Capitalism vs Socialism: which one is better for music or orchestras?

May 5, 2016 at 04:15 AM ·

Capitalism vs socialism have been making the news at times, and I tend to lean towards capitalism because I think socialism suppresses innovation. Does socialism or heavily subsidized music help or hinder, and prevents or advances the cream from rising to the top?


May 5, 2016 at 04:35 AM · Tell that to the great deal of (relatively) socialist countries with thriving fine arts... ;)

With music (especially classical) being considered a non-essential, I think it tends to be dropped in a 'capitalistic environment' that you suggest, in favour of more lucrative ventures. Music doesn't suffer from "suppression of innovation" because it's an artistic process. Most top musicians aren't in it for the money, and a safety net from the kind of socialism we see in parts of Europe, for example, may encourage musicians to venture deeper into their arts, rather than, say, stick with a tried and true audience-drawing program of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky every concert.

Just my own 2 humble cents...I hesitate to comment too extensively on this because I've always felt music was a place to avoid conflicts often arisen from political conversations. :)

May 5, 2016 at 04:48 AM · Many democratic socialist and communist countries have great music! I have another suggestion: WINTER!

My Austrian brother-in-law was commenting on the horrible November weather in Austria. He told my mother: "Now you know why we have such great music!"

So, everybody goes to music concerts in the fall, and around February everybody goes to balls, and then it's back to orchestra until you get Spring, at which point, once the weather is decent, everybody goes outside.

May 5, 2016 at 05:39 AM · Socialist countries traditionally have much more support for the arts than more capitalist countries. Classical music is under full blown attack in countries like America, Orchestras can't even pay their musicians, etc. Schools cutting off their music programmes to save money.

May 5, 2016 at 09:15 AM · Communism has negatively affected man's sense of creativity. Generally, little came out of communist countries in the realm of new literature, painting, and music composition as compared to the free world. As far as music performance, you found good interpreters coming out of the Soviet Union (many defcting to the US.). With fewer options to succeed and see the world behind the iron curtain, fewer distractions and things to do as a kid after school, etc., some people became really devoted to music, one of the few options for personal success (other than becoming a Kremlin bureaucrat), see the world, and escape the government's grip. The communist regimes also had more funding for music and ballet (and warfare) than for general necessities, since these were used for communist propaganda around the world. In Cuba, one way to escape the Castro feudal estate is to excel in baseball and defect on the first tour abroad.

May 5, 2016 at 09:51 AM · Excuse me, the discussion was about socialism, not communism, there is a difference, a very big difference.

May 5, 2016 at 09:54 AM · Scandinavia is socialism, do you want to give us a lecture on how repressed classical music is in Scandinavia, how no great composers came out of Scandinavia, or Germany, England, France (other socialist countries)

May 5, 2016 at 10:17 AM · LOL... Charles, did you instead want a lecture comparing the USA to, for example, France or the UK? please clarify... UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, are all capitalist

May 5, 2016 at 10:25 AM · Sorry, like most Americans ( I presume) you don't even know what socialism is.....

Also your comment that no great music came out of Soviet Russia is laughable at best!!

in fact I think many would agree that Communist Russia made more great contributions to Classical music than 20th century American composers.

May 5, 2016 at 10:59 AM ·

Well this is the problem, most people don't know what socialism is. You can read about it, but until you actually live in a socialist country for a short time you really don't have a clue, IMO.

This thread might get ugly!

Socialism, social democracy, democratic socialism, capitalism; all I wanted was a new hard drive.

May 5, 2016 at 12:56 PM · Naming something as *ism always assumes monolithic entity, invokes generalizations and makes thinks appear black and white.

In reality, there are quite a few differences within each type and diversity intentionaly ignored for political reasons.

Cold-war era fed on polarization, instead of analysis and effort to invent the third, more advanced and humane society with best and workable from both systems.

People are the same; the main difference between the systems is that capitalism uses human weaknesses such as greed and fear to its development, socialism to its detriment.

I have enjoyed the benefits of free music education in a socialist country. Just imagine: even the least privileged children could learn music; this is not a small accomplishment! "El Sistema" is an example how a socialist and humanistic idea can take roots in other societies.

Perhaps the best society for music was feudal, and the best employer the Church? Nothing beats Baroque!

May 5, 2016 at 01:50 PM · I believe music flourished best under monarchies.

May 5, 2016 at 02:16 PM · Well said, Charles, Rocky and Seraphim.

But we all have to be careful with labels, as Lyndon implies, because we have to understand what they mean before we apply them.

I for one was surprised to find out that Lincoln was a Republican and the Democrats at the time were all-out for slavery. Things change even when labels don't.

May 5, 2016 at 02:36 PM · I guess he's the closest to a monarch we can get.

May 5, 2016 at 02:38 PM · Lyndon, you are correct.

Socialism personified was shown under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

May 5, 2016 at 02:39 PM · I second Rocky, nothing beats Baroque most likely.

There has been many types of socialisms as well as many types of capitalisms of course. In the book I wrote about stage fright, I mentioned what would be hardly believable today. Even police had to be involved at some of the concerts of my father with his chamber orchestra in our capital city Bratislava. There was such a crowd of people aiming to get to the concert.

My father was a real celebrity, he was not able to walk in the city without being stopped by people on the street. Their concerts as well as interviews was broadcasted at least once a week in TV and daily in radio. They produced about 250 recordings, (some of the compositions multiple times, mono, stereo, digital) during his career.

