David Beckham's mega-bucks move to LA Galaxy sheds light upon the economics of superstars.
Maybe the Galaxy are right to believe that his salary will pay for itself, as Beckham's celebrity attracts Americans to "soccer."
The interesting question is: where does Beckham's celebrity come from?
In Sherwin Rosen's view of superstars, it comes from the fact that small differences in ability can efficiently translate into massive differences in income. A great-looking model cannot be replaced by two lesser-looking ones, nor a top film star by two lesser ones, nor a great footballer by two good ones. The upshot is that people at the top of their professions can earn massively more than those slightly below them.
But is this really true of Beckham? There are loads of players with more looks and ability than him - Cesc, Thierry, and perhaps some who don't play for Arsenal. But Beckham will earn far more than these. Indeed, he's comparable in looks and ability to Freddie Ljungberg, who's been struggling to avoid a move to West Ham.
Why should two similar men have such contrasting fates?
This is where Moshe Adler comes in. People, he said, like to consume the same art that others do, or to talk about the same people that others do (pdf). They want, therefore, to focus disproportionate attention upon one or two people. And these people get greater fame or wealth than other similarly talented persons. Beckham, then, is profiting not from his superior talent, but from being a focal point - though, of course, he and his missus have strived for this.
There's good empirical evidence that Adler's theory can explain the emergence of superstars. Here's evidence from German football (pdf). And here's some from Pokemon cards (pdf).
This, of course, matters. If Adler's right, inequality is not necessarily efficient.