The Arts May Need Trade, But Not Immigration

Economist

Tyler Cowen
, promoting his new

book
Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is
Changing the World`s Cultures
in a recent

interview
with Nick Gillespie of

Reason
, claims that wide-open markets do
wonders…for the arts.

This may sound great in libertarian
theory, but it rings a little hollow in the wake of the
thoroughly

depressing
2003 summer movie season. As Hollywood
increasingly pursues the global market (60% of revenue
now comes from overseas), filmmakers

dumb down
their movies to reach the lowest common
global denominator. They delete verbal wit that`s hard
to translate into Tagalog and replace it with explosions
sure to excite young males everywhere.

Even more questionable, though, is
Cowen`s defense of the artistic benefits of mass
immigration.

"Personally, I would favor the
United States taking in many more people than it

does now,"
the George Mason University academic
said. He admitted that mass immigration combined with,
say,

free emergency room care
causes problems.
(Curiously, he still seems to think there is a
significant economic surplus from immigration, although

George Borjas
and the

National Research Council

exploded this
myth in the mid-1990s.) But he concluded:

"Still,
I think we need to keep focused on the enormity
[sic,
should be "magnitude" or "immensity"] of those
gains from trade in terms of people and culture."

In the interview, however, Cowen
doesn`t offer much evidence for sizeable gains to
American culture from mass immigration.

He trots out, for the umpteen
millionth time in the history of the immigration debate,
what I`ve called the

Restaurant Rationale
– as in, Gee, we get to eat
all this wonderful ethnic food!
(Indeed, Cowan
publishes a personal online

guide
to D.C. ethnic restaurants.)

But why then over the last 20 years
have Italian restaurants improved so much, despite
little recent immigration from Italy, while Thai
restaurants have simply been treading water? The answer
seems to be that, in contrast to

elite Italian chef immigrants,
who come because they
have world-class skills, Thai restaurateurs are mostly
people who just want to come to America. Owning a
run-of-the-mill restaurant turns out to be a

way to pay the rent.

The general lesson: sure,
cross-cultural fertilization can inspire artistic
breakthroughs – but it can happen without mass
immigration, through the media, travel, or elite
immigration. For example:

  • Media—The Beatles were
    hugely influenced by the music of the Mississippi River
    Valley, but they didn`t have to emigrate from

    Liverpool
    to Memphis to listen to Elvis Presley and
    Chuck Berry. They just played their records

    at home.

  • Travel—The most innovative
    chefs in America, such as Alice Waters of Berkeley`s

    Chez Panisse
    or Chicago`s brilliant

    Charlie Trotter
    , typically traveled overseas when
    young to learn the great cuisines of the rest of the
    world.

  • Elite immigrationArturo
    Toscanini
    and

    Billy Wilder
    improved our music and movies. But
    the benefits to American arts of millions of poorly
    educated peasants are less clear, to say the least.

Charles Murray`s upcoming (and
absolutely fascinating)

Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the
Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950
provides
meticulously objective techniques for measuring which
artists and scientists really mattered. One of the key
discoveries: how much a very, very few great men have
contributed to the human race.

Conversely, mass immigration from
Latin America is now beginning to

overwhelm
all other inflows. Yet, in general, the
artistic contribution of the post-1965 mass immigration
from

Latin America
has been strikingly small. I`m not
even talking about creative artists in the high culture
fields (in which, historically, Spain never pulled its
weight, and its Latin America offshoots were basically
nonentities). I mean simply in pop culture.

For 15 years,

market researchers
have fed the press predigested
stories about how Latinos are going to start making
gigantic inputs to American pop culture Real Soon Now.
Yet this

endlessly anticipated
tidal still hasn`t gone
through the formality of coming into existence. Even
today, the

African-American contribution
utterly outweighs it. 

The impact of mass immigration on
American high culture, of course, is thoroughly
bad. First, it

lowers
the average education and sophistication
level.

Second, it fuels the demand for the
dogma of

cultural relativism,
which is deadly to high
achievement. The problem, of course, is that those
damned Dead White European Males did too much for the
human race, and the more intellectually-oriented
representatives of immigrant groups from countries with
less impressive heritages will never forgive them for
it.

So, America now devotes

vast resources
to propping up the ethnic self-esteem
of various immigrant nations – resources that therefore
can`t be devoted to the colorblind study of the finest
that the humanity has created.

I commend to Tyler Cowan the
insight of the outstanding economist

Thomas Sowell
in the conclusion of his

Migrations and Cultures: A World View
(1996):

"What
the passage of time and the development of modern
industry and instant electronics communications have done
has been to make the transmission of knowledge, skills,
and technology less and less dependent on the
transmission of bodies, all the while making such
transportation so inexpensive as to permit larger
migrations, over greater distances, of immigrants who
may be less and less selective."


[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and


movie critic
for


The American Conservative
.
His website


www.iSteve.blogspot.com
features his daily
blog.]