Celebrity Misbehavior

From Todd D. Kendall:

Casual empiricism suggests that celebrities engage in more anti-social and other socially unapproved behavior than non-celebrities. I consider a number of reasons for this stylized fact, including one new theory, in which workers who are less substitutable in production are enabled to engage in greater levels of misbehavior because their employers cannot substitute away from them. Looking empirically at a particular class of celebrities – NBA basketball players – I find that misbehavior on the court is due to several factors, including prominently this substitutability effect, though income effects and youthful immaturity also may be important.

Elsewhere, here is a Kaushik Basu micro piece on the law and economics of sexual harassment.  And a more recent piece from the sociology literature.  The practice increases quits and separations, with some of the costs borne by harassment victims and not firms; given imperfect transparency, recruitment incentives may not internalize this externality.  On other issues, here is a relevant AER article.  And this piece applies an insider-outsider model.  Here is Posner (1999), perhaps he has changed his mind.  Here is work by Elizabeth Walls, from Stanford.

I see negative externalities to sexual harassment across firms and sectors, and so, contra Posner (1999) and Walls, the most just and also efficient outcome is to tolerate one explicit and transparent form of the practice in the sector of formal prostitution and otherwise to keep it away from normal business activity.  I believe such a ban boosts womens’ human capital investment, investment in firm-specific skills, aids the optimal production of status, and limits one particular kind of uninsurable risk, with all of those benefits correspondingly higher in an O-Ring or Garett Jones model of productivity.


"Casual empiricism suggests that celebrities engage in more anti-social and other socially unapproved behavior than non-celebrities."

America's caste-like culture system induces powerful people to oppress their fellow people.

"celebrities engage in more anti-social and other socially unapproved behavior than non-celebrities": thank goodness that is not true within the universities.

How does weinstein have anything to do with a caste type system? He built his own business. He made his own firms.

Now he was fairly tacky in his approach to women. But trying to leverage success for sexual access is pretty normal. Jocks do it in high school.

"the most just and also efficient outcome is to tolerate one explicit and transparent form of the practice in the sector of formal prostitution and ..."

What does this mean? That prostitution automatically involves sexual harrassment? And "outcome" of what?

"That prostitution automatically involves sexual harrassment?"
Yes, it is a barely concealed secret of the prostitution business that women who refuse sexual intercourse with potential clients are denied payment and have dramatically limited opportunies.

The modern celebrity really begins in the nineteenth century with the Romantic poets. That's when the "rock and roll" style boehmian first becomes the standard model. Its no coincidence that it coincides with the Industrial Revolution, as artists become much more divorce from the forces of production and lose their immediate dependance on the power structure of the state. Modern athletes still fit in that mold.

Speaking of bad behavior, I came up with a ratio of baseball statistics to measure the meanness of pitchers. You can look at the number of batters hit by a pitcher as a simple measure of how mean he is, but that gets confounded by wildness. Some pitchers hit a lot of batters because they are wild, some as part of a strategy to move batters away from the plate and keep them in fear.

If you divide a pitcher's batters hit by number of wild pitches he throws, that gives you a pretty good measure of just how nasty he is.

Pitchers were pretty mean before Ray Chapman got killed by a Carl Mays pitch in 1920. After that they stopped pitching inside. Then Sal "The Barber" Maglie reintroduced dangerous pitching. In his last year, he taught it to Don Drysdale, who was lifetime 154 hit batsmen / 82 wild pitches.

In contrast, Drysdale's teammate Sandy Koufax was the most gentlemanly superstar of his era, hitting only 18 batters to 87 wild pitches.

The meanest pitcher of the 1960s was not, as you might expect, Bob Gibson (102/108), but future Republican Senator Jim Bunning (160/47).


Outstanding, love the stat you created.

Does he flinch when you throw him a curveball?

These days you could keep track of number of batters hit with fastballs, which should be a pretty good indication of intentional beanings

I was going to argue that wild pitches are too rare, and too influenced by the catcher, and that HBP/Walks was better.

Then I looked up Koufax and Drysdale and found that Drysdale gave up 855 walks, Koufax only slightly fewer - 817, so you may have something.

If Weinstein were not such a loathsome toad of a man, do you think we’d be seeing this level of outrage? Assuming no actual assault occcured (which may or may not be the case here), what we’re mostly talking about is unwanted sexual propositions. But if he had been more of a Brad Pitt sort of a fellow, many of these women may have agreed happily to these advances and there presumably would be no problem.

