Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Biased Protectionism

Tibor R. Machan

These days I have to work out regularly, lest I lose my whim and vigor and won’t be able to keep writing and lecturing and otherwise enjoying life and earning a living. So I have a treadmill in my garage, along with a small TV to watch news and even listen to music channels while I struggle to remain fit.
Of course, even during these workouts raw reality is not far from consciousness. Thus I have discovered that one of the least protected crafts in America is classical music.

The TV “Music Choice” channel I like to watch most is called “Light Classical” and wouldn’t you know it, most of the fare offered has been composed and performed outside the United States of America. Composers and performers from around the globe have their works featured 27/7 and by my account it is nearly all highly desirable, entertaining stuff. I won’t even try to list all the artist, with Mozart, Hayden, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and the rest on the top of the list, of course, but hundreds of less well known artist right alongside these stars, nearly all of them from some, you guessed it, foreign country. They have over the decades, centuries, invaded the American artist market and all those neglected domestic musicians have no one to blame but themselves since they failed to built a strong special interest lobby that would have enacted tariffs and duties and other protectionist measures to keep out these darned gatecrashers.

Not that there is no government help for artists--the National Endowment for the Arts and more local government agencies do provide sizable subsidies to various groups of musicians, painters, actors and directors who populate the American art scene. But it is hardly enough! If only all those foreign composers and orchestras were kept out of the country, thousands of American ones might well be featured on, for example, the Music Choice station I watch so diligently and which often inspires me to purchase CDs so I can listen to the works over and over again. (Of course, on the more than 40 music channels, plenty of Americans are represented, sometimes exclusively--in Jazz, Blues, Musicals, Blue Grass, etc.)

While I am one of those who considers it scandalous to keep foreign vendors away from us, to favor domestic automakers and ban other productive people from the American market place, it occurs to me that by American legal traditions, it is actually unlawful to favor some people with protection against competitors while leaving others exposed. (You know, the 14th Amendment and such!)

The American classical music community is, then, a group the government discriminates against big time by its totally open door policy toward foreign classical music artists. And that may be true for other artists, as well, ones who manage to fill the museums and galleries across the country, keeping struggling American artists outside those forums where works would come to the attention to the public, whereby they could make a decent living. Why, for example, should Detroit automakers get special help and thus have their competitive tasks eased while American classical composers and performers are not provided with protection? How about some kind of embargo against all those German and Australian and New Zealander symphony orchestras so that domestic ones can flourish unimpeded by rivalries?

For my money this is all nonsense. In art, science, and much else we live in a world marketplace, a global--indeed, fully globalized--arena where the participants are judged mostly by audiences, viewers, and art buyers, not by some agency of the government that decides whether their contributions will be kept away so that others, mainly the domestic folks, can have a chance. Sadly, however, in other areas, such as farming and car manufacture there is no hesitation about introducing politics and subverting the free exchange of goods and services. Not that the arts don’t participate in that great wealth redistribution feast of the welfare state. But at least protectionism isn’t their main crime.

I submit that nearly all those who favor bailouts and the like forget about this when they carry on about other purchases, such as work in the fine arts, literature, even the movies. (Of course, abroad the same kind of bias is imposed sometimes, as in France where the government limits how much foreign fare can get on TV!) I guess getting used to, let alone admiring, the free flow of all kinds of goods and services is not yet common in the world, not even in our so called free country!

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