Economists who support the arts

by on August 29, 2012 at 6:03 am in Economics, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

Hi Tyler (we are Facebook friends),

I am working on a blog posting for my new blog ( and I want to write about instances where economists supported the arts in some special way.  So far I have four cases:  Professor Norton T. Dodge and his support of the Russian avant grade artists; Professor Alexander Gershenkron for his great review of Nabokov’s abominable translation of” Eugene Onegin”, Professor Gregory Grossman at Berkeley for inviting and supporting the Polish poet Alexander Wat who dictated his great book “My Century” while visiting there; and lastly, John Maynard Keynes for his support of theater, ballet and dance.  Could you think of other cases?  Or articles/books on the subject?


Julian Berengaut

Richard Caves collects Picasso, Bill Landes collects Charles Burchfield, and William Baumol did a good deal of wood sculpture, but I do not know that any of them have served as patrons of living artists.  Assar Lindbeck also works as a painter, as does Robert Mundell.  Spencer MacCallum (not an economist but he has written on economic issues) has been an important patron and promoter of Mexican pottery, and my own patronage efforts in Mexico are discussed in my book on the economics of Mexican art.

Roderick Deane is a New Zealand businessman, economist, and a supporter of New Zealand artists.  Marie-Josée Kravis is an economist and also a patron of the arts, mostly for Canadian artists I believe.  Georges Menil, of the Menil family, is an economist in Paris.  Wayne Cox (not an economist) writes on tax issues and has been an important supporter and collector of Jamaican Intuitive art.  Henry Kaufman is an economist who has donated a good deal of money to the arts.  Henry Raeburn painted a portrait of 19th century economist Francis Horner, but it was paid for by Horner’s brother rather than by Francis.  Maybe there was a Beckerian or Coasian bargain behind the scenes.

Richard D. Bodig was a singer, scholar of Renaissance music, and also an economist.  How about this headline?: “Jazz singer Olesya Yalunina on how jazz freed her from a career in economics.”  Stephen Dubner used to play in a rock band.

That is what comes to mind.  Who am I missing?

1 Bill August 29, 2012 at 7:35 am

You are missing persons who support art projects through Kickstarter, one of the new micro ways to support art and create it.

2 Rahul August 29, 2012 at 8:15 am

You really think Tyler should have gone to Kickstarter, trawled through id’s and compiled a list?

3 Bill August 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Rahul, as mentioned below, the identity of contributors are not disclosed, but the project needs and eventual success are.

4 Hoover August 29, 2012 at 9:52 am

So name them. That, presumably, is the reason why Prof Cowen asked “who am I missing”.

5 Bill August 29, 2012 at 10:05 am

The names of contributors aren’t identified, although the art projects and there cost to initiate and complete are identied.

And that’s the point. You don’t need a big patron saint to fund an artist if you have many angels.

Contributions to art is separated from status signalling.

6 cournot August 29, 2012 at 7:48 am

Douglass North won several prizes as an amateur photographer and worked and/or interacted with pros like Dorthea Lange and possibly Ansel Adams. Economist Paul Taylor (Lange’s husband) was one of North’s advisors at Berkeley.

7 Kris August 29, 2012 at 8:00 am

Michael Pettis (, who teaches at Peking University these days, has been a major supporter (and fan) of Chinese punk and independent music. He founded one of the first indie music clubs (D-22, recently closed and re-opened as XP) and indie record labels (Maybe Mars) in Beijing.

8 Ugo August 29, 2012 at 8:08 am

I don’t know if collecting and supporting are the same thing, but I think that Dornbusch had a big collection of modern art. Sebastian Edwards has a special interest in Latin American Art.

9 PeterI August 29, 2012 at 8:08 am

Harvard professor Richard T. Gill was also an opera singer:

10 Ranjit Suresh August 29, 2012 at 8:18 am

Have any of these economists explained why the arts are in obvious decline? Why hasn’t the increase in wealth at the top of the income distribution led to an efflorescence of masterpieces comparable to the great Western traditions? Or have the arts simply reflected the Great Stagnation?

11 Rahul August 29, 2012 at 8:44 am

Is it clear that “the arts are in obvious decline”? I’m not sure.

There’s often a time lag between the creation of a masterpiece and its recognition as such.

