The Rise of Economics as an Element of National Security: Part 2: Not All Forms of Production Are Created Equal

Read Part I: The Inequity Engendered by Protectionism

National security, as it has been traditionally understood, defends against war and other forms of destructive treachery posed by hard power. The rise of economic security nominally does the same, though it is the hemorrhaging of money, not blood, which is of concern.

Marketplaces become metaphorical battlefields, the size of which is determined by the amount of money and number of transactions involved. The government, when it champions the economic security of the people, appoints itself general of a war which aims to oust the foreign occupiers from the market.

But it does not surveil all markets with the same hawkish watchfulness, nor come to the defense of certain industries with the same vigor as it does others. Sectors of the economy, like manufacturing and agriculture, which produce goods that not only contribute to the health of the domestic economy but also bolster American standing on the international stage, are the subject of numerous protective initiatives.

Not only are these industries often protected by tariffs levied against imported goods, designed to drive up the cost and make them less competitive in domestic markets, but government also utilizes other legislative tools, such as ordering federal agencies to exclusively buy American products and crafting immigration policies that place an onerous burden upon businesses looking to hire foreign workers.

But the arts do not receive this sort of protection. During the British Invasion of the 1960s, then-president Lyndon Baines Johnson never called for a tariff on Beatles albums; presidential directives which made recommendations for hiring practices at concert venues in order to protect American artists and ensure only the highest-stilled foreign artists received temporary work and travel visas were never issued.

One has to wonder why cultural goods are not the targets of those who espouse economic security. Through agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, creativity is protected and supported by the government directly. So why does it not merit more indirect forms of economic protection? Other industries, most notably agriculture, receive both direct forms of financial stimulus through regulations which insulate them from failure and are also extended the benevolent hand of government protection.

The arts are not protected from economic competition on an international scale. Yet, the rise of regulation to promote economic security is tied not just to economic opportunity, but quality of life, which has cultural implications. The arts have an influence and staying power which far exceeds that of heavier industry.

The Rolling Stones and The Who remain among the most pre-eminent rock bands in the world, a space they have occupied for nigh on half a century. Even now defunct bands like The Beatles exert a huge amount of influence on the contemporary music world. Not only do they compete with other artists on the charts, through album sales and in the size of crowds they can attract, but they influence the very conditions with which contemporary artists have to contend if they want to succeed. The style of their music and its popularity set a precedent which other artists must wrestle with in their own careers.

And this is to say nothing of what popular music and its message does to culture; the British Invasion brought English customs to American culture which, arguably, can be seen as an attack on and degradation of the quality of life for citizens.

The weight of the argument for protecting the economic security of Americans lies not with insulating industry from foreign competition, but in protecting the arts. Artistic goods remain influential for decades, sometimes even centuries, while the conditions of industry are constantly changing. Economic security is largely motivated by securing a certain standard of living for citizens, and the intrusion of foreign cultural ideas and norms into American society threatens to do far more lasting harm to this than the inability of workers in certain industries to find steady jobs.

But foreign cultural goods are not regulated. And the notion of regulating them is patently ludicrous. The British Invasion occurred because there was a demand for the sound and the culture being produced; that this has had a lasting effect on culture is something to be celebrated as it promotes a rich and vibrant culture based on talent and messaging which the citizenry finds worthy of being spread. Ultimately, culture is about ideas and thought cannot be hemmed in by anything so arbitrary as geographic borders.

Ultimately, culture is shaped by autonomous actors freely choosing to endorse whatever they find valuable through their purchasing power. Nowhere is this more clear than in patrimony for the arts.

Economic security does not really protect actors; it merely limits their ability to seek out value for themselves.

But economic security is not actually about protecting the people; it is about government’s self-interest. Were government truly interested in quality of life for citizens, it would worry about cultural goods, but it does not. The benevolent hand of government protection is extended to agriculture, manufacturing and other forms of industry which contribute to the size of its domestic economy and increase its standing through trade on the international stage.

Economic security is not, as those officials who tout it as an unchallengeable justification for the use of unilateral federal power claim, a function of government’s duty to promote the national welfare. At least, it is not about protecting the national welfare as a reflection of creating stable conditions which allow the polity to flourish. Rather, it is about promoting the national welfare as a reflection of the singular will of an anthropomorphized federal power.

Also published on Medium.

All content protected by copyright. The Politics of Discretion, 2016.
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