(Why) Do Artists Hate Capitalism?


Last week, John Stossel talked with former MTV veejay and current radio host Kennedy and Miami Herald TV writer and Reason contributing editor Glenn Garvin about artists and capitalism. Click above to watch the discussion, which starts with Stossel inveighing against the Rolling Stones' (Can't Get No) Satisfaction, the anti-consumerist ditty that gave them their first U.S number one hit.

That's true, though it's also worth pointing out that the Rolling Stones are arguably the most famous tax exiles this side of Leona Helmsley.

As Stossel notes later in the segment, there are in fact a lot of pro-capitalist recording artists and other creative types out there. Yesterday, I pointed to a recent New York Times story on art-throbs Rachel Feinstein and John Currin who self-describe as libertarian.

Back in 2000, Brian Doherty took a long look at the "strange politics of millionaire rock stars."

I'll be on Stossel tonight, talking about government waste. Tune in to Fox Business at 10PM ET.

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  1. I dated an artist once, when I met her she was selling paintings for $250 each, a year later it was $500 each.

    She was making great money, yet you’d think the bitch would be self-sufficient? Hell no!

    She wanted Uncle Sam to pay her to study Philosophy and was angry because the government wouldn’t do it.

    I don’t remember Socrates and Aristotle getting paid to study philosophy. I’m sure they had real jobs and later on, fans that supported them.

    But try telling an artist that? When they’re poor they expect you to pay the bills and when they’re rich they want everyone else to pay more taxes while they forget to pay theirs.

    What’s the name of that black actor in jail for tax evasion?

    Restaurant Owner Threatened for ‘No Speak English, No Service’ sign.…..or-no.html

    1. Re: Gregory Smith,

      What’s the name of that black actor in jail for tax evasion?

      He’s not in jail for tax evasion. He’s in jail for failing to file a tax return.

      Yes, THAT silly.

      1. Wesley Snipes. He is in jail because he had the stones to challenge George Bush’s IRS and Justice Department.

        1. yep, because Clinton and Obama’s IRS doesn’t want you to pay taxes.

          1. One, it was the Bush Justice Dept. that prosecuted him. Two, Gregory Smith asseverates that the GOP is the party of liberty. Three, Gregory Smith represents that he is a libertarian. Four, he makes an irrelevant statement which is inapposite to his argument. Five, I made my post upon the basis of one through four.

            1. So you think it’s ok for celebrities to break the law? That’s not libertarianism, that’s being blinded by fame. Hey, as much as I hate paying taxes, until the progressive income tax is declared unconstitutional, you have to pay them!

              1. Hey, as much as I hate paying taxes, until the progressive income tax is declared unconstitutional, you have to pay them!

                Repeal every amendment to the constitution that was passed in 1913, and this nation would be a much better place.

    2. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were paid by their students. In, incidentally, private schools (esp. the latter two).

      1. I believe Socrates actually joined the military too (or at least the story goes) and fought to defend Athens. The dude wasn’t one of these “career” philosophers, and certainly wasn’t a philosophy major demanding that the Athens government use taxpayer dollars to pay his lectures.

        1. The point is, he was engaged in his society and not just mentally wanking on some abstract ideals, which I believe made him a better philosopher.

  2. I think you can be against commercialism without being against capitalism. I know I am.

    My antipathy toward commercialism is a purely personal point of view. I certainly wouldn’t want it to become policy.

    1. Re: Colin,

      I think you can be against commercialism without being against capitalism.

      Selling your art is yucky.

      1. I certainly wouldn’t want it to become policy.

        Then what’s the point of even having a point of view if you’re not going to try to force everyone else to share it?

        1. You need to expressly add a sarcasm tag

      2. “Selling your art is yucky.”

        not the same thing, broseidon.

    2. This is pretty much the point I wanted to make. Although I don’t know if I’d say I’m against commercialism. I just personally find it distasteful and don’t really want to participate to any great extent. But I recognize that is has some value. There is nothing inherently consumeristic or selfish about libertarianism.

      1. Me too. Being laissez-faire doesn’t mean I’m a consumerist zombie willing to buy whatever is hawked in my direction and base my opinion of myself on how much stuff I have that I can flaunt to everyone else. People fooled into buying crap simply on the basis of cool advertisements are sheep, likely in more ways than one.

        Moreover, it is perfectly consistent with libertarianism to not knowingly buy the products of corporations that violate the rights of others, either through rent seeking, or through the literal violation of rights and abuse of workers that progressives often point out. Collective actions like boycotts are natural and perfectly market-based reactions to respond to bad corporations, increasing demand for their preferable competitors. If libertarians wanted to make serious inroads with the progressive Left, this would be a natural bridge, by providing preferable market-based alternatives to government regulation.

    3. How can you be against commercialism? What do you think brings CHOICE in the marketplace?

  3. well just a minute here. Anti-consumerism != anti-capitalism. Part of capitalism is that you optimize society by having individuals make wise decisions about their exchanges, and exhorting people against unwise and mindless purchasing doesn’t seem to be terribly incompatible with that.

    Whether or not buying a rolling stones single isn’t a mindless purchase, thought, is still a valid question.

