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February 10, 2009

A Question for the Villainry

I am expected to continue working 12 hour shifts, weekends as required, night shifts as required to maintain my chosen lifestyle, save for the future, pay off my mortgage, and live within my means. I am further expected to believe that an artist dependent on government giveaways for such abominations as "Piss Christ" is providing the same amount of effort in an endeavor I find obscene.

- Vet66, comment on Nailing It

It's easy to be angry when obvious abuses of taxpayer money are cited, and I don't quibble with Vet66's point about not having the fruit of his productive labor confiscated in order to support people who don't work as hard as he does. However, I think things like Piss Christ are bugs rather than features of the system.

Let's step through this systematically, because the issue raises some interesting philosophical questions for fiscal conservatives and libertarians. First of all, I think both fiscal conservatives and libertarians need to take a giant step back from specific incidents which may annoy them and ask, "What kind of society do we wish to live in?"

We need to separate broad public policy goals from the oft imperfect ends that result when flawed human beings seek to implement them. Do we automatically throw the policy out if it is not implemented well, or do we examine it to see whether there is some merit in the overarching goal? Do we, perhaps, look at whether we need to tolerate some imperfect or even highly objectionable results in order to gain other positive ends, of which we approve and enjoy?

To illustrate this, a small diversion may be in order. As a girl one of my more vivid memories is of spending long summer days in a big wicker chair in my bedroom avidly devouring book after book. Some of my favorite novels were Mary Renault's tales of ancient Greece. Renault was an incredibly gifted author. She had a way of painting scenes so vivid one felt spirited out of the here and now and back in time along with her. Often, in quiet moments when the light slants down in the late afternoon limning everything it touches with a golden halo, or the breeze blows softly with just a hint of salt tang from the ocean I'll find myself recalling a scene from one of her novels with a sense of deja vu.

I literally have been there before, if only in my mind. One passage I have never forgotten from her novels concerns the story of how the Athenian Parthenon came to be built. Though it was a finalist in the new 7 wonders of the world (I didn't even realize there was a contest!), the building of the Parthenon caused great dissention and controversy over the proper use of public funds at the time it was being constructed. The history is interesting given our present predicament and some of the proposed remedies:

Plutarch lists other projects in the Agora and the Academy and adds: ”It was he, likewise, who first embellished the Acropolis with those fine and ornamental places of exercise and resort, which they afterwards so much frequented and delighted in.” In this policy of providing employment to the poor through public works, Cimon may have started the construction of the Parthenon; Pericles completed it for exactly the same reasons. The archaeological data support what is suggested by the historical information, since the building of the south wall, or Cimonian Wall, is related to the erection of the substructure of the Parthenon. Hence, it is safe to conclude that Parthenon I began to be built in the period of Cimon’s political leadership, when it appeared that Athens was finally at peace and when the unemployment caused by the peace provided one further justification for starting to replace the temple destroyed by the Persians.

Pericles was not a foolish man. He viewed the construction of the Parthenon as not only the mean to a politically expedient end but as a legacy of beauty and public pride for the city of Athens. That it has endured these many centuries has both vindicated his judgment and eclipsed the controversy that so plagued its construction.

But I digress... albeit with a point in mind.

Years ago on a trip to Paris, I was left breathless at the beauty and grandeur of the churches, sculptures and public buildings on display. All over the world, men in every culture and clime have reached for grand, oft impractical visions and we are the richer for their madness. Though we have far more to work with, both in technology and riches, I doubt any of these masterpieces would be built today and I often wonder kind of legacy we will we leave to our children?

I know I have often taken pleasure in walking around my local city (or around DC) and taking in various public works projects that include art. When I go to the public library, often there will be a statue or sculpture in the lobby or outside in the garden. Someone had to pay for these things, and I also know I see them more often than I did when I was young. Much of this is because these institutions are no longer entirely dependent upon the generosity of individual private donors; government funds help to make art accessible to all of us.

So the question put out for you is this:

Is this a good thing? Or something we wish to discourage?

We are the world's richest nation. I don't think the goal, when Congress funds art projects, is to provide a paycheck for individual artistes.

