Monday, March 23, 2009

The business of America is...what?

John Mellencamp wrote a piece for HuffPo (yeah, that John Mellencamp), that is interesting but, I think, fundamentally off-base. I'd suggest that you read the whole thing, but the one portion that stands out for me is the following:

These days, some people suggest that it is up to the artist to create avenues to sell the music of his own creation. In today's environment, is it realistic to expect someone to be a songwriter, recording artist, record company and the P.T. Barnum, so to speak, of his own career? Of course not. I've always found it amusing that a few people who have never made a record or written a song seem to know so much more about what an artist should be doing than the artist himself. If these pundits know so much, I'd suggest that make [sic] their own records and just leave us out of it.

I understand what Melencamp is saying here, but I think it is also important to recognize that artists and the record companies that supported them (parasitically fed off of them?) both benefitted from the same anachronism. In the past, the ability to play a song when you wanted to play it meant owning a tactile product (Record, CD, etc.). This created a scarcity since this required actually manufacturing something. Today, with digital music, there is no scarcity. Producers thought they were selling music...they were really selling plastic. The music itself, it seems is worth, in money terms, less (which is why, I believe, there is so much unrepentent music "sharing"). The problems is in the selling of it.

I can see that this position would be patently offensive to many. But among the many psychological distortions created when you view the world through a lassiez-faire perspective is that the only way of expressing worth is through something's value in money. But there is real value in time spent helping kids learn to read. There is value in providing pro-bono legal services to homeless veterans. The fact that our version of the capitalist system deems these projects not as valuable as a facelift and tummy tuck should not mean that they are actually worth less.

Now, this is a political website, not a cultural one. And as far as I am concerned, the problem isn't even capitalism. The problem is with an economic philosophy that believes "constant insecurity is what opens up the possibility of genuine happiness". I think economic security, vis-a-vis a more robust safety net, would allow us to survive with less, be more creative, sell less music, perform more music cheaply, but ultimately, and this is most important, be happier.

I think am correct about this. I may be wrong. I'd suggest anyone who disagrees provide me with the data that proves me wrong.

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