25 thoughts on “It’s…. Open Forum Time!

  1. AlterNet just slammed other reporters for daring to criticize Joe’s “anti-fascist” speech. Well, there it is. The blackshirt mentality has now reached the White House, according to those folks. Either you are with them, or you are with the fascists. Congrats, Joe, you just moved us one step farther to civil war 2.0. It’s one thing when these thugs are in the street, but now we are that much closer to having those folks be the official militia of this governmrnt.

  2. I have heard and read about income inequality since before I heard that Usenet existed.

    Here is an interesting question on Quora.


    How is it fair that rich people like Taylor Swift get paid just to sing and get their pictures taken and act in movies and play sports? It doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t we do something to end this inequity?

    Feel free to answer the question in the comments before clicking the link.

    • Well, because her employers and the employers of other entertainers and athletes have the money to pay those salaries and have agreed to pay those salaries. Is the questioner really postulating that large corporations that pay the salaries of artists and athletes are required to instead use that money to pay other people instead? Even people that don’t work for those corporations?

    • “You do not get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.”

      Part of it is the Matthew principle: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Or, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would say, welcome to Extremistan, where quantities are distributed exponentially. (As opposed to Mediocristan, where quantities follow a normal (Bell curve) distribution, as with human height.) Money and fame are Extremistan quantities.

      Part of the reason for that is that if you have two people who both have equal skill, but everyone already knows the work of the first person, they’ll hire the first person rather than taking a chance on an unknown. Even if a venue is able to verify a performer’s skill, they know that the attendees are more likely to pay money to see the work of someone with a reputation.

      People get rich in this world not because they are so much more skilled than other people, but because money, connections, and fame snowball. The more you have, the more you can get.

      So what do we do about it? Well, we can foster a cultural value to give more people a chance to demonstrate their skills rather than spending all of our attention on established figures. (Of course, the hipsters won’t like that, because they were listening to obscure music before it was cool before it was cool.) We can try to build into institutions that people are judged on their skills rather than on what they have accumulated with those skills. We can emphasize the skills rather than the people using them.

      I don’t have an ironclad plan at the moment, but democratization of skill is a big theme with me. I’m trying to get people to adopt a framework of foundational building-block skills so that we can work together to figure out how to build a better world, because I don’t think that I could design one on my own that would work for everybody.

      • We can actually follow a seminal development of this in something that happened just before the First World War. Until very recently, a natural levelling had occurred in the likes of the British music halls, in that performers could only reach small audiences at any one time. Performers refined their acts and took them from place to place, while each place regularly got a fresh lot of performers – and so each place needed and allowed a steady trickle of newcomers.

        Then came film. As music hall acts faded, the impresario Fred Karno organised a ship load of performers in need of opportunities to go out and try their luck in what became Hollywood (it still had an east coast presence then, though). Mostly, the performers still only had a limited repertoire, so after they made a film or two they languished. Precisely two from that ship had what it took to keep lifting their game and making new films: a certain C.Chaplin and S.Laurel.

        But the end result was that the new arrangements favoured the established, and the natural nursery of talent had ceased to be. It would take new institutional arrangements and incentives to change that.

        • That reminds me of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut I came across on TVTropes:

          “…simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world’s champions…. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tap-dances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an “exhibitionist.” How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, “Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”
          — Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard”

          I think part of the solution might be to emphasize the value of performers and creators with whom one can have personal relationships. There’s something special about a song played or a work of art made specifically for a friend. Of course, then the business negotiations and the critical reviews are much closer to home, so people need to learn how to handle that.

    • The question is backwards. Taylor Swift didn’t start out rich. She got paid because people heard her singing and loved what they heard. Her immense talent got recognized by untold millions of people and was rewarded in the way we generally reward talented people — money.

      It is a story that is certainly not unique to the United States, but we excel in (among other things) who have talent, who shine, who demonstrate that they stand out from the common herd. It’s a cornerstone of our nation, in fact.

      We don’t always shower people with cash — Lincoln, for example, never became rich (and likely wouldn’t have if he had survived). Grant had to finish his autobiography with his dying efforts to provide for his family. But many people’s legacies and accomplishments are honored by many of us.

      To look at another field, Lebron James, Tom Brady, Justin Verlander would not be millionaires if millions of Americans didn’t want to watch the greatest athletes in the world on television, and were willing to shell out money in various ways to do so.

      If you don’t think it is ‘fair’, show us what we should reward you for doing. Time to put up or shut up.

    • RE: Taylor Swift et al

      It’s simple economics of scale. When you produce a product, the more people who are able to purchase that product, the more income will result from the production of that product.

      In her case, the product she produces (music) is a commodity that many millions of people can purchase and enjoy, so she reaps the benefit of those millions of purchases.

      Your average household plumber, on the other hand, can only do work that at most can be purchased by one family.

      That’s all it is.


      • That’s not quite all of it, because it doesn’t explain the demand for Taylor Swift’s music compared to other musicians who may be similar in skill. Not to mention there are many more musicians than there are plumbers. Competition between musicians should drive down pay for any individual musician… if being a musician worked the same way being a plumber did. Plumbers lives in the aforementioned Mediocristan. They deal with concrete, physical things rather than abstract ideas. There’s a limit to how much they can do, but that’s also why it’s reliable work. No other plumber can steal all the business. Musicians live in Extremistan; there are many obscure players, fewer middling figures, and a few big names. The question is whether we can and should figure out if culture could change so it worked a bit differently, and was maybe slightly less extreme.

        • Sure, XF, I don’t disagree with any of that.

          My comment is simply focused on the original question of “Why does Taylor Swift get paid millions of dollars for singing?”–with the focus on the part about the millions of dollars–and really nothing else.

          “Why Taylor Swift and not some other singer?” is a different question, and one that I wasn’t attempting to answer at all.

          In that vein, I don’t really think you’ve written anything that substantively disagrees with what I wrote.


  3. You weekly Albert Pujols watch update: Pujols had another home run Monday, bringing him to 694 for his career. Doesn’t look like he is starting tonight, but the Cardinals have about 30 games left in the regular season, plus however far they go in the playoffs.

    In other news, rosters expanded for September yesterday but only by two — to 28. So it would appear that September will not feature the massive rosters as in years past when the minor league season came to an end. For teams that are contending, such as the Astros or Yankees, I think that’s probably a good thing. However, what about the teams that are out of it, such as the Rangers and Red Sox? For that sort of team, September has always been a time to try out up and coming talent against the big leaguers. That will largely go away — anyone have thoughts as to whether that’s a good thing or not?

  4. At https://crookedtimber.org/2022/09/03/becoming-a-better-college-teacher/ we have a post that begins: “As I mentioned a while ago, the Center for Ethics and Education at UW Madison has a podcast, which we’re quite proud of and for which, frankly, I’d like to build the audience …”.

    I’d be interested to see the reactions to this of an independent group like the readers here, considering that it no doubt presents what is now current and accepted.

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