People asked me last week why Tiger Woods had to apologize to the world for his infidelities (well, they weren’t asking me so much as they asked the question within earshot, which is all the license I need). They advanced theories about Tiger being a role model, but that didn’t quite ring true. Tiger has never advanced himself as a spokesman for clean living and family values, in the way that conservatives who keep getting implicated in homosexual love triangles consistently do. He wasn’t on the President’s Council for Not Balling Softcore Pornstars. And while cheating on your wife isn’t behavior we want to endorse – think of the children, after all – neither are brandishing guns to settle office disputes, urinating in trash cans or cheating on your wife (oops). Yet the uproar over Woods’ infidelity dwarfs the uproar over Arenas, Iverson and Canseco, as Jupiter dwarfs its moons.
Woods occupies a different sphere than those athletes because of the money he makes. You could also argue he’s better at golf than Iverson is at basketball, but that’s incidental: he wouldn’t make as much money in endorsements were he not as good. It’s impossible to conceive of how much money Tiger Woods’ ability to smile and wear tight shirts is worth. He’s lost more money from cancelled endorsements over the last three months than many of us will make in our entire lives. Numbers like “six hundred million” don’t mean anything to humans; you couldn’t distinguish between six hundred million of a thing and two hundred million of it just by looking. Woods is no different. He couldn’t conceive of the amount of money he had. He’s human like the rest of us, with the same ambitions and insecurities and needs. Only he has super powers because, for him, money is no object. Are there any fantasies you’d act out if you had super powers?
In the classical economic model, wealth comes from three sources: labor, capital or rent. Labor all of us understand: it’s what you should be doing now instead of reading some guy’s blog. Capital, some of us get: we may feel in our hearts that the hedge fund owner doesn’t deserve $8,500,000 EBITDA, but we still aspire to that level of wealth. But rent’s hard to understand. It’s hard to sympathize with rent: the money you make simply by owning something that other people want to borrow. Mutual funds have to be managed, and labor is the sweat of one’s brow, but rent just comes to you. Tiger Woods made one billion dollars in his professional career by renting out Tiger Woods. He got paid to be himself in front of cameras. His wealth comes from alien sources and he used it to act out fantasies that few of us admit to.