Cultural Exception Cultivates Civilization, Economy

The French Republic threatens to veto the free trade negotiations between the European Union and the United States of America, if culture is not excluded from the negotiations (as the Cultural Exception in the rest of world trade!). France is right, this essay will show why.

Ultimately, culture is about the greatest wealth. And the greatest wars. Ultimately culture is what makes us what we are, the honor of the human spirit, and the love that endows the mind. It should not be about fighting for bones.

Big Master Is Ordering You

Big Master Is Ordering You

The EU-USA free trade accord is a good idea. Exchanges between USA and EU are already 40% global exchanges, yet, their total GDP is 55% of the world total. That means they could help each other by trading more. (And what about that silly visa thing?)

Custom duties are already low. So the accord is mostly about new, common norms, and the removal of non customs barriers to trade (such as the American regulation that real French cheese is poisonous, verboten).

The rest of Europe is all for free trade with the USA, because a law of 1933 forces the government of the USA to contract with companies of the USA, exclusively (except when there is no choice, and that’s why the US Army ordered 345 combat helicopters built-in Marseilles’ Eurocopter recently, following the US Coast Guard; the USA did not produce a new helicopter type in 20 years, whereas Eurocopter churn them out, so this is a case of no choice!).

But France looks at the millennia, and the mind breathing through them. France does not want to see vacuous, mono-cultural minds. History shows that vacuous, mono-cultural minds have always translated into civilization-destroying horrors. Thus France decided to cultivate cultures, by introducing in GATT (General Agreeement on Tarifs and Trade) the Cultural Exception. Bush’s America never liked that.

Let’s not forget that, in 1938, and 1939, or even 1940, American culture did not overwhelmingly see something ultimately objectionable in Nazism. Literally. So there was no ultimatum of the USA to Hitler (whereas France and Britain gave one). The father and grandfather of two American presidents, Prescott Bush, was Hitler’s most precious collaborator. All the way to August… 1942. August 1942, that’s three full years after the Franco-British declaration of war to the Nazis.

The mind France wants is much grander than that of Big, Uncle Sam Watching All, As Ordered by Greedy Wall Street. In 1948, the perfidious USA proposed France to forget all the French debt owed to her self-interested liberator of sorts during World War Two, as long as France would allow free reign of American movies over France. France, wisely, declined.

This, by the way shows that, from the American point of view, cultural supremacy is more important than money. Even from the American point of view, culture is priceless. Thus why should not others brandish the same principle? As I am going to show, culture ought to become more important than ever. And, if the Americans were smart, instead of having a dog fight with the French, they should learn even about, and from, the importance of culture.

Let’s call Princeton to the rescue.

Excellent editorial of Paul Krugman in Sympathy for the Luddites, about the drawback of technological progress:

“In 1786, the cloth workers of Leeds, a wool-industry center in northern England, issued a protest against the growing use of “scribbling” machines, which were taking over a task formerly performed by skilled labor. “How are those men, thus thrown out of employ to provide for their families?” asked the petitioners. “And what are they to put their children apprentice to?”

Those weren’t foolish questions. Mechanization eventually — that is, after a couple of generations — led to a broad rise in British living standards. But it’s far from clear whether typical workers reaped any benefits during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution; many workers were clearly hurt. And often the workers hurt most were those who had, with effort, acquired valuable skills — only to find those skills suddenly devalued.

So are we living in another such era? And, if we are, what are we going to do about it?

Until recently, the conventional wisdom about the effects of technology on workers was, in a way, comforting. Clearly, many workers weren’t sharing fully — or, in many cases, at all — in the benefits of rising productivity; instead, the bulk of the gains were going to a minority of the work force. But this, the story went, was because modern technology was raising the demand for highly educated workers while reducing the demand for less educated workers. And the solution was more education. “

So far, so good. However Paul, although he means well, then gets confused by the evil spirits, and unwillingly deviates to the Dark Side, at least, the way he concludes:

“… there may have been something to this story [more education, less equality] a decade ago.

