Why Federal Arts Subsidies?

Reading Isaac Butler’s defense of subsidies for arts and culture I have two main reactions. One is that I want off the Drum/Chait list of philistines. All I said about this is that the big federal arts subsidy is the indirect subsidy provided through the tax code. I think decentralized subsidization of aesthetic endeavors makes a lot of sense, I was just observing that perennial complaining about the NEA is kind of a sideshow.

In terms of direct subsidies, however, this is a relatively rare case where I think “federalism” is a non-BS issue. It seems to me that a city might want to spend money on an art museum for roughly the same reason it might want to spend money on a park — these things improve quality of life. But I think you’d like to see as much Tiebout competition as possible around this sort of thing. Expending resources on aesthetic matters, whether they’re arts or trees or what have you, is a perfectly defensible course of action but it’s basically a kind of local or community benefit.