How Trump should support the arts

by on December 6, 2016 at 1:23 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Political Science, The Arts | Permalink

That is the subject of my new Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

My second recommendation is to restore fully the ability of the NEA to make grants to individual artists, thereby undoing changes that were made in 1994. That would diminish the role of the middlemen and support artists rather than art museums. This too has the potential to boost creativity, as large institutions with overhead tend to be more artistically conservative than individual artists or arts groups. Such a change would take the NEA back to its earliest and arguably most effective period near its origin in 1965, when it supported creators such as Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, George Segal, Ed Ruscha and William Gaddis (all grant recipients in the first year alone), among other luminaries.

You may recall that there is a reason why the NEA moved away from making grants to individual artists. The agency had supported several artists and art projects that displayed nudity or other images that many people considered pornographic or offensive. At the time, Congress did not wish to be affiliated so directly with such expressions of the human creative impulse. Therefore grants were shifted to higher-level arts institutions, with the understanding that the institutions would not embarrass the federal government in this manner.

Is it possible that, under the forthcoming administration, this embarrassment constraint has eased somewhat?

I also call for stopping the transfers of the National Endowment for the Arts to the state arts agencies, on the grounds that federal arts taste usually is superior.

Do read the whole thing.

1 carlospln December 6, 2016 at 1:29 am

As an artist, I agree emphatically with your recommendations.

Clever Medici inclusion.

2 Mark Thorson December 6, 2016 at 2:17 am

Note that he’s only talking about government support for bad art. Good art doesn’t need support because people buy it.

3 mulp December 6, 2016 at 3:37 am

Lots of classics were commercial failures.

Lots of commercially profitable crap is best forgotten as artless.

4 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly December 6, 2016 at 9:16 am

And yet the commercially-failed artists managed to persevere regardless, and in many instances actually improved their work as a consequence of their failures.

5 Dude December 6, 2016 at 10:08 am

Hmm, the ones we know about. What about the ones who didn’t and their art doesn’t exist?

6 (Not That) Bill O'Reilly December 6, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Has the NEA (or any federal entity) ever managed to identify any such diamond in the rough? My suspicion is that those poor souls are out in the cold either way.

7 Thor December 6, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Well, as the infamous quotation has it, “Here lies some mute inglorious Milton”.

I.e., many potential Miltons have lived and died without realizing their potential, artistic or otherwise. But that’s true of so many things. Surely the state cannot possibly, even in the fantasies of Mulp and Jan, arrange it so that everyone realizes their full potential in all areas?

In another, perhaps parallel, reality, I could have been a glorious Brazilian, revelling in the sun as a soccer player, instead of being a historian in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Oh what a Brazilian I would have made!

8 John December 6, 2016 at 11:06 am

Probably true but a) it’s not clear that some public funding is what saved and preserved the good classic art and b) doesn’t really explain why art is any form of public good that requires forced public support regardless of it’s quality.

9 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 4:06 am

Pretty much, you give a 3 year old a crayon and you know one way or the other.

If not a Picasso in the making, take the crayons away and force feed them the maths and science until the cows come home.

10 josh December 6, 2016 at 10:43 am

A thing worth doing is worth doing badly.

11 Thomas December 7, 2016 at 11:52 am

No. We need only fund MAs that produce suitably fit for consumption by government administrators (white, female, progressive, SJW, DC corridor, state flagship educated).

12 Troll me December 7, 2016 at 4:10 pm

mmmmmaybe a little bit sometimes.

Ergo, it’s the whole story.

13 carlolspln December 6, 2016 at 6:47 am

I’m not convinced that you, nor I, would know the difference.

14 Mark Thorson December 6, 2016 at 10:55 am

Let the market decide. That’s the way it’s always been. I’m also not sure that driving down the contribution of middlemen is a good idea — they serve a purpose too.

15 Sam The Sham December 6, 2016 at 11:30 am

The purpose of the middlemen is to go colonize Alpha Centauri first in the ‘B’ ark. (Douglas Adams reference) Put in another vote for getting rid of the NEA- art is too important to be trusted to the government. Picking winners and losers is not the government’s job, even if it does it so well.

16 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 10:02 pm

Middlemen connect content producers with those who can market it. That’s valuable. Unless you don’t need it, say, because of technological solutions.

Also, I think you overestimate the role of the market in arts, media and culture production over the ages.

It is an exception to the rule of state control that market forces play the major role that they do, in the West, in recent generations. And even then there are many limitations on the market.

Mohammed pictures in Saudi? Pro-democracy propaganda in Beijing? Child pornography in Austin? There are many markets, and many market forces, but the notion that market forces rule media is just not really true. They are a major influence, but the state imposes many controls, and furthermore even produces some of its content which is provided through its own channels. In the case of the USA, most of these channels are fairly independent (to the best of my knowledge, although I don’t imagine NPR or PBS are actively looking for flag burners or anything).

17 carolospln December 6, 2016 at 6:44 pm

One ‘Markets In Everything’ gold star for Mark!

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/philistine

18 GoneWithTheWind December 6, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Prove that the NEA is even constitutional. End it. End most federal government programs/departments.

19 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 1:41 am

As a tax-payer, I disagree emphatically that the State should give money to the arts.

20 Alain December 6, 2016 at 1:47 am

There is no moral justification, none, for the forceable acquisition of resources simply for what some ‘enlightened’ few consider art.

Trump can fix the NEA by dissolving this abomination of an agency.

21 too hot for MR December 6, 2016 at 2:01 am

I’m inclined to agree, until I consider the other sh*t they do with the money.

