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Globalization and Cultural Diversity
May 27, 2003
Tyler Cowen


David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

My name is David Theroux, and I am the President of The Independent Institute. I’m delighted to welcome you to our Independent Policy Forum this evening. As many of you know, the Independent Policy Forum is a regular series of lectures, seminars and debates we hold here at our conference center in Oakland and elsewhere. Our program today is entitled “Globalization and Cultural Diversity: Friends or Foes?” And we are very pleased to have with us as our speaker, the economist and author Tyler Cowen, who is the author of the very important new book from the Princeton University Press, called Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World’s Culture.

As many of you know, the Institute regularly sponsors events like this, and the programs are designed to feature outstanding scholars, policy experts, and authors to discuss major social and economic issues, and this evening is certainly no exception. I also want to take the opportunity to thank Viansa Winery who generously donated the wine that we enjoyed this evening.

For those of you who are new to The Institute, hopefully you picked up a packet when you registered. In it you will find information about The Institute’s program, including our publications. There is also a flyer in there on tonight’s program, and on the bottom of the first page, under Tyler’s photo, you will see information about our upcoming event, which is on June 25th. And that will feature three scholars including our senior fellow Ivan Eland, and the topic that will be discussed is “Preemptive War Strategy: A New U.S. Empire?” So the issue of globalization obviously touches on a lot of different issues.

The Independent Institute is a non-profit public policy research institute. In addition to events like this, we sponsor and publish many books. We produce the quarterly journal, The Independent Review, and this is the current issue, which I also recommend for anyone interested in global issues. The cover article, titled “Why Ireland Boomed,” examines that country’s recent economic development and trade and so forth. You are also welcome to visit our website, You will find many studies and information about our program and new developments. If you don’t receive The Lighthouse, which is our weekly e-mail newsletter, it’s free and you are certainly welcome to do so. You can actually subscribe on the homepage.

One other thing I wanted to mention is that each summer we hold a series of summer seminars for high school students and college students. In your packet, you will also find this brochure, which describes this summer’s programs. We are holding two seminars this coming summer, which will be held the weeks of June 16th to 20th and August 11th to15th. These are Monday through Friday programs, held each morning. They are lively; they are highly informative. We actually have a number of students here tonight who have been to summer seminars, and you can certainly ask their opinion of it. If you have children, or know students who could benefit from an intensive exposure to economics history and related fields, we certainly hope that you can encourage them to apply and enroll. Those who do can receive a one-hour college course credit from Holy Names College, which also co-sponsors the program with The Institute.

For this evening, since 9/11 Americans have been understandably transfixed by world events. But the issue of globalization is hardly a new one. International trade and travel have been intrinsic with human affairs for millennia. But in the modern world, there has been a rapid acceleration of global interaction and exchange. And in recent years, we believe, there has developed a great deal of confusion about the nature and impact of globalization, not only about the impact, but what on earth globalization is. As a result, I would like to make one distinction and sort of just set a little background for tonight’s program.

On the one hand, globalization might be that of the classic example of the invading army who seizes and occupies a territory for various reasons. On the other hand is the concept of globalization where people trade, communicate, and travel peacefully. In other words, the first is based on coercive transnational relations at the behest or the instigation of one party. The second is based on a mutual exchange or agreement among different people.

However, today, one of the questions raised is: Do all parties really benefit? Do they benefit in the latter case, or do some dominate others? As many have been asking: Is globalization resulting in American culture taking over the world? Do countries with open trade policies risk losing their unique cultures to a diet of McDonalds, Levi’s, MTV? Or does globalization simply enlarge a country’s cultural menu, allowing people to choose from a wider variety? Does trade result in cultural decline or does “cultural destruction” allow a high culture of a society to co-exist with other high cultures and with popular culture and enable a richer array of cultures to flower?

We’re very pleased, as I mentioned, to have this evening our speaker Tyler Cowen. Tyler is a Professor of Economics and General Director of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He received his Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly volumes in addition to the one we are featuring tonight.

I’ll also mention this. There is another one of our new books that Tyler is co-editor of, our new book called Market Failure or Success, which we strongly recommend to anyone interested in economic issues, networking, high technology issues, and so forth, and there are copies you can examine upstairs. Tyler’s other books include Public Goods and Market Failure: Explorations in the New Monetary Economics, What Price Fame?, Economic Welfare, The Theory of Market Failure, Markets in the Firm, and In Praise of Commercial Culture. I guess I may have left out one or two there. But his articles have appeared in most major academic journals and elsewhere. I am very pleased to introduce to you Tyler Cowen. [Applause.]

Tyler Cowen
General Director, Mercatus Center, George Mason University
Author, Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Culture
Co-Editor, Market Failure or Success: The New Debate

Tonight’s talk is about free trade, and the main claim is that free trade is beautiful. This, I think, is a somewhat surprising claim. We are used to economists, such as Milton Friedman, telling us that free trade is efficient, that free trade increases our wealth; it brings us more goods and services. We have also had philosophers, such as Tibor Machan, who is with us tonight, tell us that free trade and free exchange are just, moral, the only moral system. And I agree with those arguments.

But it is this third aspect that I wish to play up in my research that really has been the theme of most of what I have written in the last ten years. And that is this claim that free trade is beautiful. And that most of the beauty that we have in our lives—most of the art we consume, buy, enjoy—comes from free trade. It comes from prosperity. It comes from capitalism. It is enabled, encouraged, and stimulated by having a free society.

In particular tonight, I am going to look at this issue of globalization, which I take to mean greater contacts across borders, more migration, more trade, more investment. And in my book, Creative Destruction, I asked the question: Has globalization, or free trade, been beautiful, or has it brought us bad fast food, bad soap operas, and a splitting headache?

So that is my basic question. It goes all the way back to Plato. Plato asked: Are the market economy and aesthetic quality fundamentally allies or enemies? And I think that while it is a complex story, fundamentally they are allies.

I have a pretty simple model in the back of my mind, and that is, take creative human beings and allow them to have more opportunities to trade with each other. My simple model suggests they are going to do some pretty wonderful things. They will manage to trade ideas. They will manage to trade styles. They will exchange technologies. Sometimes one group of people will simply serve as customers for the other group of people.

Consider Claude Monet, the French painter. When he started painting those haystacks that you see in American museums—why do you see so many haystacks in American museums? Well, at that time, a lot of the French art buyers looked down on Claude Monet. They saw the haystacks, and they thought they were ugly. Monet tried to market his art through the government salon in France. He was turned down. He was told he had no talent. He was rejected. He was told to try again. They told him everything possible, except “yes.” So what Monet did, like a clever entrepreneur, was to take his haystack paintings and find someone else who wanted to buy them. He found North Americans. So he sold them to wealthy buyers in this country, and in fact, it was American buyers who helped French Impressionism get a good bit of its start just by supplying the money. We didn’t supply inspiration, technology, ideas. We just supplied the money. So that is an example how free trade brings beauty into our lives.

