Polly on economics

You know this will be good, don\’t you?

A reason to be cheerful: Britain is exceptionally good at some things. With a dead economy, a million young people kicking their heels, exports anaemic and worse cuts to come, hope itself can look hopeless. So what would you do? Analyse what we do best and invest in our talents to the hilt.

Strangely, I actually agree here. So, what is Britain best at? Looks like international financial services to me. In The City we host the largest, finest, most efficient and most profitable part of the entire global financial system.

We\’d better get investing there then.

Of course, this isn\’t what Polly means: she means luvvies.

Matilda opens on Broadway, winning Tony awards after years of preparation, and War Horse plays around the world earning millions, but none of that happens without risk, daring and investment in trial and error, in the regions and at the National. Sellout triumphs don\’t come to order, ready-made.

How excellent. So they can pay for the experimentation themselves, out of the profits they make on the hits then. This is how the pharmaceutical business works. It\’s how venture capital works.

Hmm, what\’s that? You mean that state part doesn\’t actually get the full profits of the hits? Those get siphoned off by the producers, writers, directors and so on? Vast fortunes are made by hte luvvies when these state shows do transfer and the state gets a pittance?

Don\’t we call that privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses?

This week\’s opening of Birminham\’s magnificent library reminds how public culture cheers in a depression – but Westminster and Somerset have cut all arts.

Tim Almond has sent in this comment: Birmingham\’s library. £188m apparantly. You could give everyone in Birmingham 3 Kindles for that.

And then we get this corker:

A generation of children risk having little experience of art, music and drama. Yet those are what people often remember most, pleasures lasting for life: 10 million people are involved in voluntary arts groups and amateur dramatics. Yet community arts are disappearing from university courses.

If we\’ve a fifth of the adult population doing all this arts creativity stuff just for fun then I don\’t think we need to worry about it dying out, do we?

44 comments on “Polly on economics

  1. I love the fact that Polly T calls for tax relief for the Arts industry.

    Any other industry taking advantage of legitimate tax relief however gets criticised by her for engaging in tax avoidance.

  2. Polly doesn’t perhaps realise that her argument also demands public subsidy for football supporters and players.

  3. “In sport, state investment paid off in medals.”

    Sure, spend £12bn and win 60 gold medals.

    I’m sure if we gave Glaxo £12bn they could invent a marginally better version of aspirin.

    The point is not that investment produces results but whether that investment is cost effective and whether that investment couldn’t have been better supplied by the private sector.

  4. “This is a plunge back into the arts freezer of the 80s and 90s.”

    I remember the dead wasteland of the 80s & 90 – no culture, no arts, just staring at a blank wall every evening..

  5. Matilda is of course based on Roald Dahl’s book, see also Charlie and the Chocolate factory. The Harry Potter films? A series of novels. The various Merchant Ivory films? E M Forster.

    Yet few suggest the subsidising of British novelists. Not an original idea, but I can’t remember where I read it.

  6. Surely we have a desperate unmet need for people with BAs, or possibly even BScs in “community arts” to run around with clipboards telling the little people what arts to do in which community?

  7. JuliaM,

    The whole thing with books is that production costs fell. Go right back to say, the early 80s when you got phototypesetting: books get cheaper because you don’t have people setting up metal blocks. Then bookshops get more computerised, so stock management improves. Then online retailing, the end of the Net Book Agreement.

    eBooks haven’t actually had that much effect, except in a few areas like small run printing and for out-of-copyright/free books.

    At the same time, libraries haven’t actually changed much since the early 80s. They’re still as labour intensive as they were back then.

    As Timmy has said and bears repeating: the left are deeply conservative now. They want to preserve places and things that should be mostly being wound down like libraries and The Olympics. Most towns would be best served with a single central library and not much else. Give the local people the money spent back in their pockets.

  8. What’s most striking is that she is simultaneously bigging the arts up as “bona fide, proper industry, real jobs, big money” … and then wanting tax breaks for it.

    If her argument was “arts are not a form of business, they are part of culture” and therefore argued for tax exemptions on that points of view it would be fine. If her argument was “arts are an industry at which we have substantial comparative advantage, therefore should receive tax breaks to encourage their further development” that would not be many people’s cup of tea but at least economically it would be self-consistent: if she was well-known for her calls for tax cuts for corporate lawyers and extra subsidies for the financial industry.

  9. Be very suprised at 10 million involved in voluntary art groups and amateur dramatics. The few people I know in such groups are in several each and are definately a minority group. Maybe she’s adding up all the people involved in all the groups, adding in those who visit museums and art galleries and adding on ticket sales at theatres? Rather different from those involved in volutary arts and amateur dramatics groups by a long way.

  10. @Tim Almond

    >The whole thing with books is that production costs fell… eBooks haven’t actually had that much effect, except in a few areas like small run printing and for out-of-copyright/free books

    Eh? Come again? Some of the costs publishers have to bear with books that they don’t have to bear with eBooks:

    - full jacket design (no need for a spine or a back jacket with eBooks)

    - typesetting (basically straight in from Word with eBooks)

    - printing (even large run paperbacks cost something like 30p per copy to print)

    - sales and distribution share (OK, the platforms charge a very small fee, but the bookshops and distributors take 50 per cent or more)

  11. If we’ve a fifth of the adult population doing all this arts creativity stuff just for fun then I don’t think we need to worry about it dying out, do we?