Classical music was so much loved by public and all artists were really honoured. But, on the other hand, we had just very limited access to basic things for loving and survival. There was mostly only one or two types of each basic food available, very limited range of clothes and if you needed to cut the grass e.g., you were out of luck. You could construct a lawn mower by yourself using an old motor from a washing machine, or spend several months by travelling around the country trying to bribe some of the shop assistants working in empty shops.

This was just very brief and shortened description of my childhood of course, but it was true. So now you can decide, which kind of regime has been better :-) I do not regret, the regime taught me low demand and modesty, gave me high quality education and also forced me to develop many crafts and skills. However I do not suppose many of you would like to change.

May 5, 2016 at 03:06 PM · So does anybody have any input about which is better for music between the U.S. and say, Sweden, Germany or the UK? The OP wants to know

May 5, 2016 at 03:33 PM · A few disconnected thoughts.

Music flourished under monarchies? Well, a very small number of composers and players were employed this way, but their scores have survived.

My Argentine friends said that Cuba (this is in th '80s) was the only South-American country where no-one died on the streets of starvation, and every one had free access to medical care and education. A Hungarian friend said the same of the communist regime in his country. Music seemed to flourish in both countries.

It is ironic that in the West, our favorite Shostakovich symphony (No5) is the one he wrote as an apology to the Soviet regime.

May 5, 2016 at 03:49 PM · “A liberal paradise would be a place where everybody has guaranteed employment,

free comprehensive healthcare,

free education,

free food,

free housing,

free clothing,

free utilities,

and only law enforcement has guns.

And believe it or not, such a place does, indeed, exist.

“It’s called prison.”

In prison everything is free except the prisoners.

May 5, 2016 at 04:19 PM · Everyone (should I say a significant majority) wanted out of Cuba and the USSR even with all the free stuff

May 5, 2016 at 04:28 PM · Cuba and the USSR are/were communist countries not socialist. Prisons are not free. More and more are being converted to privatized/for profit businesses. That's capitalism.

May 5, 2016 at 04:54 PM · Socialism is the puppy that grows up to be the dog of communism.

Communism is actually capitalism for the people in charge.

They get to keep all the money.

May 5, 2016 at 04:57 PM · Let me to explain shortly. Communism was never implemented in any country yet. Communism has been a virtual regime invented by communists, mostly by Lenin.

The most characteristic attribute of communism is that there is no money. Citizens are so socially aware, that they try teir best working in the factories and offices without beeing paid. The cannot buy goods, since there are no shops.

There are pick-up points, where every citizen can get what he/she needs. Since the citzens are humble and disciplined, they never ask for more they really need. This is why the amount of produced goods exactly matches the amount of picked-up items. Great isn't? :-)

When communists overtook the power in 1948 in our country, they established socialism as a temporary regime, as an transtitional stage to the communism. Originally they expected to be able to swith to communism in 1965 or so, than they have postponed the exact date few times and than they ceased talking about any date at all (having more and more troubles keeping even the "temporary" socialism alive). In 1989 they gave up completely resulting into the transformation into "free" market. Unfortunalety, nor the market neither the sociaty turned to be really free, but it is another story...

May 5, 2016 at 06:38 PM · Philip said it best

May 5, 2016 at 07:11 PM · Those sleeping under bridges in Europe's free-market states have freedom?

May 5, 2016 at 07:47 PM · I'm not sure a meaningful analysis can be figured, but my parents probably would have been better off as musicians by staying in Poland. A lot of musicians are smart, and under communism, there may be less incentive to go into more lucrative fields, so that more people can do music. There is also state sponsorship of music, but classical music may be becoming less a part of the cultural cloth of different European countries as the internet and globalization homogenize culture throughout the world.

I think that artists can do their thing in a lot of adverse circumstances, but that something in between pure capitalism and pure communism is probably the best for art to flourish. Look at how many great artists worked under an incredibly oppressive Soviet Regime - Could it be that the time before the Russian Revolution was what allowed Prokofiev and Shostakovich to make great art under communism, or something else? The party certainly did them no favors.

While I don't think the US has a sophisticated method of supporting people in artistic careers, which I really think any advanced country should have, the US certainly has many community orchestras. I don't know how it is in Europe, but my guess is that it may be more per capita. The amount that people have to put together from disparate sources here in the US is a disincentive to putting your time and energy towards an incredibly competitive career in music, but people still do it.

And there are plenty of fine US composers, even if I would be happy to never hear any John Adams again. If you look at Poland, as a satellite state of the USSR, they may have had a less repressive form of communism that allowed a better balance. A lot of modern classical of the post-war era was coming from there, although there were certainly composers that got out of there and did fine in other countries.

I imagine that a sort of democratic socialism is the best option, but it may be that the use of classical music as a propaganda tool of communist governments is something that is inherent to that system.

May 5, 2016 at 08:42 PM · America has been drifting socialist, especially under the current administration. Yet look at all the orchestras that have gone belly up during this time. I don’t see evidence, at least not here in the USA, that socialism is better for music or orchestras.

On some earlier replies:

Classical music isn’t “under full blown attack in countries like America.” But it does have to compete with many other forms of entertainment. And the delivery means are more diverse now -- radio, CD, DVD, YouTube. The concert hall doesn’t have the market share it once had.

It isn’t so much that orchestras can’t pay their musicians. It’s more that unions and management alike are to blame for greed, mismanagement, and unreasonable demands that lead to budget shortfalls and deadlocks.

About schools cutting music programs to save money: Often the money would have been there; but the education establishment wastes a lot of the budget on indoctrination and propaganda -- not education.