I have a number of versions of the talk I am giving tonight. The last time I gave this talk it was about the history of classical music. So I played some pieces by Johannes Sebastian Bach. Yes, perhaps the most famous German composer, but when you dissect the style of Bach, you find it’s a free trade style. It is cosmopolitan. It’s synthetic. It’s a mix of French influences—he wrote the French Suites—Italian influences—Vivaldi.

And Bach picked up on Italian music because now there was trade in musical manuscripts. There was the printing press, and trade in these manuscripts. It took ideas from music from Northern France, the Franco-Flemish musics, musics from all around Germany, all around Europe. And in this talk I showed that the music of Bach was again a case of free trade bringing beauty into our lives.

I am giving another version of this talk tomorrow, and that’s about the history of oil painting in the Renaissance. It’s kind of a slide show. We are going to look at Leonardo DiVinci, Mona Lisa, John Van Eycke, Michelangelo. And all of those works, they really became possible because trade networks opened up again in late Medieval times and the Renaissance.

If you think about the Dark Ages and the fall of the Roman Empire, it’s very instructive to see what happened then. People would take bronze statues—Greek bronze statues that today would sell for millions of dollars—and they would melt down these beautiful statues just to get the metal. They destroyed the work of art to get the metal. No new bronze statues were made for centuries. They were melted down. As trade picked up, the world became wealthier. The merchant was an important figure. Businesses grew. Roads and trade networks and cities began to populate Europe once again. We found that the arts suddenly became possible. Instead of melting down statues, for the first time in a while, people were making statues again and selling them to wealthy customers. So this period that we call the Renaissance is yet another example of trade relations, capitalism, markets, prosperity—markets making people’s lives more beautiful, more creative, more interesting.

And if we look at the history of the world, I think we find, as a general pattern with very few exceptions, that when you have a time period when trade is growing and wealth is growing, culture and the arts and beauty are growing as well.

Another great era of globalization is the nineteenth century. When the nineteenth century was in progress, people said at the time (they didn’t use the word “globalization,” but they talked about the same thing) they said, “This is wiping out our culture; we’re all becoming the same. Creativity is at an end.” You heard this in the late eighteenth century. Too much trade, too much commercialization. But what is it that the nineteenth century brought? It brought Dickens. It brought Beethoven. It brought an outpouring of culture in many different areas that really at that time had been without precedent. And again, like the Renaissance, we see the same formula of it being driven by trade, driven by capitalistic enterprise.

When we think about globalization, the most common criticism we hear is that the world is all becoming alike. And I think there is more than a grain of truth to this, but I think it is not looking at the whole picture. So in some ways, yes the world is becoming more alike.

Let’s say that today, you get on a plane and you fly to Germany. If you’re in Germany, today you can buy sushi in Germany. I lived in Germany in 1985, which is not so long ago, and then perhaps you could buy sushi in Berlin, or Frankfort, but it was actually pretty hard to buy sushi in Germany. Now today, it’s fairly easy to buy sushi. You can’t get it in a small village, but you can get it in a lot of places, and in a lot of places it’s pretty good. If you’re in France today, you can get sushi. And if you’re in Germany or you’re in France, and you want to buy reggae music, you can do so.

So yes, in this sense, Germany and France are more alike. They both have sushi. They both have reggae music. They both have Persian carpets. So when people tell you the world is becoming more alike, yes they are correct. But what they are leaving out is that the world is becoming more alike by becoming more commonly diverse. That is, in each of these places, you can choose from a wide variety of things. You can choose from a very diverse menu.

I suggest that the critics of globalization have in mind a collectivist concept of diversity. Their idea of diversity is to think of a line, call it a border, and the people on one side of the line have things that people on the other side of the line don’t have. So their idea of diversity is not having something. And if you think about it, that is a little funny. Because what’s so great about not having something that other people have?

My idea of diversity is not to look at the collectives, but to look at the individuals, and ask yourself, in Germany, in France, in the United States, how many different kinds of goods can you buy? How many different kinds of arts? How many different courses can your life go down? How many different choices does the individual face? How many different stories or fates can you construct for yourself? And that, to me, to look at the individual, the differences that are possible across individuals, that is to me, true diversity. Not this idea that the people across the border have things that you don’t have, because that’s not having something and that’s not my idea of fun. My idea of fun is to have things, or if you don’t have them, at least to have the choice of having them.

If you look at today’s world, more than ever before, people are liberated from what I call, “the tyranny of place.” The tyranny of place occurs when you grow up somewhere, maybe it’s a poor country, maybe it’s a rural area, maybe it’s an inner city, it depends. But you grow up somewhere and you have no choice of leaving. You cannot choose another culture. You cannot choose another language. You cannot get on a plane. You cannot travel. You cannot choose your job. That’s what I call the tyranny of place. Today the world is more liberated from the tyranny of place than ever before. And it has become so liberated precisely because, coming back to our themes, of free trade, globalization, capitalistic markets, and prosperity.

Caribbean Music and Cultural Exchange

Now, I mentioned the last talk I gave was about classical music and Bach. And the next talk I’m giving is about the history of oil painting, so I thought tonight I’d talk about a little about music of the Caribbean and how the music of the Caribbean illustrates just a few of the themes I’m talking about. And keep in mind, this is only one example, and one example, even two examples never prove anything. But I try to show in my book that this one example is pretty general. So if you’d like to see more about the generality, there’s question and answers, but also there’s my book. But I think this one example is a good illustration.

So take the country of Jamaica. Jamaica is obviously a small country. It has a bit more than two million people. In times past, it had fewer. Obviously it’s very close to the United States. To fly to Jamaica from Miami takes maybe an hour and ten minutes—not very long. And furthermore, what is the native language of Jamaica? Well, they say it’s English. It’s not always the English you and I would understand, but it’s English. So if there were ever a classic example of American culture moving in, wiping out local culture, taking over the country, destroying diversity, you would think Jamaica and the Caribbean is really just right for that kind of thing to happen.

And what I did in my book, Creative Destruction, was to look at a bunch of cases where you would think the story of cultural imperialism is true and actually go look at the facts and see what happened. And I find in general, what happens is much closer to the story of how free trade supports beauty.

Now, to turn to Jamaican music. The Jamaican recording industry is pretty young. It dates to the early 1950s. Before the early 1950s, there literally was no Jamaican recording industry. So, talk about having a disadvantage or having an infant industry. The first Jamaican recording studio was started by a guy who sold refrigerators in downtown Kingston, and in his shop, he just started recording musical artists and cutting discs. That was 1951—a guy named Stanley Motta.