22 John December 6, 2016 at 11:11 am

Well if we’re in the discussion about spending and the good the bad and the ugly of public financing I’ve often though the general budget should be allocated as a stated % or total revenue rather than absolute $ — that might impart a bit more rationality in the spending and would force any saving like the above to be distributed across the entire set of programs not the current pet program.

23 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:04 am

I agree. This is maybe the most extreme example of what really is the State, an inverted RobinHood that steals to the poor to give to the rich (the contrary would also be immoral, of course, but less undefendable). When I was living in Milan, I used to go to La Scala, whose budget is covered 90% by the State. With a very few exceptions, the clients were all obviously rich people.

24 Peter Akuleyev December 6, 2016 at 5:23 am

On the contrary. Perhaps the most easily morally justifiable use of tax money is to support human thought, i.e. arts and sciences, that the majority of the population won’t or can’t understand. Yes, some bad artists and junk science will get funded as well, but our taxes also fund incompetent defense contractors, poorly made roads and politicians salaries.

25 Confused Old Misfit December 6, 2016 at 5:51 am

So, rather than argue from authority, let us hear your moral justification for taking our money at law to disperse in a manner you, or your delegates deem meet and right so to do.

26 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 9:15 am

On the contrary. Perhaps the most easily morally justifiable use of tax money is to support human thought, i.e. arts and sciences, that the majority of the population won’t or can’t understand.

Rubbish. The most justifiable uses of tax money are to finance useful agencies which provide services market participants do not: the military, the police, regulatory inspectorates, public works, &c. Next in line would be for common provision. While we’re at it, we already have the national libraries, the National Archives, and the Smithsonian.

27 Cooper December 6, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Rich people are happy to host fundraisers to support the arts. It raises their status among their peers.

The arts are also relatively inexpensive. You don’t need tens of billions of dollars in annual funding.

The NEA’s budget is around $200 million/year. That’s a drop in the bucket.

A few fundraising galas in Hollywood and the Upper East Side and we could endow this organization forever without taxpayer subsidies.

28 carolospln December 6, 2016 at 6:56 pm

What a surprise from someone who lives in the drab shithole of Utica, NY – the cloaca of Upstate.

29 carlolspln December 6, 2016 at 6:48 am

Flushing out the mouth-breathers!!

30 Thor December 6, 2016 at 12:19 pm

But trans performance art, skillfully drawing our attention to the oppression of the lesser abled under capitalism, does not pay for itself you know.

End exploitation via a visual assault on the senses! First monochrome must go, then the ruling class!

31 Thiago Ribeiro December 6, 2016 at 2:05 am

As a tax-payer, hoping to become a tax-collecting, I agree emphatically that the State should give money to me. It is a public good and a tragedy of commons thing.

32 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:09 am

Lol, good one.

33 Thiago Ribeiro December 6, 2016 at 5:54 am

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather let the free market handle it, but this is a market failure issue: there isn’t nearly enough people willing to give me money in exchange for my art, so it makes sense the state stepping up to the plate.

34 Sam The Sham December 6, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Another example of the free market failure: people are not lining up to buy my macrame, read my fanfic, or listen to my rapyodel albums. Truly the will of the people will only occur by giving me a subsidy from above.

35 Thor December 6, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Rap yodel? You are so behind the times, bro.

Hip hop yodel is where it’s at.

36 mulp December 6, 2016 at 3:41 am

As a tax-payer, I disagree emphatically that the State should give money to the contractors “modernizing” the nuclear weapons that have only one purpose, mass extinction. A trillion paid to artists over the next three decades would employ five times as many artists as war contractors would workers.

37 Jeff R December 6, 2016 at 6:41 am

Mass murder is an impulse I understand. Giving public money to Maude Lebowski disciples, or the other hand…the very concept is offensive.

38 dearieme December 6, 2016 at 7:02 am

I agree with Massimo. In, say, the UK, financing “the arts” is only ill-advised; in the US it’s downright unconstitutional.

39 Decimal December 6, 2016 at 8:33 am

What have the ‘arts’ ever done for the US?

40 josh December 6, 2016 at 10:47 am

Can you imagine life without Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, George Segal, Ed Ruscha and William Gaddis?!!

41 Bob from Ohio December 6, 2016 at 11:17 am

“George Segal”

I loved him in Just Shoot Me!

42 carolospln December 6, 2016 at 6:48 pm

They have no idea who any of these people are.

43 John December 6, 2016 at 11:18 am

provided building that we can hang the names of our favorite politicians and rich people to make sure they live forever? Providing places for the elite to get together and hang our with one another while feeling good about promoting their favorite adoptee that seems to have “grasped the notion of culture” correctly and should be rewarded? Providing great placed for conspicuous display’s of identify politics?

44 Zeitgeisty December 6, 2016 at 1:51 am

In view of the results of the election, I would wager that State arts agencies are probably more in touch with what types of arts will be appreciated locally than the Federal govt is.

I would also wager that the federal govt will overwhelmingly support the coastal arts scenes and fund whatever the hipsters in Brooklyn think is worth funding.

45 Thiago Ribeiro December 6, 2016 at 2:03 am

A good example (although not American) of federal superior taste is Brasília, Brazil’s capital. It was planned and built by Brazil’s federal government in the 1950’s and not only its project is widely considered much more beautiful than any other Brazilian city’s project, (Belo Horizonte, built by the Minas Gerais state’s government is merely adequate) but Brasília is usually ranked among the most beautiful cities of the world, like Paris, Vitória, Lisbon and Venice, which, by the way, was mentioned in at least of Asimov’s short stories. A good one.

