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How About A Good Soviet Symphony or Maoist Musical!

Here’s a letter to Salon:

Jesse Myerson’s plea for communism is a torrent of historical errors and twisted reasoning (“Why you’re wrong about communism: 7 huge misconceptions about it (and capitalism),” Feb. 2).  Here’s just one instance.  Suggesting that art under communism would be better than under capitalism, he asserts that “most of the greatest art under capitalism has always come from people who are oppressed and alienated (see: the blues, jazz, rock & roll, and hip-hop).”

Overlook the questionable claim that most great artists under capitalism were oppressed and alienated.  (Were Lennon and McCartney, Berry Gordy, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, and Andy Warhol truly “oppressed and alienated”?  How about Jackson Pollock?  Thomas Hardy?  Ernest Hemingway?  Lawrence Olivier?  Raymond Loewy?)  Focus instead on the critical reality that, in fact, there are countless great artists, and Niagaras of profound art, produced under capitalism.  The same cannot be said for communism.

The reason is simple.  Capitalism supplies artists not only with abundant materials and media for producing and sharing their works, but also with the freedom and personal space for them to create.  In stark contrast, communism necessarily prohibits would-be artists from pursuing their muses.  All means of production under communism are owned by the state, and, hence, remain off-limits to artists whose individual plans do not mesh with the central plan.  The nature of a central plan requires that the state regiment each individual to his or her assigned part in that plan.  You can’t have a working central plan if everyone is free to choose his or her own job or free to produce whatever he or she fancies.  If a longshoreman under communism wants instead to work full-time as a poet, too bad.  He can’t.  And if one of the state’s official poets wants to criticize the regime, too bad.  She can’t – unless, of course, she’s prepared to be executed.

It’s astonishing that Mr. Myerson is blind to this reality

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

This point is worth emphasizing: Under communism, artists who are oppressed and alienated from the ruling elite are either silenced or slaughtered; under capitalism, by contrast – and by Myerson’s own admission (!) – many such artists thrive, professionally and financially, and become celebrated legends.

I thank George White for the link to Myerson’s article.  And I remind readers that my colleague Tyler Cowen – especially in his books In Praise of Commercial Culture (1998) and Creative Destruction (2002) – utterly demolishes claims that capitalist and commercial economies and culture discourage good art.  Quite the opposite is true of capitalist society.