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Constitutional Amendment

Jonathan Chait, in an op-ed arguing that Democrats should embrace the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, says "the NEA is in large part a way of forcing the NASCAR set to subsidize the art house set." Assuming arguendo that the NASCAR set doesn't appreciate good art, Chait still makes a bunch of bad arguments.

First, he compares art to political magazines, arguing that the political magazines have to find wealthy benefactors, so why shouldn't artists? Of course, though, they do - the vast majority of art in this country is produced with private funding. The point, though, is that artists shouldn't be limited to producing what wealthy patrons support or what the the market demands. Neither should political speech, but two wrongs and all that. Government subsidization of art is an explicit endorsement of non-market favored expression, and thereby has an intrinsic and valuable political motive.

Second, in arguing that the NEA forces red states to subsidize blue state expression, he ignores the simple fact that blue states pay more in taxes per person. Why can't we just claim that all the funding for the NEA comes from the blue state surplus? Mainly because there is no constitutional method for doing so. So how about an amendment allowing the passage of unfunded legislation with an opt-in provision allowing state delegations to earmark for them a portion of their tax revenue above the mean burden? Red states don't like the NEA, so lets fund it with blue state money. Red states don't like federal funding of abortion? Let's fund it with blue state money. Of course money is fungible, but this whole stupid argument is about symbolism anyway.

Update, 11/19/04, 2:21 PM EST: Kevin Drum makes the slightly less radical point that eliminating the NEA doesn't benefit Democrats.

Update, 11/20/04, 6:57 PM EST: Yglesias' "culture vouchers" idea is a non-starter - the vast majority of the vouchers would go unspent, and those that were would be too diffuse to actually encourage artistic innovation. There are clear organizational problems that require some centralized allocative control. [blog post here]. Of course, my idea is ludicrous, rather than just unworkable.


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