How to aid the arts during a pandemic

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column.  In addition to “the usual,” we might also consider arts vouchers:

The second element of the arts rescue plan would take a different tack. Rather than giving money to arts institutions, the federal government could set aside some amount for a concept known as arts vouchers, originally developed by the British economist Alan Peacock.

Arts vouchers are similar to education vouchers except that they cover the arts. The government would hand them out to each American and allow state and local governments to specify which institutions and individuals would be eligible to receive such vouchers as payment. Unlike direct grants to arts institutions, arts vouchers give consumers a big say in where aid goes. They could be more popular with voters, because they give each one a direct benefit — namely, cash in pocket (yes, they would have to spend it on the arts, but it’s still cash).

Most of all, vouchers would recognize that planning authorities, even at state and local levels, don’t always know which artistic forms will be popular. If some reallocations are inevitable — for instance out of nightclubs and into outdoor bluegrass festivals — vouchers will allow those preferences to be registered quickly.

Obviously, if state and local governments specify a narrow set of eligible recipients, arts vouchers aren’t much different than direct grants. In that case, little is lost. Still, one hopes that vouchers can be used more imaginatively. Imagine the city of Detroit allowing vouchers to be spent not just at the Detroit Institute of the Arts but also on hip-hop, street art and outdoor theatre.

In short, vouchers can allow American artistic innovation to proceed, even flourish, rather than merely preserving everything as it was before the pandemic. Vouchers also serve an important macroeconomic function by maintaining consumer spending and demand, thus addressing one problem area of the broader economy. With direct grants to arts institutions, there is always the danger the funds simply will sit in the coffers of still-closed non-profits while the broader economy remains weak.

Vouchers shouldn’t be the entire plan of arts assistance for at least two reasons: They may not be a sufficient lifeline for small arts institutions that cannot yet reopen, and they may not help the arts sectors that draw in foreign tourists, most of all in New York City.

There is more at the link.

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Wouldn't it make more sense to make these vouchers even broader, usable for anything the person wanted? That way if they valued something else more than "art", or as "art", they weren't forced to support what the government considers "art" anyway.

Of course, then you'd wonder why not just give cash. Much easier to spend than vouchers.

Of course, then you'd have to wonder why the government is taking wealth from people in the first place in order to give it back to people to spend. Why is the processing via the government is desired in the first place?

And then you'd realize the whole idea of the government propping up unpopular (by definition, because if it was popular, people would already pay for it...) art by taxing people who don't like it is just dumb and inefficient in the economic sense of the term.

+1

It is worse than that. Because it is not just dumb and inefficient, it is taking money away from poor people and giving it to the Upper Middle Class who are perfectly capable of paying five figure sums for tickets if the performance is worth it. See Hamilton.

It is regressive and unjust to force ordinary people pay for propaganda denigrating and belittling them. Which is pretty much all Art these days.

If the Arts need stimulus I suggest we offer a voucher for Strip Clubs and tattoo parlors. Maybe some jelly wrestling. But then Foxy Boxing will want in and it becomes hard to deny them. Better to leave people to make their own damn decisions with their own damn money.

"taking money away from poor people and giving it to the Upper Middle Class"

What ever happened to the meme about how the U.S. tax code is too progressive and results in a bunch of low-income "lucky-duckies" who don't pay any income tax?

Given the progressiveness of the tax code, the average poor and even lower-middle class taxpayer pays approximately $0 to fund the arts. The average non-poor taxpayer chips in a buck or two.

Correct.

Why should we "fund" the arts? If the demand isn't there why should we prop it up?

This is a perfect opportunity to let "the market" do its thing. By giving the arts market freedom we'll be able to determine how valuable their various manifestations are to the general public. Maybe very few will be compelled to wander through a gallery filled with Jasper Johns and Robert Indiana schlock. Furthermore, what about the publishing business in its many guises? Should enpixelated federal money be used to prop up failing magazines, newspapers and book publishers? Just about anything has some kind of an artistic component. Showering funds on the arts is a singulary bad idea.

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I'm against funding the arts in general, and initially had a comparison in how a guy with a pizza shop doesn't get subsidized like this. This year is a bad year to make that argument though.

It's worth noting that the PPP payments are loans, not vouchers. And come with lots and lots of strings.

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Given the progressiveness of the tax code, the average poor and even lower-middle class taxpayer pays approximately $0 to fund the arts. The average non-poor taxpayer chips in a buck or two.

The income tax system is very progressive. That doesn't mean all taxes are. He is talking about local governments. How progressive are local taxes?

But more importantly there is no way this debt can be paid off. It is too large. It means either a new tax like a VAT - which is highly regressive - or inflating it away - which is also regressive and punishes the cognitively challenged - or default. All of those will have random effects on the tax payers of America which cannot be certainly progressive.

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+1

Reminds me of this classic essay by Bastiat, "What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen": https://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/basEss.html?chapter_num=4#book-reader

Especially section 4, 'Theaters and Fine Arts'.