12 jmo August 29, 2012 at 10:02 am

Why hasn’t the increase in wealth at the top of the income distribution led to an efflorescence of masterpieces comparable to the great Western traditions?

The advent of photography forced art to go in new, less representative direction. I get the impression you have trouble appreciating less representative art.

13 Ranjit Suresh August 29, 2012 at 10:37 am

That explanation doesn’t account for the decline of music. For the embalming of classical music and and decay of jazz. Nor the decline in literature which is apparent if one compares the last couple of generations to a similar period from the late 19th and early 20th century. Or even for the fact that the major modernist non-representational paintings are a century to half a century old.

Anyway, there will always be those who deny decline or even the possibility that such judgments can be made. Just like there are historians who elide the Dark Ages by talking about the transformation rather than the destruction of the Roman Empire and by inventing a late antiquity that stretches up to a Carolingian renaissance.

14 GiT August 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm

If there is a decline, I would think it’s from a proliferation of competing works, not a decline in the quality of the work people do.

15 jmo August 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Nor the decline in literature which is apparent if one compares the last couple of generations to a similar period from the late 19th and early 20th century.

Things often need the patina of time to be universally acknowledged as masterpieces.

16 Rahul August 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm

The advent of photography forced art to go in new, less representative direction.

Photography itself can be art though!

17 Daniel August 29, 2012 at 8:19 am

Robert Austin, who has written HBR cases on Miles Davis and the People’s Light and Theatre Company, has written a book called Artful Making (comparing the latter to industrial production processes), and so on. He was at HBS, spent several years at Copenhagen Business School’s Centre for Art and Leadership, and is now the Dean of the business school at the University of New Brunswick. He has a forthcoming book called The Soul of Design, in which he and his co-author (a theatre director and dramaturg) analyze contemporary design using Aristotelean principles.

His work is under-rated in my view and is increasingly important in a world in which business needs to be looking to the arts more and more for numerous kinds of strategies.

18 Sean August 29, 2012 at 8:58 am

AJ Youngson ( wrote a couple of first rate books on Edinburgh’s architecture (not sure if you’re couning architecture in ‘the arts’). The more ‘high-brow’ book is “The Making of Classical Edinburgh”, while the more traveller-oriented book is “The Companion Guide to Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders”.

19 dearieme August 29, 2012 at 11:27 am

“not sure if you’re couning architecture in ‘the arts’”: I’d say that it’s the most important one of all, since it’s the one forced on your senses whether you want it or not.

20 Dan Cole August 29, 2012 at 9:18 am

Edwin Woerdman, who teaches Law & Economics at Groningen, is a guitarist in one of the most popular heavy metal bands in Holland.

21 Vernunft August 29, 2012 at 9:32 am

Tallest building in Wichita!

22 Dan Cole August 29, 2012 at 9:21 am

Oh, and Elinor and Vincent Ostrom had a huge and varied art collection (Asian, Mexican and South American, American Indian, etc), which they’ve donated to various museums at Indiana University and Western Washington State University. They were also both furniture builders, building much of the furniture for their own home, some of which is now in the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at IU.

23 David R. Henderson August 29, 2012 at 9:23 am

Tyler, If we’re including people in rock bands, there’s Ivan Pongracic, who has a Ph.D. from GMU.

24 Grant August 29, 2012 at 10:05 am

If you count Arthur Brooks of AEI as an economist, he was also a French Horn player.

25 Tyler Cowen August 29, 2012 at 10:11 am

Ruth Towse and Karen Vaughn have worked as singers, too…

26 Bill August 29, 2012 at 10:14 am

The fact that you can tell who are contributors and who have large collections tells you how well art consumption serves as a signaling device of wealth or intellectual status.

Ask: if you know the status of the art collection how much do you know about the happiness of their spouse or children.

27 Bill August 29, 2012 at 10:18 am

I am a large collector of 22nd century art and am waiting for everyone to catch up with my taste 100 years from now.

28 Owen August 29, 2012 at 10:28 am

Alan Greenspan was a professional jazz musician for many years.

29 dearieme August 29, 2012 at 11:28 am

He shoulda stuck to it.

30 tt August 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm

they all should have stuck to it.
nothing of value would have been lost.