    In the Proggie mind, nothing exists unless the government is involved.

  12. Polly might also be a bit more consistent on the tax front if she made mention of teh many successful UK artists who reside in LA or New York or Europe and so don’t pay UK taxes on any of their millions (earned through early investment in them by the state).

    At least the tax payer didn’t subsidise sporting tax exiles like Lewis Hamilton in their karting days.

    But David Hockney or any number of Hollywood stars all got “free” places at Art School or RADA.

  13. Interested,

    From a customer perspective, I saw a great fall in prices when books went online, but a smaller fall from online to ebooks (and in some cases, actually went up).

    The exception is technical books, where I’m getting them for around 1/3rd off for the ebook edition.

  14. MBE,

    The argument is vaguely about “incubation”. That you create the new artists and new art forms from subsidy.

    The problem is that it’s bollocks. Kraftwerk never got a grant. Pixar never got a grant. Hitchcock never got a grant. Ike Turner never got a grant.

    The results of 75 years of communist art funding was the Battleship Potemkin and almost nothing else of worth.

  15. Shinsei>

    I know Hamilton lives in Monaco, like most F1 drivers, but doesn’t he actually end up paying fairly significant amounts of tax here thanks to the time spent training and racing in the UK? Or is F1 exempt from that?

    In the absence of an exemption, I’d guess Hamilton is paying at least a million quid a year in UK income taxes – quite a bit for a tax exile, in my book, although obviously a lot less than if he was fully resident here for tax purposes.

  16. Tax poor people to give money to rich actors and film directors. Brilliant, a massive vote winner I think.

  17. The results of 75 years of communist art funding was the Battleship Potemkin and almost nothing else of worth.

    That’s a bit unfair. White Sun of the Desert – after which my own blog is named – is a pretty decent film. And there were a whole load of comedies made during the Soviet times which are still very popular with Russians today, which contain particular genius in that they had to make jokes subtle enough to pass the Soviet censors. Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom! is a fine example of this, and a classic film. A lot of the Soviet kids cartoons were good as well, again containing subtle criticism of the USSR.

  18. The biggest saving with ebooks is warehousing, but that doesn’t affect new releases. It’s the long tail where prices have come down a lot.

  19. Hmm, what’s that? You mean that state part doesn’t actually get the full profits of the hits? Those get siphoned off by the producers, writers, directors and so on? Vast fortunes are made by the luvvies when these state shows do transfer and the state gets a pittance? Don’t we call that privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses?

    No we don’t call it that, because it’s not true. For example. The National Theatre “owns” the current production of War Horse. So when it’s staged in the West End, or on Broadway, or wherever, the National Theatre gets a very nice slice of those revenues, thank you very much, without any further investment.

    As a result of these sorts of deals the National Theatre has, over the years, massively reduced its dependence on state subsidy. Good for them, say I.

  20. Tim Newman,

    I was thinking of either films that have gained critical or cult status, or changed how cinema looked, and maybe I’m missing some, but Soviet cinema doesn’t have many successful exports.

    And it’s not unique. French cinema has never recovered from state intervention.

  21. Tim Almond>

    How much Russian culture of any kind crosses-over, though? Apart from books like War and Peace that no-one actually reads, and a smattering of early 20th century classical music, Russia might as well be a cultural wasteland as far as the rest of the world is concerned. It’s easier to name famous Belgian cultural works than famous Russian ones (although admittedly the average is rather skewed by Tintin).

  22. I was thinking of either films that have gained critical or cult status, or changed how cinema looked, and maybe I’m missing some, but Soviet cinema doesn’t have many successful exports.

    I think that might partly have to do with language more than poor quality of product; and also partly to do with Russia having a unique culture which generally doesn’t export well. By that, I mean stuff which Russians like isn’t much enjoyed by foreigners, and this includes food, music, and a horrendous dress sense. But it’s 80s rock music was on a par with a lot of British or American stuff, at least in my opinion.

    As Dave says, nobody cares much for Russian culture abroad, but that might be a sign of its strength at home: they don’t care about exports, they produce for a domestic audience (Bollywood takes much the same approach). And the Soviet films are very much popular nowadays, even taking into account the nostalgia effect.

    In fact, I’d even say the Soviet films were better than the free-market Russian films of the modern era (which are generally bloody awful). In limiting what they could say, the Soviets unwittingly tapped the genius of their films’ producers who strove to say it anyway, in a manner which would not catch the attention of the censors.

    This isn’t an argument in favour of subsidising films anywhere, by the way.

