Sam Westrop is a first year music student and Chairman of the Freedom Society at the University of York. Here Sam argues that culture should not be dictated by the government.
Art is no longer a hobby; it is a job. This is the consequence of statist government. Between 2008 and 2011, the Arts Council England (ACE) is expected to distribute £1.6 billion of public money. If one is to think of the drastic cuts made in the 2009 Budget, one must ask why only £4 million is being taken from the ACE’s pot. Even the strongest advocate of big government would surely concede that the government must protect its people before it entertains them; and the New Generation may have to demand it.
The defence budget is facing a £2 billion cut next year, and by 2011, the NHS must find £2.3 billion of savings and education £1 billion. Why then, one asks, does the funding for the arts continue? In a recession, should government be providing money for sharks to be floated in formaldehyde for little perceivable reason?
Classical liberals and large sea creatures should be worried. Labour has developed the polar opposite of Milton Friedman’s idea of government. In early 2008, the Culture Minister Margaret Hodge called for City workers to provide more private donations to the arts. But with a new tax rate of 50%, there is a predictable lack of response from those of whom the government demands altruism. There is weary outrage among libertarians that government is happy enough to injure vital public services but then insist on greedily preserving a socially progressive image.
The American equivalent of the ACE is the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which gets around $126.3 million (£79 million) per year. This appears a paltry sum when compared to the ACE’s £463 million budget for next year, even more so when one considers the vastly greater amount of government spending in the US. America’s arts rely heavily on private donations – and citizens, both rich and poor, are eager to provide. As a percentage of GDP, the charitable contributions from individuals in the US are twice that of in the UK.
The relative lack of philanthropy towards the Arts in the UK has several possible reasons. The most obvious answer is the respective states of our collections of taxes. The huge welfare state and social interference that exists in the UK is no more than an arrangement of forced charitable donations. Taxpayers feel they have little left, and indeed little obligation, to provide charity for others. This is especially true for local charities, for why should the upkeep of local community be important if government forces politically correct and culturally manufactured community upon us?
The commensurately greater amount of charitable giving in the US can be attributed to the individuals’ quest for community. For example, 45% of American citizens’ donations are given to religions and local charities, as opposed to 13% here. The endless social interference has backfired once more.
77% of collection methods here rely on spontaneous takings of loose change, whereas in the US there is a strong culture of ‘planned giving’ (this provides 61% of non-profit organisations’ income). Furthermore, according to the newspaper Chronicle of Philanthropy, 54% of the richest US donors said that they have made charitable donations because of tax benefits and incentives. In the UK, it is the charities that obtain tax refunds and not the individuals. The British charity Art Fund recommended tax incentives before the most recent budget, but these proposals were shot down, such was the government’s dislike of offering tax benefits to the wealthy. The difference that is apparent between the UK and the US is quite clearly a consequence of the statist British government.
There once was ample example of private charity funding in the UK, from schools to art galleries. This convention, argues the Institute for Philanthropy’s director, Hilary Browne-Wilkinson, ended as the introduction of an enlarged welfare state – after the Second World War – destroyed Britain’s tradition of Victorian philanthropy. Some proof of this can be found with the American NEA. When their budget was reduced by 40 percent, from approximately $170 million to $99.5 million, private giving to the arts actually increased by 40%. The economist David Sawers’ comparison of subsidised and unsubsidised performing arts realised that cultural venues would continue to flourish were government subsidies to be abolished
The argument that government funding allows penniless individuals access to the arts is a fallacy. Most of the funds go to immensely rich organisations that often cater to a very limited section of society. For example, post-modernist art appeals to a tiny minority, and its funding has no arguable benefit for most of the public. The only time I have vaguely approved of a Labour minister was when Kim Howells said of the Turner submissions, “If this is the best that the British art establishment can come up with, God help us. It consists entirely of conceptual bullshit and the final insult was to walk through a room of Francis Bacons and Henry Moores that exude artistic ability and humanity.” The often-used argument that post-modernism should appeal to classical liberals because its iconoclasm is a strong example of individualism is nonsense; these so-called artists subsist on the involuntary contributions of the collective.
Government funding also jeopardises the independence of the arts. Not only does this interference reveal the consequences of pseudo-multiculturalism, it can constrict the variety of art produced. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated that, ‘Beauty will not come at the call of the legislature…. It will come, as always, unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave and earnest men.’ David Sawers has noted that British government subsidies reduce the choice and variety in the art world, whereas privately venues are more flexible, and are responsible for many different artistic genres, such as the recent revival of early music.
After over a decade of Labour in power, with tens of billions wasted on bureaucratic nonsensical jobs, with the creation of an arts scene that government ministers admit is appalling, and in the middle of one of the worst economic crises the Western World has seen, the New Generation demands to know why illogical funding continues to be inequitably poured into the modern arts? John Adams once said that, ‘”The science of government is my duty to study…the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, so that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.’
If government ends the funding of ‘culture’, the New Generation will then provide. Government is not a Crocodile Bird – there is no symbiotic relationship between the state and the individual. It is simply not the business of government to dictate inspiration and cultivate the art of the people. Trophies of creative thought will materialise from the free man, one who is not shackled by the chains of his self-appointed patron.
And so the New Generation should ask of this government: do not fund runners to jog through the Tate Gallery every thirty seconds. If you give us working hospitals, good schools, equipment for our Armed Forces and pensions, we will provide you with art that is far sweeter than money could ever afford.