46 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:08 am

My understanding is that Brasilia has been a failure of monumental (literally) proportions. It never managed to attract an economy that wasn’t linked to politicians and lobbyists. Only the market can allocate resources efficiently. If it doesn’t sell, it is a dud.

47 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 4:15 am

It occurs, from time to time, that it can be inconvenient to have your industrial base and political centre in the same location.

48 Thiago Ribeiro December 6, 2016 at 6:29 am

Also, if the enemy bombs our capital, the valuable art works from Brazilian Golden Age, when Rio de Janeiro still was the national capital, won’t be damaged.

49 Thiago Ribeiro December 6, 2016 at 6:24 am

The Midwest region, where Brasília is located, used to be a desert, but, thanks to heavy government investment, is now an agricultural powerhouse. Yes, I know, I know, “what is seen and what is not seen”, but I think fighting regional unequalities is important, lest Brazil become a house divided against itself like the USA.
Anyway, I was talking about beauty. Brasília is surely much more beautiful than say Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, where the market designed the cities. You wouldn’t say the Sistine CHappel Ceiling is a dud because Michelangelo could have made much more money as ninha turtle, right? Money is not everything, an American blockbuster is not worth a Venus de Milo’s arm. There, I said it.

50 Comfused Old Misfit December 6, 2016 at 2:17 am

The State should not be giving money to the “arts”. However, an individual’s donations to the “arts” might receive favourable tax treatment.

51 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:32 am

Assuming that you don’t agree, like I do, that any taxation is theft, what the hell is the difference between a full State subsidy and a partial State subsidy???

52 Ray Lopez December 6, 2016 at 2:54 am

@Massimo – because sadly your views, which I agree with, went out of style in the USA during the Progressive Era, and that was about 120-140 years ago. The American people love Big Brother, they’ve consistently said so in over the last five generations. About the only people that identify as libertarians are social misfits, as the book by Brian Doherty “Radicals for Capitalism” (in which our own host TC makes a cameo as a sort of rising Austrian / libertarian economics star) points out.

It’s over Massimo. Let it go… and if post-scarcity economics has any validity, ‘socialism’ will only grow more prominent. I personally feel a true libertarian scheme would speed up technology creation/ innovation by a factor of X > 1, but it’s just a counterfactual hunch. To date, the socialists correctly point out that “inventors invent for nearly free, not unlike starving artists do their thing for free, so textbook economics say there’s no need to pay them much more” (no imagination in this line of thought, but that’s the conventional wisdom).

53 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 1:58 pm

Oh, no Ray, absolutely not.

We have bitcoins, 3-d printing, self-learning with the web, tor, deep-web agorist markets, low-cost private schools, free zones that are about to become private cities, tax evasion, we have Rothbard and Block and Hope, we have the numbers, and, especially, we have the natural rights.

We are just getting started, my friend 🙂

54 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:01 pm

Sorry, my bourgeois spell-checker just transformed a self-confident German anarchist into a Catholic virtue.

55 Confused Old Misfit December 6, 2016 at 3:28 am

I’m against the coercion aspect of taxation. I’m not opposed to positive encouragement of support. We can argue over the level that positive encouragement might reach.

56 Lord Action December 6, 2016 at 9:44 am

Anything that isn’t fully deductible is taxed, and therefore discouraged. Fully deductible is neutral tax treatment, not subsidy.

That said, there are lots of things that make more sense for favorable tax treatment than luxuries for rich people.

57 libert December 7, 2016 at 9:45 am

One very important lesson in economics is that relative prices (not absolute prices) matter.

If X is taxed and Y is not, relative prices favor Y, and too much Y will be consumed.

This can be seen more clearly by noting that taxing X and not Y is equivalent to imposing as a uniform tax on both X and Y (keeping their relative prices unchanged) and then subsidizing Y.

58 Troll me December 7, 2016 at 4:28 pm

I don’t agree with your starting point (reality notwithstanding), but I think there’s a difference between thieving twice as much and half as much.

“One penny is too much” sort of rhetoric just transmits that it’s not worth the effort of discussing the matter with you. You define away the possibility of middle ground and thus define yourself a waste of time …

59 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 9:11 am

No consumer or producer should receive ‘favorable tax treatment’. Institute a general credit for each household member to sluice some income to the impecunious and a geezer credit to the elderly and disabled to prevent any injuries to them from tax code changes.

60 Troll me December 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm

What if you’re comparing the production of, say, educational curriculum that is widely available at low cost, compared to producing something that one guy will pay for but after he throws it out will have highly toxic effects on things.

Is it better to regulate this situation or to offer favourable tax treatment of the one compared to the other?

(An answer other than “opposite of whatever you said” or “attack whatever he said” would be nice, so I have not indicated a preference between these two general approaches.)

FYI, your logic is consistent with “never consider externalities – that would be better” kind of thinking.

61 John December 6, 2016 at 11:20 am

How is that actually any different?

62 UncleMartyPants December 6, 2016 at 2:56 am

Shall we make Podesta head of the NEA?

63 John Podesta December 6, 2016 at 10:13 am

This is a great idea. It would provide considerable transparency to the process.

64 Tony Podesta December 7, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Wait till you see my ‘naked children in.suggestive positions’ art!

65 prior_test2 December 6, 2016 at 3:01 am

‘this embarrassment constraint has eased somewhat’

Such subtlety is truly rare here.

66 John Mansfield December 6, 2016 at 10:24 am

That line was some first-class silver lining finding.

67 Procrustes December 6, 2016 at 3:44 am

How about arts funding being crowd funded now and government only matching the crowd funded amount somewhere between zero (my preference) and dollar for dollar, subject to the funding preferences of the elected government of the day (and how fiscally responsible they think they can be).

