Has There Ever Been a Better Patron of the Arts than the CIA?

by Corey Robin on April 27, 2014

Countering Thomas Piketty’s critique of inherited wealth, Tyler Cowen suggests that such dynastic accumulations of private wealth may be a precondition of great art:

Piketty fears the stasis and sluggishness of the rentier, but what might appear to be static blocks of wealth have done a great deal to boost dynamic productivity. Piketty’s own book was published by the Belknap Press imprint of Harvard University Press, which received its initial funding in the form of a 1949 bequest from Waldron Phoenix Belknap, Jr., an architect and art historian who inherited a good deal of money from his father, a vice president of Bankers Trust. (The imprint’s funds were later supplemented by a grant from Belknap’s mother.) And consider Piketty’s native France, where the scores of artists who relied on bequests or family support to further their careers included painters such as Corot, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec and writers such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, Verlaine, and Proust, among others.


Notice, too, how many of those names hail from the nineteenth century. Piketty is sympathetically attached to a relatively low capital-to-income ratio. But the nineteenth century, with its high capital-to-income ratios, was in fact one of the most dynamic periods of European history. Stocks of wealth stimulated invention by liberating creators from the immediate demands of the marketplace and allowing them to explore their fancies, enriching generations to come.


But the Belle Époque (and its predecessor) has got nothing on the CIA.

 

The Central Intelligence Agency on Friday, April 11th posted to its public website nearly 100 declassified documents that detail the CIA’s role in publishing the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago after the book had been banned in the Soviet Union.  The 1958 publication of Boris Pasternak’s iconic novel in Russian gave people within the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe the opportunity to read the book for the first time.


The declassified memos, letters, and cables reveal the rationale behind the Zhivago project and the intricacies of the effort to get the book into the hands of those living behind the Iron Curtain.


In a memo dated April 24, 1958 a senior CIA officer wrote: “We have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country [and] in his own language for his people to read.”


After working secretly to publish the Russian-language edition in the Netherlands, the CIA moved quickly to ensure that copies of Doctor Zhivago were available for distribution to Soviet visitors at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.  By the end of the Fair, 355 copies of Doctor Zhivago had been surreptitiously handed out, and eventually thousands more were distributed throughout the Communist bloc.


As it happened, Pasternak went on to win the 1958 Nobel Prize for literature, the popularity of his novel  skyrocketed, and the plight of the great Russian author in the Soviet Union received global media attention.


Subsequently, the CIA funded the publication of a miniature, lightweight paperback edition of Doctor Zhivago that could be easily mailed or concealed in a jacket pocket.  Distribution of the miniature version began in April 1959.


These declassified documents about Doctor Zhivago are just the latest in a long line of revelations about how central the CIA was to the cultural and aesthetic life of the twentieth century. Was there a better patron of abstract expressionism—of Pollock, Rothko, De Kooning, at least on the global scale—than the CIA? And while the Saunders thesis of the cultural Cold War (the thesis long predates her, of course, but she helped popularize it after the Cold War) has its problems and its critics, the CIA did fund literary magazines like Encounter, even Partisan Review when it seemed like it was going to go belly up, international tours of symphony orchestras and jazz ensembles, and art exhibits around the world.

And while we’re on the topic of government patronage of the arts, let’s not forget the Bolsheviks, who managed, before the full onset of Stalinism and Socialist Realism, to fund, support, and inspire some pretty damn good avant-garde art. (And some not so good art: Ever since I learned that Ayn Rand developed some of her most enduring aesthetic tastes by attending, with the help of cheap tickets funded by the Bolsheviks, weekly performances of cheesy operettas at the Mikhailovsky state-run theater, I’ve held Lenin responsible for The Fountainhead.)

My most prized print is the poster of a 1971 exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of “Russian Art of the Revolution.” It features El Lissitzky’s Sportsmen, which he did in 1923. (I managed to salvage it from the garbage after the office of a former colleague was cleaned out.) While eclipsed by the later exhibit at the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum show was the first of its kind, I believe, in the States. In any event, it gives a good sense of what Soviet support for the arts achieved.

Russian Art of the Revolution

Cowen’s argument has a long history, but it’s not clear to me why he believes it’s dispositive. When it comes to funding for the arts, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

{ 157 comments }

1

willf 04.27.14 at 9:13 pm

Was there a better patron of abstract expressionism—of Pollock, Rothko, De Kooning, at least on the global scale—than the CIA?

Seriously? This old claim again?

Tell it to abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell, who was such a CIA darling that he became persona non grata in Franco’s Spain for his Elegy to the Spanish Republic series, as well as paintings like Hollow Men.

2

Matt 04.27.14 at 9:30 pm

I’m sure that if you look hard enough you can always find a silver lining to allowing private forces to control a whole mountain of silver.

Up next: everyone killed in the bombing of Guernica would have died by now anyway, but Picasso’s Guernica is immortal. Why won’t people take a more honest look at the benefits of the Spanish Civil War as well as the bad parts?!

3

bianca steele 04.27.14 at 9:38 pm

And Harvard wouldn’t have Widener library if the Titanic had really been unsinkable.

4

Meredith 04.27.14 at 9:43 pm

And U.S. universities and colleges would not exist without the wealth produced by slaves. Therefore….

5

David 04.27.14 at 9:50 pm

Did I miss the pivot point where conservatives stopped arguing that wealth inequality was imaginary and started arguing that it was actually a good thing? Has this been a recent development?

6

Ronan(rf) 04.27.14 at 10:07 pm

“stocks of wealth stimulated invention by liberating creators from the immediate demands of the marketplace and allowing them to explore their fancies, enriching generations to come.”

Unless I’m missing something, isn’t this pretty much the case for the universal basic income, or mass public investment in education, R&D etc ? Cowen doesn’t think that competitive markets best incentivise technological advancement, but idleness ? Perhaps this *is* Cowen’s general position (I don’t know, I don’t read him enough..)

7

TGGP 04.27.14 at 10:44 pm

I’m surprised Tyler Cowen didn’t cite Timur Kuran’s “The Long Divergence” on the social benefits of the private accumulation of wealth via inheritance.

8

phosphorious 04.27.14 at 10:44 pm

Ronan(rf): ““stocks of wealth stimulated invention by liberating creators from the immediate demands of the marketplace. . .”

Yeah, this is what made my head hurt. Innovation requires *liberation* from market discipline now?

Conservatives will say ANYTHING.

9

Corey Robin 04.27.14 at 11:12 pm

8: “Yeah, this is what made my head hurt. Innovation requires *liberation* from market discipline now?”

This is very much Hayek’s argument in Constitution of Liberty. Not that there can’t be innovation within the market — of course, he believes there is a lot — but that liberation from the market is partially what accounts for a lot of the innovations of history, whether economic or cultural.

10

John Quiggin 04.27.14 at 11:14 pm

This is taken from Hayek, Constitution of Liberty, I think.

11

John Quiggin 04.27.14 at 11:14 pm

Snap!

12

Lee A. Arnold 04.27.14 at 11:16 pm

Looking at the big picture, it appears that Foreign Affairs is turning into the Style section of the New York Times.

13

Matt 04.27.14 at 11:50 pm

I haven’t read Hayek but I would agree that freedom from ordinary need drove a lot of innovation historically. Before the mid 19th century or thereabouts scientific experimentation was mostly an esoteric pastime for aristocrats. The Bell telephone monopoly in the USA channeled some of its outsized profits to the famously innovative Bell Laboratories. It doesn’t follow that the best we could do now to produce more scientific knowledge is to encourage a new flowering of aristocrats and monopolists.

14

MPAVictoria 04.28.14 at 12:01 am

“Up next: everyone killed in the bombing of Guernica would have died by now anyway, but Picasso’s Guernica is immortal. Why won’t people take a more honest look at the benefits of the Spanish Civil War as well as the bad parts?!”

And we have a winner.
/your prize is one complete internet.

15

The Dark Avenger 04.28.14 at 12:17 am

You want Soviet aesthetics, you couldn’t get any weirder than Aelita:

Aelita (Russian: Аэлита), also known as Aelita: Queen of Mars, is a silent film directed by Soviet filmmaker Yakov Protazanov made at the Mezhrabpom-Rus film studio and released in 1924. It was based on Alexei Tolstoy’s novel of the same name. Mikhail Zharov and Igor Ilyinsky were cast in leading roles.

Though the main focus of the story is the daily lives of a small group of people during the post-war Soviet Union, the enduring importance of the film comes from its early science fiction elements. It primarily tells of a young man, Los (Russian: Лось, literally Elk), traveling to Mars in a rocket ship, where he leads a popular uprising against the ruling group of Elders, with the support of Queen Aelita who has fallen in love with him after watching him through a telescope.

16

Omega Centauri 04.28.14 at 12:37 am

I can remember being lambasted by my then girlfriend in the seventies. I argued that the late renaissance was largely funded by very rich people, who could provide funds for scientists/engineers/mathematiians etc. If we had had perfect economic equality, no one would have had any time/energy available to advance the culture. But, such anti-communist thinking was anathema.

17

Omega Centauri 04.28.14 at 12:39 am

Dark Aneger: Could Edgar Rice Burroughs have gotten the ideas for his Martian novels from this?

18

Kieran 04.28.14 at 12:49 am

Shift the context slightly and this would be derided as an instance of the glazier’s fallacy.

19

Gareth Wilson 04.28.14 at 1:04 am

So what’s the best art that was entirely funded by a democratic government?

