I recently read an interview with former Gainesville, Florida
punk band Discount, in which the guitarist paraphrased an argument that amounted to Capitalism is killing music (Ink
19, November 1998). In one sentence, he summed up the complete ignorance and naiveté of economics found
in todays punk rock scene. While it may have helped them sell copies of their Billy Bragg cover album,
Love, Billy (which I highly recommend), statements such as the one above do far more harm than good. Without
capitalism, meaning the wealth it produces and the network of cooperation it provides; punk rock (this means you, Discount)
literally could not exist.
In a story written by the Foundation for Economic Education founder
Leonard Read called I, Pencil, Read shows the creation of even the simplest item, a pencil, requires an
extensive network of social cooperation which exists only in free markets. Because of the amount
of knowledge required, Read argues no person knows how to make a pencil. Instead we must rely on dispersed
knowledge of thousands of people, each specializing in one area of production, to create any consumer good. In
Reads tradition, I will show that because of the innumerable facets of even one punk rock show, punk rock could not exist
without the division of labor under capitalism.
What goes on at a punk rock show? Pared down
to its essentials, bands play to entertain an audience. What allows a punk rock band to play?
A band needs electric and bass guitars, drums, a microphone, amplifiers, cabinets with speakers, and of course wires
and electricity. Let us take just one of these items, the guitar, and show how no person could ever dream
of making a guitar, but how capitalism makes millions available to whoever wants to play, ultimately providing the foundation
for the existence of punk rock (leather jackets and spikes notwithstanding).
Of what materials is a guitar made? Let us
begin with the wood that will be the body and neck of the guitar. As Read points out in reference to his
pencil, think of all the saws and truck and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the logs Read
continues, Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making
of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the
raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers
With the logs cut, think of the shipping to the factories where
the wood is cut into the shape of a guitar. Think of the people who make the trucks, the engines, and the
communication systems that help in the shipping phase. Now that the guitar has been cut, think of how many
people are involved in creating, storing, and shipping the paint that will make the guitar appealing to the potential buyer.
Apply the same process for the strings and the nickel in each one, the pick-ups with their magnets, the tuners of plastic
or metal, the guitar cords with the copper and intricate wiring of each one, the guitar cases, picks, and even the strap that
allows musicians to play standing up (or jumping around).
The same process can be applied to the rest of the equipment
a band uses at a show. The drums, with brass cymbals, wooden sticks, and plastic heads, along with the
intricacy of the bass drum pedal, require millions of bits of specialized knowledge. Amplifiers with intricate
circuits, wiring, glass tubes, switches, and even the electricity that allows the amplifiers to work are all subject to the
same process. Every aspect of a punk rock show, from the materials and labor used to make the venue, down
to the ink and paper required to make fliers for shows (not to mention the intricacies of the copy machine on which fliers
are reproduced!) requires a vast, decentralized network under the division of labor.
In each example above, millions of people cooperate with one
another, each knowing no more than very few of the others. Not one person in the entire creation process
has enough knowledge to make a guitar completely by himself. Further, no one in the process performs his
singular task because he wants the final product. Each may want it less than the future guitarist of a
punk band. Most in the guitar-making process will likely never even play a guitar seriously.
But their motivation is different. Each person in the process exchanges his specialized knowledge
for the goods and services he needs or wants.
The most astounding fact in the process of making an instrument
is the lack of any planner dictating or forcibly directing the creation of the instrument. There is no
central planning board or benevolent dictator directing the different materials and labor into making a certain number of
guitars each year. In fact, the entire process is simply the combination of natural resources coupled with
free, uncoerced human energya vast network of specialized knowledge spontaneously coordinated in response to some consumer
desirein the complete absence of any human master-minding. It is in the truest sense anarchy of production
that gives us the instruments required to play our music.
One would be hard-pressed to argue that any one person, or small
group of people, has enough knowledge to direct how many resources should be used to create musical instruments?