The goal is to provide a commodity - art - for the public. To the extent that individual artists are enriched... well, I've never seen a commodity in a capitalist society that comes free of charge: in other words, a bug, not a feature. If the government decides to upgrade their tax software tomorrow, much of that money will wind up in the paychecks of private software firms, too. And some of them will do a lousy job and deliver buggy software projects that run over budget and are delivered late. Again, should we stop upgrading our software because we don't want to enrich those lousy developers?

To the extent that our public funds end up paying for obsence or offensive artworks, is this a matter of poor execution or oversight or flawed policy? Discuss amongst yourselves. I think the question of what kinds of things taxpayers want to pay for is entirely valid.

But I think that's a separate question from direct income transfers. And now, I leave you to consider the beauty of the Parthenon:


The Parthenon - Funny home videos are a click away

More history, for archeology and history geeks, here.

Posted by Cassandra at February 10, 2009 06:49 AM

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Comments

Oh, you know not what you have wrought, dear hostess.

First of all:
Do we automatically throw the policy out if it is not implemented well, or do we examine it to see whether there is some merit in the overarching goal?

No, we throw out the policy because there is no mandate for it in the US Constitution. We are a nation of laws, NOT of the whims of the masses. At least, that's what we were supposed to be. Voting money from the Federal treasury as a handout to artists who (for whatever reason) cannot sell their work on the open market is NOWHERE in the Constitution. By virtue of the Tenth Amendment, since doing so is neither expressly given to the Federal government, nor expressly denied to the States, the power to do so rests solely with the people or the States. That's why the NEA should be abandoned... it's unconstitutional.

Second, as for the "need" for the public to fund artists, you cite the Parthenon as an example. I would hasten to remind you, that Athens was (in fact) a democracy, and not a Republic as we are. Their laws specifically allowed the people (at least, those eligible to vote) to vote money from the public treasury. Mostly because it was their money. But we also tend to forget that Athens was hardly an egalitarian democracy. Only the wealthy landowners could vote, they held slaves, and even the merchant class, while not able to vote, were subject to taxation. But all those are merely elements of my point that Athens voted public money for a public use building. That is actually a proper function of government. We do it all the time. The US Supreme Court building is more than just an office, it has artistic works and merit of its own as a structure. It was built from public funds. That's acceptable to me. Paying artists to produce work (of whatever value) for no better reason than "we can" is not.

I would point out the way that artists made their living in the world prior to the NEA's existance. Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Michaelangelo, DaVinci, Picasso, Monet... the list of artistic greats goes on and on, and they all have one thing in common... they had patrons who funded and supported their works. Or at a minimum, private individuals bought their art. In some cases, like Michaelangelo's, his work was sponsored by a state-like entity. But does anyone really think the Church picked him up off the street and said, "hey, we need you to paint our ceiling"? No, he was chosen to paint the Sistine Chapel because he was a proven artist. It doesn't hurt that the Pope liked his stuff, and that's why he was commissioned.

But my point is, great artists weren't developed by some government welfare check, they were developed because they were highly talented people whose work drew the attention of patrons to support them. If it is "in the public interest to develop artists", then by golly the States should arrange to have art schools. But I don't see anything in my copy of the Constitution that expressly gives that power to the Federal government.

Also, why is Art worthy of public funding, but other human endeavors are not? Why not sports? Isn't that culturally rewarding? The Greeks thought so. What about computer programming? Isn't it in the interest of the people that we have talented programmers? Shouldn't I be able to draw a government paycheck for merely practicing my skills as a programmer? Aren't I entitled to one too?

Of course not. But if I decided I was an artist, I could poop on a brick mosaic of Rutherford B. Hayes, and apply for my NEA grant. Why is this logical? If I was able to paint something on the order of the Sistine Chapel, I wouldn't NEED that NEA grant. Some company would commission me to paint their corporate headquarters, and I'd be rolling in the dough. Why reward failure in art, but no other human endeavor? That's ridiculous.

Posted by: MikeD at February 10, 2009 08:51 AM

He viewed the construction of the Parthenon as not only the mean to a politically expedient end but as a legacy of beauty and public pride for the city of Athens.

