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Could Somebody Please Airlift an Econ 101 Textbook for John Judis?

John Judis, writing in The New Republic:

If you have ever had an argument about excessive executive salaries with a rich Republican—I can recall one, for instance, with a downtown corporate tax lawyer—he will invariably compare CEO salaries to those that athletes and entertainers make. And here we have a Democratic president using this spurious ploy.

Is it necessary to make the obvious points? That the athletes who make $17 million have spent most of their waking life since they were four years old practicing their sport (if you don’t believe it, read Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open); that they possess unusual skill at what they do; that in some cases—like those among professional football players or prize fighters—they risk life and longevity; that their earning cycle, often only a few years, is very sharply limited compared to that of a banker; and that what they contribute to society—after all, athletics and entertainment have been an essential part of human life for thousands of years—is as valuable as, and probably more valuable than, what many a banker or trader contributes.

Crimony, where to begin? Wages are not determined by how hard you work at something, or how good you are at it. Ask a poet or a teacher. There is many a classical musician of astonishing skill who is forced to supplement his income with other work. It was a long time before T. S. Eliot made enough money as a writer to quit his day job. I doubt very much that top NBA players have a fifth the discipline of second-rate ballet dancers, but they are on a rather different compensation structure.

Of course Judis grossly shortchanges the value that finance creates for society, but, even if he appreciated its value, social value (at least as he seems to understand the term) does not determine wages, either. Business executives who make tons of money get into those jobs because their employers believe that they can make even greater piles of money for them, and that belief is most often based on a record of these executives having done so in the past. It’s not like you just get your Harvard MBA and they put you in charge of Goldman Sachs or General Electric and write you a check for $50 million.

And never mind that those Wall Street guys are not, for the most part, “rich Republicans,” but rich Democrats. But why bother thinking when there’s rage to be savored?

Populism is the opiate of the asses.

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