In what quantity? What style, and shape? Electric, or (gasp!) acoustic only?
How many potential musicians will be allowed to purchase equipment? Who decides how many instruments one can buy or
learn to play? Planning and socialism cannot answer these questions. Under capitalism, young punks looking
to start a band can be certain that at any time, entrepreneurs will be there to sell them exactly what they want.
Imagine a scenario under which the means of production have been
turned over to the state. A production board determines how resources will be allocated, for what purpose each natural resource
will be used, and in what quantity each item will be produced. Some may believe there are more socially important ways to
use wood, metal, and plastic than making guitars. Perhaps the planning board will want to use the wood
once allocated for guitars for building houses, boats, or some other purpose they see as more noble.
Of course this means the planning board has to choose between
competing alternatives. How will the board make the decision? Some may argue they will
always use the resources to promote socially valuable goals. A more realistic interpretation of decision-making
is that the board will be lobbied by various special interests, each aiming at securing its own existence through the muscle
of the all-powerful board. Likely the board members will use their power to give favors to those most likely
to keep the members in power. Has experience with government not proven that this is precisely what happens
when politicians and bureaucrats have control over resources? Finally, can anyone believe that planners
and politicians would have the best interests of punk rock at heart, when deciding how to allocate resources?
With capitalism, we are certain punk can exist, because it does exist. Under socialism or planning,
who can be sure?
We know by experience that capitalism provides consumers with
just about anything they can dream of. Paupers of today literally live better, longer, more convenient
lives than kings of past centuries. We also know that central planning and socialism fail to provide for even the most basic
needs of citizens. Under the latter, punk rock would die out of the sheer necessity to spend ones time
on more important subjects, such as finding ways not to starve. Once those needs are taken care of, there
would be no instruments to play, or clubs at which to play, except in the unlikely event that the central planning board decrees
Ludwig von Mises wrote in Human Action that critics of
capitalism should apply to capitalism the words of Sir Christopher Wrens epitaph in St. Pauls Cathedral in London: Si monumentum
requiris, circumspice. If you seek his monument, look around. Before they make any more reckless comments
about capitalism, punks should ask themselves how they would secure their Les Paul custom guitars, Mesa Boogie amplifiers,
and Shure SM-58 microphones in a controlled economy. Then they should re-write their lyrics.
hmm... well, first of all his article is too long he lost me by paragraph 3... But my defination of
a Capitalist is someone who gets fairly rich off something by exploiteing it for their own gain, so The LumberJack, Steel
Worker, etc, they are the blue collar workers barely getting by to support their families! as far as Punk Rock? well
it was the poor kids' playtoy. yea if we did not have guitars, drums, etc, what would we play? well, I know the
drummer for The Dot Vaeth Group (Dallas) learned to play on whatever he could set up and bang on in the Garage of his parents'
very small Haltom City home (pots pans etc), then got his drum kit later. I feel like I should be sitting in class listening
to this guy and laughing. GIMME A BREAK!!! we would have discovered Punk Rock without the Corporate Machine because
it was our way of life! I suppose you could say Malcolm McClaren was a Capitalist... wonder if he would loan me
some money? yea I think Billy Idol became a product of the machine but I think everyone will agree he lost us after
the first couple of LPs. So we're not idiots, we still like it raw and straight from the gutter... not polished
and shiny from The Machine. Punkrock without Captilism... maybe, maybe NOT. so look at it this way, the
poor guy goes to the pawn shop hocks his guitar that the blue collar workers built... can't get it out... so the next guy
comes in and buys the guitar at a discounted price, he goes and gets him a band, buys his clothes at GoodWill or any second
hand store. he also is creative enuff to make his own stuff. generally knows three chords, gets a gig for a few
bucks... usually the door. enuff for beer, cigs and gas and what he can't pay for he ususally steals. We all know you ain't
gonna get rich playing Punkrock... and if you tried... Thats what we use to call selling out eh? Thanks You and GoodNight!