Political Compass #24: Taxpayers should not prop up theatres or museums.

Many political debates here have included references to The Political Compass, which uses a set of 61 questions to assess one’s political orientation in terms of economic left/right and social libertarianism/authoritarianism (rather like the “Libertarian diamond” popular in the US).

And so, every so often I will begin a thread in which the premise for debate is one of the 61 questions. I will give which answer I chose and provide my justification and reasoning. Others are, of course, invited to do the same including those who wish to “question the question”, as it were.

It would also be useful when posting in these threads to give your own “compass reading” in your first post, by convention giving the Economic value first. My own is
SentientMeat: Economic: -5.12, Social: -7.28, and so by the above convention my co-ordinates are (-5.12, -7.28). Please also indicate which option you ticked. I might suggest what I think is the “weighting” given to the various answers in terms of calculating the final orientation, but seeing for yourself what kind of answers are given by those with a certain score might be more useful than second-guessing the test’s scoring system.

Now, I appreciate that there is often dissent regarding whether the assessment the test provides is valid, notably by US conservative posters, either because it is “left-biased” (??) or because some propositions are clearly slanted, ambiguous or self-contradictory. The site itself provides answers to these and other Frequently Asked Questions, and there is also a separate thread: Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading? Read these first and then, if you have an objection to the test in general, please post it there. If your objection is solely to the proposition in hand, post here. If your objection is to other propositions, please wait until I open a thread on them.

The above will be pasted in every new thread in order to introduce it properly, and I’ll try to let each one exhaust itself of useful input before starting the next. Without wanting to “hog the idea”, I would be grateful if others could refrain from starting similar threads. To date, the threads are:
Does The Political Compass give an accurate reading?
Political Compass #1: Globalisation, Humanity and OmniCorp.
#2: My country, right or wrong
#3: Pride in one’s country is foolish.
#4: Superior racial qualities.
#5: My enemy’s enemy is my friend.
#6: Justifying illegal military action.
#7: “Info-tainment” is a worrying trend.
#8: Class division vs. international division. (+ SentientMeat’s economic worldview)
#9: Inflation vs. unemployment.
#10: Corporate respect of the environment.
#11: From each according to his ability, to each according to need.
#12: Sad reflections in branded drinking water.
#13: Land should not be bought and sold.
#14: Many personal fortunes contribute nothing to society.
#15: Protectionism is sometimes necessary in trade.
#16: Shareholder profit is a company’s only responsibility.
#17: The rich are too highly taxed.
#18: Better healthcare for those who can pay for it.
#19: Penalising businesses which mislead the public.
#20: The freer the market, the freer the people.
#21: Abortion should be illegal.
#22: All authority must be questioned.
#23: An eye for an eye.

*Proposition #24: * Taxpayers should not be expected to prop up any theatres or museums that cannot survive on a commercial basis.

SentientMeat (-5.12, -7.28) ticks Disagree.

I do not wish to live in some monotonous McCulture where the market only supports a handful of mega-museums and super-theatres in faraway metropolises. Every reasonably sized town should have some access to local history and genuine culture, whether or not such things are bottom-line profitable, and I advocate using taxation to help ensure this.

This is not simply a demand that my personal tastes of Renaissance art, Beethoven and Shakespeare be subsidised while romantic comedy films, country music and WWF wrestling get no such help. It is a recognition that the educative value of some less popular art forms is worth subsidising, even disregarding the benefits from providing jobs, a focal point for the community and encouraging a sense of pride in local heritage. Education does not take place solely in the school classroom, nor solely to children, and only an ultra-capitalist would contend that education is not within the remit of taxation. (Incidentally, I even consider NASA funding to be educational in nature - each new discovery reported on the news barks the question at us like a overzealous schoolteacher: How did we get here?)

For example, one might spend a great deal of money on a copy of The Merchant of Venice for every child in a class, when a visit to a local theatre to see the play live might provide more “bang for the government buck” overall, though this would be impossible if the market supported fewer theatres putting on only crowd-pleasing productions (as it surely would). Another, personal example was a recent trip to Italy where I happened upon a splendid old theatre in which the local council had sponsored a photographer to show his work from the Amazon in an incredibly effective setting, all for free entry. This was just any old small town, and pretty much every resident I spoke to had visited the exhibition - no elitist subsidising here, I felt: the population seemed happy that their taxes were being used like this.