20

GMUdissident 04.28.14 at 1:36 am

Laugh at Cowen all you want, but this isn’t the first time he’s praised freedom from the market, not just in the Hayekian sense either.

http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2004/08/what_is_valid_i.html

In the Piketty review, he calls for sovereign wealth funds as a sort of basic wealth guarantee. Cowen gets that distribution and welfare of the great masses are the great questions, just don’t throw the baby out with the productive bathwater.

Now about Garret Jones…

http://reason.com/archives/2014/04/26/living-with-inequality

F*** that guy.

21

Clay Shirky 04.28.14 at 1:47 am

Co-sign Victoria’s @14 awarding of 1 (one) whole immernet to Matt @2.

After Tyler Cowen, we can expect Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy to issue a press release noting that several sites of world historical importance such as the Taj Mahal and the pyramids, would not have been possible without indentured servitude.

22

Lee A. Arnold 04.28.14 at 2:02 am

Consider the empirical results accompanying the increasing inequality of the last 30-40 years: No additional economic growth over what was expected anyway (in fact less). The innovation was seeded by university and gov’t programs in science, computers and internet. Most of the private investment chased stocks, real estate and mortgage derivatives, and we know what happened next. The arts, very far from being great in most anyone’s estimation, have rocketed into the toilet.

23

Lee A. Arnold 04.28.14 at 2:33 am

Also don’t think it is valid to call upon prior mental attitudes from the Renaissance through the early enlightenment even into the very beginning of the 20th century, as indicative of how “static blocks of wealth” will do “a great deal to boost dynamic productivity” in innovation and artistic creation, in the future. It does not follow at all.

More likely than Hayek’s wishful thinking is Schumpeter’s clear-eyed characterization of how things have changed: that “of the industrialist and merchant the opposite is true. There is surely no trace of any mystic glamour about him… The stock exchange is a poor substitute for the Holy Grail… rationalist and unheroic” Etc. etc. Schumpeter’s concern in this passage (from Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, p. 137 ff.) is about who will lead a nation to prevent its inevitable collapse under capitalism, but the same applies to creative tastes, artistic discrimination, scientific curiosity.

24

Tyler Cowen 04.28.14 at 2:50 am

It is worth noting that I discuss this case at length in my book *Good & Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding*.

25

js. 04.28.14 at 3:26 am

So what’s the best art that was entirely funded by a democratic government?

I don’t know if it’s the “best”, but this is pretty fucking awesome. (Also, it’s a pretty odd question you’re asking. I mean, what would it really matter if no noteworthy art had been “entirely” funded by a democratic government?)

26

js. 04.28.14 at 3:27 am

No, actually this is pretty fucking awesome.

27

None 04.28.14 at 3:37 am

David@5 – “Did I miss the pivot point where conservatives stopped arguing that wealth inequality was imaginary”

Good question. Do Cowen and his ilk now accept that wealth inequality is a thing ? That would in itself be remarkable.

28

js. 04.28.14 at 3:43 am

David@5 – “Did I miss the pivot point where conservatives stopped arguing that wealth inequality was imaginary”

Good question. Do Cowen and his ilk now accept that wealth inequality is a thing ? That would in itself be remarkable.

Krugman wrote about this, a couple of years ago maybe (a quick Google search isn’t yielding the desired results). I think PK’s post may specifically have been about decline in social mobility, but he argued that you’re seeing the same switch in conservative positions as you did with regard to climate change (in some quarters) — from denial to arguing that it’s actually a good thing (warm winters in Buffalo!).

29

js. 04.28.14 at 3:44 am

Now that I have written it, that point about climate change seems flat out fucking insane. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t just make it up.

30

Meredith 04.28.14 at 4:25 am

Sometimes those of us who spend a lot of time with “great art” wonder, too, sine qua non? I think Homer answers this with Eumaios the swineherd, the best art critic ever (after Penelope — well, they rely on each other, so let’s not rank them).

31

Gareth Wilson 04.28.14 at 4:27 am

js@25, I was thinking more of Doctor Who, but fair enough.

32

js. 04.28.14 at 4:36 am

Ah, that reference flew way over my head. Sorry.

33

tony lynch 04.28.14 at 4:39 am

And don’t forget that banking gave us T. S. Eliot!

34

Matt Austern 04.28.14 at 4:40 am

I don’t think you need a pivot. The right can simultaneously argue that inequality hasn’t gone up, that it doesn’t matter because what counts is social mobility, that income and wealth inequality doesn’t matter because what counts is consumption inequality, that the rise in inequality is because of unstoppable technological forces that it would be folly to tamper with, that talking about the subject is the real evil because it just foments class envy, that we shouldn’t listen to anything the left says about inequality because they’re the real elitists, that inequality doesn’t matter because the job-creators deserve everything they get, and that inequality is a good thing because our betters are benevolent philanthropists.

Some of those arguments are consistent with each other and some aren’t, but that doesn’t really matter. There’s nothing that makes it impossible for all of them to be employed simultaneously. (Sometimes even honestly. The right isn’t a homogeneous group, after all, and different rightists believe different things.)

35

Meredith 04.28.14 at 4:55 am

@32, and insurance gave us Wallace Stevens.

36

not native english speaker 04.28.14 at 5:07 am

“Cowen’s argument has a long history, but it’s not clear to me why he believes it’s dispositive.”
Can someone explain the meaning of ‘dispositive’ in that sentence. Google defines the term as “relating to or bringing about the settlement of an issue or the disposition of property”.

37

None 04.28.14 at 5:12 am

“There’s nothing that makes it impossible for all of them to be employed simultaneously.”

All kinds of bullshit arguments & things are possible in any combination, simultaneously or not. The fact of the matter is that since it seems to have been important to the likes of Cowen to once deny (or, at the very least, to doubt) the numbers on wealth inequality, doing so was probably of some importance to their economic (or less credulously, their political) project. If they are now conceding it, then that’s definitely something.

38

None 04.28.14 at 5:19 am

What about Melville ? The merchant navy gave us his greater works, and the gov’mnt his lesser ones, so there’s a smashing proof of Cowen’s theory.

39

Harold 04.28.14 at 5:22 am

Very rich people funded the arts in the Renaissance as a form of penance in a society in which the Christian Church roundly condemned greed and money-lending as sinful and the road to eternal damnation. Rockefeller and Carnegie did the same thing, essentially.

The CIA did it in order to show other countries that the USA was not a philistine hell-hole run by big business. There has been no need to put on such shows since the Cold War was “won”.

Modern Gazillionaires with little fear of hell-fire or anything else now buy monetized art as a form of investment (and/ or money laundering) to be squirreled away in Swiss bank vaults until such time as it needs to be monetized.

40

roy belmont 04.28.14 at 5:36 am

Ah, but madness and poverty have given us more great art than any political or economic institution ever has.

41

js. 04.28.14 at 5:55 am

and insurance gave us Wallace Stevens.

And dentistry William Carlos Williams! (Or was it just medicine?)

42

Jim Buck 04.28.14 at 6:04 am

Hi-yo-silver-lining! Humane levels of unemployment pay (pre-Thatcher) gave a generation of young Britons the leisure to develop guitar-skills that dazzled their US contemporaries and sucked top-dollar into the public purse.

43

Tony Lynch 04.28.14 at 6:12 am

Real estate seems to have given us Frank Mckinney. There seems then, no silver lining here.

44

Pat 04.28.14 at 6:17 am

I think I prefer it in the original better: “In Italy, for thirty years, under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.” But that might be just because it’s got a better punchline….

David @5, some recent brief history from Paul Krugman answers your question, I think:
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/16/piketty-day-notes/

45

Ze Kraggash 04.28.14 at 6:31 am

The CIA popularized LSD…

46

maidhc 04.28.14 at 6:49 am

… and the Swiss invented LSD. Perhaps we can count the theory of relativity too.

But people who quote that line sometimes forget that in its original context it was self-justification by a despicable character.

47

maidhc 04.28.14 at 6:54 am

I didn’t mean to imply that it was Pat who was doing that. Just, in general, lots of people like to quote that and don’t think about where it came from. I’m pretty sure Pat is quite aware of it.

48

Harold 04.28.14 at 7:00 am

But Orson Wells’s improvised line in the Third Man, spoken by a fictional criminal, is not strictly true. Michelangelo and other Renaissance artist were not sponsored by the Borgias, but by the the bankers and merchant guilds of the Florentine Republic . (Michelangelo himself was descended from a family of bankers.) Michelangelo’s patron in Rome was Raffaelo della Rovere from the Republic of Genoa, known as Pope Julius II, the Borgia family’s bitterest enemy, who ordered their memory expunged and who caused their apartments to remain sealed until the 19th century (if wikipedia is to be believed). He was succeeded by Leo X (a Medici).

I agree with Corey Robin about Saunders’ rather simplistic take on abstract art. I liked her earlier book more.

49

shah8 04.28.14 at 7:08 am

Reading Wendy Doniger’s A History of Hinduism, it strikes me that art generally happens when it happens, among all classes. We see the Sistine Chapel mostly because a rich man had the resources to to make that art as permanent as possible. We don’t see the art (or know the composer of such) of people who aren’t rich because their medium was fundamentally impermanent. Would we know of a certain left-handed guitarist’ meeting at the crossroads if there wasn’t recording media around?

Honestly, I don’t really think retained wealth creates much in the way of art. Go to many small towns in the US, with big fishes in those ponds, and you’ll find nothing but stultifying mediocrity. And the majority of rich people are just that, mediocrities, no matter how much they want to think of themselves as better. Art is a property of a rich society, oxygenized by trade and watered by wasted affluence (which need not actually come from wealth). People get educated, they find others who would teach them, there are centers of creativity–this is all background stuff. That’s what made Van Gogh. What made other masters, rich and poor.