68 Chip December 6, 2016 at 9:48 am

The age of crowdfunding and ubiquitous media should make obsolete the idea that disinterested taxpayers should be forced to buy art that bureaucrats like.

The days when a Rubens or Van Gogh had to travel by cart to personally meet a prospective patron are over.

An artist with merit can find his market very easily.

69 Axa December 6, 2016 at 3:48 am

Art is made by people, not buildings like art centers. Specifically two kinds of people: teachers with techniques and the “artist” who puts techniques in practice. I still don’t know why investment goes into infrastructure instead of salaries for the two kinds of people involved in art.

70 dan1111 December 6, 2016 at 3:58 am

Art involves learning “techniques”? How pre-post-modern of you.

71 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 4:18 am

Making and showing art does not usually happen in the forest. You need a building. If you want to attract talent, something more than a community centre sort of feel might help out.

Probably they go ridiculously over board most of the time though. It’s like they’re playing for the billionaire donation or something …

72 dan1111 December 6, 2016 at 5:53 am

Is the lack of exhibition space really a limiting factor preventing good art from getting out there? I doubt it. Art can be shown in many places other than built-for-purpose art exhibition buildings. In fact, it’s likely that those other places will often lead to higher visibility for the artwork.

73 Confused Old Misfit December 6, 2016 at 6:00 am

I can tell you from experience. You can tell yourselves from experience. Anywhere, anywhere there are people and a performer there will be performance/exhibition of art, good and/or bad. Buskers, chalk artists face painters, in the mall. Infrastructure is unnecessary. Pontificated from a position of having busked and having had a hand in the design, construction and operation of the infrastructure.

74 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 10:10 pm

Yeah, but the kind of art, from serious artists (not saying that you need the dollar figures to be a serious artist, but that at the dollar figures, by then you’re serious …), that you plan to sell for at least a few grand a piece.

You don’t drag that out onto the sidewalk or anything.

And people who spend a few thousand dollars on a piece of artwork need a place where they can feel comfortable to talk about that kind of money. Which could be quite a lot of places. But not in an amateur hour or busker kind of setting.

I don’t mean that in the least snobbish kind of way. There’s lots of cool stuff in a million settings at a few dollars or tens of dollars. But when you’re talking about getting resources behind serious cultural capital that might play some role not only pleasing the existing population but to be a part of attracting others … OK, so you need a space where you can put a $5000 or $100,000 piece of art on the wall.

75 Thomas December 7, 2016 at 12:04 pm

‘Serious artists’ translated -> class hatred

76 Troll me December 7, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Passing observations on the quality of art laying on cardboard boxes on the street as compared to that which finds itself into the homes of visiting billionaires is … “class hatred”?

Thomas, why don’t you stop insulting our intelligence and just TRY HARDER when subordinating yourself (extent of brainwashing not clear…) to the “Must. Sow. Seeds. Of. Division. In society.” movement.

77 Axa December 6, 2016 at 7:33 am

Mr. Troll. the talent you’re talking about is rich people wannabe artists. Accountants and engineers work in cubicle farms not aesthetically beautiful spaces. What about doctors? Hospitals are not awarded for their breathtaking design. Talent, even artists, are influenced by salaries/income.

Yes, it does not happen in a forest. Believe or not most US cities are old and have lots of infrastructure in place. Apart from Las Vegas or Phoenix, are there new cities in need of brand new conservatories, theaters, operas or museums? Yes, they’re playing for the billionaire donation. Someone with influence should tell those billionaires that the US is no longer a 1800s frontier town where everything has to be built. Infrastructure is already in place, so it’s only people’s salaries and infrastructure maintenance costs.

78 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 10:17 pm

I don’t really get why more multipurpose use of conservatories, theatres, operas, museums … seems like an obviously (accounting perspective) dumb thing not to pursue more of, at the same time as knowing … somehow you just don’t have an art exhibition at the opera theatre. Or a Picasso exhibition at the science or military museum.

I don’t understand why the people who agitate for cash money incentives to attract or retain billionaires are so likely to be the same ones who turn around and freak out at this stuff. I see the absurdities of it in a million ways. Spending a hundred million on an art gallery seems retarded when children are going without basic extracurricular activities in their community centres.

So … the angle I’m thinking of is this: “What’s a public service for a billionaire?”

Do they have to stump up their own cash every time or make their own clubs?

I think there’s a case to be made. And in the meantime, the proletarian peons can wander their way in and enjoy the billionaire aesthetics for $10 or $20 when they want to take in the exhibition. (OK, get real. No one gets a private showing for $20 …)

79 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 10:17 pm

Often there are free days too!

80 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 10:19 pm

Maybe white elephant art galleries are more cost effective at retaining the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of the world than offering them a one-third tax cut?

81 Troll me December 6, 2016 at 10:20 pm

And moreover, most of the further funding will come from them, not the taxpayer, when it comes to related foundations purchasing the historical greats which the domestic audience gets to access.

82 Thor December 6, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Ah, the art that emerges from community centres… I can see it now. (Literally. I am a short walk away from a community centre. The finest art there was made by Kindergarteners coerced by a state employee — Ms. Smythe, if you want to be specific — into putting crayon to paper.)

83 Anon7 December 6, 2016 at 4:29 am

Drain the swamp, defund the left, or whatever you wish to call it, but the NEA needs to be abolished. Let “cutting edge” (ugh) artists do it the old-fashioned way and suck up to wealthy patrons to pay for their cultural pollution.

84 Confused Old Misfit December 6, 2016 at 6:07 am

Yes.