I’d like to talk about how reggae music came about, and this will illustrate some of our themes that free trade brings beauty, and also a theme that all culture—it’s not national culture or even regional culture; it’s all global culture—it is all synthetic. It’s all a mix of influences. So let me first play you a bit of a musical cut, just a short bit of it, to give you some idea of what Jamaican traditional music sounded like.

Now, there were several traditional Jamaican musics, they drew heavily from, as you would expect, music of Africa. They also drew from European dance music, the quadrille in particular, and they drew pretty heavily from British sea chanteys and also calypso, from Trinidad. Those were some of the musics that were percolating in Jamaica in the 1940s and ‘50s. But I’ll play you just one of the dance musics, and when you listen to this just keep the rhythm in your mind, because we are going to come back to that rhythm and see how it evolved. [Plays “Linstead Market” (traditional)]

Hear the horn? Hear how everything is on the upbeat and the offbeat? It’s a kind of country music. People would just kind of play it for fun. That was Jamaican music a while ago. And what happens in the 1950s is that American music comes along and it’s integrated into the stew of African influences, Jamaican influences, British influences. People in Jamaica were able to get American radio stations from New Orleans, which was not so far away. Some Jamaicans went to work in the United States. In other cases, Jamaican DJs would use sound systems and play American rhythm and blues. So let me play you an American cut or two. This is the kind of thing the Jamaicans were listening too. Bear with me while I change CDs. [Plays “Gee” by the Crows (1953)]

You like that song? Well, the Jamaicans did too. They loved it. I’ll play you just another bit of one. [Plays “Goodnight Sweetheard, Goodnite,” by Spaniels]

That’s a style, as you know, called doo-wop. It was big in this country, but it also had a huge influence in South Africa and many parts of the world. And now let’s hear what the Jamaicans did. They were just inspired. And keep in mind that original rhythm you heard, the one with the horns, the first cut. [Plays “Du Du Wap” by Chuck Josephs and Dobby Dobson with Aubrey Adams (1961)]

Do you like that one too? Where is that from? It’s from Jamaica. And as you can hear, they took doo-wop but put it to their own rhythms and came up with a new musical form, which later was called ska. And ska was really the beginning of what we call reggae. It was a kind of early rhythm and blues. And you’ll find that some of the early Jamaican styles also drew on rhythm and blues more directly. I’ll play you another cut briefly. This is more bluesy. [“Over the River” by the Jiving Juniors]

And that is free trade. You hear all these musical forms are an exchange of ideas. Just as doo-wop was drawn upon other styles—including gospel music, African music, European music—Jamaican music incorporated American ideas, and it became this blend. Keep in mind, Jamaican music suddenly became very popular. All kinds of record labels sprung up. There were a lot of Jamaican entrepreneurs who made a good deal of money. Artists frequently didn’t get rich, but they earned more than they would have earned otherwise. And Jamaican music started becoming something.

The next thing that happens in Jamaican music is the evolution towards the style we know as reggae. And there were yet further changes. So think about those cuts. Again, everything is on the upbeat and the off beat. And what are the tempos like? They’re pretty fast. They’re pretty propulsive. All ska was propulsive. Reggae comes about when they start slowing down that beat and playing around with it. So I am going to play you a cut or two, the transition from ska to reggae, which now is taking place in the late 1960s. But let me note also, reggae music has always, from the beginning, had a history in the United Kingdom as well, and in London. And it really co-evolved in Jamaica and Great Britain at the same time. So reggae isn’t even strictly only Jamaican music, again it’s an international cosmopolitan art form.

Here’s a Jamaican cut that drew from popular culture. The James Bond movies were a big hit all around the world, and there was one Jamaican artist named Desmond Decker, who was inspired by the Bond movies, and another movie he liked was called Ocean’s 11, which was remade recently with George Clooney, but of course he saw the earlier version, I think, with Frank Sinatra and the so-called Rat Pack. And he decided to cut a song that would narrate a story that was about James Bond and Ocean’s 11, somehow in the same universe, and he took ska and he started slowing down and stretching out that beat. Again, a very entrepreneurial and innovative activity. [“007 (Shanty Town)” by Desmond Decker]

I don’t understand all the lyrics either. So if you don’t, don’t think there’s a problem with your English. Most Jamaicans—it’s like there’s at least two kinds of English they speak: how they speak to each other, and how they’ll speak, say to me. And that song I think is somewhere in between. Desmond Decker started to become a star in Jamaica, but he, along with a lot of other Jamaican musicians, faced an obvious problem. And that problem was that there were only two million plus Jamaicans, and most of them are pretty poor, so it was hard for them to support themselves.

So what they started to do was to look to outside markets. And in about the late 1960s, early ‘70s, it became the case that they were selling more reggae to people in the United States and the United Kingdom than in Jamaica. And ever since then, reggae has really existed for the most part by selling to people in other countries. Just like Claude Monet sold his haystacks to American buyers.

Let me play you one cut. It was the first crossover cut. The first reggae album, if you would you even call it reggae, to sell a million copies. And this is a song called “My Lollipop.” You probably know it. [Plays “My Boy Lollipop” by Millie Small]

So that was “My Boy Lollipop.” And reggae music became even more established on the international scene. There was a song by Desmond Decker called “Israelites,” which I think was the first reggae song ever to hit number one on the American and UK pop charts. And this was the kind of entry that led to Bob Marley becoming an international superstar.

Let me play you this, because now you’ll see the reggae style full-blown, but you’ll also see just how synthetic reggae music is. Two other spiritual influences. One is from Christianity and Judaism. The song is called “The Israelites,” which, of course, is the Middle East. But also it’s about the Rastafarian religion, which inspired a lot of reggae music, and that came from Ethiopia, East Africa. And this now is the full reggae sound, what you’re going to get. [“The Israelites” by Desmond Decker]

That was a huge hit; I think that’s 1968. And now, I bet you think I’m going to play some Bob Marley for you, but I’m not. Because you’ve all heard Bob Marley. [Laughter] But I’ll point out something interesting about Bob Marley. In the middle of his musical career, he ran out of money. So how did he continue his musical career? He came to the United States, and for about two years he worked for General Motors on the assembly line and saved up his money (it’s in the late ‘60s) and then he went back to Jamaica to resume his musical career. Can you imagine that? You’re some guy. You’re working in Detroit. You’re putting together Chevys, and next to you on the assembly line is Bob Marley? [Laughter]

But I think the point is that a commercial society has many aspects that are not directly creative, like the assembly line for General Motors, but nonetheless, in indirect ways, by giving people more choice, more wealth, more opportunity, they will stimulate creative production.

