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I consider civilisation to have begun at the point at which men no longer needed to labour from dawn till dusk merely to live. Four-field crop rotation, fertilisers and mechanisation all served to increase the productivity of the labour until the situation which we have reached today, where the whole world is almost fed from the labour of less than a sixth of our number.
What then, did we do with these delicious morsels of leisure? We created. Poetry, artwork, music, dance, stories, adventures and expeditions. Even technology itself is borne of the creative mind. Times were still hard though, and each moment of leisure was carefully spent; the wealthy men of Greece could afford to patronise only a handful of wordsmiths — the very cream of the cream, and for such a pittance.
How much of Croesus's massive wealth would he have sacrificed for modern medical technology; to know his children would not be stillborn and he himself might live to see great-grandchildren? Yet, from such poverty we inherit Homer's Iliad.
A labourer in Elizabethan England would fork over a fifth of a day's wages to see a play; to be pressed together with other peasants in front of the stage, the theatre itself open to the elements. From such poverty we inherit Shakespeare and Marlowe.
If such genius emerges when the arts are privately funded then why fund them publicly? Reasons differ. Some argue that the arts are a "social good" which a society benefits from in a non-monetary way. "But," you ask, "private cinemas, theatres and galleries already successfully support the arts, surely people can pay for this product as with any other?"
"Ah," comes the response, "but people paid for Bridget Jones' Diary 2: The Edge of Reason; that doesn't make it art, merely entertainment."
Even if you tolerate the elitism inherent in that statement, you must accept the thesis that it is not right to compel people to pay for something through their taxes that they would not have funded, or desired to be funded, voluntarily.
Personally, I think such people give the viewing public too little credit. No doubt that the Elizabethan labourers sang little ditties while they worked, recited filthy limericks to their compatriots in the tavern and such populist stodge has been culled by the relentless march of history. Yet Shakespeare too was incredibly popular in his day. Likewise, contemporary films achieve both popularity and critical acclaim; consider Titanic or Lord of the Rings, both of which saw massive box office success.
Damagingly, public funding places huge purchasing power in the hands of what is essentially a political position. One particular person (or worse: group of persons) is permitted to tie up huge amounts of artistic and cultural resources in promotion of what may potentially be a very personal or obscure taste, "crowding out" potentially more meritorious work.
Finally, and most damningly, this public funding benefits the middle classes most of all; those who are most likely to be employed or patronise publicly-funded galleries, films and plays, whilst, through regressive consumption taxes on fuel, alcohol and tobacco, the burden of this funding falls disproportionately on the poorest in our society.
So free the Arts! End the tyranny of public funding once and for all and let us see what innovation and brilliance blossom.
- The Freedom Association’s Magna Carta Pimms and Politics Cruise on June 15, 2013 12:30 pm
- Conservative Renewal Conference on September 14, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on September 30, 2013
- The Freedom Zone on October 1, 2013
- Christmas Lunch in the Cotswolds on December 7, 2013 12:30 pm
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