    1. bah, I was beaten by Colin by a mere few seconds. Blast my attempt at injecting wit!

  4. […]the Rolling Stones are arguably the most famous tax exiles this side of Leona Helmsley.

    […]I’ll be on Stossel tonight, talking about government waste.

    Very appropriate to mention the two, as they are VERY CLOSELY RELATED.

    “Thieves spend money like there’s no tomorrow (the saying goes: stolen money burns the hands.) So does the greatest thief of all: The State.”

  5. This belongs here more than where I put it. It’s a t-shirt that reads, “If I had a dollar for everytime that capitalism was blamed for the problems caused by government I’d be a fat filmmaker with a baseball cap.…..alog=false

    1. That’s too damned expensive for the quality of shirt they print it on.

  6. I’m a film student and a libertarian. I think this idea that artists hate capitalism is incredibly exaggerated, to be honest with you.

    I think artistic people are just weird, and opinionated. A lot of that goes in a leftist direction, especially since the GOP would rather ban everything we do and throw us in jail.

    But really, I’ve been on film sets where there’s a lot of political discussion. I’ve always encountered a wide variety of opinions and a polite exchange of views. Many filmmakers I know are religious conservatives, others are hippie vegans, still others libertarians.

    1. Re: King Mob,

      I think artistic people are just weird, and opinionated. A lot of that goes in a leftist direction, especially since the GOP would rather ban everything we do and throw us in jail.

      If you really believe that only the GOP will throw your ass in jail for your art, you’re in for a very rude awakening.


      What would you say to a regime that would expect YOU to follow the party line and “help the cause”… or else?

      1. Was anyone on that call proposing to put artists in jail because of their art? I don’t think so. The GOP does tend to be more in favor of criminalizing obscenity, which is the only place I can think of where art might get someone put in jail in the US.

        1. Exactly. There’s a strong religious wing in the GOP.

          It’s not just the legal issue, it’s their whole attitude. Artists are free thinkers who like to go own our own way and defy convention. Social conservatism and especially religious fundamentalism are completely opposed to that.

          By the way, the website Big Hollywood is wanker bullshit. I don’t want Pravda style movie reviews from a neocon perspective, thanks. Fuck their ideology.

          I’m sure they’re having wet dreams of forming ideological commissions to have witch hunts against Hollywood writers. Miserable fucking people.

          1. King Mob|3.18.11 @ 12:49AM Artists are free thinkers who like to go own our own way and defy convention.

            As long as they all tow the leftist lion.

  7. “Artists” make a lot of money by saying they are anti-money so they are just reacting to the market.

    Other people make lots of money by making deals with dictators, its just the way the market satisfies needs. Dictators money is just as much money as everyone else’s.

  8. anti-consumerist ditty

    I have a weakness for thinking Mick Jagger is an all-knowing meta-genius, but “a man comes on and tells me how white my shirts could be, but he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke the same cigarettes as me” appears to be a ’60s London Situationist style mockery of anti-consumerism as a form of hypocritical or repressed branding.
    I mean, the verse’s narrator owns?and explicitly claims (he says “my”) (I’ve never noticed this before, but the verse goes “my”/”me”/”my”/”me” like the baby’s-first-word “ideological argument” for property)?a TV.
    My edumaction just paid off, yo!

  9. an anti-capitalist pose would be much more convincing if they gave their work product away instead of selling it.

    1. Re: X,

      an anti-capitalist pose would be much more convincing if they gave their work product away instead of selling it.

      Well, principles don’t put food on the table, honey!

    2. I don’t know what their politics are / were, but I know Fugazi used to put on $5 shows. The Minutemen were explicitly left-leaning (although I don’t think they were Che types). Again, they played smaller, low cost shows so their fans working at minimum wage could get in – “we jam econo” was one of their slogans.

      I disagree with the politics, but at least they put their money where their mouths were, vs. Mr. Morello et. al.

      Also, grylliade mentioned Kennedy was a libertarian on a previous thread. I was a tad dubious, but he was obviously right.

      1. Left anarchists.

  10. Many artists hate capitalism because their career choice doesn’t pay the bills, so they expect others to foot the bill for them.

      1. …Take it away!

    1. Many bad artists

    2. I think that is a big part of it, but I think that more of the reason is that somehow, some time in the 60’s I would guess, leftism somehow managed to brand itself as the hip political philosophy that all the cool kids are into. Which seems a bit weird. Even hard core right wingers have more of a sense of humor than your typical communist. And no one is more fun than libertarians.
      This is something I have been trying to make sense of for a while. It seems to me that individualism and antiauthoritarianism should really be a lot more popular, especially among the youth. But somehow the left managed to brand itself as antiauthoritarian and captured most of the young rebel market. The key now is to show the kids that the 60s left IS the establishment now and they are not cool and wearing a Che shirt is fucking dumb.
      Or maybe I’m over-thinking and people just want “free” stuff.

      1. I think that the individualism and antiauthoritarianism show themselves through libertinism and then you are left with the social justice indoctrination they got in school determing their political stances.

