March 31, 2016

A philosopher discusses whether it's "wrong" to vote out of "self-interest."

And after wading through the obvious examples of rich people voting for Republicans who seem to be about advancing the interests of the rich and poor people voting for Democrats who seem to be channeling benefits to the poor, Gary Gutting hits upon the example that readers of the NYT are supposed to find fascinatingly complex: funding an art museum. (He specifies a museum of contemporary art simply.) Can you morally vote for this funding solely because you'd like to enjoy it?
[Y]ou might claim that the museum would in fact benefit the community as a whole, since more and more people would come to enjoy art they’d previously had no exposure to, or found repugnant.

But suppose in fact people would not come to enjoy the art, and on the whole there would be a higher level of unhappiness because of the museum. Why should your vote be determined by what a bunch of philistines would think? It might seem that I could rightly vote for my own self-interest when I have good reason to think that others should share that interest, even if I know they won’t.

76 comments:

Sebastian said...

"Here we need to distinguish between what people want and what they need. Suppose, for example, the poor are seeking adequate medical care, funded by a surtax on incomes over a million dollars. It seems clear that in such a case the poor would be right to vote for their self-interest." Shorter Gutting: if people need Other People's Money, they are right to vote out of self-interest. Which "we" "need" to recognize. Let me spare your blog readers the trouble of clicking on the link by proposing a Godwin law corollary: any philosophy article that cites Peter Singer jumps the shark and descends into cruel absurdity.

rehajm said...

True, the richer you are the more likely you are to vote Republican, and the poorer you are the more likely you are to vote Democratic.

Citation needed.

rhhardin said...

With a flat rate tax, the problem solves itself. The poor don't vote for it because it will raise their taxes, and the measure fails.

Michael P said...

Hm. Wasn't there, once upon a time, an idea that government should have limited powers? I think the idea was that it should not, through either despotism or populism, infringe on issues that are not within the proper scope of government decisions.

Jack Wayne said...

Gutting needs to concentrate his philosophical musings on the meaning of e pluribus unum.

Rusty said...

Why annoy the taxpayers at all? You're rich. Pay for it.

Tank said...

The gov't should not be set up in a way that lets people vote to force other people to pay for art museums they want.

Tank said...

The answer is it's wrong to vote to steal other peoples' money for your art museum.

Would it be ok for you to break into your neighbors' house, steal their money, and buy yourself a painting?

Michael said...

What a stupid example. If you knew what others would think in advance of the vote then you have powers that could not only be employed to support your self interest but could be used for the philistines as well. You could purchase today the stocks that will go up tomorrow, name yourself Guggenheim, and build your own fucking modern art museum.

traditionalguy said...

Ethics are a terrible way to live, unless we can get others to have them while we fake it.

Hagar said...

Or bicycle paths.

Clayton Hennesey said...

How do "philosophers" get credentialed these days? In other words, what does it take to get your name listed in references like "Anaximander, Plato, Descartes, Hegel, Nietzsche, Gutting, Bob the Minion..."?

Phil 3:14 said...

The internet will fix this.

EMD said...

True, the richer you are the more likely you are to vote Republican, and the poorer you are the more likely you are to vote Democratic.

Citation needed.


Indeed.

Bay Area Guy said...

Shallow article in the NYTimes - What a surprise!

The purpose of individual voting is to express an individual preference. Period. Full stop.

More so, the philosopher inserts a faulty premise. (again, What a surprise!) Voting for a policy to lower taxes isn't only self-interest. True, it may benefit me, but it also benefits, in my view, the country as a whole.

In fact, most people who hire people (employers) are "rich" - as the Left defines it. In my 5 decades on earth, I've never been hired by a poor guy. Therefore, if having a job is generally considered a "good thing," it might be beneficial for the country as a whole to enact policies that value and encourage the employer class, which in many cases means lowering the tax rate. Just sayin'

EMD said...

There is no such thing as the common good. It doesn't really exist.

There is only self-interest.

Brando said...