85 Decimal December 6, 2016 at 8:38 am

Defund the left, defund the right.
Defund Defund Defund all night.

86 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 9:08 am

The old-fashioned way is to have an ordinary job and make things in your studio on the week end, vending them at clothesline sales. The only patrons who are going to pay for ‘cutting edge’ work are status signalers who care what Robert Hughes or Rem Koolhaas might think of what’s in their den.

87 peri December 6, 2016 at 11:24 am

Right. We don’t need federal government putting its thumb on the scale in an art market that is purely a status war any more than we need it to fund New York Fashion Week.

Millions of American children grow up surrounded by ugliness. A lot of them may never see anything else, what with nature being so low-status these days. Throw some money at prettifying strip malls with a few trees, if there’s money to burn. For people who are truly “impaled by beauty,” it is rough to live in America.* Your NEA dollars do absolutely nothing for them; that should tell you something about the value of the NEA.

*I am writing from Texas, from which you are all eventually going to be writing.

88 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Defund everything and stop stealing money with the men with the guns. Let’s start with NEA, HUD, DEA, DoE, NSA, and NASA. Yes, my fellow nerds, NASA also under the chop, they can finance that with private money. As an example, Higgs is a modest guy that would have paid to get the chance of seeing his theory disproved. He would have agreed that they auctioned how to call the Higgs Boson. They would have raised tens of billions from Bezos, Zuckemberg or Gates. Yes, hurrah for the Bezuca boson.

89 rayward December 6, 2016 at 6:31 am

Of course, Cowen’s post at Bloomberg isn’t really about government grants for the arts but government grants for anything. People are outraged when grants are given to an artist who paints something obscene, but isn’t it equally obscene to grant billions for an “artist” to build electric cars. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/business/dealbook/-2016-12-05-business-dealbook-elon-musk-06db-sorkinhtml.html

90 Confused Old Misfit December 6, 2016 at 6:54 am

Some of us “People” are outraged! Obscenely outraged!

91 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:20 pm

DEFUND!!! Next….

92 Thor December 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm

You can call the Tesla a lot of things. But you can’t call it piss-in-a-jar.

93 Edward Burke December 6, 2016 at 7:19 am

Presumably, NEA funding NEVER got down to the level of the late Ghost Ship arts collective in Oakland, California.

The career of Vincent van Gogh is all the testimony I need on hand to determine that the NEA properly should be abolished, utterly and entirely: what self-respecting starving artist would dare accept government charity as a crutch for their output, when the entire purpose of art in this age is to confront and challenge blind, deaf, and mute society at large?

94 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 9:01 am

Starving artists are people to stubborn to acknowledge that what they fancy is a vocation is in fact an avocation.

95 Anon December 6, 2016 at 11:11 am

The NEA should pay for their drug fueled origies they were having in their tinderbox warehouse… After all, it’s art!

96 anon December 6, 2016 at 7:25 am

Arts funding is one I could see go, but it is always worthwhile to put things in perspective. We worry about a lot of things that are essentially zero already.

“The NEA’s $146 million budget represents just 0.012% (about one one-hundredth of one percent) of federal discretionary spending. The NEA has already sustained significant budget reductions. The NEA appropriation is 14% lower than it was in 2010, a decline of $21.5 million.”

Yeah, it is zero already. And if Tyler would like to spend that zero more wisely, that’s fine.

(again, for reference, the Pentagon just hid ~1000x as much waste)

97 Decimal December 6, 2016 at 8:43 am

Its not zero.

98 Integer December 6, 2016 at 9:04 am

Yes it is.

99 Scott Mauldin December 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

So if you lost $146m you’d consider it zero? This kind of money matters when it is delivered to actual people.

100 anon December 6, 2016 at 2:55 pm

I can’t tell you how much I have lost .. but a scary number if it was not in context of net worth.

101 Scott Mauldin December 6, 2016 at 4:49 pm

Well as someone whose lifetime cumulative net worth will in all likelihood never scrape $146 million, I consider it to be a staggering sum that should under no circumstances be treated as “zero”.

102 Rich Berger December 6, 2016 at 7:37 am

A President has to work on his most important priorities. The NEA might be 1000th on that list and any attempt to eliminate it would stir up the kooks. I’d defund NPR before I’d touch the NEA, but then the tears would be for Big Bird.

103 anon December 6, 2016 at 7:42 am

Too late, and a bigger waste of time.

“During the 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of NPR funding came from the federal government. Steps were taken during the 1980s to completely wean NPR from government support, but the 1983 funding crisis forced the network to make immediate changes. According to CPB, in 2009 11.3% of the aggregate revenues of all public radio broadcasting stations were funded from federal sources, principally through CPB;[35] in 2012 10.9% of the revenues for Public Radio came from federal sources.[36]”

With a budget of about $150m, taxpayer share is $15m or so.

104 Rich Berger December 6, 2016 at 8:17 am

I’ll take that and raise you a CPB. http://www.cpb.org/aboutcpb/financials/budget

But I agree that DoD reform is a much higher priority. That wasted money could be used to destroy our enemies.

105 anon December 6, 2016 at 8:21 am

Didn’t you vote against the warmonger?

106 Rich Berger December 6, 2016 at 10:29 am

Most emphatically so. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “If you want peace, prepare for war.”

107 anon December 6, 2016 at 10:36 am

I regarded “no warmongers, destroy our enemies” with some humor when I thought it was going to lose. Contradiction on parade.

Now we actually do have to worry that “destroy our enemies” is indeed warmongering.

108 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:24 pm

DEFUND!!! And defund also that CPB, whatever it is. Next…

109 anon December 6, 2016 at 7:44 am

That puts the defense scandal at 10,000 NPRs.