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+1

I'm surprised to see Tyler endorse this. He should spend more time talking to Dr. Caplan.

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American deaths/7 day rolling average
July 3 626/555, July 4 265/518, July 5 262/515, July 6 378/516, July 7 993/556, July 8 890/585, July 9 960/625

July 10 849/657, July 11 731/723, July 12 380/740, July 13 465/753, July 14 935/743, July 15 1002/760, July 16 963/761

July 17 946/775, July 18 813/787

COVID is about 10% of last years total per-day death rate

COVID was precisely 0% of last year's total per-day death rate.

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This sounds more like a hasty plan B after the abject failure to control community viral spread in the U.S.

The most effective program would be to check the pandemic, then start to reopen various institutions. That being the West European model. Taking into account the much higher degree of European state support in the first place, far fewer cultural institutions were threatened with permanent closure.

This is not Eurosclerotic statism, this is the dynamic response of a leading state capacity libertarian letting vox populi determine which circuses it wants supported by the state.

The synergies of combining commercial culture with state support could even be the subject of a new pamphlet or book. Something like The Freedom to Spend - Free Vouchers for Free People.

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Odd that the most important insights receive the fewest comments.

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'for instance out of nightclubs and into outdoor bluegrass festivals'

What happens when people discover that no one is holding outdoor bluegrass festivals between November and March? More vouchers for the Birchmere?

This is a bit sad at this point - "We are thrilled to announce that we will be opening again at a limited capacity in July. Last week, in our excitement at finally re-opening after 4 long months, some things were not clear.

We are hopeful that by August we will be back to the normal Birchmere.

WE CAN NOT WAIT TO SEE YOU AGAIN……………"

Virginia's July 15 1084 new cases is the highest number since June 7 1284. More relevant, the 7 day daily average on June 7 was 867. On July 18, it was 942. The Birchmere is not going to be reopening for business as usual in August.

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If our immunologists do the job,, then the best aid to anyone is to insure the immunologists get it close by 2021. We don't need much to have an effective triadic response, a seasonal booster, starving them after infection, the mRNA approach, in or out of vitro. Keep targeting those dollars on this problem, highest pay off and it is working.

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Tyler, under the present circumstances, we can assume that all governments would like to change their late 2019 and early 2020 action plans. Each government (at all levels and in all countries) is subject to funding/spending, legal and administrative restrictions on what it can change. To discuss a specific change (as the one you propose) every government ideally should analyze it in the context of a new action plan.

Take the U.S. We can start by reading Angus Deaton’s latest syndicated column
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/us-connecticut-compromise-1987-and-failed-covid-response-by-angus-deaton-2020-07

We can laugh at it because Angus —after denouncing Trump as malevolent and incompetent, that is, after signaling his adherence to Stalin conformity— centers his analysis on the constitutional consequences of The Connecticut Compromise of 1787 (I bet few Americans remember it). Angus is mad because he thinks that the Compromise should be blamed for (his summary)

The lack of a coordinated national response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States has predictably resulted in an unmitigated economic and public-health disaster. The problem is and always has been that those in a position to do something about such crises do not speak for most Americans.

Yes, Angus sounds like Hillary blaming the Electoral College for her defeat in November 2016. It’s true, however, that we cannot ignore the constitutional restrictions on the governments of the many political jurisdictions recognized by the U.S. Constitution and the state constitutions.

Now you claim that “The Arts Need a Bailout, Too” (the title of your column). I don’t know how many other similar claims have already been submitted to politicians at all levels of government. I will be surprised if any politician or government official pays any attention to your column, and more importantly if more than 20 readers of your column and post will agree with you.

One reason for being hard to agree with you is precisely your failure to discuss it in the context of every government’s new action plan. I understand Angus’ frustration because if you assume that in early 2020 every government had an action plan, and suddenly each one has to accommodate a response to COVID-19 into a new action plan, each one knows that it cannot ignore what other U.S. governments are doing.

Maybe two or three governments at the county or city level may be interested in saving “The Arts” in their jurisdiction. I bet you, however, that if it happens is because the demand for “The Arts” in the county or city is very high and it is always good to get a subsidy.

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"Imagine the city of Detroit allowing vouchers to be spent not just at the Detroit Institute of the Arts but also on hip-hop, street art and outdoor theatre."

So, destroy what little culture they have left? Mind you, the outdoor theater might not be garbage, depends on the play.

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Why do we need to subsidize? So many people happy enough to paint BLM and ACAB all over public property these days do it for free (or with their Donald J Trump-signed stimulus checks)

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Democracy fail: Cowen is offering another critique of democracy: if democracy fails us by electing a stable genius, one can only imagine the art democracy would choose. My question: Does this blog post relate to the previous blog post about AGI? See Ross Douthat's column today, in which he posits that the anti-racism among young men and women today is a form of racism, that the intent is to reinforce white privilege. Whitey on the moon! Does Cowen enjoy watching the rats in a maze, occasionally poking the rats with a stick to stir them up.

