In his post about free speech on campus arguments, Scott mentions the tangential issue of exactly how much celebrity speakers at commencements and other university events are getting paid for casting their pearls before students, parents, alumni, etc.
The University of Colorado holds what I can only hope is some sort of record in this regard, although this is a rare case in which absurdly reckless spending on campus can’t be laid at the doorstep of university administrators per se. CU-Boulder has an extraordinarily well-funded
student government (essentially all the money comes from student fees, above and beyond tuition). I became aware of this after almost literally running into Kofi Annan a few years ago at the bar of a swank Boulder hotel (I was there for a law school event), as both of us strove to order gin and tonics and help bring about world peace.
I was curious as to how much it was costing the student government (annual budget at that time: $33 million) to bring Annan to campus, where his official duties were limited to giving one 50-minute speech. Inquiries revealed the answer was $160,000, with $100,000 of that representing his speaking fee, and the rest travel expenses for himself and his retinue. I was shocked enough by this figure to inquire further, only to discover this wasn’t a one-off event: in the previous two years the student government had paid the same $100,000 speaking fee to Rudy Giuliani and B.B. King.
Anyway, five-and six (!)-figure speaking fees for the sorts of minor celebrities who speak at commencements etc., are indeed, as Scott notes, part of a complacent racket by which the elites celebrate their wonderfulness through pecuniary gestures that grow increasingly grotesque.
Update: A commenter links to a story revealing that between leaving the White House and July 2012, Bill Clinton had received $89 million in speaking fees (a figure which by this point has almost certainly hit nine figures, as he made $13.4 million from speaking fees in 2011 alone). Over that time Clinton’s average speaking fee was $189,000, with a high of $750,000 for a speech in Hong Kong to Ericcson.