Column on Biased Protectionism

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 24/7 and by my
account it is nearly all highly desirable, entertaining stuff. I won’t
even try to list all the artist, with Mozart, Haydn, 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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