That's not what he said.

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The Federal government has no responsibility, or authority, to fund “the arts”. Even if they did, doing it with borrowed money is beyond irresponsible.

A better idea is to end all Federal funding for the arts, and let the market decide whether hip hop, bluegrass, or Mozart survive.

T.C. seems very reluctant to allow unexpected events to jolt people out of the complacency he purports to abhor. The federal government must fund the arts, forever? Fund, as a commenter noted above, what is so often artificially "subversive"? Much like Putin and his co-opting of media channels? Why are some elements of the status quo so privileged, in his mind?

I'm starting to believe in that business about wordsmiths and self regard and idea count.

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Speaking of arts in America here's a wonderful ode to Los Angeles jazz during its heyday on Central Avenue by the NBA champ himself Kareem:

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-07-18/central-avenue-los-angeles-jazz

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Virtual Verbier Festival 2020 (18 days)

Generously supported by Madame Aline Foriel-Destezet

Philippe Foriel-Destezet (born 1935) is a French billionaire businessman.

https://www.medici.tv/en/concerts/virtual-verbier-festival-valery-gergiev/

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Does Tyler ever sleep?

Spoiler alert: Tyler is GPT-4

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This is also a good time for education vouchers for similar reasons. So many government school teachers unions are weary of returning to work this fall. Education vouchers would allow kids to attend the public and private schools that do open, alleviating pressure on the closed schools to re-open prematurely. Vouchers would be a win-win for everyone. Parents could send their kids back to school, while those schools and teachers most apprehensive about re-opening could stay closed.

+1. That's a very good idea, and one that should be adopted irrespective of COVID. The funding should follow the student.

One of the things that homeschooling parents find is that public schools are pretty inefficient, at home they can usually cover the same material is a couple of hours a day.

Its also pretty clear that most kids pretty easily learn the K-12 content in 10 year, i.e. complete high school by 16. With standard subject matter exit exams (e.g. NY Regents exams, advanced placement exams, etc.) there is no particular reason to drag things out for 13 years.

For those who prefer not to home school, let the private and charter schools compete for students.

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Might want to specify that such vouchers could not be used to visit museums with statues.

Or that, in the spirit of a graphic recently produced by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, promote "whiteness."

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We already have art vouchers--they are called dollar bills. You can vote as often as you like by giving the dollar to the artist. Artists that create something you can hold (such as a painting) haven't had their avenues for selling foreclosed. The artist or a gallery can show everything on line. But artists that perform (musicians) have lost their avenues for selling their product . They are performing on line, and if you want, you can buy a ticket and watch. Or just buy a ticket.

The people that need the help in all this are the venues. If the venues go under, then those mid-tier artists that make money playing 200 nights a year to 200 to 300 people are in big trouble.

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Imagine the city of Detroit allowing vouchers to be spent not just at the Detroit Institute of the Arts but also on hip-hop, street art and outdoor theatre.

This is exactly what I would oppose such vouchers. Hip Hop is the most popular form of music ever unleashed on the world. Hip Hop artists are billionaires, and one of them is planning to run for president. Street art is just that: Street art. Take it off the streets and give it money and it's Basquiat. No thanks.

(Not sure what "street theater" is, but if what I recall from the 1960s, they need to get jobs, not subsidies.)

Money should go to support the elitist arts that aren't self supporting. We need elite things to counter the twerking, graffiti-defaced culture that so far has spread around the world like a plague, without anybody's help. And the more elite things are, they more they deserve our support.

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If you would like to support choral music buy a ticket to the series "Live From London", ten consecutive weekly online performances each Saturday starting Aug. 1 featuring Voces8, Chanticleer, and many of the world's leading professional choral groups (also one non-choral performance from the Academy of Ancient Music). Most will be performing live from Voces8's center in London.

https://voces8.foundation/livefromlondon

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More taxes will solve everything. And the band played on. Art is a function of wealth. Make people wealthy and the arts will do fine.

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Perhaps something similar could be done with newspapers.

Vouchers are a good way to decentralize government spending. Interesting to think through other applications...

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I have no doubt that the arts will survive this pandemic. The novel 'Station 11' dealt with this quite interestingly where, even in a post-apocalyptic world, there would be traveling bands of artists performing music or plays. Something like this would sure endure, particularly under circumstances short of those that provided the setting for that novel.

So what we're talking about saving is not the arts but the institutions we tend to associate with the arts. And I'm not sure that those aren't worthy of a major shakeup. These institutions have huge budgets, are dominated by fundraising and beholden to unions. A voucher program would likely maintain this status quo.

Theater may benefit from weaker unions (union members may suffer but non-union actors and support may benefit). Audiences may see cheaper prices. We may re-think the costs associated with running museums...institutions charged with showing the public art made by artists who collected their last paycheck decades, centuries or millennia ago.

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