All voting is for self-interest by definition, because you're voting for something you want to happen. If you think you're being "selfless" by voting for something that is "benefitting" others besides yourself, think again--you're voting for your policy preferences in terms of the way you think things should be, and therefore that's in your self-interest. There's no such thing as a voluntary self-less act.

Peter said...

Couldn't the author have just said, "An election is an auction of goods which have not yet been stolen"?

What makes democracy both workable and morally acceptable is a government which is small enough so that the inevitable larceny remains a small-enough problem.

Laslo Spatula said...

Philosophy is what happens when you don't have to spend all your time avoiding getting eaten by lions or wolves.

I am Laslo.

Robt C said...

Rousseau's "General Will" --

AS long as several men assembled together consider themselves as a single body, they have only one will which is directed towards their common preservation and general well-being. Then, all the animating forces of the state are vigorous and simple, and its principles are clear and luminous; it has no incompatible or conflicting interests; the common good makes itself so manifestly evident that only common sense is needed to discern it.

Henry said...

So the second sentence frames the issue using two utterly false statements. So much for deep thinking.

Gutting writes a lot of words to tell us that it's hard to generalize a moral principle. Then he concludes with this proof surrogate:

It seems that, contrary to what many think, self-interested voting is sometimes ethically justified.

It seems that? Maybe it does, but not based on anything you wrote, professor.

Astonishingly sloppy stuff.

TosaGuy said...

Some hack yesterday from NPR was interviewing Paul Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group who donated a pile of money to renovate the Lincoln Memorial. The NPR guy questioned the idea of donating money to do what gov't is supposed to do and went after Rubenstein pretty hard on tax policy and that he should pay higher taxes so stuff like the Lincoln Memorial could be properly funded. The dweeb also questioned the value of such "patriotic philanthropy".

Behavior like the NPR clown reinforces the idea that people shouldn't engage in philanthropy of their choice, especially if it is conflicts with somebody else's ideals. The NPR dude simply illustrated his greed through his disdain of this generous donation. And that is what that attitude is....greed.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Back in the 1980s there was a meme that the economy was so bad that there were guys with PhDs in Philosophy reduced to driving taxi cabs and it looks like their prospects haven't improved all that much.

TosaGuy said...

I don't usually talk to philosophy majors, but when I do, I make sure I ask for fries.

Bob Boyd said...

Philosophers have gotten soft.
Back in the old days, a good philosopher could philosophize while he was being eaten by lions or wolves.

Gahrie said...

Our system was specifically designed with the idea that people would vote in their own enlightened interest.

The biggest mistake the Founders made was in failing to anticipate the formation of political parties. The interest of political parties is to acquire power. That is the root of almost all of today's problems in politics.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

My question is when, if ever, is it right to vote simply for the sake of your own self-interest?

My question is when, if ever, is it morally right to decide what to do with other people's money?

==== Chuang Tzu: (www.centertao.org/media/The-Writings-of-Chuang-Tzu.pdf)

The officer of Prayer in his dark and squarecut robes goes to the pig‐pen, and thus counsels the pigs, 'Why should you shrink from dying? I will for three months feed you on grain. Then for ten days I will fast, and keep vigil for three days, after which I will put down the mats of white grass, and lay your shoulders and rumps on the carved stand; will not this suit you?'

If he had spoken from the standpoint of the pigs, he would have said, 'The better plan will be to feed us with our bran and chaff, and leave us in our pen.'

When consulting for himself, he preferred to enjoy, while he lived, his carriage and cap of office, and after death to be borne to the grave on the ornamented carriage, with the canopy over his coffin. Consulting for the pigs, he did not think of these things, but for himself he would have chosen them.

Why did he think so differently (for himself and) for the pigs?

Larry J said...

Tank said...
The answer is it's wrong to vote to steal other peoples' money for your art museum.


Indeed. He doesn't believe we should vote in our own self-interest. We should vote for his interests. That's the art of political manipulation - getting people to vote for your interests instead of their own.

Rick said...

Republicans who seem to be about advancing the interests of the rich

While obviously there are specific policies which benefit "the rich" the overall assertion that this motivates Republicans generally is absurd.

