Friday, September 07, 2012

Oh Shit, There's A Horse In The Hospital

Today I read a piece by Matthew Yglesias on, in which Yglesias asserts that countries that prioritize the export of their music and artistic culture are gaining on the US.  Admittedly, it's kind of off-the-cuff and jokey, but nonetheless, an interesting topic to discuss (though, admittedly, it's difficult to argue with somebody who makes half his points in jest and half in seriousness).  He specifically cites Sweden and Canada, and mentions their active efforts to promote their music internally and abroad through subsidy, support, and health care.  He makes no real analysis of changes in international market share over time, so I can't really treat it as a comparative argument per se.

Here's an excerpt:

I assume things like true single-payer universal health care systems are good for the music sector. Here in the US, if you decide to work part-time at a proper job in order to have more time to devote to artistic pursuits then not only do you have to get by on a low income (which happens everywhere) you're going to find it extremely difficult to get proper health insurance. That's simply a huge risk to be taking for your life, since if you happen to develop a serious illness you'll then be unable to get coverage for it in the future even if you abandon your aspirations in favor of a more traditional career. A band in Canada or Sweden doesn't have that problem.

My problem is not with a suggestion that there is value in subsidizing potential cultural ambassadorship as a sort of economic vanguard into international markets, I just don't really see anything beyond a conjecture of its value.  It doesn't really speak to the larger idea of protectionism either.  However, the broader issue of healthcare-as-competitive-advantage is always worth examining.

As a professional musician/artist, I sure wish I could get affordable healthcare.  Before I was married and invited into the arbitrary club of entitled persons (by the sexually transmitted hetero method), my healthcare was basically a bankruptcy protection plan.  I used it way less than I should have because I had to come out of pocket - I got some cavities, I overpaid for basic care because I did not have group-negotiated rates.  My equivalents in Canada probably didn't have these problems.

Europe has been subsidizing musicans and artists for years but my gut tells me that the overall balance of cultural export from the US remains the same. That is to say, there is still a huge trade imbalance in our favor. Look at the film industry - just because we have thousands of actors working in LA as waiters doesn't mean we aren't making the vast majority of the world's blockbuster hits.

I don't think people were chalking up the 1960s British invasion to the NHS. You can argue that the broad class of under and uninsured people in the US are an economic drain on our healthcare system.  You can argue that there is a disincentive to behave entrepreneurially if healthcare is prohibitively expensive as an individual.  You can frame it in humanistic terms, e.g. "it's not nice to let artists and other unconventionally employed people suffer because they works solo."  But you can't frame in terms of international macro-economics unless you have data.  That said, I'm kind of interested to hear somebody opine on whether Drake put Cappadonna out of work.

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