William Watson: Baby, she was born to ride—and that’s just fine
The boss’s daughter is an equestrian. She rides show horses. So what, you may think, many equestrians are bosses’ daughters. That’s the way the world works. Horses cost.
So let me re-phrase: The Boss’s daughter is an equestrian.
The Boss, of course, is Bruce Springsteen, balladeer of America’s dispossessed, many of whom, if the polls are accurate, are so completely alienated these days they’re voting for Donald Trump, whose daughters certainly could have ridden horses if they wanted to. I learned this Springsteen fact in a cover story in this month’s Vanity Fair coinciding with publication of Born to Run, Springsteen’s new autobiography. The Boss’s daughter, Jessica, is a competitive equestrian who participates in show-jumping events, which are regularly attended by Springsteen and her mother, longtime E-Street Band member Patti Scialfa.
The last time I remember hearing about a female equestrian, outside the Olympics at least, was when Hayley Barbour, former head of the Republican national committee, said that going into the 2012 Republican convention one of the problems Republican nominee Mitt Romney had to address was that he was perceived as a “plutocrat married to a known equestrian.” I liked that line so much—“known equestrian”—I quoted it in my 2015 book, The Inequality Trap.
Learning that Bruce Springsteen’s daughter does competitive show-jumping opens up all sorts of cheap-shot opportunities, none of which I want to take advantage of. I’m not an animal-rights fanatic. Show-jumping is a perfectly respectable activity. It does tend to be associated with bankers, brokers and such but it obviously is and should be open to anyone with the time and money to pursue it. Bruce Springsteen has written lots of great songs since the early 1970s. He should and does own the property rights to them. It’s not a crime that he has made lots of royalties from them: we pro-market types think a fair reward for creativity is just about the farthest thing from a crime. I don’t doubt he’s generous with his money. He gives free concerts for various causes. And they are—and I say this as someone who has attended one or two—famously great concerts.
If Bruce Springsteen’s daughter wants to pursue show jumping and if her father wants to use some of his honestly-earned money to help her out and also go watch her compete (though I don’t know for a fact who is financing Jessica’s equestrian pursuits), that’s all perfectly fine.
I haven’t read Springsteen’s new book, though I probably will, but the Vanity Fair piece suggests his origins were very humble. (In fact, it calls them “dead-end” and “near feudal.” Ironically, his hometown had the quintessentially libertarian name of Freehold, New Jersey.) His father held various jobs, including factory jobs of the kind Springsteen often sings about. His mother was a legal secretary who came from a relatively wealthy family. Economically, the couple were not a great success—so much so that in 1969 his parents gave up on the East Coast and moved to California to start over, leaving Bruce and his sister, neither yet 20, behind in New Jersey.
What’s my point? Social mobility happens. Springsteen’s mother moved down economically as a result of her marriage to Springsteen’s father, who himself seems not to have moved up or down very much in his life, having started out low and bumped along an income floor. Their son, Bruce, clearly has moved very high up: He’s on the cover of Vanity Fair and dozens of other magazines; he performs to sold-out audiences around the world; and his songs sell in the millions if not billions of copies—albeit in an industry in which it’s harder and harder for creators to appropriate benefits from their creations.
If, like most fathers, Springsteen wants to help his daughter pursue her interests, however rarefied, more power to him. If people earn their money fair and square, as he certainly has; if they pay their taxes, as he probably does; and if they are alert to and help the less-fortunate members of their community, as he seems to, then good for him, good for her, good for the horses, good for everybody.
All that said, Springsteen’s success may well have increased inequality in America. A person shooting to the top of his chosen work often has that effect. Well, if nobody has done anything wrong in the process, what of it?
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