Michael McClain said...

Regarding tax money for an art museum, my self-interest would vote for lead-free water, sidewalks, well-lit and paved streets, efficient public transportation, and effective public schools. Funding for these projects would have a far greater benefit for the public-at-large than an art museum which would serve only very small portion of the community.

However, the community elite always seeks ways to get the rest of us to pay for their little playpens.

mikee said...

This post suffers from a HYUUUUGE false premise, the "obvious examples" provided of Repubs supporting the rich while Dems support the poor. That is pure propaganda.

It is more accurate to say that the Repubs support property rights and individual rights, while the Democrats (whose support from Wall Street and Hollywood, two of the largest centers of wealth in the US, is nearly 100%) support redistribution of wealth and only collective "rights" granted by government, i.e., privileges.

Other than that, the article and the post weren't too full of errors.

Envatted Brain said...

It strikes me here that people are too focused on the circumstances of the example rather than the underlying point. Examples in philosophy are silly. In fact philosophers seem to take great pride in making stupid examples. Why else would they talk about evil demons, brains-in-vats and trolleys?

I think many people are making the example too much about other political beliefs. Some have said "You shouldn't use my money to pay for what you want." Ok. That's fine. But surely there are some self-interested laws whose existence would only benefit me and wouldn't cost you anything. For example, what if it was really important to me that the state of Arizona be named Arizone instead?

Thus, the question here is whether it's right for me to vote for a law (or a politician who would enact a law if you prefer), when I know that the only reason I do so is to further my own self-interest. You can say that's a stupid question but given the number of people here who have suggested that all votes are in self-interest, and the number of people here who have suggested that voting in your self-interest is always immoral, I'd suggest that you probably actually do care about it.

cubanbob said...

For my perspective I would vote for the art museum. I'm going to pay the taxes no matter what, most of which benefits me not so I wouldn't mind something that benefits me for my money. It isn't like I can pay taxes a la carte-just tick off the items on the budget I want my taxes allocated to and not to the rest.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Voting will always be done based on self-interest, even if that self-interest is based on the wonderful feeling of moral superiority that comes from voting the way you think you are supposed to.

I would prefer if the self-interest involved were enlightened, but it does not appear to be heading in that direction.

Paddy O said...

Can we really be interested in the self, when the self is an illusory concept oriented by a multiplicity of competing social impulses?

cubanbob said...

Envatted Brain: excellent observation. Taking it to its logical conclusion the vote should be limited to those who are net taxpayers-the ones paying the freight.

Todd said...

Rusty said...

Why annoy the taxpayers at all? You're rich. Pay for it.

3/31/16, 7:38 AM


Part of being rich (and staying rich) is getting others to pay for what you want.

It seems that, contrary to what many think, self-interested voting is sometimes ethically justified.

Why is it that "philosophers" only think that this is a problem when they can not see the reason? It is common to hear leftist say that the poor and minorities vote against their own interests if they vote Republican versus voting Democrat.

It is because they view "those" people as having a self interest of "more free stuff". They can not see "one of those" people having any broader a vision than that because they don't think any more highly of "those people" than that. Again, it is projection all the way down.

Clayton Hennesey said...

What is this thing that's supposed to be an alternative to individual self-interest? Some revealed wisdom of the alternate, independently freestanding Hive Good?

One determines the common - what's common to many or all - good by starting with a bunch of individual self-interested goods and then going to the tote board.

Not being murdered - check

Not being raped - check

Not starving - check

Free broccoli for all - see, now that's a tough one

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

"Your debutante knows what you need, but I know what you want."

John Henry

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Why would it ever be moral to do something as a group which would clearly be immoral if done by an individual?

Why is it moral for the govt to take $100 by threat of deadly force from me to build an art museum?

If it is, why is it not moral for Ann to take $100 from me by threat of deadly force to build an art museum?

Paraphrasing from Frederic Bastiat's classic 1846 pamphlet "The Law" available here:

http://bastiat.org/en/the_law.html

John Henry

cubanbob said...

