Cultural vouchers for Italian 18-year-olds

Thanks to a government initiative, all teen residents who reach that milestone this year will be given a “Cultural Bonus”—a cool €500 to spend on movies, books, theater and concert tickets, museums, and national parks, reports The Local.

From an economic point of view, such vouchers can make good sense, as Alan Peacock used to stress.  Nonetheless they take away two of the big reasons why arts funding is politically popular.  The vouchers do not offer well-defined benefits to specific suppliers (read: interest groups), and the government cannot affiliate very directly with specific popular or prestigious projects.

In terms of stimulus, this is less likely to boost employment than many public works projects.  A lot of cultural goods are local public or club goods, supplied beyond the point of congestion.  In other words, just let one more person sit in the movie theater.  That does, however, mean lots of pure profit for suppliers of reproducible popular culture.

Here is the Cara Giamo article at Atlas Obscura.


0 comments? Y?

Also if the vouchers are non "one-off" as they say in the UK, it bids up the cost of culture. For this very reason the generations long (at least 50 years) US farm subsidies have made it now so that if the subsidies were to be removed (over $100B 25 years ago, and possibly $200 B now) the market price of US farm produce would be below the production cost. That's how addicted US farmers are to subsidies. But the big mega-farms like them, as they are agribusinesses run by multi-millionaires, especially the cotton plantations.

And the US sugar plantations, and the US ethanol farms, and the Cali almond farms, etc etc etc James Bovard is the expert in this area.

I read this as, you get one voucher when you turn 18. And you won't get another unless you can figure out how to become 17 again.

I don't doubt that a good deal of creativity will be expended in attempts to capture the value of these vouchers.

"And you won’t get another unless you can figure out how to become 17 again." It's Italy, for heaven's sake.

I suppose this is bullish for the Italian porn industry.

as I said before, we are the best to waste public money,

Not so! This is an excellent investment in the idea that gov't handouts are cool.

"In terms of stimulus, this is less likely to boost employment than many public works projects."

That didn't seem to be the point of the program.

I'm not sure what "supplied beyond the point of congestion" means here. That there is so much supply that congestion can't take place? Or that the supply is congested? Or that the supply of cultural goods is already congested?

Ray, if Tyler means what I think he does (that supply is so much that congestion is essentially impossible) then I doubt it would bid up the price. Also, there are no comments because most of the commenters here don't seem to give a damn about cultural products. "People who know the price of everything and the value of nothing" is essentially a definition of those interested in or practicing economics and economic theory.

Tyler, how different would this subsidy be if only offered in the context of non-reproducible cultural products (theater, parks, concerts, etc.) instead of movies and books (which seem to be doing just fine on their own?

A subsidy for self-driving cars driven by people is fine.

I'm more confused as to how they plan on eliminating arbitrage. How many kids will sell their vouchers or purchased goods at less than face value for cash?

Ehh.. thats a problem with just about any subsidy. I believe thats why governments usually subsidize producers not consumers.

Is the state of Italy so flush with cash they can afford this? Or have I been seriously mislead by economics journalism?

It's less about the amount of cash on hand, and more about the amount of votes it will buy. There's a reason that 18 was the age chosen.

... thus causing a rush of Italian teenagers looking to sell their vouchers for actual cash.

I'd imagine the supply will be so high that they will happily accept 50 Euro.

"From an economic point of view, such vouchers can make good sense"

Why? I mean, they make better sense than direct subsidies to favored institutions but they don't make sense from an economic point of view. Because wouldn't that entail ending the subsidies all together and allowing the market to work out what part of 'culture' deserves support?

Just self advertisement for the current Italian government, who instead should better avoid wasting money and resources in arbitrary handouts (for example, what about teenagers born just one day to early or too late to get the vouchers?). Lower wasteful public spending, lower taxes on labor, better and faster judiciary system, more competition, better education system: these should be the priorities to improve the lives of all the teenagers and of the whole population in Italy. Period.

