Marketplace Interview

Ryan and I were interviewed on Marketplace about superheroes and their personal finances!  You can listen to it online.  And if you’re coming here from Marketplace, you can buy our book The Law of Superheroes at your local bookstore or order a copy online:

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15 responses to “Marketplace Interview

  1. I heard your interview on Marketplace. I just want to say it was excellent, very funny, very informative and thought provoking. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you.

  2. I caught the spot on NPR’s Marketplace. You really do touch on the reality of identity and secret identity issues in the United States. Batman will take on Joker any day, but the IRS he leaves alone.

  3. I’m trying to think of somebody who makes money super-heroing and coming up with Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Multiple Man and X-Factor Investigations, and Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four. Perhaps Superman and his charcoal –> diamonds trick. For everyone else, I think super-heroing is taxably a “hobby”.
    I’m pretty sure the Xavier School is a non-profit, but that raises the interesting question of whether or not its secret mission is ultra vires.

    • I guess it depends on how you define super-heroing. For example, in a sense Peter Parker makes money by being Spider-Man, but he doesn’t make money as Spider-Man. On the other hand, the members of the Avengers are definitely paid, and presumably Parker was paid while he was a member of the (New) Avengers.

      • James Pollock

        Avengers are paid? I thought they just got a cool clubhouse. I never followed them, individually or collectively, so I’ll take your word for it.

      • Yeah. For example, the Avengers charter (published in the comics) says they get a stipend of $1,000/week.

      • James Pollock

        Do they have any deductions for short-term or long-term disability? How do they handle the tax withholding for Avengers with secret identities?

        Peter Parker, news photographer can take deductions for cameras lost or destroyed while taking photos of Spidey fighting bad guys (or whatever other assignment comes his way.) Does Peter Parker, Avengers employee get a uniform deduction, or deductions for whatever the ingredients of web fluid are? What if some of the web fluid is used for commuting to and from Avengers mansion, which is normally not deductible? (Yes, I took income tax as a 3L).

      • James Pollock

        Looking at the charter document, it appears that they might have a real problem… they seem to have an imperfect incorporation which would make them a general partnership. Where were Tony’s lawyers on this one? They’ve exposed Tony’s vast personal fortune to joint-and-several liability.

      • Avengers with secret identities could be compensated in other, indirect ways. For example, the Maria Stark Foundation could fund a scholarship for orphaned college students attending Empire State University (that’s a bit contrived but you get the idea).

        Regarding the charter: there could be separate articles of incorporation. Alternatively, since the charter mentions that the Avengers are part of the UN Security Council, maybe they have some kind of sovereign immunity.

      • James Pollock

        Is Pete still a college student? He was a grad student (and a TA) back in the 80’s. Normally, you have to do all the work for a PhD in seven years.

    • Seth Finkelstein

      The Fantastic Four don’t actually make money super-heroing. They just have one member with a day job as an inventor which provides enough of an income to support their exotic family vacations, wild parties, and general high-risk lifestyle. Though they wouldn’t be the first people to make all that into business deductions as much as possible.

      When Iron Man was said to be Tony Stark’s bodyguard, that was an actual example of theoretically being paid to be a superhero. It probably all still counts as testing and evaluation of Stark Industries products (“I’m the CEO, and I make sure I personally test what we manufacture – I literally trust my life to our products!”) .

      I think at times Captain America has drawn a salary as a formal government employee, so he really has been paid to be Captain America as a position.

  4. “The Fantastic Four don’t actually make money super-heroing.”
    Actually, they do, at least according to Reed Richards. Richards goes into some detail of the FF’s finances in, I want to say Amazing Spider-Man #4, where Spider-man “tries out” for FF because he needs an income and thinks if the Human Torch is good enough to be in the FF, then so is he. Then he learns that FF pays its members no salary (but does cover all expenses). It’s true, most of of their income comes from monetizing Richards’ brilliance, but some of that is his “decrypting” captured tech, and he doesn’t do the capturing all by himself.
    Also, I believe but cannot place definitely, that Johnny was given a car as an advertising gimmick. In other words, they have sponsorship and make money by endorsing products.

    • Seth Finkelstein

      Well, I’ll grant the FF’s adapted super-heroing into their business, but they don’t say things like “The bank balance is running low, let’s go get some Skrull salvage to resell” (that’d make for a interesting team).

      Other examples:

      Agent Of SHIELD is presumably a paid position – so Nick Fury makes money as does Black Widow (sometimes). I assume SHIELD also pays for one-off contract jobs too.

      Not quite what may have been intended, but the Punisher at times helps himself to his target’s money.

      • James Pollock

        There were periods when the FF flirted with bankruptcy, and Reed agonized over finances. I recall one time when the landlord threatened to evict them (Reed eventually solved that problem by buying the building, so theoretically the lower 35 floors of the Baxter building are generating revenue for FF, inc.

        Nick Fury has an army pension to supplement his income, as well.

        The Punisher murdering, with or without robbing the victims, doesn’t really fall into anyone’s definition of “super-heroing” that I know of.

        On the other hand, there’s a character on “Alphas” who “earns” her living from her superpower, which is to give people nearly irrestible suggestion when she speaks.

  5. I recall reading a story in a comic book, I believe around 1977, where an agent of the Internal Revenue Service presented Superman with an exorbitant tax bill. Superman frantically proceeded to generate revenue to pay his bill. Meanwhile, Bizarro Superman, attempting to help, spoiled Superman’s every attempt at generating the necessary funds.
    Eventually, Superman reached his deadline and had nothing to pay his bill. A senior agent of the IRS intervened. He determined that Superman did not owe any taxes. His reasoning was that everyone in the world depends on Superman, therefore Superman could claim everyone in the world as a dependent and in the end he owed no taxes.

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