Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Doin' stuff fer free...

First things first - Love & Pop has my review of Hentai Kamen - it's a Japanese live-action superhero parody (based on a 90's manga) about a high school student who transforms into a "pervert superhero" when he wears used panties on his head. Aside from the obvious, a lot of the humour derives from poking fun at the tropes of "superpowered highschoolers" manga/anime. From that description you can probably already tell if it's your jam or not, but if it is you'll probably enjoy it.

Now read on...

Gawker's Hamilton Nolan (somewhat contemptuously) reports that Lena Dunham's promotional tour in support of her book Not That Kind Of Girl will feature unpaid opening acts, who have applied through her website for the privilege of performing. I am reminded of the related furore when Amanda Palmer tried to do a similar thing - crowdsourcing unpaid musicians to back her up on tour.

Now, as then, I am having kind of a hard time figuring out what the fuss is actually about.

The primary argument put forward in both cases is that these women have heaps of money, and could therefore afford to pay people - the inference being that they're somehow ripping people off, or depriving other (more professional) acts of work. I sort of get that - I play in a covers band and I certainly get cross when people do pub gigs for free, thus devaluing all the other musicians in the area.

But playing to drunken punters in a pub is in no way the same thing as being part of a charity event (which I'd cheerfully do for free) or to being included in an event put on by someone you admire, which is what's happening here (and in the Amanda Palmer example). In both cases, these women sought applications from people who'd be interested in being part of their events, and made it clear from the outset that there wasn't going to be any money involved.

There's an argument that Dunham and Palmer are somehow "abusing" their fame and social status to get stuff for free, but that seems disingenuous to me. The people who applied weren't under any particular pressure to do so, as neither Palmer nor Dunham had any particular power over them that would make the situation abusive.

I guess the thing I'm getting at is that rich and famous people get free goods and services from people who admire them all the time. It seems suspicious to me that the internet chooses to make a fuss about this when it's women with a history of making people (particularly men, particularly white heterosexual men of a particular sociopolitical bent) uncomfortable, asking for things up front from their fans.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Secondary trickles - vanishing rich people (aka "Y'all are doing capitalism wrong" part 2)

Hokay, first things first. On the offchance that people really really like me reviewing stuff and are worried that Cinemania's gone, it's been reborn phoenix-like as Love & Pop and I'm still writing stuff for them pretty regularly. Most recently I reviewed the Australian River Cottage spinoff (pretty good, very white), Hugh's 3 Good Things (moar comfort-food cooking TV), The Life After Death Project (a horrible doco about ghosts, centred on a pretty interesting-sounding dead guy), a Korean disaster movie (actually pretty amazing), and an Adventure Time special (it's Adventure Time, whaddaya want?*).

Right. Where was I? Oh yes. Taxing the rich.

I fall pretty squarely on the left in terms of politics. According to the most recent shot I had on Vote Compass**, I'm pretty much in the middle of the left-libertarian*** box. One of the things that goes along with that is that I believe in taxing people (particularly rich people, particularly very rich people) more in order to make it possible for the government to pay for more stuff, allowing the public access to free or heavily-subsidised services.

To clarify, I'm talking about income tax here. In NZ we have two primary kinds of tax - income tax on the money we earn, and GST (Goods and Services Tax) which is a percentage of the cost of everything we buy. The current government have cut income tax, and increased GST.

The problem with doing this is that while people with higher incomes will always pay a higher dollar share of income tax, even if the percentage is flat across all income brackets (here in NZ it's not, though I couldn't tell you the precise rates off the top of my head), GST always runs into the "you can only buy so much stuff" problem I mentioned in my last post. With income tax the government will get a bigger share if more people earn more money, while with GST the only way for the government to increase their take is to convince people to buy more stuff - and even the richest person can only eat so much food, and wear so many clothes. On top of this, increases in GST are always passed on in the price of the Goods and Services in question - so raising GST makes everything more expensive for everyone, which disproportionately affects the poor.

So, I'm in favour of plans (regardless of which party they come from) to cut GST and increase income tax in the top brackets to compensate. One of the most common objections I hear to plans like this is that they "punish people for hard work", and that if we tax them too heavily all our richest citizens will head overseas. To which I say, "who cares?"

First off, there's a tendency to misunderstand the way that tax brackets work in New Zealand - or to wilfully misrepresent it, if you want to be cynical. When you enter a new tax bracket, the new tax rate doesn't affect the entirety of you income - just the bit that pushes you into that new bracket. Secondly, if someone makes over a million dollars a year, and you really do tax 50% of their whole income - they still end up with a minimum of $500,000 - which is still more than 5 times the median income.

And as for people who'll leave if they're taxed - I contend that we can do without them.

There aren't that many people making more than a million a year in New Zealand, so if they all left at once the impact on our population would be pretty tiny. Moreover, the jobs that they're doing can, I believe, be done at least as competently by people who are willing to accept smaller salaries. I don't believe that people who have the skills to be CEOs of large companies are actually as rare or as superhuman as they like to make out, and getting $500,000 (even $1,000,000) per year instead of $4,000,000 still leaves you pretty well off.

The question is this: do you want it to be possible for some (not very many) people to be astronomically rich to the point where they couldn't spend all their money if they tried? Or would you rather have free schools, hospitals, and ambulances?


*What do you mean you don't watch Adventure Time? It's really good! It hits that Moomin-flavoured sad-stuff-for-kids button whilst also being actually funny, and has D&D jokes without being self-conscious about its nerdiness. And it's a kids' cartoon where the characters aren't perpetually snarking at one another and the voice acting isn't 50/50 gravel and horrendous squeaking. Seriously. Go do it.

**It's a tool that aligns your personal values with the stated policies of the major political parties here in NZ. If you're a New Zealand resident, I strongly recommend you have a play with it. I didn't find the results especially surprising for me, but I get the impression that others might - and it's always nice to have your sense of where you sit politically confirmed.

***In the sense of letting people mostly do what they want - I'd call it "anarchistic" but the axis on the graph that Vote Compass gives you calls that "libertarian" as opposed to "authoritarian" on the other side. Basically, I'm on the side of Chaos if you're familiar with 4-axis D&D alignment grids. Chaotic Good, I hope.