I just read a list of booking fees for the top performers in America and I am appalled. Bruce Springsteen charges more than a million dollars, for one show, for a few measly hours of his time. Even if we give him the benefit of the whole day, that is still the equivalent of 365 million dollars per year, even more, if you factor in leap years.
According to the list, Taylor Swift, Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber, James Taylor, Dave Matthews, and Bon Jovi also have fees of more than $1 million. Imagine what the lowly stage-hand must feel like, doing all of the real work, setting up and tearing down the tons of equipment, while the hot-shot millionaire-performer sits comfortably in the dressing room watching the bank account rise. The grunts earn a mere pittance in comparison. Maybe we should lobby for a special tax to take from the greedy performers to give to the lowly crews, whom they exploit for their own benefit.
I am just kidding, of course, but we have been hearing so much about inequality these days by the self-righteous who can see the grave danger of high-paid corporate executives but have no problem with musicians, actors, and other entertainers making boatloads of cash, many multiples of what their crew members make. Nobody seems to see Oprah as evil, though she is a multi-billionaire with at least eight homes, including her $50, 23,000-square-foot "Promised Land" with 14 bathrooms and 10 fireplaces.
Is income or wealth inequality bad? It really depends on how the inequality came about. If someone gets tremendously wealthy by providing some type of value to millions of people, say computer operating systems or television talk-show entertainment, there is no reason to be upset. They got value for value given.
When wealth is achieved by abusing other people, or spent to abuse others, most people find it repugnant and unacceptable. So many of them, however, overlook the worst abusers. People who gain their wealth through political connections, protectionism, subsidies, corruption, and outright fraud and theft should certainly be the subject of scorn. Inflation from money creation steals a third of the real wealth of ordinary Americans every decade, lowering their standard of living. Millions of Americans, however, support the schemes because they are given wonderful-sounding names, like economic development, stimulus, and affordable care. It is pretty hard to get people to see when they won't remove the blinders.
The wealth of contemporary times did not arise from the compound interest of capitalists sitting around smoking cigars. It came from ideas, from innovation, from creativity, from people doing things that others said couldn't be done. That is the most wonderful thing about free societies with market economies. Prosperity grows. Eighty percent of America's current millionaires are first-generation wealthy.
The difficulty is that freedom is not absolute. When politics encroaches, there is less freedom. The encroachment is typically invisible to ordinary people, so they tend to blame the markets for things that were caused by politics and central banking. There is a growing envy, fed by politicians and intellectual leaders whose ideology opposes economic freedom. If that envy could be turned to indignation toward the real sources of evil, those very politicians and intellectuals, we, as a nation, might start to respect and cherish the rights of all people to preserve their property and engage in voluntary commerce, with the only limitation that they respect the same rights of all others. The "little guy" does much better with freedom than he does with politics and handouts stolen from others.
Daniel McLaughlin is a Randolph resident. Visit daniel-mclaughlin.com for more commentary, for links to other resources, or to leave a message.