Unlike democratic processes, competition in a market economy is not a zero-sum game. In the market we do not face an all or nothing choice between low and high cultural products leading people to always choose the alternative that panders to their worst nature.
On the contrary, most people consume a variety of cultural products. One can enjoy fast food and fine dining, pop music and classical music, soap operas and art house cinema. Markets reflect the complex reality of individual preferences. Indeed, the wealth generated by market economies has given people the leisure time to enjoy a greater range of cultural products than ever before. …
It is true that in the marketplace only those products that can satisfy sufficient people’s preferences to be profitable can survive. But profitability does not necessarily require mass appeal. Rather, profitability simply requires that the price people are willing to pay for a good or service is greater than the cost of production. One-off haute couture dresses and self-published fan fiction can both meet this test of commercial profitability.
It is often claimed that high quality cultural products should be subsidised by the government because they cannot meet this test of commercial profitability. But it is surely morally wrong for people to be forced to pay for something that they do not want simply because a committee of the great and the good has deemed it culturally valuable. It is an important moral argument, as well as an important practical argument, that in the marketplace people will only receive that for which they are willing to pay.
Markets supply a wide range of cultural products, both ‘high’ and ‘low’, that reflect people’s complex and diverse preferences. Markets cater to both the highest and the lowest common denominators because people want both high and low culture. The ability of markets to give people what they want should be celebrated as a driving force of popular empowerment.