About “free music education,” “free healthcare,” “free housing”: None of these things are truly free -- even under socialism. Someone has to pay for them. But beware. The hand that gives can also withhold -- or take back something already given.

Socialism is an economic system, not a political one. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher observed: “The problem with socialism is that, eventually, you run out of other people’s money.”

May 6, 2016 at 02:53 AM · I would hesitate to assert that America has 'drifted socialist'...

May 6, 2016 at 04:42 AM · Mrs Thatcher forgot to mention that capitalism also depends on using other folk's money!

May 6, 2016 at 05:24 AM · With the middle class disappearing world-wide, and the super-rich getting richer at a rate of 15% (last year), I would say that for the average guy, both systems have run their course.

It's time to come up with something new!

May 6, 2016 at 10:53 AM ·

A weak middle class hurts musicians a lot, no matter what political system: fewer students taking lessons, higher ticket prices for the best musicians and lower ticket prices for mid- low musicians, more bar gigs(low pay) and fewer festival gigs(higher pay and CD, iTunes sales), cuts in subsidized music, etc....

You would think that any political and economic system that supports a strong middle class would be the way to go for musicians.

May 6, 2016 at 11:12 AM · I would think a political system that has strong support for education and the arts would be the best for music, historically this has been best under socialist democracies IMHO

May 6, 2016 at 01:31 PM · ..."in fact I think many would agree that Communist Russia made more great contributions to Classical music than 20th century American composers...."

The only "Communist Russian" composer I can think of is Shostakovich. And his music was a reaction to his political surroundings. Stravinsky? Did most of his best work in Paris, then left for the US. Prokofiev? I would not call him a product of "Communist Russia."

Fine musicians? Sure, but many of them were Jews from places like Odessa or other ghettos.

The 20th century has been OWNED by Americans: Gershwin, Copland, Barber, Bernstein, Glass. And much of this music was directly a result of black folk music--jazz and ragtime, both of which took Europe and Russia by storm. I suppose one could bring up Schoenberg and his fellow Austrians. But 12-tone has been relegated to the Academy, whose theoreticians, ever suspicious of beauty and entranced by puzzles, continue to grind out dodecaphonia in pursuit of tenure. Yes, Copland turned to 12-tone, but does anyone listen to it?

So one could say American music is actually the result of slavery. we need to add a new "economic system" to the mix? Frankly the whole discussion of capitalism ("yay innovation!") to communism or socialism ("boo no goodski") seems so...1972?

The bottom line is not the political or economic system, but the culture: do people like the music? The Asian countries, regardless of their political systems, have embraced Western music. America has a multiplicity of cultural values. I have no interest in NASCAR or country music. But entire regions of the country do. Regardless of our mishmash economic system. As if there were a pure economic system anywhere in the world anyway...

May 6, 2016 at 02:32 PM · @Adrian Heath: I’m quite sure the former PM didn’t forget that capitalism also uses other people’s money. The point is that the use of other people’s money in socialism -- e.g., through graduated taxation and redistribution -- often hides under the guise of compassion when, in fact, the real motive is quite different.

@Suebin Park: You wrote: “I would hesitate to assert that America has ‘drifted socialist’….”

I won’t hesitate. We haven’t gone as far as some other countries, but we’ve been drifting in that direction for a long time.

Case in point: Affordable Care Act -- a.k.a. “Obamacare.” If this isn’t socialism in operation, then what is? A few individuals, selectively trotted out by the mainstream media, report that they can finally afford health insurance. But what about the millions of other Americans who have seen their premiums jump since the enactment of ACA -- in order to foot the bill for these people? What, for instance, about the 27-year-old single man, with no dependents, who must now carry insurance for maternity leave -- whether he wants to or not?

May 6, 2016 at 02:55 PM · Well, here in France, I haven't needed much health care so far, but if or when I do...

Insurance is not a savings plan.

And our unemployment insurance for musicians takes account of the nature of our seasonal, freelance work.

May 6, 2016 at 02:58 PM · Absolute rubbish, America drifting socialist, so that means more money for welfare, socialized health care, dramatic increases in Social Security and disability, yeah that's the America we live in, NOT!!!!

America is moving farther and farther to the right, even the Democrats are right wing now, and now we have bona fide fascist running for President, and my guess is half of you support him, I guess you're not black, hispanic, or female!!!

May 6, 2016 at 03:47 PM ·

May 6, 2016 at 03:56 PM · Can I "self identify" as a black Hispanic female Trump supporter?

May 6, 2016 at 04:01 PM · No one's buying that Seraphim!!

May 6, 2016 at 04:41 PM · What about "trans-instrumented"?

I used to play violin, but have now switched my *ahem* instrument to a viola?

May 6, 2016 at 05:15 PM · "Case in point: Affordable Care Act -- a.k.a. “Obamacare.” If this isn’t socialism in operation, then what is? "


You can reliably counted on to spew your conservative rants at the least provocation.

The basic tenets of the Obamacare health plan were invented by conservatives, and implemented by Romney successfully. They only rejected it when Obama proposed it.

It's not an example of socialism, but it can be called "corporate welfare," which is a different matter. Conservatives have derided the program, but have yet to propose anything better, or substantive ways to constrain health care costs. If anything, it is a massive transfer of wealth from the people to the health care and insurance industries, not the other way around.

But as a general principle, socializing the cost of something, be that highways, schools, or public services, is not in itself some ominous sign that the country is becoming socialist. I'm not sure what planet you're on, but state legislatures and governors have become increasingly conservative, which is why education at all levels has suffered. And now the conservatives are whining that the president is asking too much to fight the Zika virus. But trust me, they'll blame him when it becomes an epidemic.

