In Praise of Commercial Culture, by Tyler Cowen

This was the first “academic” book I read. I got my hands on it in the second month of college. It’s not clear what prompted me to read it. I hadn’t yet gotten into the econ world and didn’t know much about the blogs out there.

In Praise of Commercial Culture made me decide to major in econ. At the time I was seriously considering going into music, and this showed me that I can synthesize both interests.

The argument is that the market economy is good for the arts. The case is well-presented, and I loved the digressions into the lives of artists and music history.

The book is about economics, arts, and most importantly their interaction. You can use economics, for example, to think about the split between low and high art. So: artists struggle between indulging their own taste or the taste of their audience. When society on average is richer, artists may not have to pander. And that’s part of the reason we got Schoenberg and Chagall.

It’s not meant as a history of culture, I learned so many interesting tidbits about composers and artists, enough for me pick up other books after this one to read them in more depth.

Cultural facts are easy to acquire. This book showed me what it’s like to impose an economic framework for thinking about these facts more rigorously.