50

SN 04.28.14 at 7:29 am

There are so few cultures and societies with no art and many with no great inheritances with truly fantastic art. This is simply a narrow vision of art.

I see the comment above says everything I meant to say –but better. We have decadent art mocking this very principle–Damien Hirsch, Jeff Koons.

51

Neville Morley 04.28.14 at 7:55 am

Attic drama offers an interesting test case: on the one hand, funded by the wealthy; on the other hand, they’re not given much choice about it by the demos (unless they’d prefer to fund a trireme instead), and there are significant democratic elements in the plays that result, albeit conjoined with persistent aristocratic values.

52

Chris Armstrong 04.28.14 at 9:03 am

Remember that some egalitarians too have argued that one reason for tolerating inequalities we would otherwise recoil from is that they sustain ways of living / the production of things of value which would otherwise be unavailable (because they’re simply so expensive). That’s the case, for Thomas Nagel, even if very few people can enjoy these luxuries. He finishes chapter 12 of Equality and Partiality by saying that ‘I believe no egalitarianism can be right which would permit haute cuisine, haute couture, and exquisite houses to disappear just because not everyone can have them.’

Of course, there are so many ways of attacking this argument that I lack the will to choose between them…

53

Belle Waring 04.28.14 at 9:11 am

The Gilded Age in the U.S. was a period in which lots of amazing European art was acquired, but there was hardly a flowering of the arts under the patronage of the railway and steel barons. The Rockefellers and the Carnegies and even the wretched Frick supported the arts in what I have always imagined to be a cynical–and quite successful–bid for posthumous good reputation. My 3x great-grandfather Jay Gould was more of a “f$#k the haters” type, as befitted his “Mephistopheles of Wall Street” nickname (he was also known as “the robber of widows and children”) and didn’t do anything except give the money to his kids. My great-great grandfather then proceeded to use it to make a giant checkerboard lawn on which he played chess with friends, using real live humans for pieces, with the fully armored knights mounted on horses. The only thing that went wrong was that he did not force the chess-pieces to kill one another when, say, a pawn was taken en passant. Otherwise it was the perfect expression of Gilded Age high art. He and his opponent stood on a balcony of a rather forbidding castle now (sensibly) owned by New York State, overlooking the “board” and shouted instructions down. (His daughter went on to gamble her share pretty much all away, an impressive feat taken on its own.) I have always given the Rockefellers and Fricks I know the side-eye on this basis. Sure, you have a museum. When was the last time anyone in your family played chess using other humans? I didn’t think so.

John is mildly loath for me to tell people this about my shameful family history, but it is a matter of public record, very topical, and I am unable to resist the chess anecdote.

54

Phil 04.28.14 at 10:16 am

Carnegie endowed the library down the road from us – as well as several others in different suburbs of Manchester, and indeed many other places. He also personally funded Helen Keller, in the knowledge that she was a Wobblie. I’m not saying the man could do no wrong – you can’t forget the whole Pinkertons-using strike-breaking thing – but as cynical plutocrats go I’ll take him over, well, Jay Gould any time. (Still rather impressed by Belle’s family links, though.)

Yes, Hayek did argue that freedom from what we might call free market discipline was essential for creativity. He squared the circle through straightforward elitism, AIUI – some people needed to be free to create; most of us (or rather, most of them) were never going to create anything worth a damn, so most people just needed to be incentivised to work as hard as possible.

The interesting question is, how could a contemporary conservative make that argument work?

55

Gareth Wilson 04.28.14 at 10:22 am

Andrew Carnegie founded a rather impressive library in Hokitika, New Zealand, current population 3,072. What I found most interesting about it was that he had no influence over the design – he just signed a check.

56

Alex 04.28.14 at 10:28 am

My great-great grandfather then proceeded to use it to make a giant checkerboard lawn on which he played chess with friends, using real live humans for pieces, with the fully armored knights mounted on horses

Awesome. WRT Corey’s point about the CIA, this is just yet another way the US has to hide perfectly sensible industrial policy, scientific funding, and artistic patronage in the military-industrial complex.

57

bill benzon 04.28.14 at 10:40 am

Note that Cowen also believes that poverty is good for the arts, as he noted in this post-Katrina article in Slate:

To be sure, the shantytowns could bring socioeconomic costs. Yet crime, lack of safety, and racial tension were all features of New Orleans ex ante. The city has long thrived as more dangerous than average, more multicultural than average, and more precarious than average for the United States. And people who decide the cheap housing isn’t safe enough will be free to look elsewhere—or remain in Utah with their insurance checks.

Shantytowns might well be more creative than a dead city core. Some of the best Brazilian music came from the favelas of Salvador and Rio. The slums of Kingston, Jamaica, bred reggae. New Orleans experienced its greatest cultural blossoming in the early 20th century, when it was full of shanties. Low rents make it possible to live on a shoestring, while the population density blends cultural influences. Cheap real estate could make the city a desirable place for struggling artists to live.

I guess the idea is that as artists are used to living at the edge of starvation, lots of them can be supported on the crumbs from one plutocratic table.

58

Belle Waring 04.28.14 at 11:11 am

54 and the quote in the OP seem a bit disingenuous taken together. Phil, the second or third hit for me on google is pretty much always going to be this. CT has edged it out from the top though. There’s a poet named Belle Waring also from GA (?) who lives in the DC area; she and I get mixed up often.

59

floopmeister 04.28.14 at 12:23 pm

Sounds like this guy Tyler Cowen has been reading his Nietzsche again.

60

SamChevre 04.28.14 at 1:00 pm

I’d note that the quote in 54 isn’t about poverty per se; it’s about one of the particular forms poverty can take, which is significant areas that are diverse and have really cheap living costs. (He’s contrasting shantytowns to council/project housing, which seems to not have the same dynamics.)

61

Collin Street 04.28.14 at 1:26 pm

> (He’s contrasting shantytowns to council/project housing, which seems to not have the same dynamics.)

Probably has something to do with non-tariff barriers on cultural product imports [law-enforcement uncertainty and other related issues]. End result is, shantytown dwellers have to depend on labour-intensive live performance, while council-housed people have access to international markets and can secure entertainment at lower cost and with higher production values.

[homo economicus listens to mando-pop and watches hollywood explosion movies.]

62

MPAVictoria 04.28.14 at 1:53 pm

“Ah, but madness and poverty have given us more great art than any political or economic institution ever has.”

All depends on how you figure it.

63

MPAVictoria 04.28.14 at 1:57 pm

“and I am unable to resist the chess anecdote.”

Jesus Christ Belle. You are so fucking cool you should be in a Tarantino movie or something.

64

mattski 04.28.14 at 2:22 pm

When it comes to funding for the arts, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

And when it comes to crippling democratic government the same is true.

65

Tom Scudder 04.28.14 at 2:39 pm

Hey, Jay Gould (or one of his descendants) did donate enough money to the prep school I went to (Northfield-Mount Hermon) to build a dorm, but that was probably just coffee-and-donuts money to him.

66

Harold 04.28.14 at 2:54 pm

The art of Athens was essentially made by amateurs. The great plays: tragedies and comedies — were put on at public festivals, performed once by amateur actors — and that was it. This repertoire went on to form the basis of humanistic education for the next two thousand years. There is a sense in which it is true that slavery made classical Athenian culture possible, yet slavery in Athens was rather different from the industrial or colonial slavery that we think of. For example, moneymaking was so disparaged in Ancient Greece that all who engaged in banking were debarred from citizenship and were categorized as slaves belonging to the city. Many of these slaves went on to become very rich and bought their own freedom. (I believe Aristotle’s father-in-law was a former slave. Don’t remember exactly, but I don’t think Aristotle was ever an Athenian citizen.) I don’t think a large percentage of the citizens participating in Athenian democracy were wealthy slaveowners. Many were skilled craftsmen and had one or two slaves at most, if any (the wealthy landowners resented this). Socrates was by trade a sculptor. In addition to bankers, the city of Athens did have a class of public slaves who worked in the silver mines (probably in horrible conditions) outside of town. Interestingly, the officers of the Athenian army who won the Persian wars were all elected by popular vote, not appointed. (I am not an expert and am just repeating what I remember in reading books about the subject).

I agree that great art happens from the bottom up, i.e., when lots of people engage in it. After the abolition of slavery in the USA 20 percent of African-Americans were employed as musicians of one kind or another. Jazz happened because New Orleans, a Catholic city, was the only city in the USA to have an opera house, and there were a lot of European type musical instruments in circulation that trickled down to the populace. Not to mention musicians who offered classical music lessons to same. Jelly Roll Morton, for example, studied classical piano.

In Protestant parts of the US, church congregations supported music instruction and sometimes provided scholarships so talented singers could have formal musical instruction.

In Flanders at the turn of the seventeenth century 20 percent of the population was employed as painters (or so I read this in my guidebook when traveling in Belgium).

In Germany, on the other hand, where every little city had its independent government, court culture, opera house, and orchestra, the musical arts also flourished.

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politicalfootball 04.28.14 at 2:57 pm

From Cowen’s review:

It is hard to find well-functioning societies based on anything other than strong legal, political, and institutional respect and support for their most successful citizens.

I’ve never understood how the libertarians reconcile this belief with the simultaneous belief that the state of New York, say, has insufficient respect for elites, and would be better off if it were run more along the lines of Mississippi – a place where, whatever else you want to say about it, has always had abundant respect and support for its most successful citizens.

