Thursday, May 01, 2014

Music as an Ecosytem Service

Future Music Festival 2013 (Courtesy Eva Rinaldi)
It recently struck me that music, like water, is arguably the product of an ecosystem, –another complex but demonstrable asset that economists have trouble pinning value to with any accuracy.

“An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system." (Wikipedia)

So how then is the one like the other?

Music and Ecosystems both: 

  • Provide services that are public goods;
  • Are affected by externalities;
  • Possess property rights that are often not clearly defined.  

Additionally, “Ecosystem services are often public goods, with the beneficial outcomes, for the natural environment or people, that result from ecosystem functions. Some examples of ecosystem services are support of the food chain, harvesting of animals or plants, and the provision of clean water or scenic views.”*

The problem with both music and public goods is also that, “although people value them, no one person has an incentive to pay to maintain the good.  Thus, collective action is required in order to produce the most beneficial quantity.”*

Despite the complexity assigning value, however, value can nevertheless be determined and costs imposed, " various ways, on those who are responsible for consumption of those services...  Economists measure the value of ecosystem services to people by estimating the amount people are willing to pay to preserve or enhance the services.”*

So, instead of asking what the market will bear, perhaps, like ecosystems, it may not be necessary for music to be bought and sold in markets in order to measure its value in dollars, but rather we might assign costs to society based on a fair valuation of the services to society.

What the formula for that is, however, I leave to others to consider.


*Source: Ecosystem Valuation

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