Popular Music and Social Democracy

Cato’s Ilya Shapiro says Michael Jackson makes the case for capitalism:

The King of Pop’s creativity allowed him and his family to make hundreds of millions of dollars, yes, but it also created thousands of jobs in the music and marketing industries and brought joy to fans around the world. Whatever his personal eccentricities — perhaps, in part, as a result of them — Jackson represents a capitalist success story.

No central planner could have invented him, and no government bureaucracy could have transformed pop music in the way he did.

It’s unquestionably true that central planning’s record in pop music is extremely poor, though they did okay in film, but this seems to have limited relevance to our current policy debates. Suppose that Jackson had paid somewhat higher taxes over the course of his career, and that the funds had gone to provide nutritious meals to poor children? I think the world of pop music would have been just about as strong under that scenario, but America as a whole would also be a stronger and more just society. After all, among non-Anglophone countries I think you’d have to say that it’s Sweden which has had the most pop music success. High tax rates don’t seem to discourage their music entrepreneurs.


What’s more, if you consider musicians operating outside of the “child star with horribly abusive father” paradigm, I think it’s clear that a more social democratic system is going to be advantageous. Consider that in the United States quitting your day job to focus on your promising band can have dire implications for your ability to obtain health insurance. This is particularly the case if you have the misfortune of a pre-existing medical condition. An up-and-coming Canadian or British guitarist is taking a financial risk by choosing to focus on the band, but an American can be really putting his life on the line.