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issue 11
December 5, 2018

Talking about money.

I’m working on a blog post about residuals, and debating how much to share about the money I’ve made off them.

Here’s the chart without the numbers:

It’s useful, certainly. With just this chart, I can talk about why 2006 was such a big year (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on home video) and point out how much home video has shrunk while new media has grown.

But this chart without the dollar figures doesn’t give you any sense of the impact residuals have on a screenwriter’s life. Yes, I made six times as much in 2006 as 2017, what does that really mean? Are we talking “enough to buy dinner” or “enough to buy a restaurant”?

Money is one of those things we talk about a lot without ever really talking about it. We’re always leaving off the Y axis.

In the U.S., it’s okay to discuss money in general – “Did you see that they’re talking about finally raising the minimum wage?” – but not someone’s personal finances. It’s considered rude to ask how much someone makes, and revealing it unprompted is similarly discouraged.

But maybe a little more candor is what we need.

This article in Wealthsimple tracking the staggering debt racked up by a married couple apparently went viral, but I didn’t read about it until Jordan Weismann revisited it at Slate.

Kate: Frankly, what I imagine is one of us will die from stress, and the life insurance will pay things off.

Tom: Yeah, we have good life insurance. We’re better off dead.

We think of “broke” as having no money, and debt as being money with a minus sign in front of it. In reality, money is debt. It’s a promise between two parties. In his book Debt: The First 5000 Years, David Graeber makes a compelling case that money didn’t begin as a proxy for barter. Rather, it was a bunch of IOU slips that started getting traded around.

This may explain why rich people feel that they don’t just have a lot, they’re owed a lot. They certainly act like it sometimes.

I had dinner with a guy who talked about the decamillionaires in his social circle. It’s a term I’d never heard anyone use. It refers to someone with over $10 million in net worth. Even they were buying tickets for the recent Mega Millions $1.6 billion payout. The winning ticket was purchased at a KC Mart in Simpsonville, SC, but no one’s collected it yet. (They have until April 21st.)

Whoever ends up cashing in that ticket, their life will no doubt change. But it won’t have any impact on the overall inequality in the U.S. and worldwide.

To make those kind of changes, you have to think bigger. I’m reading Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society by Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. It’s full of provocative ideas, unsupported assertions and wild overreach so I find myself treating it mostly as science fiction.

One of their key ideas is that we should look at ownership as reflecting what an item is worth to the owner. If you say your house is worth $1 million, you pay tax on it based on that figure. But if someone offers you $1 million, you have to sell. Like a lot of the ideas in the book, it’s impractical for most situations, but I can see it being used for public goods like grazing rights and broadcast spectrum.
 

Here are some other things I found interesting this week:

Sad Jen. For Slate, Willa Paskin has a great episode of Decoder Ring looking at tabloid magazines and the weird business model they’ve built around Jennifer Aniston.

Stay where you are. During the recent wildfires, Malibu was largely evacuated, but not Pepperdine University. Alissa Walker examines its longstanding plan to shelter in place.

Awesomely tedious. Daniel Oberhaus has a loving look at Lenny, the elderly Australian who is the bane of telemarketers.

Not a pet. I loved this mini-doc by Rishi Chandna about an Indian family’s questionable decision to keep a rooster in their apartment.

Attention-seekers seek attention. Payless, the cheap shoe store, opened a fake pop-up called “Palessi” in a Los Angeles mall and invited influencers to the grand opening.

 

Let me sign your book

Reminder that while I can't sign every copy of Arlo Finch in the world, I can send you a signed bookplate like this:

If you’d like a signed bookplate, just fill out this form. Then attach your receipt, and I’ll mail you a bookplate in a fancy envelope.

And that’s what’s interesting this week. As always, you can email me at ask@johnaugust.com

See you next Wednesday!
     

UPCOMING EVENTS


Scriptnotes Holiday Show 
Wednesday, December 12th at 8pm
Los Angeles Film School
Tickets

The Princess Bride NEW!
Screening and Discussion
Sunday, January 27 at 5pm
WGA Theater (details soon)
     

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