In fact, presumably many women did agree to Weinstein’s advances, and may to this day even think it was a fair price to further their careers.

The main issue seems to be that the sexual advances were unwanted (and piggish, gross, clumsy, etc), but ultimately how is one to know?

Finally, what do you think the level of outrage would be if the mogul had been a woman and the aspiring actors had been men?

"But if he had been more of a Brad Pitt sort of a fellow, many of these women may have agreed happily to these advances and there presumably would be no problem."

Or a Bill Clinton sort of a fellow, as strange as it may be.

I think Paula Jones would disagree with that.

Point being there were a lot more willing partners for Bill than Harvey.

And quite a few unwilling ones. Maybe more that the willing.

Ben Affleck just got called out. I think we'll start seeing more of this, with attendant fallout and cleanup, so we'll have more and better data to test this.

I think Ben Affleck was in the middle of a drinking binge when he "debated" Sam Harris.


How did Affleck get into Harvard?

There was a nice Megan Mcardle article on this a while back: if I remember right she says we are less nuanced about the issue than we were a few decades ago, but rightly so, because protecting victims is more important than that extra nuance.

What if the accused was a Gentile, would this story be so big? Weinstein is an ugly Jew in a powerful position preying on pretty blonde Gentile actresses; it perfectly fits the stereotype about Hollywood, so the story is compelling to people.

Hate to break it to you buddy, but not everyone applies those filters.

Weinstein and Ailes are very much cut from the same cloth.

Exactly. Weinstein isn't comparable to Trump or Clinton, he's the Democrat Ailes or O'Reilly. Also, Weinstein took shots at plenty of brunettes including Angelina Jolie and Rose McGowan.

Sometimes a literal shot.

"Weinstein is an ugly Jew in a powerful position preying on pretty blonde Gentile actresses"



Something that hasn't been said....

Is actress talent overrated? If it took a lot of acting talent to make it as an actress then the best filmmakers would have to recruit on talent. If a highly successful filmmaker can turn any cute 22 year old into a super-star then it gives him a lot of leverage to use his position for sexual benefit.

IE. At least on the female side of the equation acting is a low-skill profession.

Your conclusion doesn't follow, I think. What might follow is that there is not much to choose among those in the top tier, and that the top tier has more members than there are spots for big stars.

What separates harassment from "legal flirtation" ?

Essentially there is no such thing as legal flirtation in an employer/employee relationship in the U.S. (just ask someone in HR at a large corporation), and even less so when one is subject to a military chain of command.

"a military chain of command."

So, like University life?

I'm only slightly joking, because "legal flirtation" would be completely out-of-bounds.

Flirtation is always problematic if there is a power differential (for obvious reasons). There probably is a subtle version of flirtation that can't really be considered harassment, even with a power differential, but it remains problematic.

If there is no power differential, like two people working on the assembly line, there are different criteria which everyone working at a company of any size will be trained in. It is fairly precise and leaves plenty of room for office romance: Repeated, unwanted, deliberate.

Power differential? Some young intern has the power to utterly ruin a CEO. I'll agree that the power is different, both in kind and amount. But that power differential does not remove a person's free will, nor a victim make.

This Weinstein stuff seems like an open secret. Rich powerful ogres and attractive young women trade influence for sex. Film at 11. The guy is a sleaze, deserves to be ruined and shamed, but I can't say that the women that played ball were innocent either. When someone bribes a cop, both are guilty.

The thing is (see the link I posted below), while I'm sure plenty of actresses 'traded' sex for a job 'willingly, most didn't want to play ball. And those that did weren't 'flirting' they were prostituting themselves.

Doesn't that mean that skill in moving making is on the producer side and not the acting side. If it took skill to be an actress then the actress would have the leverage in the situation.

Whether the woman likes it, obviously. If it sounds stupid, that's because it is.

"Legal flirtation" is something, harassment is this: https://jezebel.com/a-running-list-of-the-women-who-have-accused-harvey-wei-1819320068

"“Legal flirtation” is something"

A really in depth answer to his question.

Look up. Whoosh.

The basketball example is obviously the opposite of the Weinstein case - bad behaviour by highly valuable employees about which the employer (however rich him/herself) can do little.
Though perhaps there is a basketball casting (shooting?) couch?!

