The story museums and public parks don't tell us (or mis-tell us)

Both museum curators and those in charge of our state and national parks promote the myth of market failure paired with the idea of the government as savior.  If you know where to look, though, the truth is just below the surface.

The Great Depression was an unnecessary national tragedy that led to the myth that the market failed.  (See Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United States, 1867–1960.)  The Federal Reserve (Fed) caused the Great Depression by allowing hundreds of banks to go bankrupt, killing the money supply and devastating businesses.  This was amazing destruction when there was a simple solution: just inject money into the banks.

Because the Fed refused to act, it was government failure, not market failure, that created the Depression.  The result of this myth has been the almost unchecked growth of government expenditures since the Depression (see Chris Garbacz, The Myth of Market Failure, Northside Sun, March 22, 2021).  Hints of that failure still exist across America, notwithstanding the stories told at museums and national and state parks.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped develop Mt. Nebo State Park near Little Rock during the Depression years.  It is 1,800 feet above a flat plain with magnificent overlooks, trails, wildlife, and waterfalls.  In the 1930s, 3 million young people around the country got CCC government jobs.

The only reason the government busied these people with make-work projects was that the government had previously wrecked the private sector.  Little of this government work would have taken place if the economy had been allowed to recover as it always had in the past.  The government falsely identified itself as a savior, setting a myth in place and beginning ever-rising government spending and control in all areas of the economy over the next ninety years.

The government versus the market has also led to a battle between those who know firsthand that hunting and fishing and conservation go together to maintain wildlife (a basic market solution) and those who hate hunters for a variety of generally irrational reasons and want to put in place regulations that effectively undermine wildlife resources.  For example, economists know well that the only way to preserve elephants is to allow conservation hunting at the right price because that creates a market that requires elephants.  The "government as savior" will destroy elephants because no one, including government employees, profits from effective conservation (see Mark Perry, "Elephant Economics," American Enterprise Institute, December 4, 2017).

The Johnny Morris Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri promotes sustaining and expanding wildlife resources via the market. Morris is the CEO of Bass Pro Shops and a world-class hunter/fisherman.  Do you hate the idea of dead animals?  Don't go there, because it's filled with the art of the taxidermist.  If you want to view one of the greatest wildlife museums in the world, this is it.

Image: Depression-era breadline in New York City.  Public domain.

The expressions, the placement in habitat, and the sheer glory of seeing pristine animals that seem almost alive are uplifting.  It's a type of art at the highest level.  The elephants and buffalo are about to trample you.  The lions can kill you in one leap.  There is a polar bear 11.5 feet long, weighing 2,000 pounds.  Polar bears are known to track and kill humans when not drinking Cokes.  Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway are present.  It was hard to tear myself away from a museum that gave me a greater appreciation for nature's wonders.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (focused on American art and funded by Sam Walton's daughter) near Bentonville, Arkansas, is interesting.  A lot of top quality here, mixed with scratch-your-head exhibits.  Beauty and artistic reality are in the eye of the beholder, and this will always be the case with an art museum.  One exhibit has a wall full of spools of threads.  If you look through a little prism, you see it's a clever gimmick, showing "The Last Supper" in miniature.

An informational note tells us that "Depression Bread Line" (1991), a sculpted line of downtrodden men waiting for a handout, reflects the market's failure.  These men have FDR as their only hope.

The curator, however, doesn't understand that FDR and his misnamed "Brain Trust" misunderstood the problem and dramatically worsened the Depression.  This piece of art indicts government failure.  The curator's notes need updating.

There are segregation themes in the museum, and rightly so, but basically no theme regarding how nuclear families, black and white, were solidly together up to the 1960s, a generally unacknowledged crucial fact.  Or how LBJ's 1960s launch of the welfare state ultimately led to the disintegration of large numbers of black families (see Thomas Sowell's research on the black family).  Where is the art portraying this travesty?

I learned a long time ago that the museum notes for a painting or exhibit are often misleading and disheartening.  Too often, they're either gobbledygook or designed to recruit you to an anti-American agenda.  Ironically, the art market supports "art" that is specifically produced to destroy the market concept and Western civilization.

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