Arts Bad Economics
posted by July 26 at 11:54 AMon
This book review has introduced me to a new enemy, the economist Tyler Cowen:
The best sections of [Discover Your Inner Economist], concern tactics for maximizing one’s cultural consumption, or what amounts to imitating Cowen. He lists eight strategies for taking control of one’s reading, which include ruthless skipping around, following one character while ignoring others, and even going directly to the last chapter. Your eighth-grade English teacher would faint. But the principle here is valuing the scarcity of your own time, which people often fail to do. It works for movies, too—Cowen will go to the multiplex and watch parts of three or four movies, rather than just sit through one. Why wait for a highly predictable ending when a fabulous scene might be unfolding in the movie playing next door? Cowen also offers advice for how to defeat the boredom that, despite our best intentions to be culturally literate, overtakes many of us minutes after we enter an art museum. How do we deal with this “scarcity of attention”?I agree that watching the parts of four Hollywood movies is much better than watching just one Hollywood movie. What’s wrong is Cowen’s reason for doing this: scarcity.
Cowen is pushing the idea that you must watch these movies in this way because of the “scarcity of attention.” But that is completely the wrong way of looking at it. One must watch these movies in this way not because of scarcity but because of the abundance of images. But, in the first place, why does Cowen come up with such an idea as “the scarcity of attention”? Not for existential or psychological reasons, but because scarcity is the ground on which his whole economic concept stands.
“The critical economic problem is scarcity,” he says in his book. Like all other capitalist economist, Cowen is ideologically welded to this bad idea of lack and shortages as the key problem. However, scarcity is rarely real but manufactured. There is an abundance of energy in the world. The sun gives it to us daily for free. All this talk about there being not enough energy, food, fuel has been essentially false. And the wars that have been fought to protect the little there is for survival have been false wars—wars whose only truth is that they benefited those who in this or that period of history owned the means of production.
If scarcity was an authentic problem (rather than a fabricated one) then Africa would not be poor.