'Casual empiricism suggests that' we hear more about celebrities than non-celebrities.

Further, 'casual empiricism suggests that' those with significant power or wealth are, unsurprisingingly, able to use or misuse that power or wealth to a greater degree.

Posner defends age discrimination in 1998 (older workers are less productive than the younger workers who would replace them) when he was about age 58-59 although he continued to serve on the Federal Circuit Court until this year at age 78. It's at least a plausible defense. But his "defense" of sex discrimination (with the workplace serving as an important site for courtship and distinctions of "low status women" (less attractive) and "high status women" (attractive) and "low status men" (lower rank) and "high status men" (higher rank)) is preposterous. Cowen is likely right about Posner, that he has changed his mind (at least when it comes to age discrimination).

To be clear, I am an admirer of Judge Posner, a great jurist and intellectual. I'm just not sure if his foray (?) into age and sex discrimination was advisable, brave maybe but not advisable. On some issues it's best to stay clear. I have a home in Trump country, where it''s best not to point out Trump's many flaws and let that realization come to my neighbors by the simple act of observation.

Thanks for this great parody of pretentious academic writing --"casual empiricism," "stylized fact," "substatutability effect." This is a fancy way of saying they do what they do because they can, as most of us would, if we could, no?

I wouldn't, most Brazilians wouldn't. Acting badly is antithetical to Brazilian character (except for Rodrigo Santoro).

“casual empiricism” and “stylized fact” are fancy ways to refer to anecdotes or opinions with no supporting data.

"the most just and also efficient outcome is to tolerate one explicit and transparent form of the practice in the sector of formal prostitution and .."

The subset of libertarians and feminists who support prostitution have a Weinstein problem. If prostitution is legal, so is the casting couch. A mogul who correctly intuits a starlet's intentions is acting legally. Weinstein the person went beyond that, but perhaps in predictable ways, given a history of power and willing women.

That is the reason irrational humans would are better off without legal prostitution clouding and confusing a moral landscape.

Speaking of conservative nudges ..

"If prostitution is legal, so is the casting couch."

No, it is nothing. It is not a regulated activity.

"A mogul who correctly intuits a starlet’s intentions is acting legally."
What about a mogul who doesn't?

Libertarians are not dreaming of government run sporting houses, with standard contracts administered. They are dreaming of free exchange in a market environment. So are those feminists who seek to empower sex workers as free agents.

"What about a mogul who doesn’t?"


"Libertarians are not dreaming of government run sporting houses, with standard contracts administered."
I am talking of legal regularion the kind of shoes stores and greengrocers are subjected to!!

Human societies create rules around sex of varying complexity, but formal approval of marriage and formal disapproval of prostitution is the norm.

These norms encourage healthy families.

Libertarians are brain dead on this in the same way they are brain dead about all social structures and obligations. They imagine free agents without social baggage entering "contracts" to form a healthy society de novo, with healthy families. It has never worked that way. It never will. The framework comes first.

I may get in trouble for this post

I was having lunch with a female classmate. We started to discuss a rumor that a professor had offered an A in his class to a female student in exchange for sex. The female I was having lunch with said that she would take the offer. I was shocked. She was very attractive, smart and I wasn't sure how to respond. I told her that I had once been approached by the wife of a resident head, but turned down the offer. For me it just seemed like an invitation to be an actor in a very bad soap opera or worse, a bad actor in a porn movie. The potential complications seemed greater then the potential gain.

Celebrity misbehavior is driven, in part, because so many people will willing take the deal. They will trade sex with a celebrity for some potential gain. That gain can be financial, career advancement, status, or a way to deal with low self esteem. Who knows the motivation in every case?

The danger for society is that third parties can be damaged. If President Clinton exchanges access in return for sex, then women who refuse to engage in such transactions are placed at a disadvantage. As a society we have an interest in preventing such transactions. Regretfully, President Trump was correct: when you are a celebrity many women (and others) are very willing to engage in such transactions.

We will never know how many people were willing to trade favors with Mr Weinstein. I do not defend his actions, but having many people who are willing to make the trade must, over time, coarsen your behavior towards others. What may have seemed outlandish, or even repugnant, behavior becomes in some way normal.

I remember the teen idol David Cassidy once saying (something like) that it was not the fame or money that warps you as a celebrity, but the fact that you can treat people very badly without consequences (at least for a period).

