I am as much a lover of the fine arts as anyone else, but had to gag when I saw this article, Who Knew? Arts Education Fuels the Economy in the Chronicle.
The authors are at pains to head off any reduction of government spending on arts education or even increase it if possible. They try to pull it off by claiming that arts education expands our total economic output and that for every dollar spent, an addition 56 cents of value is generated elsewhere in the economy. Gosh, if that’s true, let’s borrow and spend several trillion on arts education!
But this is silly stuff. Spending money on arts education merely diverts resources from alternative uses. When I spend money on my son’s piano lessons, that isn’t an investment and it doesn’t have any multiplier effect. It’s just money out of my pocket and into the teacher’s pocket. Nothing wrong with that. Both parties to the transaction are happy (as is the student). But it’s nonsense to claim that my spending (or any other) “fuels the economy.”
The fine arts do produce value for people. Simply spending money on arts education, however, is not the same as valuable output. In a free society, competition and discovery will lead to the optimal level of training for artists. Going beyond that, as invariably happens when government gets involved, does not lead to more production of value, but only to an inefficient allocation of resources.