"Why would it ever be moral to do something as a group which would clearly be immoral if done by an individual?

Why is it moral for the govt to take $100 by threat of deadly force from me to build an art museum?"

John Henry once we get past items that are broadly if not nearly universally accepted that are for the common good, that is everyone directly benefits, why is the $100 taken by threat of force worse than the same amount taken by force to be given to someone else for nothing that benefits you directly such as someone else's child support or college education?

Danny K said...

Todd said:

"It is because they view "those" people as having a self interest of "more free stuff". They can not see "one of those" people having any broader a vision than that because they don't think any more highly of "those people" than that. Again, it is projection all the way down."

"What's the Matter With Kansas" is the most detestable meme of the left.

Todd said...

Danny K said...

"What's the Matter With Kansas" is the most detestable meme of the left.

3/31/16, 10:55 AM


Agreed but it also so accurately defines the left but not for the reasons the left thinks...

Sigivald said...

Or, maybe it's immoral to vote for public funding for the museum not because "they wouldn't enjoy it", but because other people's money isn't rightfully up for grabs?

The limits of the rightful reach of the state are debatable - but at some point everyone who isn't a straight-up Socialist (and I don't mean a "democratic Socialist that's totally different than Socialism FEELTEHBERNZ!!!" type, either, to be charitable) admits that there's a limit to what you can justifiably appropriate other people's money to pay for.

Probably Another Fancy Art Museum is on the "no" side.

Let the arts be funded by patronage and donation and ticket sales. That way we get better, and freer, art.

When the State pays we get the art the State likes.

Now, if you're a mediocrity or make naturally unpopular art, getting a cozy sinecure on the backs of The Common Man might sound nice, I suppose, but why should anyone else care?

Ambrose said...

I think we are seeing beginning of arguments to discredit voting. Since people cannot be trusted to vote properly - and it is probably morally wrong to vote republican any way, why have elections?

n.n said...

That would depend on first principles. For people who believe in an extra-universal God, probably. For people who believe in gods from the twilight zone, probably not.

Anglelyne said...

Gutting: Some philosophers argue that self-interested voting is always wrong and that we should vote instead for what we see as best for society as a whole (the “common good”).

EMD: There is no such thing as the common good. It doesn't really exist.

There is only self-interest.


People vote for the common good when it is in their self-interest.

I'm not being glib here, really. What's missing from Gutting's analysis is that he doesn't bother to define the "common", aka the "we", in "common good". People will sacrifice for a "common good" if they feel they are part of a group with bonds of trust, loyalty, and reciprocal obligation. When individuals can derive benefits from group membership that exceed the costs, they care about the "common good". Those conditions don't prevail in our national society, let alone among the humanity in general to which Singer's utilitarian calculations are supposed to apply.

People like Gutting and Singer do like to talk about things like "expanding circles of ethical inclusiveness" a lot, as if the fact that you can get well-fed people in First World countries to send lots of money to hungry Third Worlders, or be troubled by the killing of innocent strangers, is evidence of the moral progress of humanity. What you can't ever get them to talk about is the ongoing breakdown of any sense of a "common good" among citizens of those same fat countries and the concurrent rise of identity politics, which goes on no matter how loud the screeching about "inclusiveness" becomes.

Phunctor said...

This has been addressed by someone much more eloquent than I, a Mr. Crockett:

"Mr. Speaker — I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it.

We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him. This government can owe no debts but for services rendered, and at a stipulated price. If it is a debt, how much is it? Has it been audited, and the amount due ascertained? If it is a debt, this is not the place to present it for payment, or to have its merits examined. If it is a debt, we owe more than we can ever hope to pay, for we owe the widow of every soldier who fought in the War of 1812 precisely the same amount.

There is a woman in my neighborhood, the widow of as gallant a man as ever shouldered a musket. He fell in battle. She is as good in every respect as this lady, and is as poor. She is earning her daily bread by her daily labor; but if I were to introduce a bill to appropriate five or ten thousand dollars for her benefit, I should be laughed at, and my bill would not get five votes in this House. There are thousands of widows in the country just such as the one I have spoken of, but we never hear of any of these large debts to them. Sir, this is no debt.