Now, I’d like to go back to one of our original questions and ask: With this relationship between Jamaica, and the United States, and the United Kingdom, whose culture pushed out whose? Which culture dominated? Which was more influential? Did Jamaican culture somehow disappear? Was it swamped by American culture? I think the answer is no. And I think just as American music has influenced Jamaican music, we see Jamaican music has had really a profound impact on American and British music. And let me play you just an example or two, which you may recognize. Here’s a guy who loves to borrow music from other places. In 1971, he heard reggae, and he went to Kingston to record this song with Jamaican musicians. You can hear it right away. [“Mother and Child Reunion” by Paul Simon (1972)]

Hear the rhythm? That’s really a blend of that reggae rhythm with a kind of gospel and doo-wop thrown in. And, of course, that’s Paul Simon. That was right after he split up with Art Garfunkel, and he wanted to go his own way, so he went to Kingston. And that song was a huge hit in the U.S. market, the UK market. Another musician who was very influenced by reggae, someone you’ll also know, I’ll play you another cut. [“C Moon” by Paul McCartney (1972)]

Hear the rhythm, from ska, from reggae. Everything on the off beat. Loping the whole time, the rhythm. That’s Paul and Linda McCartney, of course. 1974. Drawn directly from reggae. Paul’s first reggae song actually was “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” from the Beatles’ White Album. Again, very much a reggae beat. So there’s been a kind of cultural imperialism, where Jamaica has colonized the United States, the United Kingdom. I’ll play you one other example, and I’ll play you a song I think most of you will know. This is a song I grew up with. I didn’t understand it at the time, it made no sense to me when I first heard it as a 16-year old. [“The Tide is High” by Blondie (1981)]

Complete reggae, right? It’s Blondie. The “woo-woo-woo”—it’s the doo-wop. It’s doo-wop filtered through Jamaica, coming back around to Deborah Harry. Now, when I first heard that, I enjoyed it. But I had no idea about what I am about to play you, and you probably don’t know it either. [“The Tide is High” by the Paragons]

Three guesses as to which one came first? That’s the Paragons, from Jamaica. And of course, Deborah Harry of Blondie, she did a direct copy of the song.

It’s also not so well known that rap music, which some of you may regard as a curse—but I like some of it—rap music actually came from Jamaica, and it is not native to the United States. There is a Jamaican style called dancehall, where there’d be a rhythm going, and over the rhythm the DJ would start speaking, what we now call “rapping.” And some of these DJs wanted to find new markets. They came to the Bronx and played parties in New York City—people like Cool Herc—and they started rapping over records, and it became rap. But the very first rappers were Jamaican DJs, and they were importing the style up from Jamaica. And that is, again, an example of culture going back and forth. We find now there’s rap music in Mexico, in France. There’s reggae in Africa. There’s doo-wop and forms of doo-wop all over. And we come back to some of these core truths—that all culture is synthetic, is cosmopolitan, is rooted in trade. That trade brings beauty.

Keep in mind: trade brings some ugliness too. If you think about Paris or Hong Kong, they are maybe the world’s two centers for haute cuisine. They’re also the two cities in the world with the busiest Pizza Hut outlets. So when trade brings you more choice, you’re not going to like all of that choice—just as some of you don’t like rap music. But the point is that we are in a society where you’re not subjected to the tyranny of place. No one feels, Well, I was born into a culture that only has rap music—there is no other kind of music I can buy or listen to.

I recently bought satellite radio for my car. It’s a marvel. I recommend it if you don’t know it. For $10 a month, I get a hundred stations. They’re almost completely commercial-free. There’s a whole station for reggae. A whole station for Latin jazz. A whole station for music of the ‘40s. A hundred stations—every kind of music you can think of, with good DJs—for $10 a month. It’s music from the Internet, music from book and record superstores, really a blinding array of music, so much to make you dizzy. There’s jazz. There’s country. There’s gospel. There’s folk. There’s blues. There’s classical. There’s romantic music. There’s opera. There’s rap. There’s techno. There’s raga. And you could go on and on and on. And the choices of music we have today are just remarkable, and this has all come about because of modern technology, markets and free trade.

So I would just like to close this talk by saying, next time you look at your favorite work of art, or hear your favorite song, or put on your favorite symphony, don’t just think of the art, think of the market, think of free trade. Thank you all for coming. [Applause]

David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

We have plenty of time for questions. No solos, if that’s all right. [Laughter.] Carl has the mic—if you wait for the mic, and also hold it horizontally, and I’ll let Tyler field the questions.

Audience Member #1

A couple of questions. One, obviously you have thought about the intellectual property rights issue. From the perspective that you are coming from, could you tell us a little bit more about what you think about all of that?

Tyler Cowen

Well, as you know, the United States is a significant exporter of culture, and many countries, most notably China, do not always respect our intellectual property rights. So a movie will come out, and within a week, you can buy a copy of it on DVD for a dollar on the streets of China. This, I think, is unfair to the people who made the movie. But that being said, had they had to pay full price, they probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway. So is there really much of a loss to Hollywood? I think in the current moment there’s not, and it hasn’t stopped us from making movies.

The percentage of revenue that comes from the world market has risen steadily over time—now it’s slightly over 50%—so it has not stopped the business model of relying on overseas markets. I do think there is a general cautionary note that we should keep our eye on it and ask countries such as China not to let it get out of hand, and it will become more important as China becomes wealthier. But I am not especially worried about it. I think it is a lot of unfairness, but in practical terms it’s not that big a deal. It’s nothing to get too upset about, at least not at the current moment. So that would be my answer. You had more than one question?

Audience Member #1

Well, I was also kind of thinking about the whole perspective of kind of coming from the left, or from the more kind of cultural preservation/invasion of traditional cultures perspective.

Tyler Cowen

See, I think there are no traditional cultures. Some people now call reggae traditional Jamaican culture, but keep in mind there was not even a Jamaican recording industry before 1951. And when reggae first came along, some of the most bitter opponents of reggae were Jamaicans, especially elder Jamaicans who said, “This is horrible. It’s ruining traditional Jamaican music. Can’t we have our quadrille dance back? What happened to mento? Where has calypso gone?” And now most Jamaicans identify with reggae as a kind of national music.

So what’s a traditional music, what’s not? I think it’s all relative; I think it changes. Every traditional music was, not too long ago, the new upstart on the block. Music is changing all the time. And one thing I do in my book is look at a lot of the so-called traditional musics around the world and show that they have relatively recent origins. They’re the result of trade, the result of contact with other countries, other cultures. And in that sense, they’re not traditional at all. So the best way to preserve things is to let people make a buck selling them, putting them on disc, CD, record, cassette, whatever, and then let the next style come along as well.