May 6, 2016 at 05:17 PM · And I suppose, Seraphim, that next you're going to tell us that size matters?

The ACA is what you get when you take the concept of nationalized, single-payer health care, which is what we really need, and expose that idea to the harsh reality of congressional obstructionism. You end up with a "compromise" plan that includes a huge giveaway to the insurance industry. Big surprise that the idea originated in the Republican camp.

May 6, 2016 at 05:31 PM · When I think of Trump supporters, I think of the KKK, almost all the KKK members support Trump, in the words of the Grand Wizard, the leader of the KKK; "What Trump believes, we believe". With friends like that who needs enemies.

May 6, 2016 at 05:40 PM · Scott-

NeoTrump or Clintonism, pick your poison?

-"Frankly the whole discussion of capitalism ("yay innovation!") to communism or socialism ("boo no goodski") seems so...1972?"-

I agree with you, but if we don't discuss it we will stay in that era.

Great responses, but it is going a bit south.

Pun intended

May 6, 2016 at 05:45 PM · You did start the thread, Charles. Are you disappointed everyone isn't supporting capitalism??

May 6, 2016 at 05:59 PM · Scott, I live in Massachusetts. Also known as "The Commonwealth of Massachusetts" ("Commonwealth=commie ideology). It's pretty liberal around here.

Romney enacted the MassHealth state health plan here ONLY as a means to try and springboard himself into a presidential campaign bid.

There was nothing conservative about it. It was a pure political play. Ted Kennedy was still around back then, "The Liberal Lion" was his nickname.

May 6, 2016 at 06:11 PM · I will also say, that this thread is not nearly as vindictive and heated as a typical shoulder rest debate....

May 6, 2016 at 06:17 PM · Perhaps one thing that could be experimented with is the idea of music as a more communal activity than it currently is. In some indigenous societies, music performance is something all are expected to participate in regardless of "skill". We focus so much on creating a product that is "good enough" to "sell", deciding in somewhat of an arbitrary way what "good enough" ultimately means. This ultimately alienates and creates elitism and has severed music from its linguistic roots in the first world.

May 6, 2016 at 06:31 PM · Coming back to music, there is a long-standing concern about whether tax money sometimes winds up supporting so-called artistic efforts that many would consider to be in poor taste or gratuitously obscene, or even offensive. The focal point for a while was the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. This issue raised serious questions about public support for art generally.

Lieschen, there's another way to look at that. I'm not concerned about what's good enough to sell. But as a frugal consumer I am concerned about what's good enough to buy.

May 6, 2016 at 07:35 PM · I don't want to offend anyone here, but the question is one of the dumbest questions I've ever read, sorry.

Music is above politics. Music is just music, and it just takes a musician and a great soul with creativity to make it. It's absurd comparing different eras or ages and say "that era was better because there was monarchy, or whatever". Really, it doesn't matter how many statistics, number of composers/pieces and data someone can put on the table to demonstrate there's a relation between politics and a better music period. They have nothing in common, even if we talk about modern music with lyrics heavily influenced by political ideas, they mean nothing to me, music washes all out and leaves a clean and beautiful sound.

Well, also it's very probable that rock or punk (or whatever style you name) that talks all the time about politics is musically very poor and I barely take that band seriously.

May 6, 2016 at 07:42 PM · All I know is that free-market communism, or whatever it is that they have in Shanghai these days, gives you the best bang for your buck violins and violas available today. I just received a new viola from Yita, and I love it.

May 7, 2016 at 03:23 AM · It can be both.

As for socialism/communism stifling creativity; 1. you have to be pretty creative to keep sane, 2. some of the best genius is opened through trial by pressure, imho.

But they also get subsidies.

Capitalism + authoritarianism == not creative, too.

Capitalism + freedom = sometimes creative; and even they it depends.

Capitalism could do great, if the culture values history. Now, I don't mean that those who do not like classical music hate history; but to truly remember it, to feel history's hot breath on your back, reminding you of its glories and failures.

Socialists tend to try to do that. But so did monarchies; and with monarchies, the "noble" is a goal (I wish it still was a goal in art; the desire to evoke a feeling greater than oneself...), etc.

I like capitalism; here's the thing, however; it's less to do with economic or government systems and more to do with environment, in the end. Winter does help, but so does a slightly tough life (provides a bit more drama, helps ones music soar and lower more; is not necessary, but it helps), as does a feeling of respect for history; maybe a teensy bit of patriotism, if not nationalism (but not jingoism).

In the end, I think its a mix of those things; inclement weather (super hot, super cold), tougher life, and respect for history.

That's why ISIS does not produce great music; they don't respect history.

BTW, anyone hear of Gergiev in Palmyra? I loved that; even if you disagree with the Russians, it truly was a triumphant moment for humanity and culture over barbarism and war. Loved it.

And speaking of Russians; they tend to have a good mix of those, though not always. Finns and Balts too; they've been doing great stuff lately. The Islamic world at times had that too, and so did many empires all over the world.

So in the end, I think its a mix, and capitalism vs socialism barely even figures into the mix.

May 7, 2016 at 11:09 AM · I think ISIS respects history; they want to return to the 13th century.

Do they even allow music?

May 7, 2016 at 01:24 PM · Nothing like politics to stir up a debate, even today. It's good to see that we are all not brain dead as many politicians would wish :-) !

PS My name is Dimitri because my dad was a friend of Dmitri Shostakovich and premiered many of his works in the US in the '60s. But I will not be drawn into discussion on this merit.