With so many people willing to engage in these trades, how does society prevent it? Mr Weinstein seems to have crossed over to the point that he thought most individuals should expect to engage in such transactions in order to gain access or favor. Worse, it appears that he had many subordinates who were willing to help him facilitate such transactions and contribute to a sense that this was normal and acceptable behavior. Indeed a large segment of Hollywood seems to have been willing to accept such behavior as the cost of doing business.

Trading sex for benefits became less an advantage and increasingly, it appears, a requirement with Mr Weinstein. Once it became a requirement (and became more coercive) people unwilling to participate are more likely to go public.

It is not unheard of for sexual favors to be exchanged for benefits in the workplace. The trade can help both parties achieve a goal. Such activity is hard to monitor or control. (Rumors about the Chicago Police department promotions, exam cheating, etc are tinged with stories about the exchange of sexual and political favors.)

Romantic relationships occur in the workplace and can have little negative impact. Or sometimes they do. But again hard to regulate and monitor.

The military which has extreme control over it's members has, at least officially, prohibitions against inappropriate relationships (too personal in nature) that can adversely affect the military unit. Given the number of military members who get married, that prohibition may not be working as described.

Reasonable stories imo.

This Weinstein triggered a memory for me as well. I was a young engineer and was wrapping up a meeting with a girl from marketing. As she packed up she said "this department is weird." I tilted my head. "No one is sleeping with each other."

Worlds engineers do not know ..

Heh. I wonder if it was a positive or a negative.

'Given the number of military members who get married, that prohibition may not be working as described.'

Adultery is grounds for punishment/dismissal in the American military, and this includes retired officers - 'There's a good reason friends and confidants of retired Gen. David Petraeus are insistent that his extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell began in November 2011, two months after he resigned from the Army to take the top job at the CIA. Under the Unified Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and its Manual for Courts-Martial, adultery is a crime, with punishments as severe as dishonorable discharge, loss of all benefits (including pension), and even a year in jail.

Unfortunately for Petraeus, though, retired officers are "subject to the UCMJ, for life," and he could still be stripped of his $200,000-a-year pension, Yale military law expert Eugene Fidell tells TIME. Chances are that officials won't go after Petraeus this way, although the Army has chosen to prosecute retired generals for adultery and other misconduct in recent years, so Petraeus certainly isn't out of the woods. And the criteria for military courts to decide if an extramarital affair is "of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces" don't balance out in Petraeus' favor: He was his generation's most celebrated four-star general, and both he and Broadwell are married.' http://theweek.com/articles/470371/david-petraeusaffair-why-military-outlaws-adultery

Actually, your "defense" is similar to Judge Posner's.

I'm sorry but I wasn't trying to defend misbehavior. Indeed I said "As a society we have an interest in preventing such transactions."

My point was that it is hard to police, that it occurs frequently, and preventing it isn't easy. Not that we should accept it or tolerate it. Negative externalities are very real and damage people and society.

Trying to understand why something occurs is not he same as endorsing something.

I'm so naive here in flyover country that I would have supposed the girls had told their agents to do whatever it takes to get them in Harvey Weinstein's hotel room.

+1 The most likely scenario.

Does this behavior exist in places where prostitution is common and legal?

I'm more inclined to view this stuff as a political scalp in the ongoing war within the Democrat party. Weinstein was a prominent donor and promoter of Democrat causes, using his power and influence in his industry. His peccadilloes were fine until last week.

That's a paragraph that was written a few times for Ailes.

In both cases though it seems to be that a critical mass of allegations coincided with a significant loss of power.

Both of them made legal settlements for years. If you want to find the next one, look for that.

I would view legal settlements as a red flag, but - take the case of Michael Jackson. Looking at the evidence in total, I'm pretty sure he's innocent despite the settlements.

As an aside, I would have thought "news" less vulnerable to this than "Hollywood."

But then it was Fox, and not really news in the traditional sense.

To their credit.

