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Here's a Tax We Can All Agree On

From the May 30, 2005 issue: Soak the celebrities.

May 30, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 35 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Republicans aren't supposed to grow the bureaucracy. But, being honest with ourselves as Republicans, creating more patronage jobs isn't always a bad thing. The GOP includes large numbers of earnest, morally committed social conservatives, not to say cranks. We need their fundraising and get-out-the-vote skills. Here is a perfect place for them between elections, with civil service benefits and plenty to keep them busy.

A second problem with an excise on infamy is the possible economic effect. The media and entertainment industry is an important factor in America's GDP. Our best economists tell us that increasing the taxes on any enterprise decreases the enterprise's productivity. But in this case--and this case only--I'll argue against Milton Friedman. Everything (by "everything" I mean Reality TV) indicates that the business of being a celebrity does not respond to the usual positive and negative economic stimuli.

People (and by "people" I mean contestants on American Idol) are willing to invest all that they have in the faint hope they'll receive a fleeting and worthless moment as the center of attention for an audience of bored idiots. (If you doubt me, compel yourself to watch an episode, regrettably available on DVD and video, of Jackass.) Tax the media and entertainment industry at a million percent and it will continue to produce a surplus of celebrities with Stakhanovite labor heroism.

Of course it's possible that I'm wrong. My proposed Celebrity Tax might create wide-ranging economic dislocations. The media and entertainment industry could be bankrupted. This would result in the demise of Top 40 radio, blockbuster movies, hit television shows, and People. If I am wrong, send the bottles of Veuve Clicquot in care of this magazine.

P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author, most recently, of Peace Kills (Atlantic Monthly Press).