Rational and Irrational Thoughts

Is it Worth Borrowing from China to Fund the Arts?

Hello Folks,

Welcome to our new international guests and my apologies for boring you with yet more on the U.S. election.  I can’t resist updating my earlier post on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), our modest source of government sponsored arts funding now that our election is decided. The NEA has been a loved target and scapegoat for conservatives for decades. The Heritage Foundation claims that “The NEA Will Continue to Fund Pornography” and “The NEA Is Welfare for Cultural Elitists” in their ten good reasons to defund the NEA. Additionally, they point to it as if it were (like the freeloading 47% of Americans) a huge financial burden that, if eliminated, would solve our fiscal problems. (The NEA’s annual budget is actually 0.0000091% of the national debt….Really!)

I am personally indebted to the NEA because, in spite of their committment to pornography and elitism, they saw fit to award me a grant to study with David Murray back in 1986, an opportunity for which I will always be grateful. This modest sum (and I mean modest) helped finance my move to New York, allowing me to hang with David and sit-in with some of his regular bands. Back then his big band and octet performed regularly at Sweet Basil and I would often fill-in at rehearsals for the frequently absent John Purcell.

My point here is to contextualize our priorities here in the US by comparing the annual NEA budget with the total spending by the combined campaigns for the Presidential election…and… the FINAL (estimated) NUMBERS ARE IN!

The projected total spending to “influence” the 2012 election according to OpenSecrets.org is $5.8 billion up from $5.2 billion in 2008. The entire 2012 NEA budget weighs in at a fraction of this sum: 146.2 million down from 155 million in 2011. We see that even under a Democratic PREZ, life isn’t great for the arts, but I think we can safely say that the institution itself will survive. You will remember Governor Romney’s rule of thumb for prioritizing budget items from the first debate: “Is the program so critical, it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? If not I’ll get rid of it.”

So in answer to the Governor’s now moot hypothetical question, Jazzdinosaur’s in-house amateur economist says, “YES, at these prices, it is worth borrowing from China to fund the arts! The US Government’s 5 year borrowing cost is .65%. Since September 2011, annual inflation has been 2%.
. The US Government is earning 1.35% on its investment in jazz, art, and elitist pornography.”

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