Investing in MORE art in public places makes economic sense

Galbraith“Liberal” is a 4 letter word in certain countries, and it seems nobody blinks twice at million dollar SuperBowl commercials selling cheap beer and other “must have” trinkets.

In his best-selling book, The Affluent Society, famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) noted 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. (Just look at Detroit, Atlanta or Buffalo for some recent examples of derelict urban centres). 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.

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