Tuesday, February 17, 2004

An Interview with Michael Hudson on How Privatization Sterilizes Culture: "In the beginning the common aim of culture, along with religion, was to promote altruistic rather than narcissistic values. One finds this objective even in the case of table manners and the etiquette of group meals, as well as in the design of public monuments and of the public sections of cities. Classical drama, for instance, was all about hubris and the destructive effects of egoistic self-seeking."

"The golden age of musical tradition from ancient and medieval times down through the early 19th century is now being marginalized. Live music in these centuries was sponsored by royal patrons, city bodies and especially the church, often on ceremonial calendrical occasions. The privatization of culture has made music one of the casualties of economic change, along with classical drama and even art."

"The mode of access to music, drama and art has changed to reflect their new functions. The new role is not to inspire group solidarity or patriotic feeling. Art forms have been transformed into commodities, and in the 20th century into vehicles to sell products. The mass media's designated role is now primarily to attract peoples' attention to commercials."

"You now have art without the iconographic or social context that gave it a deeper meaning in the past. You do not even have the bourgeois figurative "art of everyday life," but nonfigurative fads that lack either the personal or visibly ideological dimension of symbolic meaning, such as op art and pop art, which merges naturally into celebrity art because there is little other standard of judgment."

"McChesney's and Hermann's account of how corporate conglomerates took over the air waves and popular press parallels the land grants to the railroads in the mid-19th century. One of the best descriptions of these giveaways is Gustavus Myers' History of the Great American Fortunes, originally published in 1907 and reprinted widely ever since."

"Myers wrote at a time when socialists were inspired by Henry George's idea of taxing land rent, and by logical extension natural resource rents and monopoly rents as representing unearned income. Industrial profits were smaller, because the value of capital equipment, machinery and buildings was far less than the value of land and mineral resources. The same is true with the broadcasting spectrum and other assets. For this reason, European and other foreign governments kept them in the public domain until the 1980s."

"Like the railroad land grants, most of the media deals for positions on the radio and TV dial were insider arrangements. This is a common denominator of privatization in almost every country throughout history. What is important to recognize is that the major insiders pulling the strings are the banks and financial companies, which have merged in a symbiosis with the privatizers and rent-seekers. The financial sector has ended up with the lion's share of the gains through its management fees, insider stock dealings, underwriting fees, and of course the notorious stock waterings through which the great railroad barons--basically, Wall Street manipulators--built fictitious costs into their railroad charges. Today's counterpart would be stock options for management, diluting stock ownership."

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