I mean, what is the ideal that he’s advocating here?

He really gives away the game when he talks about the benefits of a society run by robber barons. You can see that he’s all about authoritarianism. I got a chuckle at how he projected his own blindness onto Piketty:

Therein lies the most fundamental problem with Piketty’s policy proposals: the best parts of his book argue that, left unchecked, capital and capitalists inevitably accrue too much power — and yet Piketty seems to believe that governments and politicians are somehow exempt from the same dynamic.

I like how Piketty “seems to believe” this, though Cowen can’t find identify any actual support for this thesis. Meanwhile, Cowen’s own unexamined assumption is that capitalists are exempt from accruing too much power.

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jake the anti-social socialist 04.28.14 at 3:05 pm

Omega, it is questionable that Burroughs was influenced by Aelita, since Under the Moons of Mars was first published in 1912.
The biggest influences were the “lost civilization” romances of H. Rider Haggard snd the like and the view of Mars possibly having a declining civilization popularized byPercival Lowell.

69

Wonks Anonymous 04.28.14 at 3:09 pm

“insurance gave us Wallace Stevens”
And Charles Ives.

70

Rob in CT 04.28.14 at 4:04 pm

My great-great grandfather then proceeded to use it to make a giant checkerboard lawn on which he played chess with friends, using real live humans for pieces, with the fully armored knights mounted on horses.

Holy shit, Belle. And there I thought Mel Brooks made that scene in History of the World, Part I up all by his onesies. Silly me.

71

Luke 04.28.14 at 4:04 pm

Your Rockefellers, Carnegies, Drapers and so forth also funded eugenics programmes in the US and abroad — including Nazi Germany. The blade of philanthropy has two edges.

Also: to hell with ‘Art’. In referencing the belle epoque, Cowen’s rhetorical move is, essentially, to identify the high culture of the rich and powerful as what is important — and oh look, they really do care about their high-class status symbols!

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roy belmont 04.28.14 at 5:28 pm

“the last time anyone in your family played chess using other humans”.
WW1, WW2, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ukraine. Numerous other exciting locales and periods.
Though my family was mostly being used, not using – moving one little square at a time as per instruction.

Luke’s penetrating the veil of bourgeois complacency.
People think the Medieval artists were solely concerned with religious subjects, but that’s just the ones that made it into the archive, because the Church had total control of what got kept. We have no idea what art was being made at the margins then. What stories, poems, songs came and went without official recognition and preservation, all along..
Jazz in the Middle Ages didn’t make into it in the canon. Because those blue notes were clearly demonic. Betcha it was there though, somewhere. Dissonance and atonality are attractive once you get the modal stuff tight and it gets too familiar.
Hmm, what’s it sound like when I bend this lute string…ooh, yeah.
People painting abstract brilliance in the nineteenth century and before were either hiding it or doing it in some well-endowed asylum.
Art is craziness first, commodity way second.

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awy 04.28.14 at 5:34 pm

patrons do not generate the art, they do give support structure to the artist and all, but the art still comes from the artist. i think there’s a tendency for some to hold a simple causal relationship between funding/patronage and the creative event, giving the capital input so much credit that it seems the guys actually solving problems or creating art is just a tacked on constant.

what’s the Value over Replacement Capitalist for Rockefeller compared to Medici? Seems like any dude with money suffices for the productive input of art patrons.

74

TM 04.28.14 at 5:39 pm

Off-topic but I would like to clamor for a dedicated Piketty forum. Some of the claims in the book concerning the famous r vs. g rates worry me. Piketty says that the capital rate of return has for centuries, nay millennia, been around 4-5% (http://www.nybooks.com/media/graphics/chart/image/krugman_3-050814.png). Apart from the absurdity of trying to quantify these rates back into the mist of history (I know, DeLong even “calculated” GDP growth rates for the last million years – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_world_product#Historical_and_prehistorical_estimates – deserving nomination for the most ludicrous econometric overreach ever) – am I the first to point out that if capital had indeed grown on the order of 4% p.a. for 1,000 years, a “dollar” would have multiplied to about 200 million billion (I leave the other 1,000 years as an exercise)? What is it about the exponential that makes even mathematical sophisticates completely miss the obvious? Nothing in the universe can grow at sustained rates like that for centuries, let alone millennia! (http://www.slideshare.net/amenning/growth-in-a-finite-world-sustainability-and-the-exponential-function)

To be sure, the rate of return is not the same as the rate of reinvestment, but the whole (imho confused) premise of the r>g argument is that capital is growing *much* faster than income so r is taken as reasonable estimate of a growth rate. Which is simply numerically absurd.

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Thornton Hall 04.28.14 at 5:51 pm

“Art” here is being used to refer to “expensive art”. Is there any justification for the claim that absent “expensive art” there would be lower overall welfare? Wouldn’t someone like Cowin naturally argue that there is a crowding out effect?

Thus, there is no way for private or public intervention in the art economy to raise to overall amount of art!

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Wonks Anonymous 04.28.14 at 6:00 pm

roy belmont, isn’t there folk music inherited from centuries ago? I don’t think it usually gets too jazzy. I had also heard somewhere that musical traditions brought over from Africa were integral in developing “America’s indigenous classical music”.

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Trader Joe 04.28.14 at 6:06 pm

While Cowen over states his case with his suggestion that if it wasn’t for the rich there’d be no art, there may still be a point there, just a lesser one.

Picketty would have us appropriate this wealth to be doled out by governments – while we might like to presume that some of this would find its way to endowing various arts we might favor, we should also presume that some of it will be endowing all the other things governments like to spend on – everything from aircraft carriers, armaments, and NSA activities to hip replacements, poverty relief and social programs.

While governments certainly do support the arts, there’s little guarantee that that the appropriated wealth would be spent in the same measure or as effectively.

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roy belmont 04.28.14 at 6:15 pm

Wonk
Yeah I’m just being snarky.
There seems to be a pretty consistent evolution of western musical form. Diatonic folk etc. But I have a soft spot for the weirdos. Tradition holds what it needs to, it’s just that that’s not all that’s happening at any given moment.
Bulk relevance is what you get from the past, So the picture is everyone was doing the same thing. This doesn’t match my experience, limited to the second half of the 20th c. as it may be.
And double yeah, those Arabic fretboards with umpteen more notes in between the European 12.
Africans moving through the kingdom of Charlemagne, singing, dropping the how-to on open-minded troubadors.
The same process that gave Buddy Bolden’s jas to the US must have been operating way back there, we just have no way to hear it, until it makes the consensus change.

79

Chris E 04.28.14 at 6:18 pm

“While governments certainly do support the arts, there’s little guarantee that that the appropriated wealth would be spent in the same measure or as effectively.”

There’s little guarantee that the wealth to be appropriated is currently being spent supporting the arts.

80

Bill Benzon 04.28.14 at 6:24 pm

If you’re really interested in how the rich fund art, read Rogue’s Gallery by Michael Gross. It’s the story of NYC’s Metropolotin Museum of Art. It was created by a find band of rascals and cut-throats. Of this, this isn’t direct subsidy of art, so it’s trickle down…Which is sorta’ the point.

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Jim Buck 04.28.14 at 6:26 pm

While governments certainly do support the arts, there’s little guarantee that that the appropriated wealth would be spent in the same measure or as effectively.

Shall we say “re-appropriated” wealth rather than what you say? In mid 20th century Britain the dole allowed a fortunate generation to swing Liverpool and London, like the freed blacks swung Louisiana. What is required is unconditional income.

82

Ze Kraggash 04.28.14 at 6:30 pm

The modern super-rich certainly do appreciate fine art:

Jurors saw the 30-minute video of the 40th birthday party for Kozlowski’s wife as part of a case that accuses him and former Tyco finance chief Mark Swartz of looting the company out of $600 million.

Tyco footed about half the bill for the party in Sardinia, which featured an ice sculpture of Michelangelo’s David spewing vodka from his penis and a birthday cake in the shape of a woman’s breasts with sparklers mounted on top.

83

Plume 04.28.14 at 7:04 pm

The idea that somehow we would never have great art without these obscenely wealthy patrons is absurd. In actuality, they have always reduced the amount of great art — directly, indirectly, on purpose or by accident.

It is not in the best interest of those who support art to support it with great breadth across the land. Their own investments lose “value” if they are not, in a sense, rare. And because you have so very few people with these immense fortunes calling the shots, you have all too few gatekeepers deciding which artists get the largesse — which means grotesquely, and artificially, limiting who does. Art, of course, has its own way of limiting access outside of patronage — critics and artistic circles, etc. But this works in tandem with the narrowing of access and opportunity via a few financial gatekeepers.

We would have more art, and likely better art, if the field of opportunity and access were radically expanded. This can not be done while capitalism rules the world.

Just 85 people hold as much wealth today as the bottom 3.5 billion, and billions live on less than $2.50 a day. Chances are that most of them will never have a shot at either developing their artistic talent, or, if they do, getting it to a wider public. The capitalist system creates economic apartheid, which directly and indirectly produces a choke hold on artistic resources, opportunities, access and eventual publication.

In short, there is no way on earth that vast fortunes in a few hands, pre-capitalist or capitalist, have been “good” for art. The concentration of wealth means vastly fewer opportunities for the masses to achieve their potential.

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TM 04.28.14 at 7:08 pm

“While governments certainly do support the arts, there’s little guarantee that that the appropriated wealth would be spent in the same measure or as effectively.”

