More on Live Earth

I would add two things to Mike’s well-taken criticism of artist-bashing below. First is a distinction between agendas and alternatives. Artists can play an altogether wholesome role in shifting the public’s attention, getting them to focus on particular issues rather than others, or even more important, shifting their attention from private concerns to public concerns. On the latter issue, they may in the process increase the public’s willingness to accept costs for benefits they had not previously been aware of. Where they are not particularly useful at all is the selection of alternatives–whether we should use cap and trade or taxes (my preference is the latter) is a matter on which I don’t think anyone should particularly care what Jon Bon Jovi thinks. Second, artists may cause the public to convert things that were previously thought of as costs into benefits. Consider gardening. Is it drudgery or a hobby? It depends on how people think about it. The changes associated with environmental protection may operate the same way. Walking or taking public transit or driving a fuel-efficient car are costs, unless people think of it as a way to signal their environmental virtue, in which case they become converted into benefits (up to a point, and for certain population groups). Artists are trend-setters, and trends are parts of the process by which people decide whether certain behaviors are costs or benefits.

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.