The Conventional Wisdom in favour of private art markets is bunk


In his best-selling book, The Affluent Society, Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) makes the point that the private marketplace is grossly distorted by advertising of private goods, which acts to increase consumers’ demand for trivial “wants”, while socially necessary public goods remain underfunded…

The family which takes its mauve and cerise, air conditioned, power-steered, and power braked automobile out for a tour passes through cities that are badly paved, made hideous by litter, blighted buildings, billboards, and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground.’

The bottom line?  More taxes are needed to fund public goods such as schools, roads…and public art.  The private marketplace cannot be relied upon to get the balance right.  The “private for-profit” turnstiles in traditional art museums will continue to spin, generating millions in admission fees — meanwhile, the maintenance and development of art/sculpture in freely accessible outdoor settings gets short shrift. If a tree falls in the forest, nobody hears it — similarly, if a tourist visits a sculpture in an outdoor public park, there is no admission paid and no record of the visit.

Like carbon taxes for addressing climate change, Galbraith’s liberal ideas support the idea of using taxes to fund public artworks for the sake of enhancing social capital. Galbraith was attacking the simplistic Libertarian twin beliefs that consumers should call all the shots via private markets, and that any amount of tax is too much. 

I understand that “liberal” is a 4 letter word in certain countries…yet nobody blinks twice at million dollar SuperBowl commercials selling cheap beer and other “must have” trinkets.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s