The wealth, freedom, and diverse experiences of a commercial culture liberate artists and educators both to be more creative and to cater to the demands of the general population. In a poor society in which only a small elite has wealth and leisure, artists and educators cater only to the elite’s desires. Art forms disliked by elites, as well as knowledge not useful to them, do not thrive. But as trade creates greater and more-widespread wealth, the range of tastes and opportunities that are available to support and influence art and education grows. With the elites no longer being the exclusive supporters of art, the artist who previously found no support for his musical compositions or his poetry might now find sufficient support from the middle classes. Likewise for the teacher who, earlier, found no market for his knowledge.

This is from Econlib’s Feature Article for November, “Free Trade and Globalization: More than ‘Just Stuff'” by George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux.

In the article, Boudreaux argues that not only does free trade give us freedom and more stuff, but also free trade gives us more cultural choices. He also writes:

Consider the life of an ordinary American family in the early 21st century. This family has a home filled with electronic products made in Japan and China and a cabinet full of music CDs–which were invented in The Netherlands. Mom and Dad drink coffee grown in Columbia or Ethiopia and brewed in a coffee maker made in Germany. They shower using soap milled in France and wear contact lenses that were invented by a Czech scientist.

The children watch a TV episode of Pokemon, one of Japan’s many successful exports to America. The family shops later that day at the Swedish furniture store Ikea; they drive to Ikea in a car made in Korea and fueled with gasoline purchased from a (Royal Dutch) Shell station. For dinner, they debate between Mexican, Indian, or Thai. Later that evening, Mom and Dad enjoy wine from South Africa while listening to bossa nova music from Brazil–or, perhaps, they watch a movie starring the Canadian actor Jim Carrey, while their kids lose themselves in the latest Harry Potter novel by British author J.K. Rowling. And before finally turning out the lights, Mom reads several pages from a novel by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, and Dad finishes a book written by the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa.

When I edited the piece, I argued with Don that this “ordinary American family” seemed a little upscale. But he convinced me, good by good, that I was wrong except possibly for the wine and the bedtime reading.