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Electronic Music and the Market Test

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08/27/2015

In his article on markets and science, Matt McCaffrey notes that without the market process, there's no way of knowing what types of science are the most useful:

More importantly, when science is separated from the market, it loses access to economic calculation, and thus, the ability to rationally allocate resources. That means that even with the best of intentions, scientific efforts to choose the most socially useful science, and to improve human welfare, are doomed to fail.

"Science" of course, is not a homogeneous thing, and we need some way of determining how to allocate time and resources to certain types of science.

This is true not only of science, but of art, as well.  As with science, there is the academic type and the "applied" type. The academic type is usually reserved for university faculty and staff, and funded by government grants (i.e., taxes). But there's also the "applied" type which is what happens "in the field" where people actually use it for daily use.

There is academic art, which is esoteric, usually government-funded, and seen by few people except wealthy white people with memberships at MoMA. On the other hand, there is art such as a statue or painting of a religious figure at a church that is seen and "consumed" by hundreds of people every week.

This goes beyond the physical arts, of course. An interesting theme in a 2014 documentary on electronic music (recently added to Netflix instant place), I Dream of Wires, is the tension between two different philosophies of developing electronic music technology. At the one end of the spectrum were the purist avant-garde musicians who worked primarily with very expensive and hard-to-use equipment that was a large departure from already established types of music-making. At the other end of the spectrum were the "commercial musicians" who wanted to make electronic music, but also wanted an interface that was easy to use.

As one commentator in the film noted, there is a big difference between commercial musicians who "make music to earn a living" and the academic musicians at universities who could live off government grants and did not have to worry about producing new musical product in a timely or in-demand way. Naturally, it was through the commercial side of things that electronic music entered the mainstream, and it was Robert Moog, an engineer who invented various types of electronic music equipment — and who was always concerned with the economic viability of his inventions — who created the now-familiar black-and-white keyboard method of ordering electronic sounds. According to the film, it was Moog's "commercialist" mindset that made electronic music available to a large number of people, since unsurprisingly, Moog's intruments were far more affordable than many of the instruments favored by the avant-garde musicians. While universities were buying new electronic equipment for tens of thousands of dollars (in 1970s dollars) ordinary working musicians were buying instruments like the Minimoog that could be used in live concerts and bought by musicians of only moderate wealth.

I Dream Of Wires 2014 documentary Trailer - Official

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

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