Today, however, a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labor is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.”

… Education, then, is no longer the answer to rising inequality, if it ever was (which I doubt).

So what is the answer? If the picture I’ve drawn is at all right, the only way we could have anything resembling a middle-class society — a society in which ordinary citizens have a reasonable assurance of maintaining a decent life as long as they work hard and play by the rules — would be by having a strong social safety net, one that guarantees not just health care but a minimum income, too. And with an ever-rising share of income going to capital rather than labor, that safety net would have to be paid for to an important extent via taxes on profits and/or investment income. I can already hear conservatives shouting about the evils of “redistribution.” But what, exactly, would they propose instead?”

Well conservatives want to conserve things the way they used to be before the awful revolutions in England, America, and France: bring back feudalism. In the ancient order, the Nobles paid no taxes, just as plutocrats nowadays increasingly do not.

And, of course, it was silly to want to use education to fight rising inequality: inequality and education live in different dimensions. One dimension cannot subtract from another, that’s basic math.

Ultimately, in all and any society, the ruling class decides how much it will earn. In a democracy, the People (Demos) Rules (Kratos), and so it earns well. In a plutocracy, the People is nothing, and gets nothing, beyond what is needed for serving the Devils (Plutos) who Rule (Kratos).

There is only one way to prevent democracy to turn into plutocracy: the application of severe and efficient methods to prevent the exponentiation of wealth. Either one can put an absolute limit on the wealth any family can control (that was the method used by the Roman republic for five centuries). Or one can apply heavy, exponentiating taxes (as most societies have done, sometimes with the help of human sacrifices).

Yet, as machines are going to take over most work, what are we The People going to do? A related question is that studies have shown We The People to be very sensitive to propaganda. It has long been known that People, like animals, can be imprinted: the first knowledge they get exposed to, because the only knowledge they own.

An experiment on 6,000 students, using 48 songs, showed that People pretty much love and appreciate what they have been told the tribe love and appreciate. What the better songs are, has more to do with what People are told they are, rather than any other criterion.

This, of course, threatens the very existence of democracy. As people believes what they are told to believe, how can one have democracy? This stage has been reached in the USA, one may fear.

For most People to be happy one needs two things, once decent living conditions are taken for granted: employment and happy, that means, correct, beliefs. Hence the importance of culture. Variegated culture presents minds with choices, and choices means imprinting does not have it easy. (So cultural diversification also fights the rabid oversimplifications leading to war.)

Indeed, there is one way out, and only one of the quandary posed by exponentiating technology: make culture more of an industry. Yes, because there is not just plutocracy that is exponentiating. Besides the government surveillance programs, technology itself is approaching a singularity.

The first Luddites were not English. They were the Roman emperors themselves. Later, after the French refugee + built the second steam boat, and went down a river one hundred kilometers, enraged conservatives destroyed the ship. That set back steam power by nearly a century (well the Roman emperors had set it back by 16 centuries, prior!)

Machines can do farming, and all sort of other tasks, including, increasingly, knowledge service. There is no doubt that robot doctors will do better than doctors in the future. For example, as far as automated gross diagnostics, they already do better. A robot brain surgeon can go where no human hand can, and no human can be so precise.

So machines can do more and more of everything. And that, even before Quantum Computers are massively for sale.

But machines cannot do culture. Yet, everybody can potentially become a culture worker. People can sing, paint, experience the world and tell about it, educate, relate and narrate (“blog”), etc.

It can be ascertained that culture is the growth industry with the greatest potential. In all and any industry, one should outlaw cartels. A fortiori, if culture is to become a growth industry, one ought to refute cultural hegemony, in other words, cultural cartels, cultural monopoly. Hence culture ought to be a “protected industry”, an industry where the grossest, simplest minded free trade rules do not apply.

