NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

What's Wrong with Government Funding of the Arts?

September 13, 2011

People who oppose Soviet-style collective farms, government subsidies to agriculture or public ownership of grocery stores because they want the provision of food to be a private matter in the marketplace are generally not dismissed as uncivilized or uncaring.  But people who oppose government funding of the arts are frequently accused of being heartless or uncultured, says Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

The fact that the arts are wildly buffeted by political winds is actually a powerful case against government funding.  Art is too important to depend on politicians, too critical to be undermined by politicization.  Furthermore, expecting government to pay the bill for it is a cop-out, a serious erosion of personal responsibility and respect for private property.

What multiplier?

  • Virtually every interest group with a claim on the treasury argues that spending for its projects produces some magical "multiplier" effect.
  • Routing other people's money through the government alchemy machine is supposed to somehow magnify national wealth and income, while leaving it in the pockets of those who earned it is somehow a drag.
  • Those "studies" that purport to show X return on Y amount of government investment in the arts are generally a laughingstock among economists -- the numbers are often cooked and are almost never put alongside competing uses of public money for comparison.

Meaningful money.

  • Those of us who wish to nurture the arts privately stress other, far more important values.
  • Money that comes voluntarily from the heart is much more meaningful than money that comes at gunpoint.

What's important.

  • Art is just about everything to some people, especially those whose living derives from it.
  • But as adults we have to resist the temptation to think that what we are individually doing is somehow the greatest thing since sliced bread and that therefore it must receive more than what people willingly give it.

Source: Lawrence Reed, "What's Wrong with Government Funding of the Arts," Freeman Online, September 2011.

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