31 Venkat Rangamani August 29, 2012 at 10:59 am

Check out Glen Urban of MIT at

When you enter the site, you will see his academic accomplishments in economics and marketing listed in his academic site. He is also a sculptor associated with the DeCordova Museum and a patron of the arts.

32 Demosthenes August 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm

This thread is crying in pain for Lionel Robbins.

33 Jonathan C August 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Vikram Seth, who wrote A Suitable Boy, was an economist before becoming an author

34 citi.zen August 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm

John Michael Montias.

35 Mark_H August 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm

David Kaun of the University of California at Santa Cruz provides scholarships to music students and supports theater at the school. You can read a blurb about him here (the second donor on the list):

36 Oliver August 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Wynne Godley was a professional oboist (principal oboe of the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra) before becoming first a business analyst then an economist at the UK Treasury.

Edward Tufte isn’t strictly speaking an economist, but is a statistician and political scientist, and also a gifted sculptor and graphic artist.

37 tomrus August 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm

From Wikipaedia:

Wynne Godley (2 September 1926 – 13 May 2010) was an economist famous for his pessimism toward the British economy and his criticism of the British government.

Born in London, he went to Rugby School as a child, then read politics, philosophy and economics at New College, Oxford where Isaiah Berlin was one of his tutors, and trained to become a professional musician, studying at the Paris Conservatoire for three years, and then becoming principal oboist at the BBC Welsh Orchestra. He was however continuously nervous about performing in public, and gave up this career, although he remained interested in music and was director of the Royal Opera from 1976 to 1987.
St Michael’s Victory over the Devil, by Sir Jacob Epstein, the head of which was modelled on Wynne Godley

In 1955 he married Kitty Epstein, daughter of Jacob Epstein the sculptor, who used his head as the model for his statue of St Michael at the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral.

38 A.Davies August 29, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Grandmaster Kenneth Rogoff was 3rd in the 1971 World Junior.

39 tomrus August 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Or how about Joyce?

James Joyce, Harbinger of Contemporary Risk Society
Posted on August 10, 2012 | 2 Comments

The banks seem to determine our destiny. This did not appear to be the case when James Joyce began his literary career. In the margin of the last draft of Dubliners in 1906, he remarked that he needed a publisher who would be willing to take a risk. James was twenty-four and working in a bank in Italy. He was keeping a notebook on the world of commerce.

“The additions in the margin include several mentions of the word risk,” says Jaya Savige, a Cambridge scholar whose research focuses on the rise of the concept of risk in modernist literature. “You can see the convergence of the language of finance and his own youthful formulation of his artistic project and sensibility.”

In Ulysses, the former insurance broker Leopold Bloom is constantly thinking of the insurability of the individuals he encounters…. The mythical maritime risks that Odysseus faces in his voyages are transplanted into early 20th-century industrial Dublin.

40 Ramagopal August 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm

“The advent of photography forced art to go in new, less representative direction. ” But Gombrich tells us in his classic The Story of Art that the advent of photography actually made artists more innovative. To quote him: “the development of photography was boud to push artists further on their way of exploration and experiment” because “There was no need for painting to perform a task which a mechanical device could perform better and more cheaply “. Gombrich says the advent of photography ws one reason for the “victory” of Impressionism over its critics

41 freethinker August 29, 2012 at 10:36 pm

I understand the Yale economist T.N.Srinivasan is a patron of Carnatic music, the classical music of southern India. Amartya Sen is a patron of the literature of his native tongue, Bengali. In fact, he was given his name, Amartya, by the poet Tagore ( Sen’s grandfather was a philosophy teacher in Tagore’s university). In India, an economist named Krishna Bharadwaj, a close associate of Sraffa, was an accomplished musician in North Indian classical music called Hindustani.

42 pol sci man August 30, 2012 at 3:13 am

Well if Doug North is mentioned, then Margaret Levi needs to be listed too. She and her husband are collecting and sharing Aboriginal art:

43 Kiasma August 30, 2012 at 5:43 am

Pentti Kouri, economist turned to various activities, was a keen collector of modern art.

44 Ben August 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

Eric Maskin is an excellent clarinetist.

45 rene August 30, 2012 at 10:15 pm


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