One of the more ridiculous news stories yesterday was that Britney Spears, noted singer, declared an interest in the redistribution of wealth. This statement prompted a wide variety of socialists to cheer on that she had expressed a commitment to the theft of Marxism like they do, but the statement struck me as particularly stupid. There are no shortage of wealthy people who affirm a belief in socialism. One such hypocrite has run for president the past two election cycles and is a millionaire in Vermont with three houses. It seems likely that Britney is the sort of socialist who looks with envy at the billionaires above her but does not consider that her wealth is far more likely to be redistributed than is likely to be wealthier. The reasons why are a simple matter of math. Let us discuss the folly of Britney Spears’ Marxism through the joy of mathematics and economics, subjects that she is likely not very proficient in (along with the majority of socialists).
According to Business Insider, Britney Spears’ net worth is about $59 million. This is by no means contemptible, even if there are certainly those far wealthier than she is. If her wealth were redistributed across the entire world, it would not go very far. Even if it was redistributed across the United States, which has a population around 330 million, it would only give about 18 cents to everyone in the United States, not enough to be noticed, except by her and those who depend upon her own expenditures. According to wikipedia, the median wealth per adult is around 7k, but the mean wealth is about 71k. Meanwhile, the median wealth in the United States is around 69k while the mean wealth is over 400k. What this means is that if all of the wealth of the world were redistributed equally, the resulting standard of living for the entire world would be that of the ordinary American, or about ten times the level of wealth that the ordinary citizen of the world now enjoys. It is rather telling, for what it’s worth, that while the average wealth is ten times that which is enjoyed by the average citizen, the average wealth in the United States is only about six times that of the average American, suggesting that Americans are already far more equal than the world as a whole, and Americans are by no means the most egalitarian people when it comes to wealth distribution, it should be noted.
Unfortunately, it is exceedingly unlikely that redistribution would amount to a boon for the people of the world, although the fact that the existing wealth of the world would already allow the world’s people to live like Americans and Canadians ought to encourage those who feel that the world has a scarcity of resources and that fairness means that we need to live worse ourselves. To redistribute the wealth of the world and then to spread it equally among the world’s dwellers would require a great many costs. Those who have the most wealth are correspondingly the least willing to give it up and have the most power to resist and defy the efforts of governments to take their wealth. Moreover, there is a high incentive for regions to serve as havens for tax exiles and to benefit from the transfers of wealth from high taxation countries to them, besides a high incentive for high earners to reside in places where their wealth is not confiscated to benefit the envious. While the confiscation of Britney’s wealth and those of other entertainers like her would not add a great deal to the wealth of the people of the world at large, for Britney herself to be brought down to a level of equality would wipe out nearly everything she has. The advocacy of wealth redistribution makes no sense for someone who is already among the wealthiest people in the world to begin with. Someone should have explained this to her, but it is likely that few people recognize the mathematics involved, to say nothing about the question of justice.
Has Britney earned her wealth? I think it is fair to say that she has, even though she is far wealthier than most others. While I am by no means a big fan of her music, I have certainly enjoyed some of her songs and she is certainly a person who has entertained others despite possessing only modest vocal talents. In exchange for her entertaining, she has earned a good living and I do not begrudge her that. Even so, her lifestyle and wealth would attract a great deal of envy on the part of others who have made far less than she has. Even my own standard of living, which I consider fairly modest, has allowed me to travel the world and to find myself the subject of envy by people who have lived on far less than I have. After all, my standard of living is considerably more than the world’s median. Yet most Americans or Europeans or others who are considered as part of the global north do not think of themselves as the worthy subjects of envy. We are envious of those above, but think little about the gulf that separates us from those below, whose envious eyes are pointed towards us and who wonder how we have deserved the wealth that we enjoy and what makes us better than they are to live so much better off the fat of the land. Have we earned our wealth? Others may not think so.
One of the consistent curses of mankind is that we are profoundly sensitive to what we consider as slights against us but rather unconcerned about the slights we give to others. This asymmetry between the injustices we perceive ourselves to be subject to and the injustices we are ignorant of inflicting on others accounts for a great deal of the hypocrisy of humanity. Britney may think that redistribution of the wealth of the label owners she has to deal with would matter far more than the distribution of her own wealth, but her own wealth is so far above the average that she does not consider herself as an immensely privileged person. And the ordinary American who would scoff at Britney’s calls for wealth redistribution because her wealth is a thousand times their own might not realize that their own wealth was ten times that of the ordinary citizen around the world and that they too were immensely privileged. Likewise, the citizen of Thailand or Ghana or other countries who look enviously at the American standard of wealth that they see in movies or music videos or television shows does not take into account the way that their own wealth and standard of living make them the envious targets of those who are too poor to know how it is that Americans or Australians live abroad, but know all about the privileged wealthy of their own countries or communities. And so it goes. Like many problems in the world, it is turtles all the way down.