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Music and Welfare

October 26, 2015

The best part about Twitter is you can annoy people you otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to. On a related note, I replied to dozen or so of David Graeber and Robin Hanson’s tweets today and got a fair number of responses.


Graeber argues that if we had more welfare, we’d get more good music. That’s probably right. A basic income would mean more people choosing to leave the labor force, especially at a young age when music productivity is at its highest and normal workforce productivity is at its lowest.

Hanson comes in with “Really? We should subsidize able young men to not work cause some of them might create good rock bands?!” Which to me seems like a fair criticism. Should people really pay teenagers to sit around on the off chance that they write good music? Seems kind of roundabout, although as Graeber points out there’s really no better way for the government to subsidize music. Hanson countered by saying that just because we will get more music doesn’t mean it’s worth it.

Wow, that took me by surprise. If you’re going to tell someone who disagrees with you they have “strong ideological bias” and that they think “historical facts are irrelevant”, you should have at least some evidence for your claim, but when I asked Graeber about it, he said “most people I talk to consider my actual argument (about the UK) self-evidently true“. Ok then. You talked to some people and they thought it was true. Better get that published. Good thing Graeber is an anthropologist and not an economist or he’d be laughed out of the room for making an argument like that.

I like the idea of a basic income, honestly, and having marginally more music is a plausible, albeit small, benefit. Still, I’m eternally surprised by the poor quality of arguments by people who are taken seriously. I’m glad I went to GMU.

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