human condition, whatever that means. Likewise, for the same reason, I don’t think a tax on celebrity would significantly decrease the prevalence of this desire. But, even if it did, I’m willing to bet that nothing bad would come of it.

Next, the quantity of celebrities isn’t significantly correlated with societal well-being. If tomorrow there were twice as many celebrities, no one would be much better off — well, the new celebrities would, but the old celebrities would be worse off. I don’t know that society would be in a different position on net. My guess is that the attention we spent on our existing celebrities would nearly half, given the new targets of attention which sprung up. People have a more-or-less fixed proportion of their time, effort, and money that they spend on celebrity. I guess I’m just arguing that we don’t really need to be encouraging more people to go about becoming famous.

At its highest levels, celebrity is a rat race. Or an arms race, or a prisoner’s dilemma. For everyone who makes it, lots of others don’t, and precious little separates the haves from the have-nots.

I shouldn’t really advocate a tax on all celebrity, just a tax on excessive celebrity. I’m sure 90% or more of “celebrities” are just normal people who common folk recognize for some reason. Most people don’t make money on their celebrity. Even microcelebrities like David After Dentist, who do in fact make money off of their notoriety, do not make very much, at least not in the grand scheme of things. What it comes down to, really, is that I have a problem with large arbitrary lotteries paying off to people who haven’t provided a great deal of benefit to anyone.

I hope that clarifies things.

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