The corporate culture of the USA’s cultural industry has certainly behaved as a cartel: it’s very difficult for small movies from a small author of a small studio to make it big in the USA. Whereas it can, and does happen all the time in France. “The Artist”, for example, which got the top Oscar, even in Hollywood, started as one such French state subsidized small movie.  

As the cartel aspect already shows, the very size of the cultural market of the USA makes asymmetric any “liberalization”. It’s as if one claimed that it is “liberal” and a “free exchange” of blows, between two fighters, one a gorilla, the other a human child.

Cultural diversity is a very old debate: the Celts had it with the Romans, 25 centuries ago. The Gauls, Romans and Franks spent the next 13 centuries conquering each other, until Europe became another name for cultural diversity.

Conclusion: in trade talks between the USA and the EU, culture ought to be off the table. Culture ought to be traded, but trade is not culture. That’s what the French republic is trying to say.


Patrice Ayme


Note: Decent, clever, civilized Americans of course agree with the preceding: In a press conference headed up by French culture minister Aurélie  Filippetti (Google’s enemy), Harvey Weinstein threw his support behind the cultural exception. “The cultural exception encourages filmmakers to make films about their own culture. We need that more than ever,” he said. He cited some countries moribund film industries and the morbid propensity to simply copy the American model to the detriment of indigenous creativity. “The most important thing is to preserve the environment of cultural films, because it’s good for business too.”

As we have seen, it’s a question of the global economy and global democracy too, especially looking into the only decent future we can have.

Cannes Festival Jury President Steven Spielberg called the cultural exception “the best way to support diversity in filmmaking” during his closing ceremony remarks. As Spielberg came to Cannes with his 80 meter yacht, and spent two million there for his creature comforst, one cannot suspect him to be scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

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12 Responses to “Cultural Exception Cultivates Civilization, Economy”

  1. bowtiejack Says:


    Couldn’t agree more.

    Interestingly, both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg think Hollywood is entering a death spiral which is going to end up with fewer studios and a lot fewer theaters.

    It’s like a basic problem in systems theory or something – a feedback loop of ever bigger blockbusters (and therefore fewer movies that would appeal to many different audiences and offer system resilience ) so that the studios (corporations) can make more money quicker and when several of these blockbusters eventually crater at the same time (as they will), they take the whole system down with them.

    Why wouldn’t France want to be part of that? How very un-American of you.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear bowtiejack: Thanks. Arguably the quality death spiral has been entered a while ago. I find recent Hollywood blockbusters boringly predictable (although I loved the somewhat predictable “Avatar”, which I watched high in the Alps, of all places…). A curious thing, sitting in a theater, and knowing perfectly well what will happen next, in this movie one sees for the first time. After half an hour of this, one does not feel like renewing the experience…

      Apparently France won, after blocking the entire European Union for 12 hours. Audio-visual will be excluded from negotiations with the USA… Then PM Harper from Canada came up to the Elysee to approve the two weeks old French finding of usage of Sarin gas in Syria… By Assad. That will be the next essay…


      • bowtiejack Says:


        Years ago, I knew a Hollywood screenwriter who told me basically that he couldn’t stand to watch most TV or movies because it was like watching a kid assemble Lego blocks – you knew, as you said, exactly what the next piece was going to be.


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Problem though is that, if one tells something really unexpected, one can get blacklisted, fast and deep. Even me, on this site, I have to hold my horses. After the mass murder in Norway by some crazed Nazi, I said something and a reader of this site was incredibly furious, and said he would never read it again. Funny thing is that some European Nazis tried to kill me in the (distant) past, so I cannot be suspected of encouraging murderous fascism…


  2. pshakkottai Says:

    Hi Patrice: Monetary sovereignty can fund culture as well and would be needed in case of disemployment.
    “Let’s begin with three facts:

    1. Most Americans work primarily to obtain dollars.
    2. Americans use dollars to acquire life necessities and indulgences.
    3. The U.S. government has the unlimited ability to create dollars.

    Put them together and you have the beginnings of a solution: The federal government should provide more dollars for life necessities and even indulgences, with less requirement for human labor.