Ahhh -- but the Parthenon's construction was only approved because it served a *religious* purpose. Athena's temple had been destroyed. *Not* replacing the temple would have been an act of impiety, and *not* building it to a grander scale would have been an act of ingratitude. To put it bluntly, since Athena was their patron deity, the Athenians would have been *unpatriotic* to refrain from building a grand edifice -- which is how Pericles sold the idea to the populace.

The great cathedrals of the Middle Ages were likewise built as acts of gratitude and piety, and there was a certain amount of "home town pride" -- *patriotism* -- involved in the construction.

Somehow, funding a series of American flags spread on the linoleum floor of a college hallway with a sign inviting people to walk on them, or a crucifix immersed in a jar of cow pee doesn't strike me as reflecting piety, gratitude (to either God or the nation) or patriotism.

*dropping a 5-cent pog on the table 'cuz we don't use pennies here*

Posted by: BillT at February 10, 2009 09:22 AM

Do we automatically throw the policy out if it is not implemented well, or do we examine it to see whether there is some merit in the overarching goal?

What if the overarching goal has merit but the policy for reaching that goal is impossibly flawed? Do we keep the policy because the goal is worthy, or do we ditch the policy in favor of something that has more of a chance than a Pop-Tart on Rosie O'Donnell's counter?

Posted by: BillT at February 10, 2009 09:30 AM

Americans, even during a recession, have more money on hand than a Somalian will ever see in their lifetime.

I see no reason why we should not relegate art to the group of voluntary donations rather than governmentally enforced shake downs. Then we can fund ridiculous art to our hearts content should we so desire.

As for me, I'd prefer to fund things a bit more traditional.

In any case, I think this is something that the public is well able to handle without the interference of overly paid bureaucrats cloaked in pretention and tax dollars.

Posted by: airforcewife at February 10, 2009 09:36 AM

I agree with Mike and I empathize in no small part with Vet66.

And I would add that the nature of power is that it corrupts even the most honorable of elected representatives, over time, with exceptions differentiated only by degree. Case in point, the current spending/stimulus bill working it's way through our treasury. I know that the villains understand how the government makes money. In much the same way as those who were once called road agents. Is there a shortage? If so, either confiscate more, issue promissory notes on future labor (see confiscatory method) or print it. *whap* *whap* *whap* Alright I'm dropping the spending/stimulus tangent.

The simple truth concerning the corrupting nature of power is why I contend that the first essential step, at least in my mind, required to reining in the excesses of our government would be to apply term limits. Run for office, swear to protect and defend the US Constitution against all enemies... etc., etc. Then enforce any and all applicable laws against those who swore to uphold and then broke their oaths.

This standard applies to the peasantry in the military, the government and any overlapping civilian enterprise, it should apply no less to those elected to represent us.

Considering the current state of affairs, I could go on and on, but I'll hush because there is much to review and consider. One could spend days or weeks just forming an outline on improving our representation.

Posted by: bthun at February 10, 2009 09:41 AM

1. Did I cite the Parthenon as an argument FOR public funding of art?

I'm not sure I did. I cited an historical example where public funding (not tax funds, by the way) were used in a controversial and scandalous way to pay for a project we now think is a good thing. FWIW, I'm not sure I approve of what Pericles did :p

I think you're reading more into my post than is there. Most of these great projects only were made through the kind of egregious man-handling and/or misappropriations of funds (or through the amassing of private wealth) that is harder to achieve on that scale today for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is govt. regulation.

2. Tax money pays for a lot of things which aren't specifically enumerated in the Constitution. Not sure that's a valid argument.

The C gives Congress the power of the purse and Congress decides what projects it wants to spend on. *That* was my point.

That *we* should be exercising oversight over Congress.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 09:47 AM

Then enforce any and all applicable laws against those who swore to uphold and then broke their oaths.

Personally, I'd like to know why admitted tax cheats in Congress get to apologize and pay what they should have paid in the first place (no penalties mind you); whereas if you or I were in their situation, we'd have to pay what we owed, PLUS a penalty and might even face legal repercussions for tax evasion? Why?

Posted by: MikeD at February 10, 2009 09:48 AM

Athena's temple had been destroyed. *Not* replacing the temple would have been an act of impiety, and *not* building it to a grander scale would have been an act of ingratitude.

