Associate Professor, Ph.D., The Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Market for Ideas, România
Free market economics is a strong intellectual candidate to be the best friend of culture since they both deal with “freedom of expression” (of subjective values), with “heritage” (equivalent to capital, as a means to replenish the stock of cultural assets) and with “tradition” (equivalent to sustainability/perpetuity). The crux in all this: the property rights.
Metaphorically speaking, culture somehow resembles “light”: it is a wave, a vibration of spirit, and a particle, a part of the material. Culture makes the spiritual vibrate in physical forms, be they our bodies, with our minds, hearts, and limbs, or the things we take from nature and we transform in order to help us give shape to our messages. Culture means the visual drawn in the painted and sculpted stances, towers or monuments, the piano and the violin exhausted for their melodies and rhythms, the dance conducted in assorted outfits, the line pronounced in the comedy that hides our dramas, the letter made by ink on the paper of our book and the pixels on the screen of our e-reader, film roll, painted pot. Culture is liberty, and as such, it is also about the property. Only when and where ownership rights are properly definable, defendable and divestible, can societies orderly provide for the true cultural needs?
If every type of economic good and service is better provided in the environment of the freedom of production, trade, and consumption (the only way in which the utility of everyone in the value chain can be maximized, as opposed to centralized and coercive planning) when it comes to cultural things this line of reasoning gets even stronger. The State’s (cultural) “protectionism” eventually makes us acquire goods and services that are slightly more expensive and less qualitative than we may get in a context of free trading; the State’s (cultural) “providentialism” redistributes the cultural purchasing power in society. If it does these for common, ordinary goods, it does not seem to hinder us as much as when it does so to compress, repress, suppress the expression of spiritual values. They do not have a “substitute”. They are either those we do care for and share with our fellows, or nothing at all.
No cultural “policy” or “police” can efficiently take away from us our intimate beliefs and whims. The spiritual domain cannot be conquered; corruption or torture only target its exteriorization, preventing or slowing down its communication or regeneration. However, the “siege” on the material means of spiritual expression hampers the transmission of the true cultural values across generations: if our grandparents and parents cannot be spiritually reset too easily, the very fact that they are blocked from completely and correctly transmitting their cultural signals (as bodily and extrabodily belongings are forbidden to be used in the creation of such signals) is enough for witnessing/experiencing a cultural distortion. The not so remote communist “cultural revolutions” tragically illustrate this. The same as in “culture-building”, in “culture-breaking” one does not need to control minds. It suffices to control critical means.
Property rights are critical also in the transmission of culture and its imprinted goods: the usurpation of their possession, usage, disposition, and usufruct destroys the heritage of representations and relations caught in the tangible assets. Socialism monopolized the material means of culture (i.e. while ensuring that the privately-owned typewriters do not type dangerous words). As for the human production factor, even if un-expropriable, it was subject to socialization therapies (i.e. in both propaganda and prisons). Definitely, capitalism has its cultural misdeeds. But they are surpassed by a stronger asset: it offers the most coherent competitive-cooperative proprietary infrastructure for culture. The democratic rule of law must only protect it. And the minimal state should nowhere else be as much praised as here. Still, too often, namely the cultural creators, naively or cynically, call the State in to intervene.
Note – An extended argument on this topic, in Jora, O.D. (2017). Cultural Goods and Cultural Welfare. Some Praxeological and Proprietarian Notes. The Market for Ideas 4, March-April, pp. 6-13 (available here).