Advocating Against Self-Interest

Posted: March 17, 2010 in Artistry, Corporatism, Debate, Economics

Two areas of endeavor have caught my interest as obvious examples of systems that are broken and in need of fixing. Regarding the first — healthcare — I’ve basically stuck my head in the sand and ignored it, leaving that issue and related debates to others better qualified to coax coherence out of complexity. The second — the recording industry — I’ve blogged about directly and indirectly over time.

As currently practiced in the U.S., the healthcare industry is on a collision course with insolvency. Already, tens of millions of people lack coverage, and those with coverage are either being squeezed by increased premiums accompanied by automatic claim refusals and/or are forced into bankruptcy when a major medical problem arises. The details of healthcare reform change daily, but reform of this particular industry is something that only government can do. Left to their own devices, the inextricably entwined healthcare and insurance industries simply cannot fix themselves while perverse incentives continue to corrupt the services rendered and cause costs to spiral without improvement in outcomes. Yet members of the Tea Party movement advocate against self-interest, seeing in the spectre of government interference an evil worse than, for instance, a total lack of preretirement healthcare benefits. Many of these people are retirees already enjoying the benefits of Medicaid and Medicare. Their intransigence about reform, even if it’s only step 1 in a multistep process, boggles the mind.

In contrast, this article by Miles Raymer in the Chicago Reader is notable for the author’s admission that he has changed his mind about free file sharing, which he now disparagingly calls freeloading. The business model that had served the recording industry for decades, based on intellectual property rights (specificaly, copyright) recognized for centuries, has been wrecked by file sharing made easy by modern technology. “Fine,” thought Raymer (and many others), “we’ll just figure out a different was of making money to support the creative impulse.” Several years into that experiment, he now recognizes new sources of revenue don’t simply spring magically into existence in the wake of the destruction of old ones. Any number of people could have told him that, but I surmise he was only able to learn that lesson the hard way. Until then, he happily advocated against self-interest, willingly giving away the fruits of his labor. Put another way, he embraced the demise of the music industry as the result of file sharing with the rose-hued optimism often called creative destruction.

  1. I see basic health-care and artistic expression as too different for casual comparison, although I realize your comparison are rarely casual ones.
    While I’m aware of the demise of the music business, and troubled by it due to self-interest (both my children are struggling musicians), I naively perhaps think that if people learn to love music enough, the day will dawn when people will pay for it. (Possibly TV is not an apt example here; there was always advertising and still is.) Government support anyone? Look at Europe; many countries there love their musicians.
    I genuinely deplore how business takes advantage of true artists (as opposed to artistically inclined self-promoters) but I will also always see hope for survival if true art is being embraced and appreciated. People’s lives are richer for it and eventually perhaps the artists will find a way to sustain themselves by creating art as opposed to working a cash register by day and composing or performing by night.

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