The government did not owe it to the deceased when he was alive; it could not contract it after he died. I do not wish to be rude, but I must be plain. Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity.

Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much of our own money as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

tim maguire said...

"Community" is the name we give to collections of individuals. The survey of self-interest is how we discover the community interest. The idea that they are at odds, that we can somehow do what's best for the community by ignoring what is best for the individual, is absurd.

Guaranteed that Gary Gutting defines "self-interest" as "stuff I don't like" and "community interest" as "stuff I like."

R. Chatt said...

I think the contemporary art museum hypothetical is a cheap shot, betrays an ignorant prejudice on the part of the writer. How about considering that museums exist to make the art work available to all people, not just rich people? Is he saying lower income people couldn't be interested in art? That's not what I have observed in art museums in major cities. In fact there has been an explosion of art museums in the last 40 years.

Jonathan Graehl said...

The idea that anyone *needs* to see original art is laughable. Public art is great. Rich people showing off their patronage of arts in historically-interesting-canvas (and forgery) bidding wars and then loaning/donating so everyone can see how great they are ... who cares?

John Henry said...

CubanBob said


John Henry once we get past items that are broadly if not nearly universally accepted that are for the common good, that is everyone directly benefits, why is the $100 taken by threat of force worse than the same amount taken by force to be given to someone else for nothing that benefits you directly such as someone else's child support or college education?

If they are nearly universally accepted, why would they need to be funded by force (Govt taxation) Wouldn't most people be willing to pay voluntarily? It is pretty universally accepted that we need to wear pants (or skirts, coveralls or something) Nobody needs to force us to pay for them.

To get to your real question, I don't think it matters whether the money is collected for an art museum or a hospital or a military. The question of why it is moral for a government to do something that is immoral for an individual or group remains.

I am not saying that some things are not necessary and we need a govt to fund them. I am a minarchist, not an anarchist. I am just saying that any time anyone takes anything by force for any reason, the moral question remains.

Someone said the museum should be financed via fees and I agree 100%. Ditto national parks, highways, and pretty much everything the govt does.

John Henry

John Henry said...

If not an art museum, how about a stadium for an NFL team?

I think Minneapolis is now building a billion dollar stadium for professional soccer. I didn't even know there was such a thing.

Is everyone OK with stadiums, paid for at gunpoint by the taxpayer?

John Henry

John Henry said...

I didn't realize there was such a things as pro soccer in the US, I meant.

John Henry

Rusty said...

Blogger R. Chatt said...
I think the contemporary art museum hypothetical is a cheap shot, betrays an ignorant prejudice on the part of the writer. How about considering that museums exist to make the art work available to all people, not just rich people? Is he saying lower income people couldn't be interested in art? That's not what I have observed in art museums in major cities. In fact there has been an explosion of art museums in the last 40 years.

Then charge admission. Oh wait. They do anyway. Otherwise the "free" museums become mediocre shitholes.

R. Chatt said...

The larger point I was making about museums was that you can not assume your own limited biases are true. Better to vote for self interest. Case in point: the above comment that public art is different from museum art. There is no difference between the two, except that what he calls "public art" is outdoors. The people doing the picking of what is shown indoors and outside are the same people. As I said, there have been a huge number of art museums built in the US in the last forty years, I think about two hundred, and many other which have been expanded, because people want to see art in person. This didn't happen because "the government" decided the people "needed" to see art. As a matter of fact however, private donations form the bulk of the financing for support of the arts in the US.

I personally don't agree, but I accept, my small town spending huge amounts of money for high end skateboard parks and high end BMX bike parks, serving a small group of young males. Should I be asking, "Why don't they or their parents pay for that themselves? Can I get my taxes reduced for the services I will never use?"

R. Chatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. Chatt said...

Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't tickets for pro sports very expensive despite the stadiums being financed with public money?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I hate to be "that guy" but it seems like this discussion (well, the article, really) could use some pedantic econ definitions. He conflates the idea of public goods with things at by definition aren't, and that muddies the waters. I know that is not the thrust of the argument, bit that is what his example (and the counter examples given here) involve.
A public good is non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Something like an art museum isn't really either...it is at best a "club good" that's non-rivalrous but excludable.
OK, so what? Well if you are voting for a true public good that you think you will benefit from you are at worst using your voting power to express your particular values in a way that will in theory be open to benefiting everyone else. If you use the same power to steer resources towards a club or private good then you are explicitly using coercion to make others fund something you do not expect them to benefit from. The moral intuition surrounding those two different cases seems pretty different to me.

Freeman Hunt said...

Why should your vote be determined by what a bunch of philistines would think?

It's a contemporary art museum. Which ones are the philistines?

Freeman Hunt said...

They're opening a contemporary art museum here, and I'm glad because I hope it will keep the contemporary art out of the existing art museum.

R. Chatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. Chatt said...

Contemporary art gets a bad rap. I could show you numerous artists working today who are outstanding and on the highest level rivaling the work of the masters of the past. They are not being shown in contemporary art museums because of the politics in the art world. That could change if people demanded it. So who are the philistines is a good question.

Tom said...

I don't support welfare programs because I want to keep all my money to myself. I don't support welfare programs because I think they hurt and trap poor people in a cycle of poverty. See, altruistic is easy.

Eric said...

True, the richer you are the more likely you are to vote Republican, and the poorer you are the more likely you are to vote Democratic.

It's true poor people tend to vote Democratic. But very rich people also tend to be Democrats.

Carl Pham said...

What moron votes for interests other than his own? The entire point of democracy is...

(1) No man can reliably and accurately predict the values and priorities of another.

(2) So, if our theory of governance requires that we act on the basis of what most people want, our only recourse is to ask them, each and ever one. That is, hold a vote.

That's logic simple enough for even a philosopher writing in the Times to follow. And if you vote according to (what you think are) someone else's interests, you're defeating the whole purpose, and should be exiled.

JamesB.BKK said...

That Col. Davy Crockett charity story is outstanding, and it's principles sufficiently abandoned using clever, and new, "interpretations" of straightforward prose. It goes on with a report of an earlier conversation (an excerpt): "So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you." http://www.tysknews.com/Depts/Constitution_Issues/davy_crockett_and_charity.htm

JamesB.BKK said...

"In fact there has been an explosion of art museums in the last 40 years."

Does that track with the explosion in debt?

JamesB.BKK said...

"Someone said the museum should be financed via fees and I agree 100%. Ditto national parks, highways, and pretty much everything the govt does."

If that were to come to pass, what would presidents (such as B. Obama) close in order to browbeat the House into funding what he wants instead of the what the representatives in majority want?

R. Chatt said...

As I said, the overwhelming majority of financial support for the arts in the US comes from private sources. If people are interested in the story they can research this information on the web, just as easily as I did. I uncovered this info a while back when there was an outcry from the left over the refusal of Congress to approve an increase in NEA funding. The National Endowment of the Arts supports artists and arts institutions, including museums, theaters, orchestras, arts councils, etc. FYI. the amount of our federal budget dedicated to the NEA is minuscule and the suggestion that spending on art museums tracks with the explosion in debt (17 trillion dollars) is actually ludicrous. See: National Endowment for the Arts Appropriations History

JamesB.BKK said...

NEA budget is irrelevant. Cities (mostly but also counties, states, and issuing agencies of any of these) spend proceeds of usually tax-exempt and thus reduced interest-rate bonds and other similar instruments which are debt and booked as such (or spend cash which then must be replaced with bond proceeds for other purposes thus increasing total debt) for the likes of galleries, park exhibits, and - museums. It is correct that the operation has been devolving slowly to so-called non-profits and "friends of" associations, but capital spending remains usually bond financed by a municipal government or agency, perhaps with assets and revenues being pledged to the repayment of this debt. It is still debt that drives the construction and renovation of these public works, irrespective of the gimmicks offered for repayment, especially to keep them off of the general obligation ledger of the relevant local government units. Here is a disclosure statement for the MOMA which describes aspects of this. https://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/about/AnnualBondDisclosureFY2011.pdf