The Occam's Razor explanation:

1. Athletes and celebrities are famous, so you hear about their misbehavior.

2. They are on average not very bright, unlike famous businessmen, politicians, or scientists, so they misbehave.

I am a bit dismayed by much of the discussion regarding these misdeeds that focus on Mr. Weinstein's looks. As a life-long member of the not Brad Pitt lookers' club, I feel the sting of my lack of handsomeness a lot. I am no Quasimodo; I don't scare small children, but if I groped women the media would definitely notice my lack of that old je ne sais pas.
It would be good if some independent agency would rate men on a gets away with it/does not get away with it scale. It would be like a credit score that you could access via an app. Of course, an analogous rating for women based on a ten point scale already exists informally.

Wouldn't surprise me if Posner has changed his mind. He's pretty much gone full cuckold now. It's interesting how Trump seems to drive certain people from problematic to PC, and others in the opposite direction.

I am surprised by the Basu article. The core argument is that allowing employment contracts that do not forbid harassment has distributional consequences in equilibrium (i.e., some women are made worse off and some better -- the latter being those who find the market wage for harassment to be below their cost of being harassed). OK, maybe. But then the leap is made that because allowing such contracts is not Pareto superior to disallowing them, we must abandon welfarist comparisons altogether (in favor, it seems, of facile moralizing). That seems a bridge too far -- anything with distributional consequences is no longer subject to a welfarist critique under such logic. Or am I missing something?

Assuming that each factor of production earns its marginal revenue product, in a case where a worker's earnings are capped, the worker will engage in behavior that increases their utility but not the employer's, up to the point where the worker-utility maximizing behavior costs the employer the equivalent of the MRP the worker isn't getting. If you want MBA players to behave better, stop capping their salaries.

"... the most just and also efficient outcome is to tolerate one explicit and transparent form of the practice [sexual harassment] in the sector of prostitution..."

What Cowan is literally saying here is that abusive behavior towards sex workers is just and efficient. On one hand I don't think that's what he means, but on the other hand that's what the words he's written mean.

"The subset of libertarians and feminists who support prostitution have a Weinstein problem. If prostitution is legal, so is the casting couch."

As long as everyone involved consents, I suppose the equivalence is true. But Weinstein is accused of sexual harassment and rape, which is illegal when committed against either sex workers or actors. It would still be illegal under any conceivable decriminalization of sex work.

I don't know exactly what Weinstein is accused of, I have no interest in reading the stories. But legally, requiring sexual favors to hire someone is considered sexual harassment and that is of course something that would be legalised if you legalise sex work.

Prostitution is legal in Nevada. There is a federal law against sexual harassment in the workplace and it still applies in Las Vegas. This isn't a contradiction and nobody is confused. Context matters.

Two things. First, Nevada doesn't like ad hoc prostitution in the libertarian sense. Second, you left out other gray areas.

If Harvey meets an actress in his bathrobe and holding a script, doesn't say a word, and that actress decides it is a good time for sex, has there been any ad hoc prostitution, or harassment?

I personally would say that it is sad, but two people who deserve each other. And hopefully it does not become the norm, even with better boundaries between consent and harassment.

New Zealand and NSW in Australia have both decriminalized prostitution. Other states in Australia have legalized it (made it subject to legal regulation.) In 2014, a sex worker in New Zealand sued the brothel where she worked for sexual harassment, and won. A quote from the court's ruling: "Sex workers are as much entitled to protection from sexual harassment as those working in other occupations."

Please tell us where and in what way requiring sexual favors for employment has been legalized in places where prostitution has been decriminalized or legalize.

How unsurprising that TC ends up with a politically correct conclusion.

Exactly. When a powerful Dem CEO engages in decades of relentless sexual harassment.... it is "celebrity misbehavior."

Tyler is appalling.

I suggest you read Professor Cowen’s post again

He never mentioned Weinstein he was talking about behavior in general

If we were to discuss which other sectors aside from prostitution it would be rational to relax the norms against sexual harassment an obvious candidate field is various service industries. Traditionally we imagine that there is quite a lot of harassment/flirting with waitresses, air hostesses and other female service staff and I think there is a demand for sexual harassment in this fields for which formal prostitution would be a poor substitute. Basically, if the staff are supposed to be friendly and polite, why not require them to deal in a friendly manner with compliments as well?

"Power corrupts." Yup. All problems originate in the feedback loops.

As DanC paraphrased the quite astute David Cassidy: it was not the fame or money that warps you as a celebrity, but the fact that you can treat people very badly without consequences (at least for a period).

It appears Weinstein's period is over, for whatever reason. He mustn't have the power he once did, or his accusers feel less substitutable.

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