Audience Member #2

I’d like to have your thoughts about clashes of culture. For example, all of your records dealt with the male and female being fairly equal. They sang together. They sang about love, and so forth. What happens when it collides with the society in which men and women dancing together are deemed sexually degenerate? That’s the problem with America, for example, or the Western world in the Muslim world. They’re regarded as the great Satan, not because they’re imperialist or exploiters, but because they regard the equality of the genders differently than is regarded in Islamic or fundamentalist Islamic societies. I’d just love to have your thoughts about that.

Tyler Cowen

I think there’s much to what you say. The question is, what is the most likely solution? And I think the most likely solution is more globalization rather than less. But trying to turn the clock back won’t work anyway. And let’s hope those countries, those cultures, those regions, wherever they may be, are willing to adopt what you could broadly call more liberal attitudes.

I’m not suggesting that we should all fall in line with exactly the same attitudes we have in this country. Those may not be ideal either. But I think there is certainly something far better than what they do now. And they could do it if simply they chose too. And if American popular culture gives them the decisive push, I’d say so much the better for American popular culture. So let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Audience Member #3

I have a couple of questions. You used the term “synthetic” tonight and also in your book. I don’t know exactly what you meant by that. And what would its opposite be, as you’re remarking about culture?

Tyler Cowen

When I call culture “synthetic” I mean it’s a blend of many different influences, from different countries, different regions, different styles. So taking reggae, it was kind of Ethiopian ideology, Jamaican religion, British sea chanteys, American doo-wop, native Jamaican rhythms with the offbeat and the upbeat—all those things put together; that’s synthetic. If you had a cultural style that started in one place, and didn’t draw much on trade or outside influences, that would be a kind of monoglot culture. It’s hard to find those. The closest I found in the world of music is the music of the Australian aborigines, which, there is no documentation, of course, but as far as anyone can tell, evolved pretty much on its own. That was the only example of a musical culture I could find that was not synthetic.

Audience Member #4

You talk about marketing and promoting culture and the advantages in doing that, and I think in your book you say something about the disadvantages in doing it too. What would be someone’s motive for not promoting culture or of discouraging it? And who would do that? The private sector? Governments? How?

Tyler Cowen

Some produce culture, art, music, whatever, and they don’t want to promote it that much. One simple reason is that promoting what you’re doing costs money, and the more you spend on marketing and promotion, the harder it is to cover your costs. So in any style or genre, you’ll see a fairly large number of artists that just do their own thing, and they’re pretty content to serve a smaller niche audience. They’re not promoters.

Those people, of course, always have a harder time financially, because, by definition, they’re not selling that much. But still, if we ask the question, what system gives them the best chance of making any living at all? They actually have the best chance under a kind of mass culture which has a marketing network. That if maybe there are 500 buyers for a CD, mass culture enables those 500 people in a way to come together and buy that CD and fund it and get it produced. So in classical music you’ll have a reissue of an historical concert. Maybe 500 or 600 people will buy it. It will turn a tiny profit. But it comes out. So those minority tastes, they’re not marketed, they’re not advertised, there’s no commercial during the Superbowl. But it’s because we have advertising, superstores, highways,, that those niche releases are able to make any money at all.

Audience Member #5

Thank you very much for this presentation. It was just right for today’s weather and everything. In my memories of Jamaican music from my youth, reggae is very, very strongly associated in my mind with marijuana—ganja—and I’m just wondering, since we don’t have free trade in that, what would your comment be on that relationship?

Tyler Cowen

Well, I think Bob Marley in a way has had excessive influence. Remember when I said I am not going to play you any Bob Marley, because all of you know him? I really did that very deliberately. Much as I love Bob Marley, I think it is somewhat over-exposed, and when people think of reggae, they think of Bob Marley. And to me, Bob Marley is not even the best artist in reggae. And he’s only one style. He’s only one image. And Bob Marley very much cultivated this image of being a pot-smoker. But reggae music, as a whole, does not communicate that image. And a lot of reggae is quite anti-violence, anti-gang, pro-traditional values, pro-romance, pro–work ethic, pro–trying-to-get-by-on-a-limited-income, pro-freedom, pro-liberty. So as you’d expect from a large and growing musical form, reggae’s pretty diverse. And I am all for legalizing marijuana, but I think it’s a shame that marijuana and reggae have been so tightly associated, because it’s a link that’s not really there. It’s more Bob Marley.

It’s as if all someone knew of rock music were the Grateful Dead, and they thought all of rock music was like that. Well, some of rock music is, to be sure—and not just the Grateful Dead—but it’s hardly what rock music is about in the broader sense. So I think it’s a question, how this association came about. In part, I think that this country has a lot of pot smokers who wanted some kind of idol, and they picked Bob Marley. And it was good for Bob Marley but, in a way, bad for some of the other Jamaican artists. A good Jamaican artist who has great music and traditional values would be Luciano, if you want to listen to someone for contrast. I don’t think I have any on me, but there’s plenty there.

Audience Member #6

I think we’re being a little bit too glib when we say that all art is synthetic. There are cultures that are isolated from the rest of the world, and there have been many more in the past than there are now, because of the pervasive nature of mass media and mass culture, etc, etc. But there’s a whole squadron of ethnomusicologists who went around the United States for 30 years, from the 1930s through the ‘60s, making recordings of one village in Kentucky that had a specific kind of fiddle-playing, etc., etc., and those evolved apart from the recording industry. Furthermore, it’s also, I think, a little bit too simple to think that music doesn’t count if it isn’t spread by the recording industry.

But finally, I want to take a triumphalist interpretation of your ideas and say that our culture, however synthetic it is from other cultures, is still a very powerful, and a very saleable, and a very dominating culture. And one of my wishes, and I bet a lot of people in the room feel the same way, is that as our media gets more and more penetration into the Muslim world, our values, such as equality for women, will penetrate into that world, and those women will eventually want to shed their funny garments that cover their whole bodies, and break free, and that will be the vanguard for freedom in those cultures, and will destroy the fundamentalist Muslim values that we don’t seem to be able to live with and don’t want to live with.

Tyler Cowen

There are a lot of different issues in what you say. Let me just address one or two. I researched a lot of these different musics, but I commonly found they were much more synthetic than what I had thought. So if you take the Kentucky musics of the 1920s and ‘30s, they typically drew on Scotch tunes, on Irish tunes, on European styles of fiddling, black blues, gospel, sea songs, all these mixed together in a pretty short period of time. And yes, it was before recording, but they were remarkably well-connected musically in many ways. It’s not that they were listening to Beethoven or had rap music on CD. Nonetheless all these styles formed pretty quickly, and they did so with a lot of trade.

I even looked at the pygmies of central Africa who are really awfully remote. There are only 60,000 to 80,000 of them; they live in the deepest darkest jungles of central Africa, Cameroons, and Congo. And it turns out that virtually all pygmy instruments they got by trading with the Bantu, melodies they picked up from other places. Some pygmy songs are based on the melody of “My Darling Clementine,” and so on. Yes, some musics are more or less synthetic, but I found I’ve been surprised time and again just how much music needs trade and borrowing to get off the ground, to flourish, to have new ideas. And it’s more than I had thought when I went into this project.