May 7, 2016 at 05:44 PM · @Philip Hui: Whether or not it’s vulgar and wrong, the site editors approved the original post. So, within the rules of the forum, any one of us can respond to the question OP posed -- and respond to comments already made. Or, if I may once again quote actor Jimmy Stewart’s line from his ANATOMY OF A MURDER film: “The cat’s out of the bag. It’s fair game for me to chase it.”

Again, socialism and capitalism are economic systems, not political ones. Unavoidably, politics enters into the discussion; so now I’m going to address some points others have brought up:

@Lyndon Taylor: You wrote: “… even the Democrats are right wing now, and now we have bona fide fascist running for President ….”

The Democrat party establishment is decidedly not right wing. Neither is the Republican establishment. Although you didn’t name the “bona fide fascist,” you did guess that half of the audience support “him,” which could mean either Sanders or Trump. Neither of these two is right wing.

@Scott Cole: Your reply covers a lot of ground; so, in the time I have available at the moment, I’ll address two of your points:

Rebutting a previous poster’s statement, as I did, doesn’t exactly fit the dictionary definition of rant. The Obamacare example I cited above is, indeed, an example of socialism, which, broadly speaking, could be said of insurance in general. It is also, as you said, corporate welfare, which is first cousin to crony capitalism. By whatever name, it’s very lucrative for the insurance industry.

There are significant differences between Romneycare and Obamacare. Just one of the pages I came across:

“Conservatives have derided the program [Obamacare], but have yet to propose anything better, or substantive ways to constrain health care costs.”

In fact, I’ve heard a number of proposals that make sense -- e.g., mandating basic catastrophic coverage only, but not coverage for routine, non-emergency preventive care. Most of us can pay out of pocket for the latter without breaking the bank. When we have to pay for something, there’s more incentive to shop around and do our part in controlling cost. We’re less likely to know or care about the true cost if insurance covers it. But this is a battle to fight at the state level, not federal. The federal government has no constitutional warrant for this degree of involvement in healthcare.

May 7, 2016 at 06:40 PM · The original question seemed to be good for a discussion. I was interested to read the answers because I am always interested to see how music and cultures relate and influence each other. A lot of these answers have been great. Thank you!

I also think because of the nature of the question, the discussion is really easy to get off track or offensive to some. My mind is racing with all kinds of creative answers, but I have to remember that not everything on my mind should be put on a public forum.

May 7, 2016 at 08:27 PM · Lyndon, what is socialism? Please define capitalism, socialism, and communism for us so we can rectify our ignorance.

May 7, 2016 at 10:30 PM · What about Nero fiddling while Rome burned?

May 7, 2016 at 11:58 PM · Jim Hastings claims that "most of us" can pay for "routine, non-emergency" medical care "out of pocket without breaking the bank."

The county in which I live (Montgomery County, Virginia) has a median household income of $45,000. I invite Mr. Hastings to think about how he would maintain a family of four on that income. And that's the MEDIAN. Over one-third of the families where I live are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. 15% of the people in my county (one in seven) live below the Federal poverty line. This is a college town with many beautiful things and lots of nice restaurants. Most people who visit here would never guess that our locality has this much poverty. But we do. And it's everywhere. Probably even near where Jim Hastings lives. All of the counties in Virginia to our west are significantly poorer still. Just ask your school-age kids how many of their acquaintances at school "buy" their lunch at the cafeteria every day. You think they're doing that because they like the food? Or because their parents are too lazy to make them sandwiches? Get real. Poverty is close at hand, and it is very hard on people. It takes a toll on their health and their kids' educations.

Let's say you've got a family of four with no health insurance. I wonder what it would cost to make sure each family member can get an annual physical, which would include some lab tests, plus deal with a few common illnesses. Kids get the flu, strep throat, allergies, minor injuries, and some have further issues such as asthma or even developmental or behavioral issues. Kids need vaccines. Grown-ups need occasional tests like mammograms, colonoscopies, and preventive gynecology. Women get pregnant.

I'm a pretty healthy guy, but last year I had pneumonia, and then I had a MRSA infection in my foot, so I needed a couple of chest X-rays and some expensive medications, and then I had a few other issues that required more imaging. I'm not sure whether Jim Hastings would consider those non-emergency care, but we're talking about quite routine types of procedures here, stuff that people need all the time. The costs of all that are going to add up to a great deal of money, easily thousands of dollars. Just one office visit with a few lab tests is what some families are spending on a week's groceries.

Then there is the dentist and the optometrist. Folks need their teeth cleaned and their cavities filled and their vision checked and corrected.

What happens is that people who don't have insurance just don't have this stuff done. They get only vaccines they need for their kids to enroll in school. When they get pneumonia they go to the emergency room. When they need dental work they wait for the annual free clinic. They don't get the routine imaging -- they wait until they have pain (i.e., advanced-stage cancer). Their kids get headaches in school or they have to sit in the front row because they need better vision correction.

This is why Mitt Romney lost. He just could not grasp what it means to be anything but rich. It just blows my mind that someone who claims to be so smart about money cannot sit down for a day with someone like a pastor in a poor urban neighborhood or a family doctor in a low-income rural community and learn what people are really dealing with all across America.

Health care, education, and stewardship of our environment -- these are basic necessities of a civilized society. Curiously they were the pillars of Clinton's successful platform. (That's Bill Clinton for y'all history buffs.)

May 8, 2016 at 08:05 AM · The governments of UK and France are eager to go the same way, and the number of folks below ghe poverty line increases in both countries. And music education programmes are disappearing fast.

