The Ethics Of Wasting Money


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.


20 thoughts on “The Ethics Of Wasting Money

  1. Movies that take losses still pay the bills.

    This is a very big business, and all the little progressives make their exorbitant salaries even if the movie is a failure. Those who lose out can afford it; the scam is a legal way to fund political fellow travelers.

    This is true even if the film does not fail due to Woke content. Hollywood is corrupt to the core, and uses those they despise to keep the gravy train going. They have enough regardless of the results: until movies in general do not generate revenue (net profit) the game continues.

    Ethics has nothing to do with it.

    It’s Hollywood, Jack

    Merry Christmas!

  2. When we talk about wasting money we should only focus on those funds that someone wants you to spend for their benefit.

    Neither you nor I can tell someone else that what they spent their money is a waste. Perhaps Steyer and Bloomberg get ridiculously high levels of satisfaction to get national exposure for what they think is important. Only they know if the expenditures are worth it. Imagine I I said going to see A Man For All Seasons was a waste of money. Some may agree but who died and made me the grand arbiter of value.

    It gets even more ridiculous when we offer alternatives for how others should spend their money. If we can tell them what is best for them financially why shouldn’t we tell them who they marry? As for those expenditures for flops someone’s expenditures are another person’s income. It is quite likely that many moderate income people fed their families, paid their bills or educated their children with the incomes they derived. So, was the money wasted or simply distributed to a different group of people. Steyer could have spent that amount jetting around talking about climate change.

    What about time spent on such frivolous things as blogging? Of course I jest. I sincerely believe Jack and other bloggers gain value from committing time disecting the issues or they would not do it. I could sit here read the blog and never spend a lick if time thinking about the issues let alone respond but I get value from giving my 2 cents worth.

      • I can assure you that your posts have great value. The post about Christmas being an ethical event allowed me to be gracious in the face of condesenscion and quiet hostiity.

        I spent a lot of years teaching the first two college leve Economics courses and if I did nothing else I wanted the student to learn that not all value is measured in dollars and cents.

        It is also important to remind people that what appears to be wastes of time can also be the mechanism used to contemplate issues, evaluate alternatives and develop ideas that might otherwise never be given consideration if we only commit time and energy to things yielding immediate financial benefit.

    • For the record, I personally have benefitted from both blogging (in a limited fashion) and interacting with this forum.

      How much, in dollars, would one say giving a child hope at Christmas comes to? Reaching out to a drunk homeless man and helping him turn into a productive citizen? Providing a Thanksgiving meal to a family who would not have had one? Sending a child to trade school (college being a bad bet these days…)?

      The benefits to society cannot be quantified by dollars: Jack reaches into the cultural wasteland and redeems a soul for civilization, one at a time. He stands in place like a willow tree, bending at times when the hurricane winds of society lash out, but never being moved from his place beside the river of events. “This is truth. No matter what, truth does not change!”

      This is worthwhile. This is laudable. This provides a service to our fellow man.

      I admire those who give without expectation of a return.

  3. Such an epic waste! Won’t somebody tell them?

    Because their egos are too large to listen to reason, and their hypocrisy too vast for their ethics alarms to go off in horror at the shameful waste of resources, even as they claim to be fighting for the poor.

    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.

    Steyer is a Bizarro World version of Ross Perot. By comparison, Perot was absolutely sane and cuddly. Steyer is as abrasive as #24 sandpaper, and not much more intelligent. He got rich the old-fashioned way — by scamming people out of their money legally.

    Bloomberg is a more typical leftist scold, with small ideas to go with his small IQ and tone-deaf political instincts. The only thing big about him is his bank account, which just goes to prove than in America, the Land of Opportunity, virtually anyone can get rich.

    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.

    A lesson wealthy people will never learn, because they are confident that it’s wrong. I think, if Trump thought he could buy the nomination, he would’ve. It’s just not in his personality to pay for something he thinks he’s too personally compelling to need.

    • Egos need feeding and as long as they feed them with their own resources both Steyer and Bloomberg can continue trying to satiate the appetites of their own egos.

      • That’s all this is, really — one giant vanity project on a national scale for two guys that are even less ready to be president than Trump, especially now that Trump has a year of mostly successful (from a policy standpoint, at least) experience.

        I suspect they will, in the words of the Bard, generate a lot of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Which is just, because nothing is exactly what their collective ideas, such as they are, are worth.

        One wonders what an impact their political spending might have on poverty in their home state. Well, at least, I wonder. It’s obvious they don’t, because they’re running to save us from ourselves.

  4. I’d rather Steyer and Bloomberg waste their money on doomed-to-fail ego trips like running for president than spend it wisely and efficiently in the furtherance of their control-freak, autocratic, anti-American agendas. Frankly, I wouldn’t weep if they bankrupted themselves trying to outspend each other.

    Buy more ads, gentlemen! They’re almost working! You just need to spend a billion or five more, and then I think we’ll start to see some results.

    The really unethical candidates are the ones *cough*Beto*cough* who take money from donors and waste it on vanity candidacies that are clearly doomed. A hundred million isn’t anything to Bloomberg, but a hundred bucks might be significant money to some of the poor fools who are misled and bamboozled into donating it to such candidates *cough*Swalwell*cough*.

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