"From an economic point of view, such vouchers can make good sense" and from a moral point of view they simply confirm that most government is just theft and has thus has no moral high ground to oblige people to obey them.

Are Government Vouchers Net Wealth?
As a parent of an 18 year year old, I'd say no.

So France is trying to protect its culture with command-and-control regulation at the beach, while Italy opts for subsidies.

I think it's a good idea based, as you say, upon the views of Alan Peacock.

Where I used to live we prefer to give these type of "vouchers" to football teams to build giant stadiums. It supports a form of culture and is supposedly good for the economy - at least for the bars and hotels in town.

'Nonetheless they take away two of the big reasons why arts funding is politically popular.'

Do tell how European cultures like Italy, France, and Germany view the politics of arts funding.

'The vouchers do not offer well-defined benefits to specific suppliers (read: interest groups)'

The Virginia School interpretation in this case seems to fail to understand that the respective interest groups supporting arts funding are the Italians, the French, and the Germans, groups that do so to a major extent out of a sense that a nation is not measured by money, but by that which it creates and treasures, even if only as an inheritor of the past.

'the government cannot affiliate very directly with specific popular or prestigious projects'

Sorry, but this is truly ignorant of how things work. For example, those Italian teens will be spending the money on Italian culture (well, to the extent that movies are dubbed or books translated, at least). The Italian government remains affiliated with the popular and prestigious project of continuing Italian culture. Ask an Italian - they tend to be quite proud of their culture, at least in my experience.

The sad thing is, the cost of the entire program, at roughly 1 billion euros, won't even buy the Italian military more than a generous handful of fully equipped F35s.

There's no way it's a good idea to let the Italian military anywhere near such dangerous hardware. They might hurt themselves.

Do you have -- or even know -- any teenagers?

"For example, those Italian teens will be spending the money on Italian culture (well, to the extent that movies are dubbed or books translated, at least). "

Cough *playstation* cough

I guess I would prefer vouchers to direct subsidies of the arts, at least this way popular choice determines who get's the money rather than some elitist bureaucrat.

I always felt that in recessions, rather than public works, a good stimulus would be to send out restaurant vouchers to everyone. The restaurant business employs lots of low skill people and restaurants are somewhat a public good in that clusters of restaurants greatly improve an area via Jane Jacobs type effects, so maintaining them during recessions would be important. (Of course better would be to eliminate recessions through NGDP targeting....).

The big advantage is not in who chooses what works to subsidize but that the money does not get spent on bureaucrats themselves or in administration. If the project works, then you will have *more* works seen by more people (e.g., less scheduling events when its convenient for the staff even if there is little audience attendance).

Perhaps you are right from a strictly stimulus perspective, but public works have the added benefit of increased productivity in the future. Ignoring a 100 years of benefits from the interstate system and only focusing on the slightly more stimulus heavy restaurant vouchers seems like a poor idea.

I'm not so sure about that. If the objective is to stimulate the production of arts, I wonder if this approach might not do very well because it will mostly lead to the consumption of more mass-produced media and pad their profits, which would contribute to the production of more of the same. Which isn't bad per se. But without having to be elitest in any sort of sense, I wouldn't consider mass media as the sort of arts that such a policy ideally wants to target.

This might not be all that special. I'm in Paris, looking at directions etc for various museums. Many (most?) major attractions are free for under 18s and for under 25s if from the EU.

"lots of pure profit for suppliers of reproducible popular culture" and "vouchers do not offer well-defined benefits to specific suppliers" seems at odds.

If the money to fund this came from some billionaire or feel from heaven 'maybe' this would be a good idea. But this is money from taxes taken at the threat of violence and jail time if you refuse to give it to the government. In theory the government 'needs' money to do the people's business. The necessary things like defend the borders, support a legal and court system, build bridges, etc. But taking that money from productive people and then giving it away to unproductive people is terrible/criminal.

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