Reflections on Scandinavia
Posted on August 21, 2013
Cultural production, cultural policy and the free market economy are largely intertwined, where some may view the partnership of production and policy as a more democratic process and others, freedom as what begins only after the basic right to the arts is established by the state. Before plunging into the discussion of the dynamic and praxis, let us begin by establishing the relationship between the 2 forces and how it has developed to give us what we have today.
Part 1 of this essay will examine the reasons for the existence of cultural policy; while part 2 explores the realization of these policies across the Scandinavian region, in particular Sweden and Finland.
The initial freedom of the free market
In his essay ‘Designing A Cultural Policy’, Professor of Communications and Media Studies Dr. Justin Lewis states,
“there are moments in the lives of the cultural industries when the free market may give birth to a dynamic range of cultural forms and expressions”.
These moments are exceptionally apparent in times such as the Industrial Revolution, where abundance in machinery, technology, and labor come together to provide a large range of goods and services that the community can tap into. As we look into the significance of such a time in the larger scheme, we come to realize that often, such moments are precisely those that signify the birth of an economy. An example that embodies this is the amalgamation of the 1960s baby boomers: technological advancement and growth coupled with general economic prosperity that engendered the pop culture and music movements in the global Northwest, in where we saw the birth of The Beatles and the likes. The large base of youths allowed for an experiment-friendly environment for art and cultural production; where novelty met curiosity, and curiosity met novelty, and the free market was as free as one could imagine. Under such circumstances, it may seem as though the free market forces are paired strongly with arts and cultural production to give rise to a wholly efficient society.
Efficient v.s. valuable
In the free market structure, the aforementioned is all too good to be true and can only play into the larger picture as an ephemeral moment of goodness and idealism. The free market forces are programmed in a contradictory way – “the older it gets, the less free it becomes.” This is mainly due to the concept of economies of scale. The economies of scale follow a mathematical progression that represents the fact that the larger the company and scale of production become, the more efficient you are and the more you save. This is due to the existence of large sunk costs that will persist regardless of the production amounts, therefore enticing us to produce more from that very sunk cost so as to lower the total average costs. Hence, at the end of the day, when it boils down to surviving the brutality of stiff competition and abundant producers of the arts, the larger and more established companies will always win in a combination of wealth, advertising, and resources. Such is the irony and ‘Catch 22’ of the free market economy, that it begins a beautiful concept, only to return to us the monopolies of the markets. At the end of the day, the freedom of culture associated with the free market will be eroded to give us a stagnation of cultural production and the cultural scene.
At the bottom-line, homogeneity is more profitable in the simple economic model of tightening and consolidating resources to where it is most efficient. The demands for individual, personalized, and creative products have to be reconciled with the acceptance of its higher cost and, in turn, the price as well as the individual’s ability to pay for such services. The market may desire the creative, but at the end of the day the consumer chooses with the scarce resources that they have to offer in exchange for the creative and that choice dictates the demand and, in effect, the production. Ultimately, the free market economy is not all that we expect it to be. Freedom does not always bring about equality, especially not in this capitalistic world.
Efficient and valuable
It is here that we bring in ideas of the state, and its potential in aiding in the situation. It is upon such grounds that we establish the assumptions we are making prior to this study. First, that culture brings with it a value in its reflection and expression of the individual, community, and state that it represents. Second, as established above, when left to its own dynamic, the free market forces are unable to bring about the whole expression of such cultures and in turn the values. We then call upon the state and governmental intervention in coping with the natural monopoly that will arise from this situation.
In economics, we learn that government intervention is brought in as an effective method of correcting negative externalities. In this situation, the state’s intervention forms up in the shape of cultural policy and regulation to ensure that the imaginative and creative is first and foremost produced, and second, accessible and consumed by its people. To leave it as such is to assume that all perspectives are on board are identical and implementation is entirely smooth sailing as a result – right and left wing policy-makers are entirely agreeable to the expenditure, methods, and ideals; institutions are accepting to the various measures put in place and are prepared to cooperate with the ministries and the state with the overall changes, and that finally the people will be active participants. Unfortunately, it is safe to say that most of the above would not be a natural progression; personal differences and investments (be it political, economic and social) will be drawn into the picture, thus creating tension between the production and the consumption.
How much regulation is too much? How little is too little? What policies are effective and what exactly does this effectiveness entail?∗
The next segments will bring in case studies in the form of lived experiences and interactions with the Scandinavian models of production and policy, allowing corroborations with the Singaporean system and hypotheses to be generated.