  11. I could go on about his for a long time because I think it brings up a lot of different issues. I think that most working artists don’t hate capitalism but that is because they can earn a living making art. Now that is not to say they aren’t bleeding heart liberals soaked in rawlsian ethics. But since other people confirm their beliefs that their work is valuable, they are ok with the system. Now if you are an unsuccessful artist working at Starbucks them the odds of hating capitalism goes through the roof. The reason they hate capitalism is because the system is telling them that their worn has no value. It is fairly easy to understand why someone would not like being told they suck even if it’s true. Factor in the romantic notions our society holds about artists especially the muse, talent over work, ars gratis artis, and mental illness and the deck is heavily stacked against capitalism.

    But it would also probably mean that if they couldn’t get a grant under a socialist system, they would hate that too.

    1. *Work has no value

  12. Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen Kennedy in close to 20 years. She’s got to be in her 40s and or close and is actually getting hotter with age. She was sorta meh in her 20s.

  13. this is pretty overblown because it ignores the most commercially-minded, consumption-obsessed musical form on earth – popular hip hop. entire songs bragging about material possessions, etc etc and so forth.

    to listen to this shit you’d think every single musician was rage against the machine.

  14. Q: Why do artists hate capitalism?

    A: They don’t, because they have never experienced it.

  15. Definitely agree with the point that libertarian ideas are more difficult to explain. Think about the minimum wage – is it easier to tell someone that it helps the poor because it makes them earn more money, or to explain that all it really does is increase the unemployment rate?

    Several times when taking a train or plane I’ve overheard the person in front of me say something that was bad economics, and I wanted to reply to them. But it just struck me as futile. To tell them why they are wrong I would have to start at such a basic level that it would take forever.

    Maybe I’m just being arrogant here, but I don’t think I am.

  16. If I try to hear the Stones doing “Satisfaction” in my head, I can’t. I can only hear DEVO. I love the Stones, but something about DEVO’s staccato vocals on this song just wipes the Stones’ version right out of my head. Also, who cares if it’s anti-capitalist? It’s a great song on just a superficial reading.

  17. I think the hostility among artists toward capitalism comes from their lack of flexibility. They’re so focused on their craft that they forget there’s a larger world and market out there that maybe has other priorities than the nuances of their particular specialty. You see this in a lot of areas actually — the market-induced division of labor often breeds disdain for the market among people who feel insecure about the marketability of their chosen specialty.

    Basket-weavers, candle makers, and extreme avant-garde artists are going to be more likely to look to a government strongman for support than perhaps an entrepreneur who invests and is involved in several industries. I for one enjoy a lot of avant-garde art but often the market for it is lacking.

  18. To be truly anticapitalist though an artist would have to completely withdraw from economic activity.

    Which is clearly impossible to do even if they wanted to. Rage Against the Machine selling “anticapitalist” CDs is still an act of capitalism, no matter how communistic their lyrics may seem. Follow the money, watch what artists DO, don’t listen to the lyrics for goodness sake.

  19. Capitalism has been very good to me and I don’t think many people even know what it is — most people don’t even know what money is, let alone double-entry accounting. And I am an artist and producer, not a whiner or a victim. I take responsibility for my life and I’m fully aware that others will think whatever they want, but I live my life my way and I love being successful. I apologize for nothing. Negative people who can’t produce or create or build or enjoy life are ungrateful and deserve no attention from me. I work hard, I’m legal, I’m happy, I employ people (and some are artists!) and I’m a good person. Maybe it’s because I have Asperger’s, but, I don’t see what’s wrong with Capitalism — a like-value exchange is ethical. Stealing other people’s property (even through due process of law) is not ethical or right. I made a music video about this exact topic. You can watch it for FREE at — or you can buy it as a digital download along with a T-shirt. Hell kids, I’m an artist who loves making art and loves making money. Without money I can’t eat, pay bills, etc. and I have NEVER taken government money or handouts. I have earned my money and some projects even have investors. And as someone who beat his own cancer and gives to charities every year and does fundraisers (including for the U.S. Military) I love giving money, too, to those grateful to receive it. God Bless everyone. Each day is a blessing. Receive it.

  20. I had such a huge crush on Kennedy back when she was The Virgin Kennedy on KROQ. And that was pre-interwebs so I didn’t even know what she looked like.

  21. I don’t believe artists hate capitalism. But I do think arts education does not teach artists very well on how to market their work and become self sustaining in their feild. I also think American compared to European countries does not support the arts very much so Social democracies have a great deal of appeal to many artists who struggle to make by. But also I must say that my impetus to create art is to communicate, enlighten, and share emotion, create affect – ie. Humanism. Creating art strictly for the market place can easily dictate what you create. Artists in America need both integrity and entreprenuerial skills to survive. And even with them it is pretty tough. I work both in visual arts and theater. I make more money in theater because I found a niche. But even here when I get a check it is a pitence. Theater is really not the most lucriative endover. But let’s also be real artists for five hundred years have been supported largely from wealthy patronage. Often the neuvo-rich in America have such a low appreciation that they could care less. I certainly don’t hate capitalism and strive to be a better marketer for my work but this is a task of a super human to do this and take the time to make quality work. This is a much more involved subject.

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