    Yes, of course, if no one worked, nothing would be done and we’d all starve. But we’re not talking about no one working. We’re talking about working less, and enjoying life more.

    And yes, some people love their work. No problem; they can continue to work, if they can find it. And yes, some people may choose not to work at all. No problem; they can live the life non-work affords.

    Now for the reality of the majority: Given previous points #1, #2 and #3, we can consider how we might plan for the inevitable disemployment:

    1. Legally reduce the traditional 40 hour work week to 30 hours and less.
    2. Prevent hunger for lack of dollars. The government could provide for everyone’s basic food supplies by paying grocery stores to offer free milk, meat, fish and vegetables.
    3. Provide health care for everyone. The government could pay for 100% Medicare for every American of all ages.
    4. Keep people from suffering homelessness. The government to pay for home mortgages at a minimum level (Rather than “minimum wage,” we could have “minimum home mortgage,” where people could add dollars for more expensive homes. Or “minimum rent,” something akin to the government paying for hotel stays).
    5. Just as today we provide free education, grades 1-12, the government should provide free college and advanced degree education to every American.
    6. Begin with government-paid-for local, public transportation, then expand this by paying airlines and railroads for free national public transportation.

    We began this discussion with three facts. There is a fourth fact: Disemployment is the future. As winter follows fall, nothing will stop it.

    At first blush, some ideas may seem outlandish, if based on yesterday’s employment reality. But, disemployment already has begun. The coming years will continue to see less and less need for human labor. We can close our eyes to change, and follow the increasingly obsolete “full-employment” paradigm. Or we can begin to discuss ways to meet this challenge.

    Summer has ended. Fall has just begun. We can buy heavy clothing for winter – clothing which may seem outlandish based on yesterday’s warm reality – or we can ignore the occasional chilly breeze, and allow ourselves to freeze when the snow falls.

    Disemployment is not an “if.” It’s a “when” and the when is upon us. We can rail against the cold, or we can prepare. We should stop looking at unemployment as a problem to be solved, but rather as an eventuality and an opportunity to loosen the binds of obligatory labor.

    How would you make disemployment work?

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
    Monetary Sovereignty


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Partha: Well, agreed. And what causes this fall? Here is an inkling:

      The housing crisis is just a facet of the problem of a not-decently-growing-enough economy. Basically a honest man’s work does not bring a well located, next-to-work decent house. It’s not just about how much a house cost, and how much debt one has to service to acquire it.

      More globally, what we have here, on a planetary scale, a scale never tried before, is a classic plutocratic power grab. Plutocrats have gathered enough momentum overall, to try to overwhelm democracy. That’s why they can successfully impose that innocent children ought to pay, in the USA, or in Portugal, whereas they are the ones who should pay, through massive taxes and expropriations.

      In Portugal, children go to school hungry. In California the plutocratic tax threat has been much alleviated by having children enter school one full year later. Why to learn to think, when all they need, is to love their masters?

      Then, of course, discouragement sets in. Everybody can see the comically named “democratic” president run around his filthy rich friends, begging them for money, and nobody cares about the intercourse these guys are having with democracy. Although, of course, what Obama sells is what the filthy rich are buying, namely, well, taxpayers’ money, democracy itself. Crony capitalism will get its hundreds of billions; cheap, decent housing will get nothing.

      This will go on as the increasingly accepted new normal, until feudalism is accepted, or a revolution rescues the economy. Let alone decency.


