ProCons Rescue Us from Culture

Photo by Michael Hanscom — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

A Fest News story of the week covered a debate held at Yale University to examine the pros and cons of government support for the arts.

One has to believe that the cons are making more money from the lecture circuit on this issue than the pros are for making art.

As reported by the students’ Yale Daily News, the Yale Political Union sponsored the debate on the ties between government (i.e. tax payer dollars) and the arts (i.e. the cool people?). The advocate for leading the government as far away as possible from a role in cultural development, promotion, and integration into society was David Boaz of the Cato Institute.

The Cato Institute is its own kind of cultural phenomenon: a not-for-profit Washington, D.C. organization devoted to the “traditional principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace.” Cato has approximately ninety-five full-time employees, seventy associated scholars, twenty fellows, in addition to the white-shirt-red-tie interns. Of course, Cato does not accept government funding. The institute relies on contributions from foundations and individuals. So if you give your money to the Cato Institute the government will give you a deduction from your federal taxes for benefitting the Institute. As Joseph Heller would say, Go figure.

I wonder if the Yale supporters of Boaz’s position feel the same about the government providing financial resources to their university for research and for fellow students to be able to go to Yale through loans. Do they have a twinge of jealousy for those governments that provide their citizens with complete access to higher education? Apparently not.

Boaz’s point of view is that the U.S. separates religion from government and that religion is equivalent to, if not the same as, culture. Really?

Isn’t there a difference between a private choice of spirituality and a national identity?

After all, this was the same week in which the U.S. Congress held hearings, From Imus to Industry at public expense on rap lyrics. Yes, the United States government is addressing the real problems for the nation, and its international relations. This is a perfect election year issue for conservatives and conservative wanna-bees-to-get-elected, call them professional conservatives, or “procons.”

The Boazs of the world can’t have it both ways: if you want the marketplace to be the sole determinant of the national identity then you can’t complain when the marketplace works — that is, the marketplace’s dominant culture is the kind that makes the most money.

How noble: the arts, education, and health care should be about individual revenue and not national investment.

At this very same time, M. Sarkozy is thinking of giving free access to the nation’s museums.

Memo to the ProCons: Maybe there is value to government.

- Bill Reichblum

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