There was an article in Salon.com this week entitled "It's Time to Occupy Hollywood!" The writer of that piece, Mary Elizabeth Williams, argued that it's not just "evil bankers" who are pulling in obscene salaries in this economic downturn when many Americans have actually seen their benefits and salaries decrease - top entertainers and athletes are also hogs at the trough.
She used Johnny Depp as her primary example of a star who is drawing in staggering amounts of cash. Depp made $50 million last year alone and commented on that take: "If they're going to pay me stupid money right now, I'm going to take it." And I would too.
The author noted that Tiger Woods will rake in around $62 million this year, down from a high of $90 million prior to the unraveling of his marriage and reputation. Lady Gaga, it seems, will have to get by on $90 million this year.
But those are entertainers. (I contend that even athletes are entertainers.) They are not out trying to sucker people into risky mortgages or jacking up rates on credit cards. They don't cause air pollution or turn the Caribbean Sea into an oil slick. What's the harm if they can take home as much salary as a titan of Wall Street? Who are they harming?
Unfortunately, bloated salaries hurt us all. The size of each pie is finite, and if one person gets a bigger slice, it results in everyone else getting less.
Ms. Williams used the new movie, The Lone Ranger, as an example. That film, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, is being shot for $215 million, but in order to pay the talent their bloated salaries, the producers had to lay off extras, special effects people, and make-up people. The quality of the movie will suffer, and, more importantly, many people who should have been employed will now have to come up with other ways to pay their bills. And the chumps who go to the theatres to see the movie will still be marching on the escalator of rising ticket prices.
It's the same with the athletes. How many "average" people can afford to buy season tickets to watch a major league sports team? (For those who would like to know more about the impact of the out-of-control salaries of athletes on their teams and their sports, check out the movie Moneyball. Generally speaking, the teams with the most money buy the best athletes, win the most games, and make the most money. It's a very vicious cycle - and there is no telling how much money Brad Pitt got for producing and starring in that dramatic expose of the business of baseball!)
We are all the victims of greed, but some of it seems less evil and ugly. People should be paid for their talent, and if their talent is running banks or corporations, they should be paid for that too. But somewhere on that salary schedule should be a line that decent people would know not to cross - and we should all be aware of those who cross that line and be prepared to inflict the collective power of the marketplace on the greedy bastards. They will have "earned" that comeuppance!