Posts Tagged ‘taxes’

More on celebrity

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

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.

Taxing Britney Spears heavily

Friday, May 7th, 2010

First I’m going to note (or assume) some things about celebrity. Celebrity is a scarce resource. Celebrities are like monopolistically competitive goods since there’s only one of each but they can be substituted for other goods or other celebrities. I also assume that there are at least some classes of celebrities where they aren’t intrinsically valuable. For example, many people can sing and dance and be scantily clad on occasion, but only some people can be Britney Spears. I’m not sure if this is true, but I am assuming that some celebrities are just anointed, somehow chosen by the demigods of entertainment, for no particular earthly reason. The best example I can think of right now is Paris Hilton. She would just be another nobody with a sex tape on the internets if her family hadn’t been rich and famous.

If the above is a reasonable approximation of reality, then celebrities should be taxed. Specifically, the quantity we define as “celebrity” should be taxed.  Heavily. Notice this is not about taxing celebrities for doing productive things, but instead taxing them just because they have celebrity. The fact of the matter is that they already have lots of fringe benefits of being a celebrity, like getting to go to all the cool clubs and hanging out with all the cool people or whatever. And they should profit a little bit from their celebrity. But they shouldn’t profit to the tune of millions and millions of dollars.

I am thinking here of the case of Britney Spears. It’s my opinion that pretty much any young attractive girl with a decent singing voice could have replaced Britney Spears and would have had the same ride, except maybe she wouldn’t have gone crazy a while back. Celebrity in this case amounts to a huge arbitrary redistribution of wealth. Why Britney and not some other girl who could have made it? I can’t think of a reason. Since celebrity is an important resource, and a scarce resource of that, we should treat it as a public resource. And we should regulate it with some sort of average cost pricing, like we do with power plants and water companies.

Of course then we run into having to design mechanisms to track, measure, and tax celebrity. I know it’d be really hard to do. But I still think it would be cool.


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