It is indisputable that all debt - public and private - has exploded at the same time as all of the new construction and renovation which was described in these comments using a variant of "to explode." See this rather impressive curve of unsustainable debt accumulation which wobbled a bit in 2007-08 and floats higher today due to a combination of the desperate, ill-advised, admittedly experimental actions of the central banking cartel of the US and of other countries and the EU - https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/TCMDO - and actions of the enabling governments to find new debtors, a central policy of the US government being to encourage 18-22 year old kids to load up on debt to purchase products they do not understand and for which the sellers have no responsibility for the consequences of a bad sale. See? Not ludicrous at all. Total debt must increase or the decades long manipulations of asset prices by central bankers will stop and actual asset prices will be revealed to be much, much, much, lower, and the house of cards will fall. Total debt is basically always increasing under the watch of our central bankers and government - until it doesn't. Ludicrous would be to claim the opposite.

As to the federal government, the federal government should be spending zero on art, artists, or buildings for housing or exhibiting art. The amount of this improper spending in comparison to the other taxed or borrowed funds it squanders is irrelevant.

TheThinMan said...

This "philosopher" babbles on as if Adam Smith never existed. But proof that everyone pursuing their own interest ends up benefitting the common good is everywhere: the standard of living is much higher under capitalism than socialism. Apologists for dictatorships (i.e. leftists) say it's the only way for the common good to prevail over evil self interest. Yet those countries are always miserable hellholes.

BTW, philistine literally means Palestinian. Oops!

R. Chatt said...

Some people have no interest in art and some people have no interest in sports, etc. Some people do not want one penny spent on anything other than probably plumbing and roads. The majority however, want to live in a social setting which offers opportunities for learning and recreation and enjoyment. Modern society as a whole responds to and provides for varied interests.

It just so happens, woe to the art haters, that art museums have become very popular and contribute to the overall economic health of cities in which they are located. That's one of the reasons Frank Gehry's famous Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was built. See also, for example, Three Metropolitan Museum Exhibitions Stimulate $742 Million 2013 Economic Impact for New York and Museums that expand get more visitors, our data analysis shows These are two examples I just quickly picked out.

I'm not an economist or an accountant so I am not qualified to evaluate the spreadsheet of any major institution or discuss the merits of the banking system of the 21st century. I do know that MOMA is one of the premier art institutions of the world, as is the Metropolitan Museum, and that the many art institutions of NYC are a major draw of tourists to NYC.

R. Chatt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Henry said...

R Chatt,

I have read quite a bit over the years debunking the economic benefits of sports stadia and arenas. Basically, they are a horrible investment for cities.

Exceptions are privately built facilities like NASCAR tracks which do not cost taxpayers to build.

In NY, 3 of the big museums are the Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum. All three were built with private funds. I believe there are a number of other museums in NYC that are privately funded. The American Museum of Natural History was founded and funded privately. Is it still?

I would agree that, since these museums cost the city little or nothing, any benefit from tourism, employment, taxes or whatever is a net benefit to the city.

Ummmm.... can someone tell me again why we need taxpayer funding for museums?

R. Chatt said...

For example:

"In 1991, the Basque government suggested to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation that it would fund a Guggenheim museum to be built in Bilbao's decrepit port area, once the city's main source of income. The Basque government agreed to cover the US$100 million construction cost, to create a US$50 million acquisitions fund, to pay a one-time US$20 million fee to the Guggenheim and to subsidize the museum's US$12 million annual budget. In exchange, the Foundation agreed to manage the institution, rotate parts of its permanent collection through the Bilbao museum and organize temporary exhibitions. ... Almost immediately after its opening, the Guggenheim Bilbao became a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the globe. In its first three years, almost 4 million tourists visited the museum, helping to generate about €500 million in economic activity. The regional council estimated that the money visitors spent on hotels, restaurants, shops and transport allowed it to collect €100 million in taxes, which more than paid for the building cost. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guggenheim_Museum_Bilbao