Friday, June 12, 2015

Uh-Oh, We're On the Radar

There is an old saying that you may not like politics, but politics likes you. This seems more and more true these days. For a long time, due mostly to a link from the king of blogs, Instapundit, my post on Guitar Wars was the top post here at the Music Salon. That was about a really absurd raid by federal agents on the Gibson guitar factory, in which they hauled away a whole bunch of ebony and rosewood.

Now the Wall Street Journal has a new article up titled "The Federal Marching Band of Music Regulators" that collects together a whole bunch of ways in which the feds (in the US, at least) are trampling all over the music business (and, indirectly, music itself). If that article is behind the paywall for you, you can likely read it by typing the title into Google search. Here is a sample:
In 2007 the Federal Trade Commission launched a broad and far-fetched price-fixing investigation against instrument and equipment manufacturers. Far-fetched because it is difficult to imagine how makers of such disparate products—microphones, guitars, drums and keyboards—could fix prices. It took two years for the FTC to realize that it had no case, but only after threatening fines, conducting depositions and commandeering terabytes of corporate records.
 Read the whole thing for the cost and damage to the industry. Here is another example:
In March 2013 the FTC then turned its sights on the Music Teachers National Association, a 139-year old organization comprised primarily of women who give piano lessons in their homes. The group’s code of ethics, which discouraged members from poaching one another’s students, was deemed a restraint of trade. The association got off without a fine but had to abandon its code of ethics, train members about “anticompetitive practices,” draft a 20-year compliance plan, and file annual updates with the FTC.
Ugh. Here is yet another example:
Last year Gold Tone Banjo was fined $110,000 by the Fish and Wildlife Service over a few bits of oyster shell. Gold Tone failed to properly fill out “e-Doc” customs declarations for the material, which was to be used for fingerboard inlays. These aren’t endangered species, but farmed oysters like on menus everywhere. Federal officials initially asked for a $370,000 fine and a six month jail term for the owners, backing off only after weeks of negotiation.
I imagine that by this point, if you are a music-lover like myself, you are reaching peak rage. It is the arrogance, ignorance and psychopathic impertinence of this that is simply insufferable. By what right do these people feel they can interfere with our peaceful pursuit of the art and business of music? By no right, of course. But the overweening regulatory state acts according to its pursuit of power, not the rule of law. And it more and more escapes even the most basic of restraints. The article comments, following a dispiriting list of fines assessed for little or no cause:
The fines are a matter of public record, though, on advice of counsel, manufacturers decline to publicly discuss details. They know public criticism of the FCC could result in retribution when future products are submitted for approval.
Only totalitarian societies rule by this kind of fear of retribution.

Many years ago I stumbled across public choice theory, which attempts to offer theories as to the behaviour of governments. I found it quite persuasive. You see, despite what every single politician says, about how they are acting for our benefit, the truth is that governments everywhere act so as to further their interests. Unfortunately, it is the nature of governments to be constantly trying to increase their power and reach. Most industries have long known the heavy hand of administrative regulation, now it is our turn: we are on their radar. No aspect of the music business is too innocuous or insignificant to be free from the interference and intervention of the state. It is particularly incongruous for music because it is so obviously inappropriate and unnecessary.

Now for a musical envoi that will, I hope, drain off enough apoplectic anger so that we can all get on with our day. In honour of Gold Tone Banjo, this is Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs with Foggy Mountain Breakdown recorded in 1949:

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