Harry Potter and the Mystery of Inequality
From Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution:
The same forces that have generated greater inequality in writing - the leveraging of intellect, the declining importance of physical labor in the production of value, cultural and economic globalization - are at work throughout the economy. Thus, if you really want to understand inequality today you must first understand Harry Potter.
Along the same line of reasoning, I would suggest that there there would be significant and increasing income inequality over time if you looked at these ratios today vs. 10, 20 or 50 years ago:
1. Average professional athlete's salary vs. the average wage for the person working in the box office in the stadium, or the average wage of someone selling peanuts or beer in the stadium.
2. Average salary of professional athletes vs. the average wage for the housekeeping staff where they stay when travelling on the road, or the average wage of the flight attendants on the athletes' flights.
3. Average salary of a top movie star and the average wage for the person working for the caterer on the movie set or the average wage of the light crew.
4. The average salary of a top TV star like Letterman or Oprah and the average wage of the ushers working for the show.
As Alex concludes, The average writer's income hasn't gone up much in the past thirty years but today, for the first time ever, a handful of writers can be multi-millionaires and even billionaires. The top pulls away from the median.
Conclusion: Increasing income inequality does not necessarily mean that the average writer, or the average worker (ticket taker, peanut salesman, light crew, caterer) is doing worse off. Most of the handwringing about rising income inequality seems to be based on the fixed-pie fallacy - that one party can gain only at the expense of another. The fact that J.K. Rowling is a billionaire doesn't come at the expense of other writers.