Monday, April 17, 2006

The Economist as Art Lover

If you are a student interested in the arts, you probably don't turn to your economics professor to deepen your appreciation. For most of us econ profs, the arts are not our comparative advantage. Economist Tyler Cowen, however, is an exception.

Here is an excerpt from his new book, Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding:
Many of my conservative and libertarian friends find government funding for the arts unacceptable. They note that after the so-called "Gingrich revolution" of 1994, "we were not even able to get rid of the NEA." They speak of the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) as the lowest of lows, the one government program that has no justification whatsoever. If such an obvious basket case could survive a conservative Republican Congress, how we can ever hope to rein in government spending?

Most of my arts friends take the contrary political position. They assume that any art lover will favor higher levels of direct government funding. To oversimplify a bit, their basic attitude is that the arts are good, and therefore government funding for the arts is good. They find it difficult to understand how an individual can appreciate the arts without favoring greater public-sector involvement. They lament how American artists are underfunded and undervalued by the state, relative to their western European counterparts....

I write with one foot in the art-lover camp and with another foot in the libertarian economist camp. I try to make each position intelligible, and perhaps even sympathetic (if not convincing), to the other side. I try to show how the other side might believe what it does, and how close the two views might be brought together. Furthermore, I use the fact of persistent disagreement as a kind of datum, as a clue for discovering what the issues are really about.
Follow this link to read more.