Tuesday 8 July 2003

Should we subsidise an Edinburgh Opera House?

The Scotsman's George Kerevan calls on the Scottish government to spend more on the arts. I was somewhat surprised by this, but Kerevan explains:
Regular readers might wonder how I reconcile this with my normal slash-and-burn attitude to wasteful government spending and exorbitant taxes. Easy. I’m Austrian: by which I mean I am a devotee of Austrian economics and consider there is a case for state patronage of the arts as a public good which has huge spill-over effects (ie the social and economic gains are widespread). These are: national pride, an understanding of excellence, and the promotion of civilised values. My caveat is that I don’t want the money spent by politically-correct bureaucrats who judge art by the number of operas performed in the ghettos. I want Timothy Clifford of the National Galleries to be able to afford to buy wonderful classical paintings. I want stunning plays that are not about folk taking drugs. I want perfection, not disguised social work.
Well, not all "Austrians" would agree with state patronage of the arts, and certainly not Murray Rothbard. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the most famous "Austrian", Ludwig von Mises, though opposed to almost all government expenditure, supported state subsidy of the Vienna Opera House. Mises was an opera fan. I am more of a Rothbardian purist, but if we ever get to the stage that the Scottish government limits its expenditure to the arts and nothing but the arts, I shan't be too worried.