And in terms of American culture dominating the world, I think in some areas we’re stronger than others. You mentioned Muslim cultures. Most of the music they listen to is not American music. They listen to much more music from Algeria and Egypt, and within the so-called Islamic world, there are lots of complaints of cultural imperialism about Egypt and Algeria, oddly enough. If you go to the Caribbean, the people on the small French islands, they call the Haitians cultural imperialists for exporting their music to Guadeloupe, and so on. Or Indian movies are much more popular in the Middle East than are Hollywood movies. So I think there’s room for American culture to have a positive influence, as you suggest, but I think we’re pretty far from being dominant in that part of the world.

Audience Member #7

I don’t know if you want to get away from the arts, maybe that’s where you’d like to keep this. I see the impact in what you’re saying, and I travel a great deal, and I see the youth looking pretty much alike in any country I got to. They’re all wearing blue jeans, and the girls are cutting them down lower. But there’s a long-range view that I see in here. This diversity is going to change other things that I don’t think people are yet realizing, and that is health care delivery, and the farming industry, of which I have members of my family who are going out of business, because they can’t compete with what diversity is doing to them.

And I fear as I listen to you that this universality of feeling amongst a huge segment of our younger population is going to turn around and bite them right in the butt later on. And an example right now, you can order drugs out of Canada at a fraction of what they cost here, but Canada did none of the research. They rented the formulas from American companies who did it all. They make it up there cheap and sell it back to us, and everybody thinks that’s wonderful. But in the long run, our companies that devised all these things are going out of business. As is health care delivery, which is beginning to decline and become much more mediocre. And the farming industry—I have a member of the family is literally going out of business. He can’t even make ends meet.

So I think what you’re saying is interesting. I fear what the long-range implications of this diversity are going to do to this country. I don’t think it will be good.

Tyler Cowen

There are many issues in there beyond the scope of my topic, but I will predict that the price of drugs in Canada goes up. [Laughter] Tibor?

Tibor Machan

I want you to help me resolve a dispute between the Bartok fans and the Liszt fans. [Laughter]

Tyler Cowen

Which are you?

Tibor Machan

I actually have more sympathy with Liszt, but Liszt is always being dissed for having corrupted genuine Hungarian music, and how he made it into a Viennese entertainment medium. And whereas Bartok went to the people and extracted the true-blue Hungarian musicality, and so on. What do you think about this? I assume you have had some connection with this debate, so I’m wondering what you think about this?

Tyler Cowen

I’m a fan of both composers, but Liszt actually was the precursor of Bartok in this respect. The 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies really were taken pretty directly from Hungarian folk tunes, and Bartok knew this, and that’s what inspired him to do his work. So I think one can side with both and give Liszt the credit for having gone there first.

Liszt was a more encompassing synthesizer. German music, French music, Italian music, all the transcriptions—Austrian music. He brought so many different things together—church music, choral music, organ music. He had a broader reach, a broader vision than Bartok did. He was, in a way, more European, I think, and less Hungarian. But I think no less authentic in terms of what he did.

And keep in mind, those Hungarian folk tunes themselves came from blends of different cultures in Hungary and Eastern Europe, and they themselves have many different sources and they were evolving all the time.

Tibor Machan

So in your view, Bartok wasn’t the purist that some people make him out to be?

Tyler Cowen

Absolutely not. Quite the contrary. Andrew?

Audience Member #8

Thanks for the talk. I think you raised a lot of interesting questions, as have some of the speakers. It seems like for every good example where two cultures come together harmoniously, there are also as many equally good examples of where cultures have come together and one culture has been destroyed.

I think one of the best examples, and probably parallel here, is the case of Native American languages, where there are many Native American languages that have been wiped out of existence or that only a handful of people are speaking. And so I wondered if it raises the possibility of whether the underlying principle is not necessarily that free trade brings beauty, but that free trade can always create a larger market for a single homogenized good, but often at the expense of one of the goods. And in the case of the Native American languages, obviously Native American languages were lost when they competed against the English language.

In the case of reggae, we lost aboriginal Jamaican music (there was enough of a market to keep kind of original American music), but we created a larger market for reggae. And so I think maybe we should change the question about globalization and cultural diversity—whether that’s good or bad—to a question which I think is probably more appropriate. Given your initial thesis, is the loss of indigenous culture—and maybe that’s first-order indigenous culture, or maybe it’s second- or third- or fourth- or n-order indigenous culture—is that a good or a bad thing?

Tyler Cowen

You raise many issues. [Laughter.] I think there are many more examples of gain through cultural trade than of loss. Consider a very gross comparison. Take the world in 1450 and take the world today. There are a whole set of ways in which today’s world offers you more. Those are obvious. There are I would say a smaller number of ways in which the world in 1450 was more diverse. You had more languages, you had more indigenous cultures. But if you look at how much people were able to enjoy those forms of diversity, it’s extremely limited. You have really just about everyone, except the European aristocracy, living under the tyranny of place, having very little choice, really, a pretty poverty-stricken menu of cultural consumption.

We’ve moved from the world of 1450 to the world of today. No one would deny that things are lost, but I think there’s been much more gained. And I would say as a general principal that preservation improves as we get as wealthy societies. Poor societies didn’t have musical notation, they didn’t preserve their artworks. African artworks would rot or ruin or be lost to climate. More people today know Shakespeare and Mozart and the Bible than ever before. So your best chance of preserving the past over time, or taking advantage of it at any point in time, is to have this growth, have this trade, have a market in preservation. And that will mean letting some things perish. But I think when you look at the balance sheet, it’s not an even scale, but there’s really a preponderance of creativity, choice, freedom, on the side of the modern world and trade.

David Theroux

If I could interject one other point as further evidence of what Tyler is saying, is the fact that most Native American tribes were obviously victims by a campaign to eradicate many tribes, including the culture. It wasn’t just that the U.S. Army went after many different tribes, but once the tribe surrendered, the children were put into Anglicized schools to obliterate their culture. In fact, in many instances it was against the law to speak the native language or to wear costumes that were traditional to those tribes. And it’s not just true in the U.S., it’s true in many other places too. So the fact that it was felt necessary to use coercion to obliterate these cultures was an indication that without obliteration, the cultures might thrive.

Tyler Cowen

The other thing to keep in mind with the American Indian was how much of the American Indian visual arts is pretty recent. Those huge totem poles in the Northwest do not pre-date the nineteenth century. It is because the Indians of the Northwest traded furs with the settlers, and they became wealthier, that they built all those things, and they needed metal carving knives. Or the crayon drawings of the Plains Indians, or a lot of the basket weaving techniques. You find examples again and again of cultures blossoming—even under difficult conditions where there’s extermination and horrible things that none of us would endorse—by having some kind of exchange with other cultures. And the things we admire in those cultures very commonly do not pre-date that period of exchange.

