Good and Plenty

Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding

Tyler Cowen
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Good and Plenty
    Book Description:

    Americans agree about government arts funding in the way the women in the old joke agree about the food at the wedding: it's terrible--and such small portions! Americans typically either want to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, or they believe that public arts funding should be dramatically increased because the arts cannot survive in the free market. It would take a lover of the arts who is also a libertarian economist to bridge such a gap. Enter Tyler Cowen. In this book he argues why the U.S. way of funding the arts, while largely indirect, results not in the terrible and the small but inGood and Plenty--and how it could result in even more and better.

    Few would deny that America produces and consumes art of a quantity and quality comparable to that of any country. But is this despite or because of America's meager direct funding of the arts relative to European countries? Overturning the conventional wisdom of this question, Cowen argues that American art thrives through an ingenious combination of small direct subsidies and immense indirect subsidies such as copyright law and tax policies that encourage nonprofits and charitable giving. This decentralized and even somewhat accidental--but decidedly not laissez-faire--system results in arts that are arguably more creative, diverse, abundant, and politically unencumbered than that of Europe.

    Bringing serious attention to the neglected issue of the American way of funding the arts,Good and Plentyis essential reading for anyone concerned about the arts or their funding.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2700-8
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. 1. Warring Perspectives
    (pp. 1-30)

    Many of my conservative and libertarian friends find government funding for the arts unacceptable. They note that after the so-called “Gingrich revolution” of 1994, “we were not even able to get rid of the NEA.” They speak of the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) as the lowest of lows, the one government program that has no justification whatsoever. If such an obvious basket case could survive a conservative Republican Congress, how we can ever hope to rein in government spending?

    Most of my arts friends take the contrary political position. They assume that any art lover will favor higher...

  5. 2. Indirect Subsidies: The Genius of the American System
    (pp. 31-64)

    American arts subsidies frequently come in disguised form, but they are effective nonetheless. The genius of the American system is to get most arts support off the direct public books. Instead it encourages competition for funds and the proliferation of the intermediate institutions that constitute civil society.

    U.S. policy is based on indirect subsidies to the arts, rather than direct subsidies. Direct subsidies occur when governmental agencies write checks to artists or art institutions. An indirect subsidy arises when government policy somehow influences relative prices, or relative returns, to encourage the production of art. As we will see, “indirect” subsidies...

  6. 3. Direct Subsidies: Are They Too Conservative?
    (pp. 65-100)

    Direct subsidies to the arts have two potential major rationales. First, the NEA and other governmental institutions might act as venture capitalists to stimulate new artistic ideas. They would seek out new and untried artists, with the hope of picking winners. The Work Projects Administration (WPA) of Roosevelt’s New Deal served this function. Such policies may be based on the idea that the market does a poor job in evaluating new artists, or on the simple belief that more new art is a good thing. Policies of this kind would respond to the decentralization argument, namely the need to provide...

  7. 4. Copyright and the Future of Decentralized Incentives
    (pp. 101-132)

    So far we have focused on subsidies, but the legal framework of markets is no less important for the arts. After all, many people believe that large corporations—and not government—are the true threat to decentralized American artistic creativity. So do current market institutions promote a flowering of diverse visions? And how can we expect our cultural landscape to evolve on the corporate side?

    Today the biggest spur for cultural decentralization has been the Internet. Most obviously, the Internet lowers the costs of market entry. Cultural suppliers can sidestep intermediaries and reach consumers directly. For instance many artists give...

  8. 5. Toward a Beautiful and Liberal Future
    (pp. 133-152)

    Policy recommendations are problematic when values conflict. Nonetheless if I imagine myself asked to write short advice for an American presidential candidate, and forced to make the difficult judgments, I would offer the following ten points:

    1. The best arts policy stimulates creative discovery more generally. This implies a strong economy, numerous and diverse sources of decentralized funding for creative enterprise, and sensible policies toward science, technology, and education. U.S. policy should not be designed to target any narrow notion of art. Many of the biggest arts policy successes are accidents. That being said, they arise from the presence of...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 153-168)
  10. References
    (pp. 169-188)
  11. Index
    (pp. 189-196)