Taylor Swift capped off 2023 with a new boyfriend, yes, but also a new title: billionaire. It was thanks to the success of her sellout “Eras” tour, which chronicles her storied career of nearly two decades, that pushed the singer-songwriter’s fortune past the 10-figure mark—a rarefied feat for a musician.

But does Swift deserve her billion-dollar fortune?

Two philosophers were game to tackle that topic on Tuesday in a debate hosted by Open to Debate, even though weighing in on anything Swift-related—from her excessive use of private jets to her public feuds to her relationships—is bound to attract the ire of her fans. And if you’re a Swiftie who feels that your beloved Tay is being unfairly targeted for her success, there’s a broader philosophical question about whether our economic systems should allow any individual, Swift or otherwise, to amass such fortunes.

“If anyone deserves to be a billionaire, it would be Taylor,” argues Jessica Flanigan, a professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics, and law at the University of Richmond, who is also the university’s chair in ethics and democratic values. That’s because Swift, like anyone, has done a risk-reward calculus in deciding how to allocate her work and resources and is therefore free to be highly productive and innovative in a quest to build wealth, as are her fans who are free to consume everything she produces and sells.

Deeming Swift worthy of her billionaire status based on the notion that we’re all responsible for our own success overlooks the pervasive role of luck, from genetics to the social lottery, which ultimately makes the difference in who dominates various markets, argues Ingrid Robeyns, the chair in ethics of institutions at Utrecht University’s Ethics Institute and author of Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth.

“The influence of luck on our success is much larger than we like to acknowledge and what follows from luck is undeserved,” Robeyns says.

The real problem with the existence of billionaires is that extreme wealth concentration—which undermines society—is incompatible with the principle of ecological sustainability, Robeyns notes. That’s because money massed in personal fortunes could’ve been better used elsewhere. And the risk is that billionaires will create “negative externalities” to the rest of society.

People, power, and purse strings

But taxing billionaires out of existence isn’t the answer, according to Flanigan, because the government isn’t likely to be a better steward of that money than would be the billionaires themselves to meaningfully improve overall conditions in society.

“The people who have the most morally urgent needs are not going to be the people who the American government would redistribute those resources to benefit,” she says.

Further, there’s more to be gained from Swift as a billionaire than not—including the boost to both the economy and individuals who benefit when her tour comes to town.

“All of this stuff that Taylor has done for the world is priceless—you can’t put a price tag on how influential and important her work has been to so many people,” notes Flanigan, a self-described Swiftie. “A society that produces billionaires like Taylor Swift is good for everybody.”

Just because it’s possible to become a billionaire doesn’t mean it’s right—and we should be fighting harder to restore “deeply problematic” governments, Robeyns contends. “No matter how amazing a person Taylor Swift is, she shouldn’t be a billionaire because no one should be a billionaire,” she says. “We focus here on an individual, but really the bigger question is: What kind of society do we want?”

The debate between Flanigan and Robeyns was taped live on Tuesday and will be made available by Open to Debate on March 15.


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