110 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 9:00 am

“The NEA might be 1000th on that list and any attempt to eliminate it would stir up the kooks.”

Go ahead, stir up the kooks. The Republican majority should have no trouble with the easy calls. Of course, the ExIm Bank was an easy call. They do nothing because they are wastes of space.

111 JWatts December 6, 2016 at 9:13 am

“I’d defund NPR before I’d touch the NEA,”

Of course NPR claims that it doesn’t receive much Federal money. Technically, federal, state and local tax money is given to member stations, who then must pay yearly franchise fees and may purchase content from NPR.

Most of the actual Federal money comes from the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting).

112 anon December 6, 2016 at 9:26 am

Let’s say my threshold for caring about a budget item is 0.1% of total. The three orders of magnitude rule. If you care about totals, that is a good rule to help you focus.

With a budget of around $4T, you need to rope together $4B to make me think this is a serious budget issue.

Worrying about millions sounds like homeopathic budgeting. Dilute art or NPR until it is gone, and it is still there!

On the other hand the Pentagon thing is a whopping 3% of total budget.

113 anon December 6, 2016 at 9:31 am

Sorry, the 125b is reported as over 5 years, which means 25b per year

So 0.6%, clearing my 0.1% bar, but less dramatically

114 Brian Donohue December 6, 2016 at 10:15 am

Your argument cuts both ways. If the number is effectively zero, let’s make it zero.How many other examples of stuff like this can we find in the budget?

In memory of William Proxmire.

115 Lord Action December 6, 2016 at 10:29 am

“X is a complete waste of money, but it’s much smaller than Y, which is also a complete waste of money.”

This is not a good argument for funding X. Basically anything smaller than Medicare gets a pass…

116 anon December 6, 2016 at 10:34 am

On arts I don’t particularly care, I think there is a public knowledge. positive externality, argument for public media.

In related news, “Attorneys for Gov. Rick Snyder and state education officials say no fundamental right to literacy exists for Detroit schoolchildren who are suing the state over the quality of their education.”

That’s messed up.

117 Thomas December 7, 2016 at 12:13 pm

The NEA, DNC, and NPR agree. Teaching blacks to illiteracy is a major source of funding and power for the left

118 anon December 6, 2016 at 10:55 am
119 John December 6, 2016 at 11:27 am

While it’s very true that being penny wise and pound foolish gets the budget nowhere writing off those pennies generally adds up to a significant number as well. It’s more of a philosophical approach: “Who cares, it’s in the noise.” versus “If we’re prudent we don’t run into the messy problems very often and can deal with the emergencies much easier.”

120 anon December 6, 2016 at 11:41 am

You don’t think 0.1% is a fair divider? If you find those you only need 100 of them to make a 10% budget change. If you drop the bar to 0.01% you better have a list of 1000.

121 anon December 6, 2016 at 11:44 am

The analogy might be to “latte savings.” Some people say that you need to save 15% of salary for retirement. Some people say you can forego a daily latte to start a retirement account.

The second is “feel good” but unless you are dropping 15% of your income on coffee, you probably aren’t going to make the savings rate you need.

122 Thomas December 7, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Spending 125m to publish left wing opinions is not a role of government.

123 anon December 6, 2016 at 7:38 am

Maybe I should ask why $125B in government waste is not interesting, nor even the cover-up?

Everybody likes to wake up and rail against arts, but defense is still off limits?

124 rayward December 6, 2016 at 8:00 am
125 Slocum December 6, 2016 at 8:38 am

“I also call for stopping the transfers of the National Endowment for the Arts to the state arts agencies, on the grounds that federal arts taste usually is superior.”

Is this the same Tyler Cowen who wrote In Praise of Commercial Culture? The government should not only fund the arts, the spending should be centralized as much as possible because elite Washington arts bureaucrats have superior taste in comparison to provincial arts bureaucrats?

“Such a change would take the NEA back to its earliest and arguably most effective period near its origin in 1965, when it supported creators such as Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, George Segal, Ed Ruscha and William Gaddis (all grant recipients in the first year alone), among other luminaries.”

And what do we suspect is the median household income of the audience for these artists as compared to the median household income of U.S. taxpayers generally?

126 Thor December 6, 2016 at 4:12 pm

Well, Tyler has seen the calibre of art that has emerged in the years since he wrote that book. Perhaps he has changed his mind as a result. If so I say, commendable!

127 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 8:57 am

My second recommendation is to restore fully the ability of the NEA to make grants to individual artists,

Exhibit #637 in the file marked “faculty libertarians are faculty (and not really anything else)”. If ever there were an endeavour for which philanthropy was most suitable, it’s the visual and performing arts. Let the foundations handle it. In any case, you certainly do not benefit from central co-ordination and control or from economies of scale. What are state colleges and state universities for, and what might county governments be for? The Onondaga County government can toss some candy at Syracuse Symphony. You don’t need Albany or Washington involved.

128 chuck martel December 6, 2016 at 10:21 am

” If ever there were an endeavour for which philanthropy was most suitable, it’s the visual and performing arts.”

Absolutely. Part of the description of a rich person is their patronage of the arts and maybe owning race horses. People with piles of money that aren’t patrons of the arts are simply people with piles of money, they’re not rich.

129 Bill December 6, 2016 at 9:02 am

No, we can have more domestic Art if

We impose a 35% tariff on imported art

Cut taxes on artists to 15%

And

Reduce the regulatory burden on artists,

Like not enforcing fire code regulations in art warehouses.

