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In their book “Freakonomics,” Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt explain, among other things, the odd economic behavior that guides many drug dealers. In one gang they described, the typical street-corner guy made less than minimum wage but still worked extremely hard in hopes of some day becoming one of the few wildly rich kingpins. This behavior isn’t isolated to illegal activity. There are a number of professions in which workers are paid, in part, with a figurative lottery ticket. The worker accepts a lower-paying job in exchange for a slim but real chance of a large, future payday.
Deep thoughts this week:
1. Hollywood is the most glamorous lottery-style business in the U.S. economy.
2. It’s hardly the only one.
3. But now the Plan B jobs are evaporating.
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This more or less explains Hollywood. Yes, the Oscars may be an absurd spectacle of remarkably successful people congratulating themselves for work that barely nudges at the borders of meaningful human achievement. But it’s also a celebration of a form of meritocratic capitalism. I’m not talking about the fortunes lavished on extremely good looking people; no, I mean the economic system that compels lots of young people to work extremely hard for little pay so that it’s possible to lavish fortune on the good-looking people. That’s the spirit of meritocratic capitalism!
Hollywood is, in some ways, the model lottery industry. For most companies in the business, it doesn’t make economic sense to, as Google does, put promising young applicants through a series of tests and then hire only the small number who pass. Instead, it’s cheaper for talent agencies and studios to hire a lot of young workers and run...