Actually, the Athenians swore not to rebuild the temples destroyed during the war. That was a huge part of the controversy :p

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 09:50 AM

What if the overarching goal has merit but the policy for reaching that goal is impossibly flawed?

Aha! Bingo :)

Not sure about 'impossibly', but inherently is not a bad word choice.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 09:51 AM

Our Congressional Overlords are not bound by the quotidian constraints of the laws they inflict on lesser mortals.

They are gossamer beings; incandescent.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 09:53 AM

I'm not sure I did. I cited an historical example where public funding (not tax funds, by the way) were used in a controversial and scandalous way to pay for a project we now think is a good thing. FWIW, I'm not sure I approve of what Pericles did :p

Fair enough, point conceeded. But I will contend with this:
Most of these great projects only were made through the kind of egregious man-handling and/or misappropriations of funds (or through the amassing of private wealth) that is harder to achieve on that scale today for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is govt. regulation.

I seriously doubt government regulation would prohibit a private individual from sponsoring a composer in the manner that Beethoven was sponsored. Government regulation would not prevent a corporation from hiring an artist to paint their corporate headquarters in the manner that the Church hired Michaelangelo. And if I commissioned an architect to design a palatial home for me in marble and bronze, as long as I didn't violate building codes for safety or zoning, I could have a monument that could be considered a wonder of the world a thousand years from now.

I do not agree that government needs to take the role of patron because government makes it too hard for anyone else to do so. That may not be what you were trying to say, but that is how I read it.

2. Tax money pays for a lot of things which aren't specifically enumerated in the Constitution. Not sure that's a valid argument.

And that's a major problem with our government. It's currently fundamentally broken and short of another Constitutional Convention, I don't really see it getting fixed anytime soon. But because Congress approved the expenditure of federal funds for unconstitutional purposes doesn't make it any more valid. Just legal.

That *we* should be exercising oversight over Congress.

Well of course we should. But WE (as in the Company) are sadly not the 'we' that is failing to exercise oversight. I know for a fact that my elected representatives are failing to represent me in a manner I would prefer. But I can only vote once per cycle and write my representatives so many letters. That We the People need to do a better job holding our elected representatives to the fire is obvious. But try getting most people to peel themselves away from American Idol (or whatever the show de-jure is).

Posted by: MikeD at February 10, 2009 10:00 AM

I think the Constitution comes up in these discussions due to the frequency with which the Congress and the Supreme Court chisels away at and tugs on same.

And when historical interpretations of the Constitution impede the gossamer beings, international laws, UN mandates, EU coffee shop seminars on The Collective Approach (♫ I'd rather be a cowboy than the herddddddd, yes I wouldddd, I surely woulddddd...) and/or whims of the moment are put forward as justification for bad law and/or actions by our betters.

Ohhh, I'm struggling with a Neanderthal moment now, so I'm gonna hush.

Posted by: bthun at February 10, 2009 10:08 AM

Well, Piss Christ ain't the Parthenon, that's fer sher. And I don't trust my government to be able to tell the difference.

Clothespin

Houston sculpture

Jeddah cars

But, if you give a bunch of people at a family reunion enough alcohol, enduring works of public art can result.

Posted by: MathMom at February 10, 2009 10:40 AM

Public funding for the arts is likely to be allocated according to two primary criteria:

1)What is trendy?

2)Who is politically well-connected?

This allocation algorithm is unlikely to produce much high-quality art.

Posted by: david foster at February 10, 2009 12:17 PM

OK, I've got a couple of points. Bear with me as they will eventually resemble something along the lines of coherency.

1) Many of the spending projects that are not specifically enumerated are generally defended on the "General Welfare" clause of the Constitution. This means that while we may not like a lot of what Congress spends money on, just because it is not specifically enumerated does not make it unconstitutional. That being said, the clause is "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States;" and not "the general welfare of the people". Given that the phrase "the people" is used quite often, I believe that if the intent was to mean "the people" that's what they would have said. They didn't and so it doesn't. As such, the Internet (originally DARPAnet) which provided, among other things, speedy communications for the Department of Defense does provide for the welfare of the State and would qualify as Constitutional though not specifically enumerated. Direct wealth transfer may provide for the welfare of the people, but it does not do so for the State (Unless you want to argue that poverty is an existential threat to the State. But since there are many States existing in poverty, that argument doesn't hold much water).

