Why I shouldn’t be required to pay for your jazz concert

The website AskPetersen.com, a webpage and blog designed to help students to write better essays launched an essay contest with 7 different topics to choose from. Information on how you can participate (until June 1st!) can be found on their website.

Topic: Should Society Support Artists and Others Pursuing Creative Works?

Just about two years ago the artistic community in (my home country) Luxembourg wasn’t entirely head over heels in love with the minister of culture. In fact she was accused of unfairly cutting the budget in order to contribute to a balanced budget. “Society needs to support artists” was the claim being made in news commentaries and press releases. There are two major points that have to be made when it comes to this critique.

Government is not society

At the moment both civil society and government support art: individuals through appreciating and investing in it personally, and government by generously subsidising it. These are quite obviously not one of a kind.

Government is an institution of just or unjust distribution, depending on who you ask. It essentially takes money from some to give it to others. Art is highly subsidised just like agriculture or the military (unnatural allies you might say): theatres, orchestras, many galleries, museums and the like, rely on contributions through funds provided by the state. As a result of this, every time you object to a thing being done by government, people conclude that you object to its being done at all. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indeed if we look at the history of art, especially that of music and painting, then the greatest innovation that we describe as such was done merely on a market in which the artist was dependent on his appeal. The theatre for example was far more popular at the time of its creation as wagons going from village to village, and these plays resonated with a much poorer and uneducated audience that was still willing to contribute something.

In fact, private museums are not rare, for contemporary art alone there are already over 300 privately held museum worldwide, 35% of them have over 20,000 visitors a year; art galleries are often private and visited by thousands of art collectors and started off by artistic entrepreneurs; the music industry is completely standing on her own two feet. It is clear that art needs society to contribute to it, but it doesn’t need government.

Subsidies slow down artistic innovation

When an individual buys a good he gets the quality, quantity and price he wants. The same principle does not apply with government: subsidies have a distortionary effect on prices but also on the production outcome. Let us narrow down what that means. If you subsidise something you unsurprisingly get more of it, and that is deadly if you want your sector to be innovative. If artists have been made dependent by the nourishing hand of government handouts, then most of them strive towards what this hand wants.

As long as government decides on what art is and what isn’t, we will have the same paintings, the same music, the same orchestras and the same plays. Innovative creation is being done by those who dare, those who depend not on pleasing a bureaucrat, but the people who appreciate and live art. These artists are the ones who didn’t fall for the easy trap of being subsidised.

So yes I don’t want to be required to pay your jazz concert, and you should thank me for that. It might just get better.

Inspired in parts by Maggy Nagel a raison de mener sa politique

Pictures are Creative Commons.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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