Now, of course, where government helps individual businesses there is always scope for abuse and mismanagement. We must ultimately be prepared to let some museums and theatres die if their income from private sources (tickets/donations/sponsorship etc.) is simply a pathetic trickle instead of a steady but still not quite bottom-line-adequate flow, and not every tiny hamlet justifies its own museum or theatre. Government might never be as efficient as the free-est market, but neither must they be clueless rubes throwing out tax revenue like confetti. The proposition said “prop up”, not “support entirely”, which seems eminently reasonable, ie. a slight “lowering” of the bottom line rather than removing it completely. (And note that there will there will always be controversy over what kind of performances or exhibits receive help. I would only hope that the few crass or banal works which didn’t really deserve it did not threaten the contributions to the genuinely worthwhile and educative majority.)

At the end of the day, as in so many other of these threads, one’s response comes down to whether local cultural heritage (or even education in toto!) is the concern of government. I believe that if limited government help might provide cultural and educative opportunities which would likely only exist in faraway capital cities under a free-est market, then such funding is worth it - another example of interfering with the market for the common good.

I don’t see where politicizing art is superior to marketizing it. Why is political clout preferable to economic clout? Plenty of great art has been privately commissioned, including the examples you cited of Shakespeare and the Renaissance. And government funding ensures nothing about access. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a long way from my house. It’s expensive, too — $75 to see Streetcar Named Desire tonight.

My father runs a very successful, internationally known fine arts company. Seasons sell at or above 98% capacity (in fact, the company had a 14 year streak of over 100% capacity). However, ticket sales only account for approximately 45% of the operating budget; the rest has to be covered by donations. Of that amount, less than 3% comes from taxpayer money, the rest is from private donors. Without private donations, many companies would not be able to survive. Should such companies recieve no money just because they are unable to support 100% of their operating budget? I guess that depends on how valuable you feel such companies to be.

I would argue that theatres and museums often provide a valuable service to the community. Many theatres and museums also give free admissions, or provide free shows, to students at no cost. For many children, it is the first time they have ever been exposed to such material. Moreover, while this may be considered an elitist attitude, someone has to be the caretaker of the fine arts. Whether an art museum or symphony, such art is a part of our history and makes up a part of who we are. And even if a few people here and there will never take advantage of these resources, the community as a whole is better off for having these options.

I think it’s also important to remember that taxpayer money often goes to other things that people will never use. States and cities spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to finance stadiums and yet there are a number of people who will never watch a game on TV, much less attend one in person. Nor does that taxpayer money to subsidize the stadium guarantee access - tickets to a game are often just as expensive, if not moreso, than theatre tickets.

Other industries are also dependant upon taxpayer money. Airlines occasionally need bailouts during economic hardships. Hell, a report just came out that Wal-Mart got $1 billion in tax breaks this year. Perhaps the question should be whether any company that cannot survive on a commercial basis should receive taxpayer money. Why single out the arts?

If I was a US citizens I would say:
My tax money should not prop up the development of the most murderous weapons that this planet has ever seen and that can destroy the whole planet in no time.
The same for the US military in all its aspects and “missions”.

I would say that a culture that fails to protect, support and encourage all forms of art has no future. Neglecting cultural inheritance is always among the first signs of decline.
Salaam. A

Yes, thank you Alde. Incidentally, what was your score?

SM, can you refrase that question??

Salaam. A

What was your score in the Political Compass test, which I enjoin all who post in these threads to undertake?

I think the above points out how weak the argument is that claims “Taxpayers have to subsidize the arts or we will live in a McDonald’s culture”. If it is only 3%, then you don’t really need my involuntary subsidy. Cut back, or go to your donors and get them to increase their donations voluntarily.

The hard part is that to do this, you have to convince people that you are actually worth the money. If you can’t do that in the free market, and you can’t do that for voluntary donors, it is easy to go to the government and get them to fund you. The government has the power to coerce tax collection, and therefore if you get taxpayer subsidy, you don’t have to produce anything people think is worthwhile - the government can force them to support you whether they like it or not.

Taxpayer subsidies overrule the free choices of consumers. It matters not at all whether I think going to the opera is worth my time or not - I am being forced to subsidize the opera, even if I prefer American Idol. And I derive no benefit from the opera, either. I don’t go there; I just have to pay for it.

Perhaps. Why does it have to be the government? The fine arts survived just fine for centuries before the federal government existed.

Which I also oppose, even more vehemently. I have no more interest in football or baseball than I do the opera, yet my state government is repeatedly trying to finance building yet another sports stadium at my expense. Same principle. “If you build it, they will come.” But if they don’t, don’t come whining to me, or expect me to bail you out.