130 JWatts December 6, 2016 at 9:15 am

I like the new poetic Bill. It’s still the same old content. But it’s far more witty butthurt.

131 Bill December 6, 2016 at 9:22 am

Like a true artist,

I don’t write for my critics,

I write for myself.

132 Urso December 6, 2016 at 9:38 am

Bill has always written like this. Mostly I’m jealous that he has figured out how to consistently get line breaks to work. I have never been able to figure it out; maybe I need a grant.

133 JWatts December 6, 2016 at 9:58 am

The trick my friend,

is not to follow the one

but the two.

134 Bill December 6, 2016 at 10:03 am

JW, Pretty good.

135 dearieme December 6, 2016 at 10:16 am

Like a true creative,

I copy and paste Bill,

And there the spaces are.

Are they?

136 Bill December 6, 2016 at 11:17 am

dierieme,

Re: The spaces between the lines.

It’s a real art to read the spaces between the lines.

In fact, there is hidden code in the spaces between the lines,

Decipherable by those with a good heart and a clear mind.

137 Thor December 6, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Most likely Bill has received a grant to study the conceptual interplay of paragraphing and haiku. I’m into limericks, myself.

There once was a poster named Bill

Who decided to give us a thrill

He played with some lines

And appealed to like minds

But ended up annoying as hell

138 Bill December 6, 2016 at 8:59 pm

If you can’t take the heat in hell, don’t play the game.

139 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 9:03 am

I also call for stopping the transfers of the National Endowment for the Arts to the state arts agencies, on the grounds that federal arts taste usually is superior.

Exhibit #637 in the file marked “faculty libertarians don’t give a rip about community control” (because people such as themselves never sit on municipal councils or know much about them).

140 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 9:05 am

“Such a change would take the NEA back to its earliest and arguably most effective period near its origin in 1965, when it supported creators such as Alvin Ailey, Merce Cunningham, George Segal, Ed Ruscha and William Gaddis (all grant recipients in the first year alone), among other luminaries.”

Remember the blank page with “Lighght” written on it? They gave money to that bloke too.

141 Urso December 6, 2016 at 9:39 am

Prof. Cowen, please admit that the only reason you wrote this piece was so that you could use the last line.

142 August Hurtel December 6, 2016 at 9:42 am

Well, this is embarrassing. An economist who is actually for the NEA?

Oh well, with Trump I may not get what I want, but I can reliably get schadenfreude. Which means Trump will likely use the NEA to fund pro-Trump artists. Start up competition directly against these upstart designers who didn’t want to work with Melania. Waves of ridiculously optimistic 80s movies. Maybe we can get Trump to pose like Napoleon for extra ironic schadenfreude.

Which reminds me we need a few graffiti artists that can do a reliable rendition of the Trump family crest to paint D.C. before those ridiculous protesters get there.

143 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 10:23 am

Which means Trump will likely use the NEA to fund pro-Trump artists.

And that’s worse than Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano just why?

144 August Hurtel December 6, 2016 at 11:57 am

I feel like you are asking me to tell you things that are already explained in my previous comment.

Shall I see the NEA defunded, like I prefer? Probably not, but in lieu of sane policy, I can bank on Trump’s nearly uncanny ability to cause wailing and gnashing of teeth among my enemies.

145 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 12:58 pm

I feel like you are asking me to tell you things that are already explained in my previous comment.

I like it how you play games rather than answering the question.

146 August Hurtel December 6, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Your lack of reading comprehension is less amusing.

147 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 3:31 pm

You’re lack of integrity is more amusing.

148 Urso December 6, 2016 at 9:44 am

Or, you could read this piece as a meta-commentary. A *huge* chunk of discretionary domestic federal spending is spent on satisfying the aesthetic impulses of well-educated coastal dwellers. See, eg, the entire Department of the Interior, and a good chunk of HUD. So why is it OK to fund federal parks and not Piss Christ? “Oh but I like federal parks!” Well, maybe I like Piss Christ. So there’s no real principle at issue here, it’s only a question of whose aesthetic preferences should matter.

149 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 10:22 am

A *huge* chunk of discretionary domestic federal spending is spent on satisfying the aesthetic impulses of well-educated coastal dwellers. See, eg, the entire Department of the Interior, and a good chunk of HUD.

Um, no. HUD finances public housing and Section 8 vouchers, which do not subsidize anyone’s aesthetic taste. I’m not aware of any data which suggest the National Park Service’s clientele are drawn disproportionately from the coasts or from the haut bourgeois. That aside, the Interior department is the superintendent of all public lands beyond the plant and equipment of the civil service and the military and beyond the Forest Service inventory. The commercial grazing lands are much more extensive than the National Park Service inventory.

150 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 2:29 pm

DEFUND parks!!! And Teddy Roosevelt monuments too. Next…

151 peri December 6, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The existence of national parks, as of wilderness areas, plays a role in the protection of species and thus helps to implement the ESA, and keep species off the list for that matter. There is no Endangered Artist Act.
As well, almost all national parks have an entry fee, so that the people who like them may further express their support directly.
The non-coastal dwelling taxpayer has no way to express or withhold support for the artists Cowen feels worthy of funding on the metric of out-there-ness.
At least the Depression-era tile mosaic in the post office may give him something to look at while in line.

152 Urso December 6, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Keeping around cute species is an aesthetic decision, just like keeping around pretty paintings. And art museums have entrance fees too.

Anyway, more to the point, I’m quite proud of this comparison, which I think is very clever. So I’m doubling down.

153 peri December 6, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Then the word “aesthetic” may be retired. Think of the savings!

154 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Parks are a common property resource. Works of art are not.

