Should Government Fund the Arts?

That question is the topic of an ongoing debate at the 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:

Dear Madam,

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.

Atanu Dey

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.

Author: Atanu Dey


8 thoughts on “Should Government Fund the Arts?”

  1. I am sure you will be consistent and similarly oppose any direct government decision to go to the moon, or Mars, or wherever. Scientific missions should involve the public directly and not be managed by some government agency. In other words, no NSF, no JPL, and large parts of NASA disappear. In USA, the moon mission might still have happened, even if some decades later. I am sure if Indians are involved truly democratically, PSLV would never have happened, that whole money being spent in daughters’ dowry jewels and paying off debts to loan shark landowners or Haaj pilgrimage. Which is fine: two countries following democracy 100% may land up in completely different places. Just be aware of what you are asking for.


  2. What has art to do with space programmes or scientific research?
    Last I checked, it’s not as though one requires millions of dollars of research and funding for the arts. Anyone can take up painting or theatre or sculpture or learn music and dance.
    Government funding works for items that the free market cannot provide. Space research is one such thing, there is no economic incentive to travel to outer space as yet, and the results of research will take decades before being of any practical value. Same goes for defense, maintaining law & order, and universal healthcare. None of these will do well if impelled by the profit motive.

    There is nothing preventing people of similar artistic persuasion from getting together and producing art. Art is by definition subjective, so you can’t impose a universal standard.


  3. Govt’s arm in Art would mean Govt would define what is art and what is not rather than the artists themselves. Then on the other side you will have groups of people petitioning and lobbying to get “THEIR” art into the Govt defined category.


  4. Atanu
    As a regular reader of the Economist, i find their publication viciously anti-hindu and anti-india.

    Of course, the weak and the emasculated have no friends but i wonder if there are other reasons. Otherwise, it is a generally good publication that seems to espouse self rule, free markets, self determination and so on.


  5. I’m afraid that art will be controlled and limited by the government, it is contradict the perspective/subjectivity of the artist as the value of an art. Just like science which lost it’s value when it is made commercial rather than for seeking the truth.

    Being artist is a choice and they also know that being poor is its consequence but they also know creativity is more likely appear in difficulty, pessimism and negativity. One thing an artist may have to do is being critical to the government so they can’t really hope for protection.


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