Taylor Swift, at 33, is on her way to becoming America’s youngest self-made female billionaire and one of the few magnate millennials who hasn’t made her fortune from meme stocks and cryptocurrency.
Her Eras Tour concert film, released Friday, had advance sales of more than $100 million, which is expected to double within weeks. The tour itself has already become the highest-grossing concert series of all time and is on track to generate up to $4 billion from ticket sales alone.
Swift’s great wealth — made mostly off low- and middle-income young Americans — brings great responsibility. For all of her marketing power, which has recently helped to boost NFL viewership (and, yeah, the whole US economy), she has yet to make a significant mark as a philanthropist.
In an era when “billionaire” has become synonymous with anti-heroes like Elon Musk, who has brought havoc into the digital public square formerly known as Twitter and shown little interest in channeling his wealth toward the betterment of society, we need a new model for extreme affluence in America.
Swift will not be the lone artist-entrepreneur in the under-40 billionaire’s club, but she could be the first to boldly champion causes that will serve the interests of her Gen Z and millennial fanbase, including tax reform for the wealthiest Americans and climate change.
Sure, the singer-songwriter has a track record of generosity, making piecemeal donations in the tens of thousands to alleviate medical bills or personal financial stresses one fan or family at a time. She has also contributed to cancer research and donated to food banks along the Eras tour route.
But investing meaningfully in the priorities of her fans will look different, and the public should expect her to give back on an ambitious scale. Swift is well positioned to do this not just because she’s a powerful lever of capitalism, but because of her role as an industry iconoclast. She has challenged misogyny, championed artists’ rights and helped shift the paradigm of intellectual property ownership. She has also helped to reinvent the traditional album release model and radically pushed the boundaries of fan engagement.
Going forward, Swift has two crucial opportunities to seize: First, she should openly and proudly welcome President Joe Biden’s proposed tax on the ultra-rich. “It’s time billionaires paid at least a 25% minimum tax,” Biden recently tweeted, echoing a plan he introduced last March.
The president’s proposal, which has been introduced in Congress last year as the “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax Act,” honors the sensibilities and economic realities of Swift’s young fanbase.
As a paragon of marketing and commercialism, Swift should bear in mind that more than half of Gen Z and millennials say they have a negative view of capitalism. And today, many in Swift’s age group are struggling with unprecedented levels of student loan and credit card debt, even as many spend thousands on her concert tickets and merchandise.
The overall effective tax rate of the ultra-wealthy in this country has plummeted in recent decades. In 1970 it was 75%, in 2004 35%, and it is 8.2% today. In that context, a 25% tax rate is a paltry ask. Welcoming Biden’s minimum tax rate would be on brand with Swift’s love of tradition and her progressive, patriotic “Miss Americana” profile.
A somewhat larger challenge for Swift would be to acknowledge and begin to redress her profligate climate impact. It has been widely covered that her carbon footprint via her private jet last year alone was nearly 2,000 times the global average and about 650 times per-capita emissions in the US. In response, Swift’s team has offered a bafflingly evasive statement saying she loaned her jet out to friends.
The Eras Tour has exponentially increased this impact — not just through the singer’s personal travel and that of her crew, but by the fans traveling to her events across 146 shows on five continents and indulging in a rash of conspicuous consumption. After the tour ends and the glitter is swept from the floor, this decadence could well backfire.
The superstar knows firsthand the pain of being canceled and has the power to avoid it.
She can start by disclosing a transparent analysis of the full carbon impact of her extended Eras tour and a clear inventory of her efforts to reduce it. (In August, a Swift spokesperson told Business Insider that she purchased offsets for personal jet travel for the tour, but it was not independently verified, and her concert site mentions no climate strategy). Swift should commit to carbon-neutral touring, which goes well beyond personal air travel to include efficient stadium lighting, sustainable food vendors and limits on single-use plastics. Doing this would be far less painful than enduring public criticism for doing nothing.
This would be a first step toward the greater project of setting new standards for 21st-century American billionaires because it demonstrates what’s possible when extraordinary personal success can benefit not just the individual but the multitudes.
After all, Swift’s wealth has been built by multitudes of young consumers. Investing in their future is not just the morally defensible path forward but an economically strategic one that would enable Swift to shake off the burdens of her profligacy.