Column on Protectionist Absurdities

No Foreign Music In America?
Tibor R. Machan
Since some people want to make Americans buy only American farm or other
products, the question is why they don’t advocate keeping out of the
country all those foreign musicians, opera singers, orchestras, bands,
conductors, actors, directors, and all kinds of other non-natives who
peddle their trade and wares on our shores. I recall that, for a while at
least, Canadian universities had a policy of not hiring teachers from
America because, well, there are far more American teachers qualified for
the positions in that country and the graduates there would have had to
compete in a demanding market. But that is just what is the case with many
artists, as well as doctors and scientists–they are taking jobs that
might be taken by Americans.
Of course the idea is obscene. Yet that is just what protectionism
relating to farming or car making or any other profession or industry
amounts to. Globalization means no trade restrictions between countries,
none! The labor or professional market place as well as any other should
be completely free of government interference except when it comes to
explicit, avowed, declared enemies of the country. But don’t even suggest
this to Senators Obama and Clinton!
Anyone who whines about cultural dilution is, of course, way too late–for
centuries on end such dilution has been going on big time. Professor Tyler
Cowen of George Mason University has made this abundantly evident in his
great book, Creative Destruction (Princeton University Press, 2004). He
showed that in no area does purity prevail, none, not in folk music, not
in folk dance, not in cuisine, not anywhere. Indeed, the bulk of artistic
creativity–or, indeed, fashion and style–consists of mixing traditions
and then remixing them and on and on with the process so pervasive that no
one can trace the result to any specific region of the globe, to any
Very sadly often the call for purity is but a disguised form of hateful
prejudice. One of my close relatives who still lives in the country from
which I hail used to whine about how foreign elements are destroying the
country’s artistic and related heritage. Of course, this was but a
disguise because what was really so offensive to this individual was that
there were a good many Jewish professionals, artists, intellectuals, and
educators in the country that some wished belonged to them alone!
Mind you, there is no harm in wanting to be within familiar surroundings
now and then. I recall once my family took a brief trip to the German city
of Augsburg while I was working in Lugano, Switzerland, and as we arrived
in midtown we noticed how tall, like we were, people there are as compared
with folks in Ticino, which is the Italian sector of Switzerland where
Lugano is located. And one of us exclaimed that this was a welcome
feeling, being among people who were tall like us. And why not? Unless one
makes this into some kind of crusade against the not-so-tall, unless one
punishes one’s children for falling in love or wishing to marry such a
not-so-tall individual, there is no harm in the feeling of comfort among
those similar to oneself.
Indeed, in personal relations people quite freely, unapologetically show
preferences like this, based on features in people with which they are
more comfortable than with others. So long as one’s reason and
intelligence kick in and one refuses to extend such mere preferences into
some kind of doctrine of specialness or purity, no harm, no foul.
People who come from Germany may well prefer German music, literature, or
poetry, whereas ones from Poland or Italy or Syria may be drawn, at least
quite often, toward what makes them feel at home. Doing this as a matter
of principle is, of course, nuts–one shuts out a great deal of human
creativity when one sticks one’s head in the sand along these lines. But
settling into familiar surroundings can be a very pleasant experience for
most of us.
And for some of us a more cosmopolitan taste feels better since we come
from various places that are huge cultural, artistic, and architectural
melting pots. Fact is, the world has room for all these varieties of
preferences and likes and so long as they are pursued in a civilized,
peaceful fashion and nothing deep is made of them so that hostilities
strike root, that’s just as things should be.

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