The Invisible Hand of Taylor Swift

Addressing the legions of her fans to be found in the hedge fund group, Taylor Swift declared yesterday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

I believe couples can stay in love for decades if they just continue to surprise each other.

Last time I checked, Swift has a relationship/break-up cycle of about forty-five minutes, so I’m not sure she’s quite the authority on the subject. Oh, well. Actually, the article was focused mainly on “the future of music;” at one point, musing on the future of “the album” (as opposed to the single), Swift remarks:

Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is.

It’s a rather remarkable occasion when a quasi-bubblegum pop star manages, in one paragraph, to lay out essentially the entire foundation of market economics. Scarcity imports value; value begets price; price is determined by market actors evaluating supply and demand and determining what price the market will bear.  Can you imagine a more complete and formidable rebuke of the decades and centuries of bogus progressive economics and injurious government intervention into the market? Did you ever really imagine such a rebuke would come from Taylor Swift?

The crack team of geniuses over at Vox was unimpressed, however, declaring Swift’s assessment of music’s value “deeply, deeply wrong,” in part because

[O]n the internet, there’s no scarcity:  there’s an endless amount of everything available to everyone. The laws of supply and demand don’t work terribly well when there’s infinite supply. Swift is right that “important, rare things are valuable,” but she’s failed to understand that the idea of rarity simply doesn’t exist in the digital marketplace.

What a terrifically ham-fisted response. For starters, people are still perfectly willing to pay money for Taylor Swift songs off of iTunes, say,  proving that there’s not an “infinite supply” of such songs. $1.29 does not seem to denote immense value, but it’s not free: if there truly were an “endless amount of everything available to everyone” on the Internet, then even Taylor Swift songs would be free; iTunes wouldn’t be able to turn a buck selling them, in the same way it can’t make a buck selling air. So music is still apparently considered a scare resource on the Internet, and with that in mind, it’s worth pointing out that Swift claimed valuable things “should be paid for,” not that they always are.

Of course, plenty of people are unwilling to buy a Taylor Swift song off iTunes but are willing to steal the same song off of Youtube—yet Nilay Patel brushes off the concept of digital theft by claiming that he “doesn’t know anyone” who feels “particularly guilty” about stealing music off the Internet. See, Taylor Swift is wrong because Nilay Patel doesn’t know very many people. So Patel examined Taylor Swift’s uncontroversial and essentially objective statement, counteracted it with a false declaration of economic dearth, and finished by claiming that shallow moral unawareness somehow excuses the act of larceny. The Internet may have reduced artistic scarcity by an immense degree, but there’s still a distinct shortage of good writers at Vox.

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