    • EugenR Says:

      Dear Pshakottay, I have to disagree with some of your propositions. and let me start point after point.
      1. Food, transportation and housing free of charge in the minimum level. This policy is called subsidy of basic products, and was and still is implemented in many underdeveloped countries. This practice causes disruption of relative price, with which comes waste, disruption in production efficiency and deformation of resource allocation. As economist i suggest to stick to the slogan subsidize those who are in need and not the needs. Subsidies causing price disruption were the major cause of the collapse of the USSR economic system, viz. chapter 6 in my book.
      By the way in these days the same policy brought on brink of economic collapse countries like Egypt and probably even Venezuela.
      2. Free education or free medicine is good, until you can secure their quality. If these services are monopolized by the government and are free for everybody in all the levels, they tend to lose with time their quality. Again i would be careful here with limitless supply of these, otherwise were important services, and limit them to be free at their basic level. The more expensive niche of these services i would leave for free market.
      3. Employment, as correctly written by Patrice is going to be a huge problem in the next decade. The latest technologies are going to create a massive wipe out of many occupations in services. Most of the services are and going to be on line services for very low price and even free of charge (even Hollywood is having problems). One other example i would mention are the university lectures you can get already today on line, many free of charge. They are not only done by the very best lecturers, but you can re-play them if you did not understand something. Are the universities prepared for this development? Maybe all that will be left for the universities is to become research centers, communicating on line with the students and organizing meetings of professionals and students, to let them socialize in the real and not only virtual way.
      4. Dis-employment. I strongly believe the individual and social human existence is based on duty. If you take it from them, they lose the meaning for existence. So if there is no need anymore for obligatory labor, still has to be find some other form of duty.


      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        dear Eugen: Agreed to all! (I hope Partha does not get upset!) (Well intentioned?) Free food (from EU) has been a big problem in Africa, because it kills small local farming. And Venezuela, whatever the good sides of Chavez’s policies, is, in some ways, a basket case. BTW, this was the essence of Deng Tsiao Ping reforms in China. Although Deng started as a hard core French communist of the most obdurate type, he realized the limits…

        Education and (health) care are different: they are their own motivations, and financial profits interfere NEGATIVELY, DESTRUCTIVELY with them.

        Basically people trade power. Educating and caring is empowering. be it only because one cannot be easily replaced.

        Feeding people at the market is not empowering… Except if one gets a fungible (financial in practice) reward for it.


        • pshakkottai Says:

          Hi Patrice:
          Education and health care are indeed different. For example, the federal govt in India funds 85% of all education and almost all health care (at whatever level) is free even though private health care also exists for people who fancy it.
          The govt funded education is sought after.

          India has a rural job guarantee which is not exactly a subsidy.

          Anyway I don’t see the objection to work less and live more.


  3. EugenR Says:

    Dear Patrice. The “American” cultural imperialism is much more than Hollywood. It is everything connected pop culture, including the jeans trousers, hamburgers, beverages, Pizzas (they are not Italian invention), suburbs, the shopping malls etc. I could continue but already what i mentioned is enough to understand the level of penetration of the American pop culture world wide. Why this huge success of this culture, compared to the European culture, which represents to my opinion much more sophistication? Because the European culture always was and still is culture for elites unless it imitates the American culture. Yet, in US exists culture that is not necessarily “Hollywood culture”. The problem is not so much the American pop culture itself but the way it is marketed. The marketing industry with its brainwashing systems, that bombards you from the moment you wake up, until the moment you finally exhausted go to sleep with the same slogans repeating again and again, as if you would be a retarded monkey (or maybe we are already retarded monkeys), this is the problem. If i would be the French negotiator, i would demand to forbid these practices.

    I have some ideas how to regulate adds, but as the very first i would not to let the same slogan to be broadcasted more frequently than once a week. Then when this disturbing noise of the adds would calm down, maybe the masses would have chance to listen to somewhat more sophistical culture than repetition of the same slogan over and over again.


  4. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Dear Partha; We agree. Working is one thing, being employed another. Everybody in society ought to be employed, or have a meaningful occupation in some way.

    For example, before the age of 16, children ought to be occupied by acquiring education (something the UN charter of the rights of children imposes, and why North Korea and the USA did not sign it!)


  5. Momo Says:

    Pas tout à fait fini l’essai.J’aime beaucoup .d’accord sur tout ce que tu dis.
    Très futé d’avoir cite Krug.!
    Bises. M.


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