This is absolutely, positively not a political blog and never will be, but the most art-relevant story I read this weekend appeared in the Washington Post‘s “Outlook” section. It’s a piece by Everett Ehrlich, Bill Clinton’s undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs, on the economic reasons why the Internet is bringing about the decline of the two major political parties:
To an economist, the “trick” of the
Internet is that it drives the cost of information down to virtually
zero. So…smaller information-gathering
costs mean smaller organizations. And that’s why the Internet has made
it easier for small folks, whether small firms or dark-horse
candidates such as Howard Dean, to take on the big ones….
Say you want to buy an appliance, or a vacation. You know
there are bargains out there, but it takes time and energy to find
them. That’s what economists call the “transaction cost” of a
purchase. This cost of acquiring information is everywhere: the time
it takes to call a friend or to learn something in a newspaper. Or the
time and resources it takes a company to find out where to find parts
and to make sure they show up at an assembly line on time.
Back when it cost a great deal to learn and know things — when
transaction costs were very high — big corporations had to solve the
problem of coordinating information, such as what customers wanted to
buy, what parts were being produced and shipped, how to make sure
prices covered costs, and so on. The advent of mass production and
similar “process” technologies let firms produce and sell things —
cars, steel, oil, chemicals, food — on a much larger scale, so there
was suddenly much more information to coordinate.
Companies solved this problem by creating massive bureaucratic
pyramids… Now, however, with internal communications networks and the speed of
the Internet, you don’t need a horde of people in a big pyramid to
handle all that information. Firms have become “flatter” and “faster,”
and the “networked” or “virtual” company has come into being — groups
of firms that use shared networks to behave as if they were part of
the same company….
Now anyone with a Web site and a server, a satellite
transponder and about $100 million can have — in a matter of months
— much of what the political parties have taken generations to build.
Technology, of course, has changed politics before. Television changed
the two parties, for example, but it didn’t make the parties obsolete.
In fact, in the day of Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy,
television strengthened the two-party duopoly (the economist’s term
for a shared monopoly), as only those two parties had the resources to
use it competitively.
But the Internet doesn’t reinforce the parties — instead, it
questions their very rationale. You don’t need a political party to
keep the ball rolling — you can have a virtual party do it just as
Read the whole thing here. Then think about how it applies to the myriad ways in which the Internet has already transformed the world of art, from the decline of the classical recording industry to eBay’s inadvertent creation of a worldwide “single market” for art auctions to the inauguration of artsjournal.com and its associated blogs.
I can’t say it often enough: The Web changes everything. Any artist who doesn’t understand that, and isn’t acting on the knowledge, is going to get left behind. Likewise any arts journalist. Even if economicspeak makes your eyes glaze over, read Everett Ehrlich’s piece (which is written in plain English, not jargon) and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Believe me, your time will be well spent.