In 2014, if the House of Representatives Budget Committee has its way, both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts would see 49 per cent cuts. The House budget committee’s idea that funding the arts and humanities is a wealth transfer from the poor to the rich is counter-intuitive. It is also dumb.
1. As we have seen in numerous news reports, the top earners in the US pay the lion’s share in actual income taxes collected and many at the lower end pay no income taxes at all. Rather than quibble over stats, let’s accept the general notion of “the rich kick in a lot; the poor, not so much.”
2. The rich already have greater access to the arts and humanities through Ivy League educations, university libraries, museum and symphony memberships, and so on. The poor are seeking access to grocery stores before they go looking for museums.
3. Jefferson’s notion of an electorate included that it should be composed of educated and informed persons. If you read his writings closely, he was not really for universal free education but he did want those who participate in society’s to be well-informed.
4. We have added persons to the rolls of the electorate (former slaves, women, 18-year-olds) so now we have a social obligation to make them as well-informed as the existing participants.
5. Therefore, public support for the arts and humanities is actually a wealth AND knowledge transfer from the rich to the poor. It takes tax contributions from those who have wealth and makes it possible for those who lack wealth to see art, hear music, read books, and listen to new viewpoints that were not previously available to them.
It is not necessarily a matter of noblesse oblige, but if the people at the top of the food chain wish to live in a civil society, it would behoove them to make available the sources of humanizing influence broadly available to the masses at low to no cost. We can never say for sure but would the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident or the Ariel Castro depravities have occurred if the parties involved had all been socialized via the arts and humanities. However, I like to think that if people’s souls are uplifted, then they may be less likely to be dragged down by baser instincts.