Using taxpayers' money to subsidise the arts is a modern aberration. Unlike in continental Europe, the development of the arts in the UK was, until recently, overwhelmingly a private matter with only occasional royal patronage and government intervention.
Then, during the Second World War, our government got involved in concerts to boost morale, and Lord Keynes instigated the Arts Council in 1946. Since then, expenditure on the arts has grown, in real terms, seven times faster than all other uses of taxpayers' money.
The people who consume the arts have higher social status, more education and fatter wallets than Mr or Mrs Average. Furthermore, because the supply of top artists, like that of top footballers, is limited, many subsidies simply bid up the wages of the best artists without adding to supply or reducing prices.
Consequently, we can accurately describe the subsidy of the arts as a transfer of money from the poor to the rich.
Demand for the arts increases with wealth and education. Given that we are much richer and supposedly better educated than 60 plus years ago, then the case for the poor paying for this rich person's pastime gets weaker by the year.
So, what has happened? Why have subsidies increased while demand has been rising?
We have created two powerful, well-connected pressure groups who favour such subsidies. The first consists of the well-educated well-off who have infinitely more political clout than the poor and inarticulate. They are more likely to join a political party, they can argue better, and their ranks produce most of our politicians. The second group consists of the class of bureaucrats in government, the quangos and the producer organisations who are astonishingly close and friendly, not to mention well-paid and well-pensioned.
Are goods produced by artists 'public' goods? No, as people can be denied access. Are they 'merit' goods needed by people? No, as arguments to do with education, tourism, posterity and so on turn out to be weak at best on close examination. If only Gladstone and Peel had been right when they claimed that contemplating beautiful art would reduce crime.
The arts can, and did, flourish in the private sector, and will do so again when the Arts Council is closed down.
It is hard to think of a branch of the arts that did not prosper prior to state involvement. British theatre from the end of the 16th century springs to mind, as do the public concerts of the 17th century. We had a market in music which brought Handel and Haydn to us in the 18th century.