Closing Time in the West

In the last week two news items caught my attention. News Item No. 1: dateline Abu Dhabi — The Louvre Museum is selling the use of its name for a museum in Abu Dhabi for $520 million, and will rent out some of its art exhibits and provide technical museum management services for another $747 million.

News Item No. 2: dateline Dubai — the Halliburton Corporation is moving its worldwide corporate headquarters to the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai. It will keep most of its staff in its Houston, Texas office, will maintain its legal incorporation in the United States, will remain listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but will list its shares on a Middle East exchange also.

Twenty years ago, even 10 years ago, these items would have given rise to Third World screeching about western cultural and economic imperialism. But today it is French and American whining that greets these moves.

Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman threatened hearings on the Halliburton move (birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, Waxman gotta threaten hearings), while Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy complained that Halliburton was somehow trying to cheat the American taxpayers (even though Halliburton is going to continue to pay its corporate taxes to the IRS — and anyway, Dubai doesn’t tax corporations that site in their city. Hm? No taxes as an inducement to increased business activity — there’s an idea to which Sen. Leahy probably hasn’t given sufficient thought.)

Rather than hold hearings, or construct phantom conspiratorial tax evasion theories, Waxman, Leahy and their fellow ilk might consider that since Congress won’t permit American oil companies to drill for the more than 140 billion barrels of recoverable oil that exists under American ground and in our coastal waters, it only makes sense for oil drilling companies to go where oil drilling is permitted.

I wouldn’t blame Halliburton if it moved all its assets out of a country (that would be the United States) that slanders their good name rather than appreciates their world-class, vitally needed skills. What a pity if Waxman and his fellow anti-capitalists soon won’t have Halliburton to kick around anymore.

Meanwhile, various offended Frenchmen are complaining that renting out the Louvre brand name debases the greatest museum in the world and is a national insult. In a possibly related story reported by the BBC last month, the staff at the Louvre had gone on strike, demanding a bonus for the stress of looking after the Mona Lisa and other popular masterpieces: "Attendants are demanding a bonus … because they suffer more stress. … The stress is clearly linked to the number of visitors … What’s unbearable is the constant hubbub of the crowd, especially in the really popular rooms," said a Louvre attendant who didn’t want to be named.

Exactly why a person would take a job as a public attendant in the world’s most visited museum if crowds of people stress him out is beyond my ken, but it probably has something to do with the singular work habits of your typical Frenchman habituated to over 1,000 years of worker disgruntlement. Perhaps they seek out jobs for which they are uniquely unfit precisely so they can complain about their job.

But if Frenchman don’t like to work at the Paris Louvre, I can’t help wondering how many Muslims will want to visit the Abu Dhabi Louvre. After all, most Muslims are deeply offended by representational art, which is why Islamic art is magnificent in its patterns, colors and calligraphy, but is a void when it comes to portraiture. And, in case the Abu Dhabi Louvre renters haven’t noticed, Christian-European representational oils are the strongest part of the Louvre’s magnificent collection. Even as a mere brand name knock-off (like Ralph Lauren putting his haute couture name on rags to be sold to fashion-hapless suburban mall bumpkins), one wonders how much cache the Louvre brand holds for your average infidel-hating Middle Easterner.

Of course, having a local Louvre in Abu Dhabi will be quite convenient for Halliburton CEO David Lesar working in nearby Dubai. But even if he and his staff are great museum enthusiasts, their patronage can’t possibly support a billion-dollar museum. Still for Abu Dhabians, as it was for American tycoon widows of the 1920s, there is something pleasurable about buying up the treasures of Europe from groveling Europeans greedy for a piece of your new wealth. Europeans have been selling off — and living off — their patrimony for quite a while now. There is a lot of ruin in a civilization.

But as America is now driving its productive assets and people (such as Halliburton) away, we shouldn’t be too smug. By the way, New York’s Guggenheim Museum will be opening up their Abu Dhabi museum in 2012.