May 8, 2016 at 08:26 AM · That's because of the push to be more capitalist like America, and less socialist like they used to be.

May 8, 2016 at 09:00 AM · Socialism = irresponsability, captalism = cynicism. What a mess!

May 8, 2016 at 07:47 PM · Socialist, or social welfare. Slightly off track, but it does bewilder me that there seems to be such a suspicion of any social welfare from a government level, in the US. Despite so many people professing to be christian and so you would imagine understand the golden rule (which of course doesn't exclusively belong to that religion anyway), they definitely appear to live by a creed of 'do for yourself and your family first, and let others to look after themselves' rather than 'do unto others'.

In a state controlled autocracy, as an orchestra director you'd just better be sitting in the lap of the leader and only play the music he likes. And if you want to keep your symphony orchestra and not see it dwindle to a small chamber group, make sure every one plays the right note.

May 8, 2016 at 11:16 PM · The problem with government funded "helping your neighbor", is that there are a lot of middlemen starting from when they collect the taxes, until the time they get around to "helping" the folks who really need it when all of those middlemen decide to help themselves to a piece of that pie as it goes past their desk.

It seems to me that is why there is no groundswell of support for government supported handouts. Most of the handouts go directly to those working in the government.

May 9, 2016 at 04:29 AM · True, but that is no reason to insitutionalise poverty.

May 9, 2016 at 11:55 AM · @Paul: Feel free to address me directly -- in the second person. I don’t bite.

Your post covers a lot of ground, so I’ll address the points I have time for:

1. No -- MRSA, with the tests and meds you needed, definitely doesn’t fit into the category of routine, non-emergency visits. Annual physicals do fit there.

2. Mitt Romney didn’t lose the 2012 election because “he just could not grasp what it means to be anything but rich.” I’ve heard plenty of others reading from that same playbook -- it’s a narrative shaped and spun and promoted by the mainstream media and the education establishment.

As a former state governor, Romney wasn’t by any means out of touch. A big reason he lost is that a lot of conservative and evangelical voters, 3-4 million by some reports, sat out the election. And Barack Obama, who should have been, at most, a one-term president -- given his low popularity ratings, low job approval numbers, and the miserable economy -- saw all his 2012 election totals dip from those of 2008 -- fewer popular votes, lower percentage of popular vote, fewer electoral votes.

@Philip, you said earlier: “Mixing this stuff in violinists’ discussion is vulgar and wrong!” You didn’t explicitly say it shouldn’t be allowed. But when you call something vulgar and wrong, you at least imply, even if unintentionally, that it shouldn’t be allowed. Whatever -- Laurie approved the original post, and the discussion followed.

May 9, 2016 at 12:21 PM · Ah yes, the inefficiency argument. Government is inefficient and has to employ a lot of people (what Seraphim Protos calls "middlemen"), therefore it would be better to shift its operations to the private sector, etc.

I am a state employee. I teach university chemistry. I guess that makes me one of the "middlemen" that Seraphim is talking about, spending my days helping myself to a piece of the pie.

When it comes to welfare, opponents always use pejorative terms like "handouts," and if characterized this way, it's true one does not hear a "groundswell of support" for them. It's very hard to convince people that health care, education, environmental stewardship, and a safety net for the poorest among us represent a universal benefit that helps us all live better lives. I can understand having a hard time explaining that to a coal miner who knows he's going to lose his job well short of his expected retirement (if he doesn't die first in a mine accident), but I shouldn't have to explain it to someone who is well educated and privileged and who describes himself as intelligent and sensitive.

My local newspaper, the Roanoke (Virginia) Times, studied the apparent paradox in which the lower-income rural counties of southwestern Virginia have drifted strongly Republican over the last 20 years. Virginia, like many states, has strongly Red areas and strongly Blue areas. The editor's conclusion, essentially, was that these counties have become poorer and poorer as the coal industry has declined, and the poorest folk don't vote.

Seraphim Protos claimed that "most of the handouts go directly to those working in government." Let's analyze that claim by considering a large public assistance program: SNAP (food stamps). Republican Michelle Bachmann once claimed that 70% of the SNAP budget went to "bureaucrats." I mention that only because it sounds eerily similar to what Seraphim Protos is claiming.

First of all, did you know that the average amount provided for a whole meal under the SNAP program is about $1.50? That's $31.50 a week for three meals a day. I have a colleague who wrote a blog about trying to feed himself on that. He found it difficult to impossible and extremely depressing. And he has all of the advantages -- a fully-furnished kitchen, a car that he can drive to where things are on sale, a working knowledge of nutrition, cooking skill, the ability to do arithmetic in his head, and a stable work schedule that allows planning for food preparation.

Coming back to Bachmann's claim that 70% of SNAP goes to "bureaucrats", in reality, even a generous estimate of SNAP's administrative expenses is actually around 5% (Politifact). Yelling "Pants on Fire" doesn't help because the claim is out there, gathering speed on the internet and on talk radio, and proving otherwise takes time and requires nuanced analysis.

Looking at the Federal government more broadly, according to the Office of Personnel Management (, there are ca. 4.2 million Federal employees, whereas there are ca. 100 million recipients of some form of welfare -- 45 million are using SNAP (food stamps) alone. But I suppose when Seraphim meant "most of the handouts" he meant most of the money, not most of the people. So let's look at the money. If the average salary of a Federal employee is $80,000 and if you add 50% for fringes (I'm guessing there), then you arrive at an average compensation of $120,000. Multiplying by 4 million employees and you get $500 billion. That's a little more than 10% of the Federal budget. That number might be low because I don't think it includes labor on Federal grants and contracts. But it *does* include uniformed military personnel. (Not sure if Seraphim Protos considers them among those "helping themselves to a slice of the pie.") The Federal government is a large, complex organization. Compare those administrative expenses to your local private hospital, your church, or any private business in your area.

