$60 Million Question

ANALYZING Madonna has become one of America's favorite armchair sports. Psychologists do it. Pop culture pundits do it. Feminists (and antifeminists) do it.

Now economists can join the crowd. Signing her seven-year, $60 million contract with Time Warner Inc., Madonna makes even Michael Jackson look like a needy case, giving a new meaning to the old song, "There's No Business Like Show Business," with the emphasis on business.

Economists analyzing the Madonna industry can begin by asking: Is she worth $20 million as a singer, another $20 million as a dancer, and a final $20 million as an actress?

Since the answers are No, No, and No, the questions must go beyond dollars and sense to values of another sort. To the economists, add a philosopher to ask: If Madonna is worth $60 million - for whatever mystical reason - what is a teacher worth, trying to instill in teenage wannabe Madonnas an education that will equip them not just with an "attitude" but the skills required for a useful career and an enlightened life?

Some teachers earn less in a year than Madonna will make in a day under her new contract.

Madonna should not be singled out. The same questions and the same comparisons could be raised about her new boss, Steve Ross, who came away with $193 million from the Time Warner merger.

It's not Mr. Ross's fault, either, that teachers get paid too little - or that American children are going hungry, or ... Fill in the blank for your favorite outrageous inequity.

Glitz is rolling through the recession like a stretch limo through a ghetto. What does that say about all of us who, in our separate ways, play the part of "material girl" and "material boy" in support of a materialism whose final injustice is to distort all values? This is the $60 million question.

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