Effectively is a strange way of putting it (I’m thinking of Yachts, Jets, McMansions, ideological think tanks and political campaigns). I now live in Philadelphia where patronage by the rich has indeed left huge marks on cultural life (the Barnes etc.) but we also have a bankrupt public school system, a Third World building stock, an overproportional share of the nation’s 60,000 structurally unsound bridges are in Pennsylvania, and so on. Of course there is no connection between the one and the other. Obviously, if you want Swiss quality public infrastructure, you just can’t also have museums and art collections and orchestras and performance halls and universities. You have to choose between high culture and ordinary public infrastructure.

What are you saying, they have museums and universities and art collections in Switzerland? That’s not possible!!!

Also btw, every time some cultural institution is named after a rich donor, you can be sure that a substantial, often the overwhelming, part of the cost was absorbed by the taxpayer. It’s usually noted in smaller print on the dedication plaque.

85

nv 04.28.14 at 7:18 pm

Let’s just pause for a second to remember that “art” as a category is not a good in and of itself.

Matters are more complicated. Benjamin reminds us that “there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”

86

TM 04.28.14 at 7:45 pm

Since I mentioned Barnes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_C._Barnes) above: Barnes was an art collector and he was passionate about art. There is little doubt that if tax rates had been higher, that wouldn’t have prevented him from pursuing his passion. More importantly, while Barnes commissioned a few pieces, most of his vast collection he bought on the art market during the depression, at depressed prices (with excellent artistic taste and business acumen). Matisse, Van Gogh, Cezanne etc. weren’t the product of art patronage by rich people. The whole premise is preposterous and ignorant.

87

Trader Joe 04.28.14 at 8:09 pm

@82 and others
My premise in my comment at 75 wasn’t to suggest the wealthy were particularly good at funding the arts – which isn’t just artwork per se, but performing arts as well – theatre, oprea, symphony etc.and not just ‘grand’ art but local exhibitions and theatre which are routinely privately funded.

My point, rather, was that governments don’t always spend on what people think they might spend. In a Picketty world where there are many billions more to spend, one shouldn’t assume the arts will get any more than they are currently getting. Its a nice fantasy to imagine every additional dollar will feed a homeless artist, lift someone out of poverty or cure the sick.

History tells us half the additional dollars acquired from higher taxation will probably wind up in the defense budget or similar (NSA, CIA etc.). The bunch in Washington don’t seem to possess any special vision about how to allocate the marginal dollar – even when its the party you might prefer, let alone when it isn’t.

And if, by chance, more dollars did get allocated to the arts, its a whole fresh ball of worms as to whether the NEA would be who we’d want to allocate it.

88

trane 04.28.14 at 8:10 pm

Matt @2 and Matt @33 win the thread.

89

MPAVictoria 04.28.14 at 8:15 pm

“And if, by chance, more dollars did get allocated to the arts, its a whole fresh ball of worms as to whether the NEA would be who we’d want to allocate it.”

As opposed to rich thieves?

90

Thornton Hall 04.28.14 at 8:21 pm

@trader Joe Proof that Ronald Reagan was transformational is that anyone in the 21st Century would say this about the institution that dominates the globe:

“The bunch in Washington don’t seem to possess any special vision about how to allocate the marginal dollar – even when its the party you might prefer, let alone when it isn’t.”

There is 60 years of data that the US Government is spectacularly successful at allocating its money to acheive its goals. And where we lag the rest of the industrialized world–health care, happiness–it is the countries with bigger governments that we are behind.

Even if you disagree, Donald Trump or Donald Rumsfeld: who would you rather pick the statue you have to see every day? He might be evil, but I’d take Rumsfeld every day of the week.

91

politicalfootball 04.28.14 at 8:35 pm

The bunch in Washington don’t seem to possess any special vision about how to allocate the marginal dollar – even when its the party you might prefer, let alone when it isn’t.

Trader Joe, conservatives like to characterize liberals as preferring big government and higher taxes, all things being equal. This isn’t true. Liberals want government to do things, but would prefer to have those things done by a smaller government, with less taxation.

But in this case, I’m going to adopt the role of strawman liberal, because I think it’s a social good to increase taxes on the rich in and of itself. Certeris paribus, I say soak the rich! I’m in favor of capitalism and democracy, in general, but the two are difficult to reconcile and we’d be better off with more democracy, even at the expense of some capitalism.

92

TM 04.28.14 at 8:36 pm

“governments don’t always spend on what people think they might spend”

I think most of us do have an idea of what governments spend money on, but thanks for reminding…

93

TM 04.28.14 at 8:42 pm

Also note that higher tax rates on the rich do not need to imply a decrease in charitable giving. They might imply fewer and smaller Yachts. And increased economic security for the masses is very likely to do more for local galleries and theaters than big donors.

94

Trader Joe 04.28.14 at 9:20 pm

@88
“Even if you disagree, Donald Trump or Donald Rumsfeld: who would you rather pick the statue you have to see every day? He might be evil, but I’d take Rumsfeld every day of the week.”

That’s a heckuva a choice. Maybe I’d just fillibuster or flip a coin. My point isn’t who picks the statue – its there might be no statue to pick because Mr. Rumsfeld would pick the extra B-1 bomber instead.

Maybe instead of Gates funding AIDS and Malaria research, Mr. Ryan would choose to fund more insurance companies and big pharma instead and cut that darn deficit while he’s at it.

Maybe instead of Soros funding the his various causes, we can let Mr. Cantor make the selections on his behalf.

I happen to like Gates’ and Soros’ choices, I’m sure there are plenty that don’t.

I’m not anti taxation and I’m not anti-government, but its a shell game to imagine that changing the choser in allocating to the arts would change the outcome. If you prefer rich guys in Washington to rich guys in New York (or wherever they live), I can’t say you’re mistaken, but I am skeptical we’d notice a difference.

95

TM 04.28.14 at 9:31 pm

“its a shell game to imagine that changing the choser in allocating to the arts would change the outcome”

It’s Cowen’s shell game. None of us came up with the premise, which (sigh do I really have to point this out) is fundamentally flawed.

96

John Quiggin 04.28.14 at 9:32 pm

Not native english speaker @35 In this context “dispositive” is the same as “conclusive” or “settles the argument”

97

Main Street Muse 04.28.14 at 9:38 pm

CIA as a patron saint of the arts (and perhaps the best patron saint of the arts!) Nothing sadder. Welcome to Monday…

98

Main Street Muse 04.28.14 at 9:38 pm

CIA as a patron saint of the arts (and perhaps the best patron saint of the arts!) Nothing sadder. Welcome to Monday…

99

Thornton Hall 04.28.14 at 9:53 pm

Who has saved more lives in Africa, W Bush or Gates?

Or to take the archetypical example: is there anyone who honestly believes that as mass literacy spread across the United States, local governments would not have built their own libraries?

Private charity crowds out public investment. And does so with all the sense of the Soviet politburo. Why conservatives can’t see that their critiques of planned economies apply with great force to private charity is beyond me.

100

SamChevre 04.28.14 at 10:07 pm

Or to take the archetypical example: is there anyone who honestly believes that as mass literacy spread across the United States, local governments would not have built their own libraries?

Me.

Mass literacy was estimated at 90% in New England in 1800; I’m not aware of any free public libraries prior to Carnegie l;ibraries. (Subscription libraries were fairly common.)

101

Thornton Hall 04.28.14 at 10:30 pm

@SamChevre That’s good to learn. Checking you facts (which were correct) I learned that Carnegie frequently required localities to pledge tax dollars to maintain the library before he would build it.

Which really helps focus on the point I was trying to make. Really, it adds to it. “Philanthropy” in the archetypical Carnegie library example represented a way for one rich man to circumvent the democratic process and transparently purchase the right to determine public spending choices! It’s worse that I thought!

I was wrong to suggest that localities would have made the same choice as Carnegie. What I should have written was: “The rest of the Anglophone world did just fine w/o public libraries, and we would have too if Carnegie hadn’t bought the right to dictate our spending choices!”

102

TM 04.28.14 at 11:01 pm

100: That’s why there are no public libraries in Switzerland – the idea just never occurred to local governments.

103

UserGoogol 04.29.14 at 12:13 am

Trader Joe @ 87:
History tells us half the additional dollars acquired from higher taxation will probably wind up in the defense budget or similar (NSA, CIA etc.). The bunch in Washington don’t seem to possess any special vision about how to allocate the marginal dollar – even when its the party you might prefer, let alone when it isn’t.

I don’t think that’s true, or at least it’s less obviously true than it might seem. History tells us a big chunk of the total revenue is spent on defense spending, but marginal seems a bit different. Precisely because the defense budget is so sacrosanct in politics, it’s relatively insulated from the ups and downs of year to year budgeting: defense budget increases have often been largely deficit funded anyway. Non-defense discretionary spending tends to be far more volatile, since it’s an easy victim when people want to cut budgets. And that stuff tends to be more compatible with left-liberal preferences.

104

UserGoogol 04.29.14 at 12:34 am

…and anyway, a Congress that passes a giant soak the rich proposal would realistically be progressive in other ways, so they would probably at the time allocate the revenue to relatively progressive ends. Over time, spending would probably drift in a more conservative direction, but there’s a certain inertia to that kind of thing.

105

Paul Davis 04.29.14 at 4:17 am

@35, @96: re. etymology of “dispositive” .. think more of “dispose of” than of “dis – positive”. A dispositive rejoinder “disposes” of the claim than having any impact on its positivity.

106

godoggo 04.29.14 at 4:34 am

“And dentistry William Carlos Williams! (Or was it just medicine?)”

