My libertarian guilty pleasure is government funding for the arts…
My esteemed colleague, Sarah Brodsky, has recently posted on government funding for the arts. The traditional free-market view of this is general opposition, although for reasons of taxes and budgets rather than taste or attitudes. Sarah gently critiques Gov. Blunt for his comments supporting arts funding and, in particular, his statement that arts funding helps lead to economic development. Sarah quotes Tyler Cowen on the issue of economic development studies, but I find Mr. Cowen’s remarks to be a very accurate smackdown of Chamber of Commerce-type economic development studies themselves, not funding for the arts in general. We here in St. Louis are privileged to have the local RCGA, which is a gigantic conflict of interest in its dual role as economic forecaster and cheerleader for the region. Does anyone actually believe anything in these studies?
The next point Sarah references in her post is about the difficulties of remaining as a small-business in a newly popular area. I have two solutions for the issue of independent businesses being forced out by higher rents and taxes in fashionable area. Solution # 1: Lower the tax rate. Really, most downtown areas have special taxing districts (both downtown St. Louis and Clayton have them). If the rents and property values rise quickly (we should be so lucky in downtown St. Louis) it is easy enough to lower the special taxing district rate to make it easier for the smaller or merely less-hip businesses to remain. Solution # 2: If that is the way it is, than so be it.
I don’t mean to sound cruel, but I LOVE GENTRIFICATION! If a business can no longer make it because a new cultural center moves into the area and brings with it all the hipness (and expensiveness) you can handle, well, those are the breaks, independent bookstore-dude. I should be very clear here that I am not encouraging eminent domain to forcibly remove Mr. independent bookstore and Ms. clothing resale shop. In fact, I like both of them very much, but change and progress are not meant to be easy, and if an art center comes to your neighborhood and the free market decides other businesses compliment it more, than so be it.
But back to government funding of arts. I like it local, low level and without strings. I don’t think it should be a large amount of money and certainly not a gravy-train for artists, but oftentimes the results are well worth the investment. “Man on a Horse” right here in Clayton, for example.