So no. Just because something is not specifically enumerated does not mean it is unconstitutional. Just ask the Air Force.

2)Funding for Art? There is a massive difference to me between congress taking an amount of money and commissioning a specific work of art and just handing over that same amount of money to an artist with the direction, "Make whatever you want". The second is easy and gives the congress critter an easy "I support the arts" cred without any of that dirty accountability for what is produced business. The first requires a pro-active effort and direct accountability to the people for what is to be produced.

Could you imagine a congresscritter proclaiming "I want to commission an artistic display on the National Mall of a crucifix in a jar of urine."? Never in a million years. Could you imagine a congresscritter proclaiming "I want to commission a artistic display honoring the soldiers who gave their lives in defense of the U.S."? Even the most strident Libertarian would be ashamed to object.

But when you just hand over money to create sh!t, sh!t is what you get. And as we see, sometimes literaly.

3) Putting 1 and 2 together: Can art ever "provide for the general welfare of the United States". I certainly believe it can as there are many examples where it already has. The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, Mount Rushmore: these are all objects of national pride. They remind us of where we have been and of the values and society we strive to be.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

When art can promote these values, "It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this".

But what do all of those examples have in common. They were all specifically commissioned for. None of it has been from some generic "have some money and let's see what we get" type of funding. And none of it was sponsored under the auspices of developing artistic talent. They were purposefully commissioned for and were to be produced by artists with already proven talent.

And therein lies the difference between what I believe to be constitutional and unconstitutional expenditures on art: Intent.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 10, 2009 12:19 PM

Well, just to stick my paddle in the water here, with regards to the historical perception of "articles of art or physical wonders":

1) The Panama Canal (wonder)
2) The Brooklyn Bridge (beauty and wonder)
3) The Golden Gate Bridge (beauty and wonder)
4) The St Louis Gateway Arch (beauty)
5) The Vehicle Assembly building at Kennedy Space flight center (wonder)
6) The Statue of Liberty (beauty and wonder)

I could think up a few more, but it is easy to come up with the stupid, vulgar and extravagant that are a waste of money, like some of the NEA boondoggles. The National Gallery of Art in DC is a very fine and wonderful art museum that is on the FedGov nickel.

I personally think that there is too little attention to aesthetics in modern American life, and there is an excessive amount of ugliness in archtecture and public art. I have no idea what the remedy is, but spending less money is probably not it.
Paris is the most "touristed" city in the world, so I am told. The French take great pride in much of the cultural displays in Paris, although I think that parts of the city are really rather ugly (I've been there about six times since 2000), CDG airport is really ugly, and some things are also a little over-rated. But by comparison, it looks pretty good compared to many American cities. It just does not cost that much more to inject an appreciation of aesthetics (nothing palatial!) into city life, rather than be totally barren and utilitarian in approach.

Yes, it has to be purposeful. Exactly right.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 10, 2009 12:49 PM

Personally I don't think the Constitution weighs in on the question of how we spend our nickels and I think it would be foolish to read too specific an intent into it. It's purposely vague in order to allow US to decide.

Freedom's a dangerous thing, 'tis :)

Other than that, I incline to Don's view. As Christ is once rumored to have said, "The poor will always be with us".

Some things, however, are eternal :p They elevate the spirit and inspire. And I don't entirely believe that the private sector provides these things in the abundance we might wish for them. And I believe that's why we have representative govt; so we can argue about what it is we do want, and the proportion we want of those things.

And I think there will be mistakes, and a shallow culture will produce shallow art.

I think it's easier to focus on the things that make us angry than to remember the things that are done right. We take them for granted.

Perhaps we should not. If they were all suddenly to disappear tomorrow we might have a different view, different priorities, no?

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 12:56 PM

FWIW, I'm just as irked as all of you at the Piss Christs of this world.

I suppose what I'm saying is, "Look at the flip side." And not all of it is art, but in general a society that values art carries those values through to everything else it does. There is a certain critical mass of artists and creative people and ideas, and if we don't nurture them, these things do dwindle.

I am not necessarily saying it is the province of Congress to fund these things in perpetuity.