Now you raised the case of languages. I do think language is an example where there’s no doubt we will have fewer languages than we used to. It’s already happening. I am not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but we should keep in mind, as more people write and speak English, Spanish, Chinese, French, other major languages, it means they can read the world’s literature, they have access to the world’s Internet, access to the world’s cultural treasures. They can listen to other people and speak to other people in ways they never could have before. So to me, it’s not obvious that it’s a bad thing. I don’t know how many languages the world should have. Maybe we’ll end up with too few. But I don’t think that more languages per se is a good thing either.

Audience Member #9

It’s interesting that in all of this discussion, you haven’t mentioned nature once. And I wonder if you could comment on the effect of free trade on natural beauty and bio-diversity, because I think a lot of us can think of examples where free trade has enormously accelerated the loss of bio-diversity and the loss of natural beauty.

Tyler Cowen

I am not an environmentalist. It’s my general sense as an economist that we do not define property rights in nature well enough, and that there is a serious problem that is real and out there. But if you’re asking me exactly how to solve it, I would just have to tell you I don’t know. I have never studied it, I’ve never written on it. The burden of world culture exhausts me as it is. I think you raise a good point. I think other people should work on it. I don’t mean to be pollyannaish about all problems. I think that’s a real one.

David Theroux

Actually, the economists Gary Libecap and Lee Alston have been applying this approach to the rainforests in Brazil.

Tyler Cowen

I don’t even know about this project, but I’m told that Gary Libecap and Lee Alston are writing on this. They’re good economists, so it might be worth looking at.

Audience Member #10

The gentleman made a comment about Muslim culture, and the problem that I see is that we export cultural artifacts. We don’t export the values that are behind those cultural artifacts. So consequently, conservative Muslims would see men and women dancing together and confuse liberty with license. Since they have none, that’s what they are afraid of, because they don’t realize that with liberty comes responsibility.

But again, when we export songs, or musical forms, or artworks, it’s an artifact, it’s a thing. And the culture behind that artifact, blue jeans, record players, video cameras, all these things are things. What created them? What caused them to be created? And that’s what we can’t export. We can only export the things. The values we have to teach. And hopefully Dallas was popular abroad not because JR was a good guy, but because here you had people living in wealth that was natural. There was an Elia Kazan movie [“America, America” (1963)] in which there’s a young Greek boy at the dock, calling out to the American freighter, “America! America!” hoping that they would take him to America. This dream of a better life—without even knowing what it involved, he wanted to go. But he was looking for a value more than a thing—of what we export are things.

Tyler Cowen

I’m not sure how values will evolve in the Middle East or even if there’s any single answer to that question. I know some people make the following argument. They say terrorism has grown because it’s losing the battle; it’s a kind of desperate rear-guard action. I’m not sure that’s true, but I don’t think we can dismiss that possibility either.

Audience Member #10

It wasn’t just Muslim. It was the whole concept of wherever American culture goes.

Tyler Cowen

Yes. But if we look around the world and we ask, have markets spread? The answer is yes. If we ask, has democracy spread? The answer is yes. Have the people who’ve adopted those systems been better off? Well, for the most part. It’s been a rocky road in some places, but, basically, yes. So given its spread and given that it works better than what was before, why not have a kind of prima facie blind optimism that it will continue to spread and things will go pretty well? I am not convinced that’s true, but I think there’s a lot to be said for this prima facie blind optimism that there are gains from trade, and they’ll be realized, and better systems have a pretty big advantage. And the more globalized the world, the more obvious people can see. East Germany/West Germany: once the people in East Berlin started getting TV, in a way, it was all over.

Audience Member #11

Well, actually there is quite a bit of cross-culturalism between the Middle Eastern, European, and American countries. For instance, Sting’s song, “Desert Rose,” is very Arabic. There are a lot of Muslim people who’ve brought their music to France, and so the whole groove thing. I mean, why focus on a place like Saudi Arabia that is, obviously, very conservative, but Turkey, Algeria, and Morocco are quite—

Tyler Cowen

Pretty open, yes.

Audience Member #11

Yes. And with dancing between men and women. So to point fingers seems kind of silly.

David Theroux

If I could add one little point to that. It’s also interesting, I think, to look at the history of Western civilization, and the influence that Islamic society had on European society. Because after the fall of the Roman Empire, there was a great deal of intolerance throughout Europe, and, of course, most people lived in incredibly depraved situations. And, as Tyler was mentioning, Greek bronzes would be melted down, and so on and so forth, because of the destitution of the people. And it was the Arabic world that maintained the manuscripts of Greece and Egypt and elsewhere, and then brought them back to Europe through Spain, and as well as bringing mathematics, architecture, and many other aspects.

And for much of the history of the Arab world, the Arab world was more tolerant of different cultures than was much of Christian Europe, especially for Jews and others, who were mistreated, as everyone knows, enormously in European societies. But in much of the Arab world, they were not. So, the difference here is that to create tolerance, trade, I think, has an enormous track record of creating ways for people to share ideas.

Audience Member #12

I was a little bit surprised that you brought all of these folk songs from these various people, because when we talk about music, it’s relatively primitive music. I mean, no question about it. I am surprised that you have not mentioned what happened in Central Europe in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, creating all this music, which we now play all over the world, and which was played in America, even during the wars. I mean, that is a cultural impact the like I have not see in any other thing, except perhaps for some painting. But I would like to hear a little bit how you put that together with those relatively simply simplistic folk songs.

Tyler Cowen

Well, I think I mentioned, last time I gave the talk it was about Bach, Mozart and Haydn. Haydn made it by travelling to London and selling his music there. Mozart traveled all around Europe. Bach drew on multiple influences. Beethoven sold music all around Europe, toured Europe, went to England, and so on. Liszt was a European composer above all, Chopin the same. I could go on about that for six or seven hours or more.

I think I own about 4,000 classical CDs and about a thousand LPs. So I have about 20 different talks I could give on that topic. But I felt like doing something different tonight, and that being said, I don’t think modern musics are more primitive than those musics. I think what’s primitive in a music is a very tricky question. If you’re asking, could Bob Marley write a fugue? Well no, not a very good one, at least. But does Jamaican music or British pop music have kinds of sophistication in the studio, or with rhythms, that classical music did not have? Absolutely. Or take the classical music of India.

It has really no harmony, but in terms of rhythm and melody, in many regards, it’s far more sophisticated than European classical music. With microtones, it has access to so many more sounds than did Beethoven. So if we compare those two musics, which is more sophisticated, which is more primitive? If we are going to rank them, arguable the European is more primitive. My view is that all these genres are different.

