The arts – a welfare state in reverse

In the past few weeks UK politics has rightly been dominated by The Telegraph’s revelations about MPs’ expense claims. Meanwhile other issues have taken a back seat – for example tax subsidies for the arts, where some of the public bodies concerned seem happy to practice similar forms of “corruption”. The Arts Council itself provides taxpayer subsidies for close to a thousand organisations, most clamouring for more “funding”.

According to Kevin Spacey, writing in the Times, there is nothing unseemly about this:“… it seems an odd slur to accuse Dame Judi Dench, Antony Gormley, Philip Pullman, and Nicholas Serota of being biased merely for having spoken out on behalf of their own professions” – i.e. to rob taxpayers further, despite them being already robbed on a greater scale than ever.

Who cares, says Kevin: “Many arts institutions are suffering, and without political will and public support will struggle to survive the chill winds of recession”, so that “We risk allowing our rich cultural life to be diminished…”

As for our rich cultural life, I can see the riches but not much culture. And it’s interesting to recall that the composers on show at last year’s “proms” included Mozart, Beethoven, Grieg, Debussy, Gershwin, Chopin and Verdi. I wonder how many of them (and their ample audiences) were funded by “public investment”?

Pipe down, Kevin. I suggest it is hardly cultured to shout for more money from pensioners or savers, for instance, when many of the former have lost huge portions of their retirement income and many of the latter have seen their income docked by as much as 80 per cent. Now that is suffering.

Culture? More like a cult, I’d say.

Further reading: Should the Taxpayer Support the Arts? by David Sawers.

The obvious solution is to abolish the Arts Council. It’s difficult to see any good reason why the government should be involved in the arts at all. If anything artistic achievement has been undermined by state funding – just look at classical music.

Subsidising the arts is a good investment. But in a different way than is usually presented.
Inasmuch as state-sponsored artists convey a political message (many of them don’t, of course), it most often consists of raising fear of big corporations, free trade, global warming, discrimination and what have you. This contributes to a climate in which raising taxes and imposing more regulation is no longer viewed as oppressive and patronising, but as progressive and liberating.
I don’t believe this is a conscious strategy. But if I was a politician eager to maximise the power of the state, I would quadruple art subsidies.

Of course sport is getting on the bandwagon too. Particularly obnoxious is the way in which the Welsh assembly subsidised Glamorgan to bid for a test match. This is a zero sum game conducted with taxpayers money that, ultimately, sucks money out of county cricket clubs (because the non-subsidised ones have to raise their bids to compete) to provide more money to the central body (the ECB) with a deadweight cost to the taxpayer. Ironic really when the main economic justification for subsidising sport is to do so at the grass roots level.

There seem to be two main questions: 1. Would ‘the arts’ be sufficiently supported without state subsidies financed by taxpayers?In a much richer society the current generation (individually or collectively) seems more able to ‘afford’ to support the arts than earlier generations. So there is no need for politicians to elbow their way into making decisions on this, as they do on so much else.
There is no ‘right answer’ as to how much is ’sufficient’. 2. Would taxpayers prefer to spend their money on other things?I guess the answer to this question is ‘Yes’; but let’s give taxpayers the choice and see. The concept of opportunity cost is important.

What’s fascinating is that a lot of avant garde classical music is not state subsidised, but brought out by small labels like Kairosmusic in Germany. It is actually ‘establishment’ music that gets most of the subsidy, whilst the groundbreaking stuff makes it own way and only starts to get subsidised when it becomes respectable and when, one would have thought, it was in less need of the support. Where’s the economic logic in this?

The obvious solution is to abolish the Arts Council. It’s difficult to see any good reason why the government should be involved in the arts at all. If anything artistic achievement has been undermined by state funding – just look at classical music.

Subsidising the arts is a good investment. But in a different way than is usually presented.
Inasmuch as state-sponsored artists convey a political message (many of them don’t, of course), it most often consists of raising fear of big corporations, free trade, global warming, discrimination and what have you. This contributes to a climate in which raising taxes and imposing more regulation is no longer viewed as oppressive and patronising, but as progressive and liberating.
I don’t believe this is a conscious strategy. But if I was a politician eager to maximise the power of the state, I would quadruple art subsidies.

Of course sport is getting on the bandwagon too. Particularly obnoxious is the way in which the Welsh assembly subsidised Glamorgan to bid for a test match. This is a zero sum game conducted with taxpayers money that, ultimately, sucks money out of county cricket clubs (because the non-subsidised ones have to raise their bids to compete) to provide more money to the central body (the ECB) with a deadweight cost to the taxpayer. Ironic really when the main economic justification for subsidising sport is to do so at the grass roots level.

There seem to be two main questions: 1. Would ‘the arts’ be sufficiently supported without state subsidies financed by taxpayers?In a much richer society the current generation (individually or collectively) seems more able to ‘afford’ to support the arts than earlier generations. So there is no need for politicians to elbow their way into making decisions on this, as they do on so much else.
There is no ‘right answer’ as to how much is ’sufficient’. 2. Would taxpayers prefer to spend their money on other things?I guess the answer to this question is ‘Yes’; but let’s give taxpayers the choice and see. The concept of opportunity cost is important.

What’s fascinating is that a lot of avant garde classical music is not state subsidised, but brought out by small labels like Kairosmusic in Germany. It is actually ‘establishment’ music that gets most of the subsidy, whilst the groundbreaking stuff makes it own way and only starts to get subsidised when it becomes respectable and when, one would have thought, it was in less need of the support. Where’s the economic logic in this?

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