Some Thoughts on the Perils of Public Funding of the “Arts”

Perhaps inspired by the fact that the 2012 recipients of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel were credited for their multi-disciplinary focus, I thought to offer some insights from my own publications.

As a life-long lover of most of the Classical Fine Arts, I have attended ballet, opera & concerts on most continents of the globe & am a frequent visitor to galleries & museums.

In my earlier years as an academic economist, I tried to add some spice to my interest in the “dismal science” by doing a bit of thinking about the economics of culture.

One avenue of exploration was some essays on the use of public-sector (taxpayer) funding for the Arts.

One point I made is that there is a strong possibility of arts agencies being “captured” by (rent seeking) interest groups. As such, the choice of which of the Arts or which artists might be supported is likely to become tainted by politics.

Another is that since government support is tax-based, increased public support for the Arts might lead to lower individual disposable income, thereby discouraging private giving. (The “I already gave at the office” argument.)

And then there are the failures associated with public-sector expenditures that implies that end results of subsidies for the Arts are likely to differ from their original objectives.

In all events, it is left to the discretion of a small group of elite to decide on whether or not a subsidy can or does create surplus value for the rest of the community.

For further reading:
Lingle,C. (1992). “Public Choice and Public Funding of the Arts.” Ruth Towse and Abdul Khakee (eds.). Cultural Economics. Berlin: Springer-Verlag: 21-30.

Lingle, C. (1991). “Interest Groups and Cultural Protectionism: Apartheid and Public Arts Policies”, International Journal of Social Economics, Vol. 18, Issue 4, pp.4 – 13.

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About christopher

Content of "Natural Order" attempts to reflect the commitment of Universidad Francisco Marroquin to support the development of a society of free & responsible individuals. The principal commentator for this blog is Christopher Lingle.

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