The Economics of Superstardom
Labor economists use the term “superstar” very specifically, based on a wonderful paper by the late Sherwin Rosen: A superstar is one of the very top people in an occupation offering huge pay because performances are widely reproducible (through recordings, TV, movies, books, etc.). (By this definition it is hard to imagine an economist superstar!)
What matters is being the best — relatively, not absolutely. In sports events, although we make comparisons over time (Ben Hogan to Tiger Woods, for example), it’s hard to claim that there are immense differences between number one and number two; number one is just better than the contemporary number two. Last night, I realized there is one area where there is a huge absolute difference — operatic sopranos. Callas was absolutely so much better than any soprano since the 1920s! (Are there any other occupations like this?) Being absolutely the best probably helps the person’s pay; but it may hurt overall pay in a competitive occupation — who wants to watch a game if there is no doubt about the victor’s identity? Also, why watch others when you are sure you’re not seeing the best possible?