What I am saying is that they do add to the general welfare. To what degree you think they do, and what you're willing to fund is (of course) the purpose of this post!

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 12:59 PM

Well, from the quoted section of the C cited earlier: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts* and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States;"

While I do read this a saying congress has spending power I don't read that as saying congress can spend for anything they want to. *What* they can spend on is listed in the rest of the Section.

*Technically it's still a debt if you pay upon reciept of service/merchandise. That's why your money says "for all debts public and private".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 10, 2009 01:19 PM

Yes, Mount Rushmore, the carvings on the SCOTUS building, etc do add to the general welfare. But, as I said, all these things were specifically commissioned by established artisans. They were not created by handing out money to every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a chisel in one hand and their other stuck out.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 10, 2009 01:24 PM

From 'intent' one must extrapolate philosophically, or reduce to the primary, the morality, value, and ethics of a republic that was founded on a belief in GOD that inspired our forefathers and the foundation of our society.

A system of morality, values, and ethics provides the culture with an appreciation of the inherent BEAUTY, worth, goodness and celebration of the individual and the culture inhabited. It is the GOD (good) existing in each of us that produces the transcendental work of human possibilities that we celebrate. The fact that evil is in the world does not require we celebrate it because that is self-destructive and diminishes the inherent goodness or GODLINESS in each of us.

Of course one must accept that GOD is good, loving and forgiving not evil, hateful, and vengeful. That which man creates is flawed by the very fact it was created by man. But sometimes we get real close and the angels sing their approval. Adding "One nation under GOD' to the Pledge of Allegiance was one of those times.

Without a belief in something greater than oneself the 'golden halo' you reference in your simile becomes brassy the further from GOD the viewer wanders.

Excellent discussion. Timely also.

Posted by: vet66 at February 10, 2009 01:27 PM

Vet66:

I happen to agree with you for the most part. I am also enjoying Yu-Ain's comments greatly, and think he adds a lot of clarity to the discussion.

But part of my purpose here is to challenge and to ask questions, rather than just bore you all to tears w/pronouncements from Mt. Olympus of my opinion (though on further reflection, everyone should be entitled to my opinions!). There was a great article on genius (from whence it comes) the other day. I need to find it when I have more time - I think you'd enjoy it :)

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 01:50 PM

And I don't entirely believe that the private sector provides these things in the abundance we might wish for them.

Although, if people aren't willing to pony up for those things themselves, perhaps we don't wish for them as much as we claim.

If the market is about how to best allocate scarce resources, then diverting funds to areas that are not demanded is sub-optimal. (Which, for the record, is not the same thing as unconstitutional.)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano in Livid Terrier clothing advocating for the Devil at February 10, 2009 03:22 PM

We seem to be blessed with a fair share of genius on this site for which I shall be eternally grateful.

Livid terrier? Probably an alpha Yorkshire...

Posted by: vet66 at February 10, 2009 04:43 PM

Livid Terrier = Libertarian

It's an *old* joke. Sorry. :-)

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano in Livid Terrier clothing advocating for the Devil at February 10, 2009 05:15 PM

"Although, if people aren't willing to pony up for those things themselves, perhaps we don't wish for them as much as we claim.

If the market is about how to best allocate scarce resources, then diverting funds to areas that are not demanded is sub-optimal. (Which, for the record, is not the same thing as unconstitutional.)"

Yes! Art, subjective creature that it is, can hardly be considered, at least IMHO, a necessity in the current climate. And when the economy is flush, deciding on a reasonable stipend for art in the aggregate from the fed, state and local budgets is not unreasonable.

But being the stick in the mud that I am, I return to the question of accountability for funding and insuring that public funds are not thrown at arteest of dubious quality and/or character whose sole intent is to shock or especially degrade a target group. Not to mention coasting on gub'ment funds.

So I obsess over the whole accountability and reality aspect of how our monies are spent and not just on art. Or more accurately stated, how the government bodies who have control over our taxes, throw them to the four winds.

Yup, our businesses and persons are taxed to meet the ever increasing desires of our government and, in many cases, the expectations, wants and needs of the world. Then that 35 to 50 plus percent of income, investments, purchases, etc. are pissed away.