  23. Tim N’s dead on with the Russian music scene. Thanx to the wonders of download sites like Pirate Bay I’ve been getting quite an education in Russian music, the last couple years. Some excellent jazz & blues & the mentioned rock. For some reason, they do reggae remarkably well. It’s the fusion of Caribbean & Russian rhythm patterns. And like he says, it’s not all since the soviet collapse. Lot of it dates from the 80s & well before.

  24. TimN,

    That’s an interesting point. Perhaps the Russian and Indian markets are so big that unlike say, Korea or the UK, it can make movies for a homegrown market rather than having to think about exports.

  25. Dave – “Apart from books like War and Peace that no-one actually reads, and a smattering of early 20th century classical music, Russia might as well be a cultural wasteland as far as the rest of the world is concerned.”

    A smattering? A smattering? My God. How can you say such things? Anyone who does not read all of Tolstoy’s earlier work, Turgenev, Lermontov, and Dostoyevsky is cheating themselves.

    What you miss is the true tragedy of the Russian Revolution – Tsarist Russia was a cultural powerhouse. Not just in literature and music, but in the arts and increasingly in the sciences, hard and soft, as well. Much overlooked I admit, but the 19th century was a great time for Russian culture. All put paid to by Lenin and his pals. Bulgakov being perhaps the only great heir to a now lost tradition.

    bloke in spain – “Tim N-s dead on with the Russian music scene. ”

    Well I did like the fake-lipstick-lesbians of Tatu I have to admit. I wonder why fake lesbians are so attractive and real ones so off putting? No doubt it is sexist even to ask.

  26. Perhaps the Russian and Indian markets are so big that unlike say, Korea or the UK, it can make movies for a homegrown market rather than having to think about exports.

    Most likely so. One thing I will say about the Russian music and television scene, it is certainly a “scene” in its own right: aside from some reality TV, it borrows very little from outside, preferring it’s own styles which appeal to the Russian audiences. I can’t think of a single Russian pop artist (aside from Tatu) who has sung a song in English, for example. They seem quite uninterested in appealing to anyone but their own market.

  27. Tim N’s dead on with the Russian music scene.

    Be sure to check out DDT, Kino, and Mashina Vremeni. Nautilus Pompilius did some good stuff too.

  28. The Master and Margarita is one of the greatest novels of all time. One of the “advantages” of brutal, despotic regimes is they spawn great allegorical and satirical literature as well as other art forms with the same qualities.

  29. Emil: You’re right, revenues don’t equal profits. That’s why I didn’t use the word. The way it works is that the National Theatre receives a handsome slice of revenues – that is, a percentage share of gross box office receipts – from the Broadway staging of War Horse regardless of whether that production is profitable or not.

  30. As for the domestic success of the indigenous Korean and Indian film industries, the explanations are straightforward.

    The Korean Government operates a quota system which requires cinemas to screen a high proportion of Korean films. So a lot get made, a lot of people go to see them (they have no choice), and many of them are rather good. But let’s be clear that the current condition of the Korean film industry is a direct result of significant state intervention in the marketplace. I leave it to others to judge whether this situation supports TW’s view or La Toynbee’s.

    As for India, Bollywood originally came about because the continent was relatively late in introducing a modern system of television broadcasting. This was partly because of a widespread lack of domestic electricity supply – without electricity you can’t watch television, regardless of the popularity of the programming. But it was easy to rig up a screen in a village square and show a film, and given the demands of a largely uneducated mass audience it’s easy to understand how and why Bollywood developed in the way it did.

    Obviously the situation there has been changing, but at the moment television is still largely confined to the cities – the Indian countryside still lacks a comprehensive electricity supply, there are all sorts of technical and cost problems in broadcasting to very large areas, and Bollywood is still powered by a significant momentum. My own view is that in time these problems will be overcome, television will take over as the primary supplier of mass entertainment (unless it’s overtaken by internet access), and that the Indian film industry in its present form is set for a steady decline.

  31. So a lot get made, a lot of people go to see them (they have no choice), and many of them are rather good.

    I’ve found there to be a lot of Korean films which I thought to be excellent.

  32. Churm Rincewind – “As for the domestic success of the indigenous Korean and Indian film industries, the explanations are straightforward.”

    Korean Arts in general are huge across Asian. Especially TV series and music. The Korean government is not reserving much for them. In fact since the collapse of military dictatorship, it has been easier for Koreans to be exposed to art from elsewhere – it is no longer a crime to possess a book written in Japanese for instance.

    Indian films and to a lesser extent TV series are also huge across the whole (Third) world. They do not do well in the West, but they are all over the rest of Asia. That is, I think, because Western films are, what is the right word? Utterly morally degenerate? Seems about right. Most of the Third World wants films that do not show drug use, do not glorify anal sex and frivolous divorce, respect fathers and husbands and are not bitterly cynical about love. So there is a market for Indian films.

    Although that hardly explains Oldboy.

  33. To be honest I thought we already were funding the next generation of artists through the benefits system. I suspect one of the main reasons the UK has had a vibrant music scene from the 60s onwards was because the future stars could spend time sharpening their talents while they do their dead end gigs and build a following and not have to worry about where the next meal or a creativity building bit of weed was coming from.

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