155 Jonathan December 6, 2016 at 10:10 am

The NEA’s budget, as you point out, is so embarrassingly small that eliminating the agency and starting over would seem to be a much better idea. You could then start a new agency (if you could convince Congress) that had a set of criteria better aligned to the public goods market failure aspect of the issue and less focused on controversy and public works.

156 dearieme December 6, 2016 at 10:19 am

Whammy! I’ve thought of an art-subsidising venture to which I don’t object.

The CIA used to subsidise world tours by some of the great, old jazzers.

157 Art Deco December 6, 2016 at 11:10 am

No, they laundered money through a paper foundation which then gave the money to the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, which had various projects (among them Encounter, not a bad publication). They also passed money to the National Student Association. It was known only to a few people employed by the Association at the time. Allard Loewenstein and Hendrik Hertzberg were on the Association’s payroll at the time and knew nothing of the CIA funding.

158 AlanG December 6, 2016 at 10:19 am

Glad to see Tyler mention the great American writer, William Gaddis whose book ‘JR’ is probably the best fictional account of American business ever written.

159 Pshrnk December 6, 2016 at 12:09 pm

“federal arts taste usually is superior” WTF?

160 The Free Market Is Not God December 6, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Just the facts.

161 8 December 6, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Make Camille Paglia head of the NEA.

Allow her to hand out death sentences to bad artists.

162 Taxes Can Be a Worthwhile Investment in Our Future December 6, 2016 at 7:36 pm

Ever heard of the Renaissance? Tons of funding from private and also church sources. Big explosion of art and creativity. Great stuff.

I know most people are Libertarians here. But would any of you be willing to take a millisecond to consider whether a a society might find that some things are worth paying taxes for– that some programs done by the whole society can yield more than individual efforts can. That there are some public goods that may be worth paying taxes for.

Of course you can’t support everything anyone wants. But how about just a few things of importance to the whole society? Can you imagine there might be a few such important things that would make us all better off?

163 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 8:17 pm

The usual definition of “public good” is a good that is not-excludable and not-rivalrous. Society already provides them in abundance, through charity or volunteering. Think about Wikipedia, Linux, free courses on the Internet. No need to coerce people with taxes.

164 Taxes Can Be a Worthwhile Investment in Our Future December 6, 2016 at 8:22 pm

Yes, I am aware that Libertarian dogma holds that every necessary public good is already provided for, by charity or volunteering.

Are there any ideological atheists, or at least ideological agnostics, out there, who may be willing to consider that that might not be the case in the real world?

165 Massimo December 6, 2016 at 8:59 pm

Libertarians have no problem with voluntary communities in which people agree to be taxed. It is aggressing people that don’t want anything to do with those communities that is immoral. Note how most of current social democratic or classical-liberal states allow the presence of communist communities, but no communist state allows the presence of voluntary free-market communities. The same is actually happening with anarco-capitalist zones and current normal states.
We do not want anything, just to be left alone. We can buy the land and will use our own money to build the infrastrure and develop our society. Why are we not allowed to do it in, say, a empty space of Australia, Canada or Finland? If we are utopists and we will start to kill each other, well, the states will recuperate the land for free. They don’t allow us to do it because the states keep us in slavery, and do not want examples of free people to give strange ideas to the sheeple. But I think the situation will change soon, the nation states are simply prostrated by the welfare state, someone will break the cartel. If you do not find it too boring, this is what I think will pass: https://massimo.liberty.me/it-is-time-to-abandon-the-nation-state/ and I am actively working with the Zede opportunity in Honduras to make it happen. Also, look forward for some big news from the sea-steaders in the short term. I have some doubts about the viability of their business model, but I sure hope they’ll succeed. And, of course, good luck to Karla and the free-starters in NH.

166 Taxes Can Be a Worthwhile Investment in Our Future December 6, 2016 at 8:35 pm

The biggest problem with bashing of government, and with the disapproval of taxes, is that government is there anyway, like it or not. And taxes are being collected anyway, like it or not. So if you are bashing government and saying taxation is theft, then that’s your story and you’re sticking to it.

Meanwhile, government is there and doing SOMETHING, something in which you are not interested, so you don’t pay much attention to how it’s going, or whether you would rather it do one thing rather than another, because whatever it does is wrong. And taxes are spent on SOMETHING. But you don’t pay much attention to what taxes are spent on, because whatever it is, it’s wrong.

So you don’t get too interested in whether political officials, or political candidates, want to spend your tax dollars on WWIII– or on public schools or roads or bridges or art. And you don’t get too interested in the other specifics of what political candidates or officials are doing. But it’s going to make a difference to you, what they do, I guarantee you.

167 jorod December 7, 2016 at 12:40 am

Smearing crap on the walls is artistic? Suggest you read the December issue of the New Criterion, especially Roger Kimball’s introductory article about the symposium on museums. Artists today are literally producing crap.

168 Troll me December 7, 2016 at 4:40 pm

It might depending on how you smeared and why you smeared, and more importantly what the audience thinks about those things.

The day that people stop debating what art is crap and what art is genius, we will probably not care because more important problems like a microwave-mind-control AI-powered synthetic-telepathy system will have indoctrinated identical universal preferences, and such troublesome conversations such as “that art is garbage – NO, I disagree, it’s genius” will never waste our precious cognitive resources again.

We can then debate whether the discomfort of reducing heating in the winter or air conditioning in the summer is worth the cost of reduced energy available to transmit ever more 0s and 1s in a world of ever increasing data capture and transmission.

169 jorod December 8, 2016 at 5:54 pm

What planet are you from?

170 Amjad December 7, 2016 at 8:23 pm

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