Career politicians, and even those who have only served a couple of terms seem to develop a precarious grasp on either being held to account or on the reality of the judicious and thrifty use of tribute seized from the peasantry. A finite resource, unless we are allowed to print our own greenbacks.

Accountability for how large percentages of our seized earnings are spent would be mighty refreshing.

With apologies to the late Everett Dirksen, a trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you're talking serious money.

Posted by: bthun at February 10, 2009 07:25 PM

If the market is about how to best allocate scarce resources, then diverting funds to areas that are not demanded is sub-optimal.

First of all, Yu-Ain, the assumption that the market is a perfect regulator of goods and services ignores several well-known economic problems (free riders, anyone?) I won't go into here.

Even demand itself, as I mentioned obliquely earlier, is to some extent a function of information. No market of which I'm aware provides that.

But that brings us back to those pesky values again :p

Just a thought.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 09:16 PM

As to bthun's comment, that's integral: can we separate accountability from broad-based policy goals? I think especially when the goals purport to provide some non-essential but perhaps nonetheless worthy commodity, accountability had to be built into the policy. And when the commodity is something as subjective as art, that's a problem :p

I'm not in disagreement with you all on the NEA. In fact I've made many of the same arguments myself (old Scrapplers will have heard me do so). But I also see at least part of the other side and think it's worth considering.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 09:20 PM

No doubt the market isn't perfect. But, to refer back to the Friedman interview from an earlier post: What makes you think the politicians are any better?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano in Livid Terrier clothing advocating for the Devil at February 10, 2009 11:27 PM

I didn't say they were necessarily better. But you are the one contending that the market will provide the "correct" amount of commodities and we all know there are many instances where that simply is not true.

In those cases, we have the social contract under which people give up some of their rights to enhance the general welfare. That doesn't mean everyone individually gets exactly what they want, but in the aggregate we're all better off than we would be alone.

And just which commodities enhance the general welfare is a matter for the polity to decide. No, politicians aren't perfect but on the otter heiny I haven't seen anyone come up with a better system :p

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 11:48 PM

IOW, I'm not arguing that art is an essential commodity.

But in a representative democracy if you don't want your tax dollars to support art you need to convince a critical mass of your fellow citizens of the virtue of your position, as with so many other things.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 10, 2009 11:50 PM

The problem also occurs to me, at what point are we no longer really represented by virtue of dilution? We are a nation of about 650,000,000 citizens. We are represented by one President, two Senators and one House member each. That sounds like a lot, until you remember you share that representation with hundreds of thousands if not millions of other people.

If I live in Alaska, I am actually more likely to be able to sway the vote of my representatives, because I am a MUCH more statistically significant portion of that Congress-critters electorate. If I am from Los Angeles, I am one of faceless millions to any representative I have. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

I worry about this.

Posted by: MikeD at February 11, 2009 09:07 AM

Dilution?

Self-restraint, deference, polite manners notwithstanding, think squeaky wheel Mike. Make noise.

And that population number scared the heck outta me! If it were accurate, I now knew why productivity had dropped. Every one had been working overtime on the horizontal bop... So I double-checked the CIA World Factbook. Pheew. Big relief. We're only up to 303.8 million folks.

Posted by: bt-dey-vil-rue-de-day-dey-vus-burn_hun at February 11, 2009 09:23 AM

Actually, I'm not necessarily arguing the market will provide the "correct" level. Just that, to paraphrase you, it may be the better system.

But in a representative democracy if you don't want your tax dollars to support art you need to convince a critical mass of your fellow citizens of the virtue of your position, as with so many other things.

We need to be careful with the construct "If you don't want X then you need to convince your fellow citizens". I know you know this, but we have as much to fear from mob-rule as an oligarchy. Ours is not a true representative democracy, it is a constitutionally restrained one. There are things the .gov may not do even with vast majorities.

When it comes to art I don't think we're in too much danger from the oppression of the Spanish Inquisition and their new "artistic" comfy chair, but still...

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano in Livid Terrier clothing advocating for the Devil at February 11, 2009 10:09 AM

Well, I said earlier that I didn't trust my government to choose "artwork", and now Gateway Pundit has a perfect, timely example of this. Who knew?

Posted by: MathMom at February 11, 2009 11:08 PM

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