And don't forget that government employees pay taxes too. And don't forget that individual taxation could be less if we cut back on corporate welfare. Now corporate welfare -- how much of THAT goes to people who are stuffing themselves with pie?

But none of this matters.

It doesn't matter because there are things you just can't shift to the private sector, and those things include universal health care, universal education, environmental stewardship, and a safety net for the poorest among us. These are basic necessities of civilized society. And government is the only way they will happen.

May 9, 2016 at 12:33 PM · So Jim, what you're saying is that the only medical care you expect people to pay for by themselves is the part that will be considered optional and therefore assigned low budgetary priority by a great many people in the lowest economic class? First of all I don't think that will really save all that much money. But anyway, wouldn't it make more sense for the government to pay for the "preventive maintenance" type care, that way it might actually get done, so that there will be less invasive care later on -- care that is costlier by far?

And I'm not the only one who thinks Romney was out of touch. Even David Brooks compared him to Thurston Howell III. That whole 47% thing, that's what sunk his campaign, and Romney knows it.

May 9, 2016 at 03:44 PM · Romney is a stiff, that's his whole problem.

He had/has even less of an idea of how to be president than Trump does.

May 10, 2016 at 02:18 AM · Thanks for the numbers breakdown, Paul. It was informative.

Now, get back to work, you're frittering away my tax dollars!

May 10, 2016 at 03:18 AM · You ask about capitalism vs. socialism so I'm going to leave any other politics out of it in my 2c, despite my personal beliefs.

I think socialism (I'm assuming you mean state socialism) is better for music. It's generally easier for more people to get access to musical education and educators can survive while teaching music. Whether or not these artists and teachers are successful doesn't depend on their profit, but rather on their popularity, which is not economic. In capitalism we see people who cannot afford to learn music, teach music, obtain an instrument, spend time composing, and thus cannot support themselves while they learn.

Moreover, the idea that music has a pyramid like structure of "goodness", with the cream at the top is ridiculous to me. As long as there is someone who wants to listen to it, it's successful. The idea that to be a success you need a million dollars in profits and five million followers on a social media site is very capitalist and I despise it. As is the idea that I will be more creative for money.

The musician who plays on Friday nights at the local pub, creating a pleasant environment and providing a good jig to dance to after a few beers has as much to offer to me as an artist whose album I listen to while I drive to work. I'm glad both of them have been able to play their instruments long enough to make the music they do and that they can support themselves so that I can listen.

May 10, 2016 at 09:56 PM · Emily I appreciated your comments very much. It's complicated because we do live in a society that is strongly capitalist, so some conformity to those principles is inevitable. The musician playing at the local pub may not be able to support a household doing only that, so (s)he might have to have a day job too. Day-jobbers, in turn, risk undermining professionals by accepting gigs at poor wages. Maybe a fair way to put it is that if one enjoys the jig at the pub as much as an album, one way to balance that out some, in one's own small way, is by tipping.

May 10, 2016 at 10:24 PM · Some musicians that play my violas were raised in countries of the ex iron curtain, players of the Gewandhaus Leipzig (East Germany), Ukraine and Romania. According to them the musical education was fantastic, but the other things... Music and sports were used by the political propaganda.

It is good remembering also that Shostakovich and Prokofiev lived in a hell during the Stalinism.

Good instruments were confiscated by the State and luthiers just could not work under communism. My player in Kiev played a viola that was made by a funiture factory....

May 11, 2016 at 03:58 AM · From Wikipedia: Shostakovich achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Soviet chief of staff Mikhail Tukhachevsky, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the government. Nevertheless, he received accolades and state awards and served in the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR (1947–1962) and the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (from 1962 until his death).

May 14, 2016 at 01:57 PM · @Paul: No -- the only health insurance people should be required to purchase is basic catastrophic coverage -- so they don’t get wiped out financially because of serious illness or injury -- and so the rest of us don’t have to keep paying for other people’s trips to the emergency room. Other coverage should be optional. If John Doe and his wife want to have a family, then they -- not the single 27-year-old man or woman with no dependents -- should be the ones to purchase maternity care coverage.

One proposal -- can’t pinpoint the source right now -- listed annual wellness visits as part of basic coverage. That sounds sane and reasonable to me. Still, it’s an issue to work out at the state level, not federal. One size won’t fit all. The federal government has no constitutional warrant for the degree of involvement it has now assumed in healthcare.

For those who can’t pay for basic coverage, there are already government programs in place to deal with this.

I’ve read David Brooks’s piece on Romney. Yet, if the 47% remark was a factor in Romney’s 2012 defeat, it was only one factor among many. A Net search on “why Romney lost” brings up 13,000+ results that list plenty of other reasons.

Again, on the main subject of socialism versus capitalism: Music education may well have been great in some countries of the former East Bloc; but as an earlier poster stated, music and sports were often used for political propaganda. And the miserable conditions people there had to deal with -- well, this doesn’t sound like a good tradeoff, even if the music education was top notch.

May 14, 2016 at 02:28 PM · The thread is about socialist countries like Scandinavia not communist countries like the former Soviet Union, you right wingers can never seem to see the difference between socialism and communism, maybe you should do some research on life in Scandinavia, their supports for the Arts and Music, Health, Education, and Welfare. Then perhaps you could make some more informed comments.

