What is the value of the world's greatest footballer?

Will the "tycoon tax" ensure the ultra-rich are properly taxed?

March 15, 2012 13:09
3 minute read.
UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg

UK Deputy PM Nick Clegg_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

Lionel Messi displays the sort of soccer previously only seen in videogames.
Last week, playing for Barcelona FC in a match against Germany's Bayer Leverkusan during the prestigious Champions League competition, Messi set a record by scoring 5 times in a single match.  This historic feat has sent sports writers, former players and armchair philosophers into a desperate search for adjectives and metaphors.

Watching Messi's goals again and again on YouTube reveals the almost indescribable talent that he possesses.  The question is no longer whether Messi is the best player playing today.  Nor is it whether he is the best who has ever played the game.  Comparisons with Pele and Maradona have been made repeatedly, but with each new broken record, talking about him in the context of previous players seems less reasonable.

At a mere 5 foot 7 inches, Messi casts a shadow across the past, present and future of the world’s most popular sport.

His manager at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola, argues that the sport will never produce a player as talented as Messi.  Even statistics now appear inadequate in the face of Messi’s routine displays of brilliance. He will very soon be the top scorer ever for Barcelona, an amazing achievement given the club’s long history.  However, Messi is just 24-years-old and only halfway through his playing career. 

So what is Lionel Messi worth to his team?  How much should he earn for the services he provides?

Former players' goals and salaries typically serve as the backdrop for a star's negotiations with his employer. But if Messi's, the World Player of the Year the past three years, is a performer without any equal now or ever, where do you start measuring from?

Published reports have Messi out-earning fashion-icon David Beckham when endorsements and other extras are included.  Even with a $250,000 per week contract, some argue that Messi is undervalued.
There is one person who knows very clearly how much Messi should earn.  In fact, Francois Hollande, socialist candidate for the French Presidency, has drawn a line, and that line is one million Euros. Not just for Messi, but for anyone.

Hollande has cited US President Barack Obama as inspiration, specifically his rhetoric on taxing the rich more heavily.  Across the English Channel, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the governing coalition’s left-leaning liberal Democrats has now proposed taking Britain down this same path by launching a so-called “tycoon tax” that would ensure the ultra-rich are properly taxed.

Clearly, the public finances need to be balanced.  Continued reliance on endless borrowing to narrow the gap between tax receipts and spending choices is untenable.  In these difficult times, it is hardly surprising that politicians would be drawn to increasing taxes on high-earners, but academic studies show that extraordinarily high rates rarely lead to the collection of any additional tax revenue.  People this wealthy are usually able to respond very effectively to the new rates.  Able earners like Messi can quickly adjust their dribble or passing to compensate for whatever defensive tactics are put before them. Sometimes it’s as simple as just packing up and moving.

Our governments should operate on a “pay as you go” basis, rather than punting the burden to future generations.  The balance of taxing and spending must be brought into line.  Still, those talented individuals who are earning high salaries in exchange for their labors should not be demonized.

Talent should be rewarded and ample talent should be rewarded amply.  A fair portion of this reward can justly be taken as tax by the government.  But to ask for more is to risk driving away the very talent that we need. It's a yellow card where one isn't needed.

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