Go Twins - and take the Vikings with you. :wink:

That is the question. I am just as opposed to corporate welfare as I am to subsidies for fine arts. Let me keep my tax money and decide where I want to spend it, whether to go to a football game, the MOMA, or Wal-Mart.


PS - Strongly agree.

Oh… looked at it and did it.
There was one question I didn’t understand very well and for the rest I think it is all far too US-like in its structure.
Nevertheless, I gave it a try. I have no clue what the results mean. Also: the interpretation of “socialism” and “liberal” are very different in the USA then elswhere.

Economic Left/Right: -4.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.95
Is that good or bad :slight_smile:
Salaam. A

Looked back and scrolled down a bit…

mmm… I’m in the company of Nelson Mandela and the Dailai Lama…


This must disarm all the members of my Fanclub here :slight_smile:
Salaam. A

-2, -3.28, Disagree – just barely.

There are two words in the statement that allow some weaseling, and I admit it: “expected” and “any”. As the OP states, this should not be turned into a mandate that as long as “it’s art”, whatever it is will be financed by the taxpayer unconditionally.

Be it art, corporate bailout, sports stadium, weapons system, space probe, transit system, etc., each potential use of tax dollars should be judged on its own merit, rather than there being a blanket position that you “have to” or “must never”.

As to why not just keep it the province of voluntary patrons, well, it has to do with whether we want the fine arts to remain accessible only to the elite. As it stands, and Lib has pointed it out, even with public-financed institutions it’s not always necessarily a bargain.

Stongly agree.

Pretty much for the reasons Shodan listed.

Paying for these things is simply outside the scope of what the government should be doing.

Economic Left/Right: -8.25
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -7.85

What do you think :smiley:

Strongly disagree.

I believe there are thing that a society should pay for even if a profit can’t be made. Major museums should be free and the arts should be supported.

If private ventures work then all the better but there should be help and support for the Arts and Heritage.

7.5 / -1.5 (or thereabouts)

Strongly agree.

Art is an entirely individual matter, one man’s art, another man’s trash. I don’t want to impose my taste in art on strangers, neither do I want to be dictated by others what I should or ought to like and pay for. Further it is my opinion that public sponsored art is not only arrogant (on behalf of the inteligencia that deem themselves worthy of imposing their preferences on others) it is directly harmful – as the artists to some extend deploy their independence in the pockets of the part that pay their lunch; the state. And as always it rests on the tacit assumption that the masses are too stupid to be left to their own devices, that they in a world without state controlled art would indulge in nothing but McDonalds, Rikey Lake and WWF wrestling. An assumption I not only find wrong, but in my mind speaks volumes of those that keep to it.

SentinentMeat: I wonder how you could have gotten a score of -7.28 – and still believe museums should be state controlled and financed.

Rune, I would suppose SentientMeat would say that ideally, public-funded does NOT necessarily have to mean state-controlled (think universities).

Well I would have though “strongly agree”, since I am of the opinion that state sponsored and controlled art is an authoritarian trait – most definitely not part of any libertarian ideologue.

Well I believe it’s unavoidable. In any case it still demands that some people pay for other peoples tastes, and that some people set themselves up as judges as to what constitute good, correct and worthy art – conflicting with any libertarian view I share.

I’m pretty sure that this is an economic orientation question: My economic score of -5.12 makes more sense in this light since I advocate government interference in the free market for the common good. Nor did I say that museums should be state controlled and financed - I advocated government help to stop them closing if they weren’t quite profitable enough.

Yes but it is part of my left thinking economically.

kinda like SentientMeat I’m talking about funding not control.

State funded museums are free over here and there’s quite a lot of them. There are also lots of funds to support the arts. Not as much as the arty crowd want but when would it ever be enough?

It also helps tourism which in turn helps a whole section of the country directly and indirectly so I don’t really view it as a waste of money if if you remove all the Heritage arguments.

I think the problem mentioned by Rune is that choosing which museums to assist inevitably exerts control over their production.

If the government chooses to keep the Museum of Fine Arts open, but declines to help subsidize the WWE Museum, they are choosing one form of art over another. Thus they are imposing their taste on everyone else. Even deciding what is “art” and what is not imposes the same standard. If some government bureaucrat likes Renaissance sculpture more than Thomas Kincaid, this necessarily means that the choice of artists is going to be weighted more towards sculpture than Kincaid paintings.

And the question “what is art” is unresolvable. The only way to cut the Gordian knot is to get the government out of the business of subsidizing art altogether, and let the consumer decide. If that means some artist cannot find an audience and has to get a day job, so be it. It would strike another blow against the elitist mindset of the arts establishment. As well as save us all some money and annoyance.