May 14, 2016 at 02:37 PM · The federal/state balance (or here in Europe, the state/local balance)? Central government often has to step in ("interfere") locally, when local authorities cannot or will not assume their responsabilities, e.g. security, education, health and safety, where the individual citizen cannot possibly ever afford the real costs. Low wage earners can just about afford to eat, but lodging and health are nightmares, never mind private music lessons.. I pay a lot of taxes locally, in a very left-wing town, but I know I shall be taken aboard if ever I go under.

May 14, 2016 at 02:50 PM · What country do you live in Adrian, and if you ever found yourself completely broke and out of work, what social services does your country provide for that. In Australia, the country of my birth there's the Dole or Newstart, its a hassle to get but you get about $1000 a month, which is hardly a living wage in high cost Australia, at least you can eat and rent a room. In America all you get in the same situation is food stamps IF you keep looking for work and volunteer to work for free for the government.

May 14, 2016 at 04:08 PM · Lyndon, I'm an expat Brit living, and retired, in France. Both countries reacted to WW2 with a strong socialistic swing. But with slowing economies and free trade, our polititians are trying to persuade us that the Amaereican way is best!

May 14, 2016 at 04:10 PM · Where did it specify Scandinavia?

May 14, 2016 at 04:41 PM · Because Scandinavia is socialist, perhaps the most socialist part of Europe, The former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc were communist and are now more capitalist (again not socialist), not the type of socialism we are discussing. We are discussing Music and the arts in socialist countries, not former communist countries, is that a problem??

May 14, 2016 at 08:09 PM · @Lyndon: Some of us “right-wingers” know quite well the difference between socialism and communism. Yet, as a previous poster said, “Socialism is the puppy that grows up to be the dog of communism.” The Socialist Republic of Romania is just one example of where this did happen.

But not always. Scandinavia is an example of where it didn’t happen. As for Scandinavia: I happened to come across this 2015 article online today:

“Sorry, Bernie -- Scandinavia is no socialist paradise after all”

May 14, 2016 at 08:21 PM · Its thanks to people with attitudes like that that we have the nightmare of Donald Trump to deal with, fascism is a greater threat to America today than socialism.

May 14, 2016 at 09:40 PM · Maybe we should build a wall along the east coast of the U.S. to stop the illegal immigration of the millions, if not thousands of Scandinavians trying to get out from under the iron boot of Socialism!

May 14, 2016 at 09:40 PM · Maybe we should build a wall along the east coast of the U.S. to stop the illegal immigration of the millions, if not thousands of Scandinavians trying to get out from under the iron boot of Socialism!

May 14, 2016 at 10:35 PM · This is not about Scandinavia or the Australian welfare system. We all know what the OP meant by Socialism (hint...Marx!).

And Sweden is...Capitalist! look it up. It's a free market economy that incentivizes private entrepreneurship and protects private property.

May 14, 2016 at 11:45 PM · Its also a higher taxed country where taxes are used to provide an array of social services, the Arts included, for all its citizens, and that is still called socialist or socialistic, or democratic socialist, you chose the term.

And it has everything to do with Australia's social welfare system because that's one of the things a socialist country provides for its citizens, a welfare system, not no welfare system like the United States.

May 15, 2016 at 12:35 AM · “It’s thanks to people with attitudes like that that we have the nightmare of Donald Trump to deal with, fascism is a greater threat to America today than socialism.”

No -- it’s thanks to the current US president, Barack Obama, that we have Trump to deal with. Obama has behaved more like a fascist dictator than any other president in my lifetime.

I’ll satisfy your curiosity, assuming you are curious about this next point: I didn’t vote for Trump in the 2016 primary. And since another poster brought up the subject of Mitt Romney, a subject I’ve already weighed in on: I didn’t vote for him, either, in the 2012 primary.

May 15, 2016 at 02:15 AM · Instead of trying to turn the U.S.Into Sweden, why not simply move to Sweden?

May 15, 2016 at 02:19 AM · Trump is a creation from the bigotry of the extreme left: monsters will create their extreme opposite monsters.

Way off topic, but what can you say. It seems clear that there isn't a efficient political/economic system for music advancement yet, IMO. I am not a big fan of excessive subsidization in democratic, socialist, free market societies, because of the very high taxes. Once the taxes are too high, we then need to increase the taxes for more subsidization, and this creates a never ending downward spiral.

I find subsidized programs very weak, poorly taught, less drive for succeeding, large classes, wasteful spending, abuse etc... I am not saying no to subsidization, I am saying 'less is more'.

Thank's for the great responses.

May 15, 2016 at 06:02 AM · Well said, Charles. I might add that the U.S. has made a greater contribution to the world in terms of music (genres, composition, performance, trends, etc.) and number of world class orchestras, than, say, Scandinavia and down under. Private funding for the arts, embedded in our culture, has always played a critical role. Amen

May 15, 2016 at 07:02 AM · Probably size of population has a little to do with that, Dexter.

May 15, 2016 at 01:07 PM · Politicians should be required to perform on a musical instrument as part of their campaign...

May 15, 2016 at 01:49 PM · NB The "cream rising to the top" is far from the whole story..

May 15, 2016 at 02:49 PM · “I find subsidized programs very weak, poorly taught, less drive for succeeding, large classes, wasteful spending, abuse, etc. I am not saying no to subsidization, I am saying ‘less is more.’”

Agreed. This sums it up. It’s been quite an interesting discussion -- and it’s given some interesting glimpses into the minds of some of the posters.

May 15, 2016 at 03:15 PM · ..including yours, Jim!

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