Thursday, February 17, 2011

How We Make The Case IV: Matt Yglesias!

Isaac also gets a response from Matt Yglesias, who wants off the list of philistines:
One is that I want off the Drum/Chait list of philistines. All I said about this is that the big federal arts subsidy is the indirect subsidy provided through the tax code. I think decentralized subsidization of aesthetic endeavors makes a lot of sense, I was just observing that perennial complaining about the NEA is kind of a sideshow.
I am pretty sympathetic to the argument. I think there is still a need for some direct spending. But, for instance, I happen to think that $100,000 to Lincoln Center wouldn't benefit the arts as much as $1,000 to Fractured Atlas -- I think Fractured Atlas benefits a wider and more diverse group of artists and art audiences in a more cost-effective way.

I think I've argued before that the role of Federal spending could more effectively shift from funding arts organizations directly to funding arts service organizations, people who find innovative ways to address the needs of artists without needing to be arbiters of taste. As I said before, we should fight cuts with reform: make the NEA better to justify keeping it around.


Although Drum may not be aware of it, Americans provide MASSIVE subsidies for film through tax breaks that average on 30%. And the reason they do it is to provide a competitive advantage economically. When I studied film production, we were told bluntly that step one in choosing a location is to find which location you could film in that has the highest tax break.

And that film subsidy is provided irregardless of if your mission is in the public good; it's provided for the same reason that there's a Small Business Administration -- because having people be employed for good wages is also a public need.

When Isaac mentioned in passing that the historical root of the NEA is really the WPA, remember that the WPA was one parts beauty, and three parts economic stimulus. The idea was that if artists could get employed for good money in their own fields, they would free jobs in other fields that people with less skills could do.

For example, if I could pay everyone in my tiny theater company a decent wage, that would open up two jobs in the service industry, one job in nannying, and one fairly decent job in software, and two in not-for profits.

(Also, I should make it pretty clear at this point that I really don't think the NEA should be giving me money yet. One day, when they're a financial powerhouse that really can give money to every aspiring group, we'll be waiting.)