Chekhov was a doctor, wasn’t he? Oh, wait, that was McCoy.

107

reason 04.29.14 at 7:58 am

I wonder if elite sponsered art is not necessarily better, it is just that
a. it might be seen to be better because of who is promoting it
b. it survives better (because of who is promoting it)

But anyway, satisfying the aesthetic preferences of a thin elite, doesn’t seem a very good excuse for mass impoverishment.

108

reason 04.29.14 at 8:40 am

Having quickly gone through the comments, I see that my comment @107 just follows what Rory Belmont @72 said already. My apologies.

One thing that did occur to me, that nobody has mentioned, is that today thanks to modern electronic media, we have crowd funding of arts. Doesn’t this count? Is inefficient distribution part of the definition of “fine art”?

109

reason 04.29.14 at 9:06 am

Oops
should be “great art” I see.

110

Shelley 04.29.14 at 3:28 pm

When did life become a Pynchon novel?

111

Chris E 04.29.14 at 3:34 pm

Meanwhile “The Economist” have been summarising each chapter in Pikkety’s book in their normal misleadingly breezy style.

112

Anderson 04.29.14 at 4:05 pm

“The bride studies Greek philosophy in the classics department, and the bridegroom is writing a dissertation on the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.”

Oh yeah … I remember *that* announcement.

113

Harold 04.29.14 at 4:28 pm

@reason, “I wonder if elite sponsered art is not necessarily better, it is just that
a. it might be seen to be better because of who is promoting it
b. it survives better (because of who is promoting it)”

What about B minor mass? This qualifies as “great art” in most people’s books. Musicologist consider it the greatest piece of music ever written. Never publicly performed in Bach’s lifetime, though opening Kyrie section may have been.

wikipedia: “The first public performance of the Symbolum Nicenum section (under the title “Credo or Nicene Creed”) took place 36 years after Bach’s death, in Spring of 1786, led by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach at a benefit concert for the Medical Institute for the Poor in Hamburg”

First complete American performance by Menonites in 1900 in Bethlehem, Pa.

Do the iconoclasts among us want to consign all this to the garbage as “elite” art for a thin audience.

114

Harold 04.29.14 at 4:28 pm

Sorry for typos.

115

Thornton Hall 04.29.14 at 4:51 pm

I think “iconoclasts” have some rather specific views on art, actually.

116

nick s 04.29.14 at 5:13 pm

Oh, gawd, do we really have to teach Professor Cowen about the complex relationship between patronage and professionalism in the modern era? Well, perhaps, given that he is both a recipient of Koch family patronage at Mercatus and a GMU tenured professor, and one can never quite tell which hat he’s wearing. (I’m sure that he considers himself a grand patron of the ethnic culinary arts, too.)

And dentistry William Carlos Williams! (Or was it just medicine?)

Obstetrics, mainly with poorer families in Rutherford, NJ.

117

MPAVictoria 04.29.14 at 5:27 pm

“Do the iconoclasts among us want to consign all this to the garbage as “elite” art for a thin audience.”

Who said it was garbage?

118

Harold 04.29.14 at 5:34 pm

Well, arranging things in hierarchies can be dumb, as in “100 best”, beloved of merchandizers.

119

Slugger 04.29.14 at 5:35 pm

” Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground encumbers him with help? “
Dr. Johnson

120

Lee A. Arnold 04.29.14 at 7:04 pm

I think there are greater and lesser artworks, and I don’t mind being called an elitist about this. And it seems like most of the greatest art, at least since the early modern period, was met with initial antagonism and incomprehension. There were negative reactions to Beethoven’s Eroica, to the impressionist painters, etc.

I wonder how much great art was killed before creation because, although there were possible benefactors, the artists were ahead of the time, thus beyond comprehension. Jarry died penniless and I think it is mostly luck that we can read his Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician. Joyce’s benefactors nearly gave up on him over Finnegans Wake, and it still has a very narrow audience. Yet here are two of the most far-sighted works ever, not only creating new aesthetic effects, but carrying them through with enough intellectual firepower to anticipate current artistic and even philosophical concerns.

It may not be possible to do much about this. People who have looked into the MacArthur “genius” awards system have said (sotto voce) that it is rife with internal politics, and indeed theexterior evidence is that MacArthur has funded some good researchers on the scientific side of the ledger, but on the other hand their judgments on artists are spotty.

On the other hand, if we publicly funded everybody who claimed to be an artist, not only would we have lots more great artists among the whole lot. Then also, half of the economists in the world, instead of needing to claim that they are doing “science”, could just apply for arts funding instead, and thus continue to chain together the silly syllogisms into baroque curlicues, but do so under the correct job classification.

121

Martin Bento 04.29.14 at 7:53 pm

Isn’t Kickstarter funding more art now than any foundation, perhaps than all combined? One argument for concentration of wealth – in the hands of wealthy individuals, private institutions, or governments – is that the wealth becomes coherent. Significant resources can be applied to single problems, making it possible to build pyramids, field armies, support symphonies, decode the genome, etc. Whether it is a better social use of resources to concentrate a lot of them in a symphony (including the needed training) and supporting Beethoven as a professional composer, rather than a lot of folk bands, with untrained musicians playing from memory or improvising (rather than reading) is a complicated question, but the coordination of resources required to make the symphony happen would no longer seem to require either wealthy people and their foundations, nor the government. Middle-class people seem quite willing to be patrons too, now that the Internet makes it practical to coordinate funding through myriad small donations. I’m not saying either government or wealthy support of the arts should be curtailed in response, but the argument that they are indispensable seems considerably weakened.

122

Martin Bento 04.29.14 at 8:00 pm

BTW, this also applies, of course, to commercial enterprises (Kickstarter has discovered this boundary to be quite porous). The possibility of commoner capitalists, in the sense of not just kicking their funds to a 401K (agency problems there having been proven serious), but actually making investment decisions promises to bring to capitalism something it sorely needs: dilatantism. Professional investors are driven purely by the bottom line, but people have been funding commercial ventures on Kickstarter with no promise of a share of the profits, just to support ventures they want to see happen for other reasons. I think they should also share in the profits, so am glad to see the law being modified to accommodate this, but many will not revert purely to this motivation, so enterprises that have appeal beyond profit potential will have a funding advantage.

123

Thornton Hall 04.29.14 at 8:02 pm

@Lee A Arnold 120: “Then also, half of the economists in the world, instead of needing to claim that they are doing “science”, could just apply for arts funding instead, and thus continue to chain together the silly syllogisms into baroque curlicues, but do so under the correct job classification.”

Yes! I must live in an echo chamber, because my Internets have combined. There is a burbuling revolt brewing in the econoblogosphere at this very moment, and here it gets tied in with a discussion of art stimulated by Tyler Cowen. This ties in with my current obsession: if you make an equation true by definition of its elements, how can algebraic manipulation of those elements reveal anything interesting about the world? My obsession is very stupid or very smart, and I had no luck getting a straight answer out of the author of this post

http://conversableeconomist.blogspot.com/2014/03/how-budget-deficits-reduce-investment.html

who was kind enough to reply to my emails.

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roy belmont 04.29.14 at 8:29 pm

Shelley 04.29.14 at 3:28 pm:

“When did life become a Pynchon novel?”

In 1961, 0bviously.
-
Harold 04.29.14 at 4:28 pm:

There’s nothing in patronage that irredeemably taints the art delivered through it. Compromises, but doesn’t condemn.
Bach’s genius is neither ultimately indebted to nor fully separate from the cultural specifics of his moment. It’s that we’ve been trained to see it as inevitably linked. No patronage, no genius. No Church no Titian.
Caraveggio’s secular break-out, in that clamped-down view, is seen as a rebellion, when it looks from here, to me, to be more like a visible reclamation of what was already there, but invisible, because of that behaviorist control.
It is behaviorist control, even if the power that’s wielding it doesn’t define it that way.

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TM 04.29.14 at 8:41 pm

Harold 113: The whole argument is obviously a red herring but nevertheless I’m curious to pursue it a bit. Is there any example from the last century of truly great art that can be said to have come about exclusively through patronage by rich individuals? Perhaps arguments derived from the Renaissance or Baroque simply don’t apply any more.

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GiT 04.29.14 at 8:45 pm

“This ties in with my current obsession: if you make an equation true by definition of its elements, how can algebraic manipulation of those elements reveal anything interesting about the world?”

Well, presumably a numerical proof of the pythagorean theorem is an equation true by definition of its elements, and it tells us something pretty interesting about the world, quite useful when dealing with triangle-like things.

Or, from another tack: If I take ‘if p then q,’ and manipulate it, it turns out ‘if not q then not p.’ I might not have realized that, and that also seems to be a useful and interesting thing to know about the world.

In general, our definitions and identities are not self-transparent, and manipulation of them reveals information of which we were not previously cognizant. Often times that information is used to find interesting things about the world.

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TM 04.29.14 at 8:45 pm

Forgot to mention that the patrons of those times overwhelmingly were governmental institutions. Whether it’s the Pope or the Medici or the elector of Brandenburg, those weren’t just individuals who happened to be rich – they controlled governments and had public funds at their disposal.

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Thornton Hall 04.29.14 at 8:46 pm

@GiT Thanks.

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Martin Bento 04.29.14 at 8:53 pm

Roy, what does it mean to say that Bach’s genius “is not fully separate” from its cultural context, but is not “inevitably linked” either? It is neither separate nor linked? I think I know what you’re getting at, but your phrasing seems confused.

