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Inequality and Movie Stars

Nov 22, 2010 • Behavioral Economics, Government, Regulation • 94 Views    No Comments

Did you know that Academy Award winners live longer than losers? Much more than a trivia fact, Academy Award winner longevity provided researchers with data about inequality.

As reported in the May 15, 2001 issue of The Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers gathered mortality statistics for 1649 people. They looked at all “actors and actresses ever nominated for a leading or supporting role…For each, another cast member of the same sex who was in the same film and was born in the same era was identified…” Their goal was to determine whether relative success correlated with a person’s lifespan. Their answer was, “Yes.” They concluded that winners had approximately 4 extra years of life and that “…movie stars who have won multiple Academy Awards have a survival advantage of 6.0 years over performers with multiple films but no victories.”

I know that you might have many questions. The researchers did also. But our key here is to think about whether inequality among all of us in the U.S. warrants remedial action from our government.

This takes me to a recent NY Times column from economist Robert Frank. Comparing 1976 and 2007, he tells us that the top 1% of earners moved from an 8.9% share of total income to 23.5%. Then, he also points out that counties with rising income inequality experience higher divorce rates, more bankruptcies, and longer commute time. His point? Because “…greater inequality causes real harm…” more income equality through higher taxes is a valid goal for our leaders.

During an Econtalk podcast, George Mason University economist Russ Roberts disagreed with Dr. Frank’s conclusions. Dr. Roberts said that economic growth was constrained by income redistribution and a “bigger pie” will help everyone.

The Economic Lesson

Taxes are all about income redistribution. If we promote equality, we will have more income redistribution through taxes, more fairness, and a common living standard. However, economic efficiency will suffer and our economic pie will grow more slowly. By contrast, economic competition leads to more efficiency, more entrepreneurial energy, more economic growth and a bigger pie. And, is it fairer to be able to keep more of what you earn?

You might want to look at economist Arthur Okun’s Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff.

 

 

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