The position here has always been that nobody has any business telling you how to spend your money. This topic usually comes up in the context of charity, as in, “How dare that individual spend money on what they think is important when they should be spending money on what I think is important!” A couple of recent developments have raised the issue in a different context, however: incompetent and irresponsible expenditures of large amounts of money.
Take “Cats,” for example. The already immortal flop film cost a reported $100,000,000 to make, and marketing costs are on top of that. It is sure to lose many, many millions of dollars, and the question becomes, “How could movie professionals make a blunder like that?”
I always assumed that “Cats” could not be a successful movie because of its purely theatrical nature. Surely the lesson of the film version of “A Chorus Line,” another Broadway musical that never should have move to the screen, was guide enough. Yet it happened. The fiasco put me in mind of other infamous and avoidable screen disasters, like 1978’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” starring Peter Frampton and the Beegees. Before the film’s release, Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees announced: “There is no such thing as the Beatles now. They don’t exist as a band and never performed Sgt Pepper live in any case. When ours comes out, it will be, in effect, as if theirs never existed.”
Good prediction. The huge MGM film with dozens of celebrity cameos was instantly and universally reviled. Even worse, a few years later, was “The Pirate Movie,” another misbegotten big budget musical. The idea here was to do a new version of “The Pirates of Penzance” but without the dialogue, plot and music that has made the Gilbert and Sullivan show popular for more than a century….and to star Kristy MacNichol, the androgynous, non-singing teen star, as the heroine. How could such a brilliant concept fail?
In these films and a few other cases, the phenomenon examined in historian Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” raises its muddled head. Surely there were people involved who recognized these projects as certain disasters well before they had reached the point of no return. They had an obligation to do what they could to stop them, yet obviously they weren’t stopped, and, as with “Cats,” many millions were wasted, virtually thrown away, pointlessly.
It is hindsight bias to say, though the temptation is great, “All of that money should have been given to charities, or scholarship funds, or struggling artistic organizations!” Nevertheless, the lessons of history show that those with a lot of resources are often reckless with them. Sometimes those without similar assets expect the wealthy to be irresponsible. The Boston Red Sox, having parlayed the highest salary load in all of baseball ($228 million) into a barely .500 2019 campaign, announced that the team would be seeking to reduce its obligations to get under the MLB luxury tax, which requires teams that spend more than certain amounts on salaries to pay a progressive tax–ultimately distributed among the poorer teams—on each dollar they spend over the limit. Many Boston fans and sports commentators, noting that Sox majority owner John Henry’s sports conglomerate that includes the Red Sox is a three billion dollar operation, are indignant at the team’s management. Though the team had to pay a record $13.4 million in luxury tax payments for exceeding the threshold for the second consecutive year, they protest, “Why should John Henry care about a $13 million dollar tax? He can afford it!” I heard an MLB channel critic argue last month that the Red Sox should spend whatever it takes to win. But no matter how much money you have, wasting $13 million dollars is still incompetent and irresponsible.
This brings us to the mind-blowing amounts of money two Democratic billionaires are spending to obtain the Democratic Party’s nomination to oppose Donald Trump. Together, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg have spent nearly $200 million on television and digital advertising to hype their (weak) cases for being President, with the former New York mayor spending an unprecedented $120 million in about three weeks, more than double the combined ad spending of all the non-billionaires in the Democratic field for 2019. My mother would have said that this is God’s way of telling someone that they have too much money.
Such an epic waste! Won’t somebody tell them? Bloomberg is an anti-charismatic white guy who is 77 years old, and who really is the autocrat Democrats have been accusing Donald Trump of being. Steyer is a relative kid (he’s 62; he just looks 77), but he has no governing experience, and has revealed himself as thoroughly Trump Deranged. His ads include such quixotic oldies but goodies as an endorsement of Congressional term limits. (“Hey Tom! The 1990s just called: they want their issuesback.”) It’s an obnoxious ad, as is the issue: voters have a remedy for officials who stay in office too long; it is called elections.
I know democrats distrust election and the public, but still…
Elizabeth Warren has accused Bloomberg and Steyer of trying to buy the nomination. Ya think? The problem, as we saw last cycle, is that all the money in the world won’t make people want to elect someone they don’t think should be President. Remember Jeb Bush? Hillary spent far more than Trump. By the time the dust clears, Steyer and Bloomberg will have been able to make “Cats” five or six times.
What a lost opportunity.