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Harold 04.29.14 at 10:06 pm

Bach was just another court/church composer among many in the numerous small courts and princely municipalities in what is now Germany. That was the necessary condition for his art to flourish. Essentially, Bach was a skilled craftsman. Music was an activity he practiced at work (he was a Latin teacher) and at home, with his family, most of whom were also musicians. He wrote the B minor mass in the hope of getting a job with a Catholic prince, but the job didn’t materialize.

Neither Bach’s patrons/employers nor his audiences understood the value of Bach’s music during his lifetime. His sons, who were musicians did. And so did Felix Mendelssohn’s grandmother, a Jewish woman who nurtured a love of Bach’s music in her children that was passed to Felix Mendelssohn, a composer, who along with Robert Schumann, revived Bach’s music in secular performance.

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TM 04.29.14 at 10:14 pm

What is your point Harold?

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Harold 04.29.14 at 10:43 pm

I got off on this riff in answer to someone who wondered if great art was called “great” chiefly because of the elites who were promoting it. My shorter answer would be no, although I understand that when, as a very young man, Proust witnessed a duke standing in front of his fireplace, sighing “Ah, Balzac,” it reportedly inspired him to wish that some day in the future a duke would also sigh: “Ah, Proust.”

I gave my opinion of the CIA above.

The National Endowment for the Arts, founded (1965) made it less necessary for the CIA to fund art in a clandestine manner, but the gap that the CIA was trying to fill is still with us.

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Harold 04.29.14 at 10:56 pm

And one more thing, Tyler Cowen appears to endorsing government funding of art as long as it is subordinated to military and propagandistic purposes. But as a libertarian he doesn’t support funding the social conditions that make possible the artistic activity out of which a great artist or so might occasionally spring.

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Ed Herdman 04.29.14 at 11:17 pm

The CIA sprung (Venus-like?) from the head of the wartime offices which oversaw a second wave of book burnings in Germany, after the war. Of course a couple very broad points remain interesting here: Firstly, a great deal of good art is done under protest (and with the Internet, today a lot of decent art is done on themes that are considered subversive or even obscene – so people of average means step into the shoes of the wealthy patrons and governments; Martin Bento kind of touched on this theme, but I wanted to reflect on how subversive a lot of ‘net art is). And this is likely to be a long-term pattern for the future.

Secondly, I think most people would imagine that at least some of the clandestine funding of art in unfriendly places has had good effect, and I think also most people would agree that denazification was a good policy. It’s problematic for those who talk of “art for art’s sake” – it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I suppose crediting the CIA is akin to crediting the policy shift after the war as the United States looked eastward.

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Harold 04.30.14 at 12:14 am

Was the CIA really such a great patron? Their motive was not to support artists so much as to embarrass the Soviets.

Dr. Zhivago had already been written when the CIA became involved. It had been written and had been published in an Italian language edition when the CIA underwrote a Russian-language edition and distributed copies through the Vatican booth at the World’s Fair. The Russian translation was needed so that it would be eligible for the Nobel Prize, for which Camus had already proposed it be nominated. I believe the Nobel was awarded to him, officially, for his poetry and “contribution to the Russian epic tradition.”

This was one of the less bad things the CIA did, but I find the idea of the CIA’s partnership with the Vatican rather creepy.

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Harold 04.30.14 at 12:14 am

Oops, correction: Russian “edition”, not “translation”

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Lee A. Arnold 04.30.14 at 6:03 am

Thornton Hall #123: “…if you make an equation true by definition of its elements, how can algebraic manipulation of those elements reveal anything interesting about the world?… I had no luck getting a straight answer out of the author of this post…”

Well to answer the second point first. I too don’t know what point Timothy Taylor was trying to make, because he ought to know very well that: 1. necessary private investment can be blocked for various reasons, such as a “savings glut” causing zero interest rates; 2. the issue should be how EASY it is to repay the debt, and DeLong & Summers just did the math that greater deficits, at this particular moment in time, can increase growth enough to make repayment easier in the future; and 3. government investment is booked as “spending”, which borders on definitional fraud.

Also, Taylor begins by writing, “A identity is a equation that is true because of the way the terms are defined.” Um, no. Actually, ANY equation that is true, IS true because of the way the terms are defined, or because you have plugged in the correct variables.

On the other hand, what Taylor ought to have written is that “savings” = “investment” is called an “accounting identity”. But it may or may NOT be currently true (for example, if people want to hold more money, it is “saved” somewhere, but not invested, because they want to hold onto it). In this sense, an accounting identity can lead us to find out new things about the real world — we have to find out why it is, once we have measured both things, that our definition isn’t holding true.

Note that the Pythagorean theorem is NOT an identity by definition, not an “accounting identity”. In other words, no one knew it whether it was true or not. It was proven to be true, first in geometric constructions by Euclid.

If any equation holds true for a scientific reality, it might lead to further real discovery. This is not the only way to make scientific discoveries of course. A old canonical example is Maxwell’s mathematical theory of electromagnetism, which led Hertz to find radio waves.

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bill benzon 04.30.14 at 9:44 am

@Lee A. Arnold #120: The most astute comment I’ve seen on the MacArthur’s was made by Waldemar Neilsen in 1997, who suggested that their purpose was to generate PR for the foundation. I think that’s right. That program only uses 6% of the foundation’s budget, small enough to call it an overhead expense. I examined the MacArthurs in a series of posts last year, which I wrapped up into a single PDF: The Genius Chronicles: Going Boldly Where None Have Gone.

The obvious suggestion is simple: The majority of their grants go to people with good jobs at elite institutions, mostly tenured academics and good schools. Depending on circumstances those folks may or may not be frustrated in their gigs, but they’re not waiting tables or busking on the streets. They don’t need a MacArthur to do their work. So, simply don’t award any fellowships to tenured academics.

@Harold #133: But, as I point out in #57, Cowen has argued that the social condition of (a certain kind) of poverty breeds art. No funding required.

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UserGoogol 04.30.14 at 10:39 am

Lee A. Arnold @ 137: That’s not what the savings identity means. It means that at any moment in time, the amount of money which is saved is equal to the amount of money which is invested, where invested does not necessarily mean usefully invested. This is because every economic transaction has two people, so if you categorize what it is to the buyer and what it is to the seller, the sum of each category has to add to the same. It does not mean that all money that is saved is then usefully invested, just that at the time some investment happens (where investment might just mean inventories in stores building up) somewhere. In mathematics this is called double-counting, so acting like it’s in a different category from the Pythagorean theorem isn’t really right either. It’s just that one proof is simple and one proof is complicated. The Pythagorean theorem is absolutely true by definition: if you define lines and areas according to the principles of Euclidean geometry, then it’s true. If you don’t, (and of course we should all know reality isn’t entirely Euclidean) then it’s not true. If something is logically true, then what happens when something goes wrong is that the abstract categories don’t line up with reality, or we’re misunderstanding what the abstract categories mean.

Krugman has a short post explaining how the savings identity is totally compatible with “too much savings.”

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Harold 04.30.14 at 2:45 pm

Bill Benzoin@138 Cowen argued that: “The slums of Kingston, Jamaica, bred reggae. New Orleans experienced its greatest cultural blossoming in the early 20th century, when it was full of shanties”. I have alluded to this argument (if you can call it that) at #66. Obviously, the idea that shanty conditions, with all their attendant violence and pathologies, are a necessary condition for art and ought therefore to be encouraged, is perverse and repugnant. The arts of New Orleans and the Caribbean were the result in fact of a great cultural interchange between immemorial African traditions, “high” and “low” and European music, “high” and “low”. It is a fact that “genius” folk artists and musicians usually spring from the more stable and prosperous sectors of their social sectors. New Orleans had long been safer and more prosperous than other Southern US cities because of its large Creole population, which had not been subject (at least before the Civil War) to the same degradation that had been visited on other African Americans in the Southern States. I don’t think we know much about Buddy Bolden, but I don’t think he was a version of Bigger Thomas.

I thought Peter Burke’s “Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe” had some good things to say about the social conditions in which folk art arose, at least in Europe. This and the notion of “protest” art are very complex questions.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.30.14 at 2:58 pm

UserGoogol #139 — I think this is incorrect on both counts. At the time money is saved, some investment does not have to happen somewhere. That is why money that is saved, but not invested, is not called “savings”, it is usually called something like “money holding” or “bank reserves”. It is true that people who save money expect a return on it, so the bank is going to go out of business if it is not invested, but that does it mean that it automatically happens.

The Pythagorean theorem is a very different creature. The algebraic equation of the theorem is a^2 + b^2 = c^2. That is not true by definition; it matters which variables you plug in. If you plug in the lengths of the sides of a right triangle, it works. “Right triangle” is the name of a shape, but its lengths are also not given by definition. You have to measure them. In reality no one trusts measuring rulers to be perfectly accurate, so even measuring them won’t work. The measurements could always be a hair off. Thus, no one knew at the outset that the Pythagorean theorem was true — quite different from the case “savings = investment”. The Pythagorean theorem had to be “proved”, and this was first done by geometric construction. Yes, you COULD maintain that “proof by geometric construction” is an infinite series of accounting identities. That is stretching other definitions, but still. And you could also maintain that after it is proved, we shall say that it is a “definition”. But that process is a long, long way (both logically or operationally) from starting with S = I.

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Thornton Hall 04.30.14 at 3:22 pm

@Lee A Arnold and UserGoogle
I don’t want to highjack the thread, but Tyler Cowen is an economist, so maybe this is germain.
The Pythagorean Theorem is obviously not the right analogy. What the “accounting identity” is doing is what would happen if there was no triangle and somebody simply said, “suppose a squared plus b squared equals c squared” and then used that supposition to make a claim about what changes in a and b do to c. Again, no triangle anywhere.

