That question is the topic of an ongoing debate at the Economist.com. Pete Spence of the Adam Smith Institute says no, as one would have expected given his institutional affiliation. Similarly his opponent in the debate, Alan Davey, chief executive of the Arts Council England, quite understandably says yes. Mr Davey has to support the motion — otherwise he’d be arguing for the abolition of the Arts Council. I suppose it is easy for you to guess where I come down in this debate. I stand for freedom, and consequently stand against governments dictating to people.
I added my two bits to the “comments from the floor” and addressed myself to the moderator, Ms Emily Bobrow:
I support the public funding of the arts — provided those people who are in charge of handing out other people’s money are wise, have immense artistic sense, are sensible, awesomely educated and wonderful. Unfortunately, I am the only one that fits the bill. But as I have some prior commitments, I will not be able to do the job. I regret that means that the people whose money it is will have to figure out themselves which kind of art to support.
In other words, public funding of art will have to involve the public directly and not through some government agency.
As in many other matters that the government needlessly intrudes into, art is best left to artists and the public who want to support art. Art supported by the government is a bad idea because governments cannot know what art is good for the people — only the people know and they can convey this knowledge through their voluntary support. Whenever some people handle other people’s money, there’s always the problem of moral hazard which generally leads to waste.