There’s good and bad within each genre, but the excellent works within a genre really will stand the test of time and be sophisticated in their own way. And the great thing about the modern world is that we don’t have to decide which is better. We can each choose and buy what we want, listen to what we want. But I am a great lover of classical music, I have a lot to say about it, and if you look at my music library, it’s 75 percent of what I own, I’d say. So, I mean, that’s a great period of time, and maybe it never has been topped, but I think the story doesn’t end there either. [Applause]

Audience Member #13

As far as I know, your general argument about culture being snycretic and the product of collision of other cultures is absolutely on the beam, and supported by almost all the evidence from a great variety of arts and music. But I think you may be a little too optimistic, and possibly also preaching to the choir here, as though the policy options before us would either have completely free trade in everything, or to have completely restricted trade where we can only listen to music made in our neighborhood.

And I think it’s worth pointing out some asymmetries that always occur in these exchanges. The American music that was being created and sent to Jamaica for the Jamaicans to react to as they pleased, wasn’t made with anything in mind. With no conception in mind than: here’s a song that’s really going to sell well to the two million people in Jamaica who can’t put two nickels together. It was made to appeal to an American audience, and it turned out to speak to Jamaicans in the way it did. Conversely, a lot of Latin American music that came to American had the corners knocked off it, in some people’s view, was possibly improved, in other people’s view, so that it could be heard by Americans, because it was just too far away. I’m thinking of Bossa Nova, which is kind of a vanilla version of the real Brazilian popular music at the time. If I were giving your talk, I would have used Brazilian music, and told essentially the same story that you did.

Tyler Cowen


Audience Member #13

I mean all of this is true. Chinese export porcelain to Europe its very highly thought of and collected in museums. Black velvet paintings in Mexican souvenir shops are not so highly thought of, and I don’t think people would say have contributed much to the culture on either side of the border. And the asymmetry between the size of the consuming and the receiving cultures, and these trades, makes a lot of difference in whether it really works out as well as it might. I mean, it might be right for the French to be constantly pushing back against American musical intrusion, but we hope they wouldn’t completely succeed. But maybe it ought to be a little bit harder for this stuff to get across.

I’m sorry for making a speech, but I do want to put a question to you. You said that the satellite that you can get in your car now has this wonderful variety, that you can listen to all these different kinds of classical and popular music. I used to be able to listen to a wonderful variety of classical, popular rock, jazz, and everything else on the radio, and now I can’t. In fact, I live a city that has no real classical music radio station. It’s kind of elevator music classical and that’s it.

Why do you think the variety that you now get on the satellite will be stable and persistent when it has disappeared from the airwaves under the administration of Clear Channel and the kind of natural evolution of that market and all the other media?

Tyler Cowen

There’s a lot in there. Let’s start at the end. Consumption of classical music had a huge boost when the CD started being used. So people bought more classical music. It’s dipped in the last few years, but there was a good 10 or 15 year streak where there was a huge boom in classical music. And if it’s fallen, it’s because a lot of the core listeners have built their core library. It’s not that they’re unhappy, it’s that they’re happy. They have more than they can listen to.

So if we ask, is classical music listening been in a bad way? I think it’s exactly the opposite. If you look at what you can get on for $6 or $7, and often excellent versions, as well as many other labels, what you can download from the Internet, what you have access to in other ways, overall access has gone up.

Now, why has classical music vanished from the radio? I think, overall, radio has moved a bit more towards mass tastes in a number of ways, and that is exactly what’s set in motion the incentive for there to be satellite radio. And the reason I think we can be more optimistic about future technologies, be it Internet radio, satellite radio, wireless, whatever they think up next (we can’t even imagine it right now), is simply because technology is lower in costs, and as you lower costs, you need fewer listeners to support a given market, and over time, you ought to have more choice of classical music. And I think it’s what we’re seeing. You know, go to Best Buy. Get satellite radio. Get XM, it’s great. And furthermore, the sound quality is much, much better than old radio. It makes old radio sound primitive. It’s like listening to a CD in your home. And for classical music, sound quality is very important. So I’d say on that, we can all really cheer up. And satellite radio is just getting started. We don’t know where it will go, of course, but I think there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic. And in any case, it’s great now, and here we are now.

In terms of asymmetry, I do think it’s important how many of the buyers are from America, Jamaica and so on, but I don’t think there’s a simple formula. If you look at reggae, the tipping point comes in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, when more than half of the buyers start being U.S. and UK. And it doesn’t mean the death of reggae by any means. Reggae is still alive and well. Maybe now we call it dancehall. It’s changed. But it’s not less Jamaican.

If you look at early Cuban music often the main patrons of that were North Americans or Europeans. And there was a lot of junk but there was a lot of great Cuban music. And that’s coming back again with this Buena Vista Social Club album and extensions of that, and again, a lot of it’s pretty good.

So I think you can have quite an asymmetry, and sure, a lot of times it doesn’t work out. You get a kind of bland pap. But a lot of times you get some pretty excellent stuff. And I think, over time, if the artists have access to the market and can experiment, a lot of the good ones will find their way. And again, I’m cautiously optimistic, but optimistic, because I have seen in the past plenty of cases of a gross asymmetry, and you still get a pretty wonderful revolution.

If you look at Persian carpets, the buyers for those were 99 percent foreign, and those were fantastic. There was a complete asymmetry, and I think they’re great, classic Persian carpets. I think there’s one more question in the back? Yes, this gentleman?

Audience Member #14

You commented earlier that there were people who said there’s too much commercialism and it’s destroying culture. Who are two or three of these maybe mainstream and/or prominent people that doubted you? Can you name off the top of your head?

Tyler Cowen

On the left wing read Benjamin Barber, on the right wing read Alan Bloom. There’s also a book by Arthur Herman called The Idea of Decline in Western History that surveys the literature. There’s a book by Oliver Bennett called Cultural Pessimism. There’s the Frankfurt School on the left, and my own book In Praise of Commercial Culture that surveys the whole field. But overall, I think there are a lot more cultural pessimists than optimists. I’m a natural contrarian, and I’m also a natural optimist. So the two work together in this case. Anyway, thank you all for coming. [Applause.] If you want to know what any of the music was you can either ask or email me afterwards. It’s welcome.

David Theroux

Thank you very much, Tyler. I want to remind everyone that copies of Tyler’s book are upstairs, and I want to thank you for joining us tonight. For those of you who have not picked up a copy of Tyler’s book, they are available upstairs. Tyler would be happy to autograph copies. We hope to see you at our next Independent Policy Forum scheduled for June 25, 2003, entitled ‘Preemptive War Strategy’. Thank you and good night.


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