And I’ve read Krugman’s response (directed at freshwater clowns, not Taylor), but it seems to me that the move of calling it an “accounting identity” simply begs the question. He suggests that the identity is true, but only meaningful if you find the mechanism.

But who came up with the idea that there was a mechanism that works like this, even some of the time? In other words, the Pythagoreans came up with the theorem after considering a lot of triangles. And somebody like Piketty is looking at centuries of triangles.

Krugman (to beat the analogy like Dick Cheney in my dream of a just universe) says, “wait, be careful, there are non-Euclidian geometries where the theorem doesn’t hold.” And I say, “when do we look at the triangles?”

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reason 04.30.14 at 3:55 pm

Harold @113

I must say I really have trouble understanding what your point is. Are you arguing for rich patronage being necessary for great art of against it.

This sentence reveals a lot:

“This qualifies as “great art” in most people’s books.”

Well my guess is that most people have never heard of it (I certainly haven’t before). So while the piece no doubt is great, a great many people would never miss it, which makes me think that even it, probably wouldn’t be worth impoverishing a mass of people for (not that I believe that is in fact necessary).

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reason 04.30.14 at 3:56 pm

oops
Now my typos
…for great art OR against it?

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Harold 04.30.14 at 4:25 pm

A great many people have not heard of a lot of things, Horatio. My point is that great masses of people were not impoverished in creating the necessary condition of a vibrant grass-roots musical tradition that made the bMinor mass and lots of other excellent music possible. I am for generous patronage of the arts (including conservatories of music) on the local level and also for heavy taxation of very rich people, sumptuary laws and the like. Musical education (choral singing and solfège from preschool and the earliest grades on via the Kolály or Color Strings method — not to omit history of music) would be very desirable also, IMO.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.30.14 at 4:34 pm

Thornton Hall #142″ “But who came up with the idea that there was a mechanism that works like this, even some of the time?”

It was a combination mainly from two economists, Turgot and Smith. The story is given in Schumpeter’s very entertaining History of Economic Analysis, pp. 322-7:

“The reader need not strain his imagination unduly in order to realize what a difference it would have made to doctrinal history if the possibility and, in depressive situations, the likelihood of the occurrence of hitches had been pointed out from the first — of hitches that may paralyze the mechanism described by Turgot and cause saving to become a disturber of the economic process, hence possibly a destroyer instead of a creator of industrial apparatus. Not only would such an admission have broken off the spearhead from modern attacks upon the theory, but it would also have made it a more effective analysis within the situations FOR WHICH IT IS QUITE TRUE [italics, in original]. (Schumpeter p. 326)

“If saving is allotted such a part in the drama, the ‘prince’ (that is, public expenditure, hence public debts) cannot be expected to escape the role of the villain, or one of the villains, if the piece. The topic of public debts, though interesting from the standpoint of economic sociology and also from the standpoint of financial technique, is of little moment for us [i.e. in this book], because judgment and advocacy greatly prevailed over analysis. Therefore it will suffice to say that many authors tried hard to discover desired effects that might be attributed to public borrowing. Some indeed went so far as to make them a factor in national prosperity [footnoted to examples]. The opposite tendency prevailed, however–votaries of ideological interpretation are welcome to trace this to the increasing influence of the bourgeois mind… (Schumpeter p. 327)

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Thornton Hall 04.30.14 at 5:32 pm

@146 Awesome. I need an entry point for history/philosophy of econ, maybe Schumpeter? In the meantime, is it fair to say that the foundation of economics in the 21st Century contains a few a priori claims about how the world works?

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roy belmont 04.30.14 at 6:26 pm

Martin Bento 04.29.14 at 8:53 pm

The trope that Bach would have been Bach in any other social context, when what we are is our social context + our heritage + other stuff we haven’t figured out yet.
Genius pulls the consensus, but without the consensus to begin with how can it have any presence?
Genius hermit monk isolate in the wilderness. Who knows anything about his doings but the spirits that surround him?
The point I guess is the not-quite legitimate claiming of patronage for the works of genius by whatever power structure surrounded the working genius at the time.
It’s woven, inextricable, a matrix of causality and chance, one side too far and it’s false, but equally false too far the other way.
Without the English language what’s Beckett? Well he’s still Beckett, writing in French, isn’t he? So English can’t claim to be his primary enabler.
But English shaped him, his rebellion against it shaped him, and without the thing rebelled against what’s rebellion?
Back to Caravaggio, without the centuries of Church bottleneck on all public art he could well have been just another super-proficient draftsman, if we can even posit an existence for him without everything that went into his actual being.
What we aren’t seeing is what art, in the case of Pollack and De Kooning, would have been allowed prominence, if they hadn’t been artificially pimped by our busy friends in the CIA.
And for God’s sake let’s not talk seriously about the use of amphetamines by virtually everybody who was anybody (see Oliver Sacks, somewhere, one of the only honest rememberers of that, in public) back then, and the effect of that on the culture, in everything from art to political decisions.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.30.14 at 7:57 pm

Thornton Hall #147 — I would combine Schumpeter with Mark Blaug’s Economic Theory in Retrospect. They are both sophisticated however, and neither one is a simple linear history. There are many simpler intro texts which can help you get to some faster overview, like Landreth & Colander. Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers is a lovely old pop book.

Philosophy of econ? The progression is usually: philosophy of science –> philosophy of social science –> philosophy of economics.

You may prefer to cut to the heart of the matter with Blaug (again), The Methodology of Economics: Or How Economists Explain (Cambridge, 2nd ed. 1992), and, D. Wade Hands, Reflection Without Rules: Economic Methodology and Contemporary Science Theory (Cambridge, 2001). These do not argue their own points of view, they are both historical surveys that combine the philosophy and methodology of the discipline. Pretty interesting books if you are really into it, with great biblios. If you find anything newer, please let me know!

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Thornton Hall 04.30.14 at 8:09 pm

@Lee A. Arnold I started with this:
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/economics/

I’m now pretty well convinced that the emperor has no clothes. Smith and Hume deserved far better than a methodology developed by John Stuart Mill and “improved” by Milton Friedman!

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J Thomas 04.30.14 at 8:16 pm

“Without the English language what’s Beckett? Well he’s still Beckett, writing in French, isn’t he? So English can’t claim to be his primary enabler.
But English shaped him, his rebellion against it shaped him, and without the thing rebelled against what’s rebellion?”

His rebellion was primarily economic, and I don’t think the English language was important, but it was the English king that had him killed, and the Church that inadequately protected him.

The arts — and pretty much everybody — benefit when there’s a degree of looseness in the system. Harder to do well when you’re being ground between two massive stones.

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Harold 04.30.14 at 11:42 pm

Um, I think we are talking about the Nobel Prize winning 20th c. Irish writer Samuel Beckett who lived in France and wrote in French as well as English.

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J Thomas 05.01.14 at 1:08 am

Yes, sorry, couldn’t resist.

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ralph 05.02.14 at 3:17 am

I believe the majority of the dispute arises due to the failure to assess the survivorship bias in “great” art. (Whatever art might be.) If in fact the wealthy — people, institutions — had not both paid for the creation of but also the preservation of the works of a relative few incredibly talented people, we wouldn’t have them now.

All the potential geniuses who didn’t get that support, or didn’t have the “leisure” time (whether they were inspired by suffering or not) simply are an unknown and invisible loss to us all. Most genius needs time to focus on whatever art is complex enough — in addition to being “good” — that it’s either worth learning to do or to do itself. Wealth is part of that, in public or private patronage of some form, for the arts we are taught are great — but leisure is also critical for arts that are either more ephemeral or “lower” — like guitarists prior to blues greats we already know about. Those guys had some “time” because there was a way to either avoid a “real job” or because there wasn’t one available worth taking, so they sat and practiced and performed….

How many great oral storytellers in the time prior to common education about writing could have kicked Shakespeare’s butt, given the proper education? I bet a few, given that they had to learn, modify, memorize, and extemporize over long evenings. But we’re stuck with that slacker Will, whom some really do like. These are simply examples. We could write a wikipedia full of them once we all thought about it.

It’ll always remain logically true that survivorship bias is at work in this quarrel; but it is unfortunately unpersuasive to those who disagree, because it’s really hard to prove a negative. Sigh.

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ralph 05.02.14 at 3:21 am

and I say “guys” but it’s critical that I expand on that: women, too, and then different races and cultures within those of wealth and education. These are all part of the dark matter genius of the world, a complete loss for us all.

Hence: Cowen-argument, what? WHAT? Bleh.

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Harold 05.02.14 at 4:38 am

Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood. …

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
–Gray, Elegy written in a Country Churchyard

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roy belmont 05.02.14 at 5:20 am

“No. Causality only has validity when you’re talking about the epidermic dimension of destiny. To say that someone who doesn’t cry won’t laugh is absurd.
Deep down, in the central laboratory, there is neither laughter nor tears, neither pain nor joy. I’m speaking, always, about poets. In the end, I suspect, the poet is the man for whom pain isn’t a reality. The English say that poets learn through suffering what they will teach by singing. But the poet will never accept that suffering as real, and the proof is that he metamorphoses it, gives it another purpose. And that is precisely what I mean about that kind of pain you suffer and know isn’t real. It has no power over you because it’s filtered through a prism and transformed into a poem. The poet enjoys himself as he does it…”

Julio Cortázar Final Exam

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