Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hey, Nancy: Here's One Artist Who Doesn't Want a Government Subsidy for My "Creative Time"

There have been a lot of crazy things said by people in the debate on health care reform, but this statement, as noted in a Weekly Standard blog post by Mary Katharine Ham that I read yesterday, distressed me more than a little bit. It's from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who already had one whopper quote ("We have to pass the bill, so you can find out what's in it") this week:
"Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance."
Umm, Nancy--in a word, no. While the phenomenon of "starving artists" may be a little too close to the truth for some practitioners, that doesn't mean that they should be allowed to create on the government dole. The unproductive class (along with its lesser sibling, the parasite class) has too many members already without suggesting that creative types become a drain on society as well.

When one chooses to go into the creative arts--music, visual arts, theatre, writing, etc.--it's almost a given that such a person will not be wealthy, at least not right away; if anything, it will be a struggle at times. But that's not necessarily bad; in fact, the struggle may call upon the creative powers of artists even more, as they try to find different angles to get their work out to the world. I might even go as far to say that the struggle can sometimes make for better art; someone who got paid to sit around and create all day without any additional effort on his or her part might well get fat and happy, and the art would likely be compromised in the process, ending up more like G-weasel than Charlie Parker.

And with that choice to go into the creative arts, one needs to come to terms with the fact that a "day job" will be required, at least for a while. For myself and many of my colleagues, that day job is teaching, and it comes with its own set of rewards. But there are plenty of musicians out there who work in music stores (I did that myself for a while, until it led to a teaching job at the same store for double the pay), do computer consulting, or all kinds of other things (I've also known people who worked as repo men or loaded UPS trucks). It's a big sacrifice sometimes, but for those who work in the less-commercialized facets of the arts (i.e. my fellow straight-ahead jazz musicians), it's a better tradeoff than pandering to the masses. (On the other hand, a protege of mine plays in six commercial bands precisely because he doesn't want to have a day job; it may not be as musically rewarding to play "Brick House" four nights a week as it would to play "Giant Steps," but, as he says, it's better than flipping burgers.

Don't get me wrong--it's not as if Pelosi's overly-utopian idea doesn't have some appeal. Sure, it would be great to sit around and practice and write music all day and get paid for it. But with tax dollars? Other people's money? People who didn't choose to pay to support me? Not on your life! Society doesn't owe me, or anyone else, a living. If I want the above situation to happen, I should seek out private grants--which would be awarded in a competitive fashion, based on merit--which obviously come from people who voluntarily donate their money to such a cause. (And let's not forget that, if our tax burden were lower, there would likely be more such donations.)

And there's one more scary thing about Pelosi's idea: If government can finance more artists, it can also control what they do. Never forget that; everything comes with a price.

I'll let Ham have the final word from the linked post:
If liberal Boomers such as Nancy Pelosi insist on creating government incentives for a generation of people to be unemployed artists who nonetheless have their health care paid for by productive members of society, there will be fewer productive members of society.

[...]These are the workers—and I may soon be using that term loosely— upon whom liberal Boomer Pelosi must rely to pay her Social Security through their working years. The ratio of workers to retirees has already shrunk from 41:1 in 1942 to 3.3:1 in the mid-2000s, and is expected to dip into to 2:1 in the next decades. Does Pelosi really want one or more of those young people supporting each worker to be a really keen charcoal sketch artist whose earning potential went as thoroughly unrecognized as his genius?
Good point, but I doubt that Pelosi and her ilk are smart enough to realize it.

As I've said before, it's time to grow the productive class and drastically shrink the unproductive and parasite classes. It's too bad that those in Washington want to do the exact opposite of that, all in the name of increasing their own power and control. We the People need to send them a resounding "NO!" in November of this year.

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