54 comments on “Timmy elsewhere

  1. We should flog off $100 million paintings and invest the money…. to what end? To pay for more bureaucrats, or to give able bodied but lazy people more money, or to piss up the wall on more NHS IT systems?

    No, we have more than enough money, it’s how the government spends it that’s the problem. Giving them more will only mask their incompetence and venality.

    My kids have been fairly regular visitors to the National Gallery etc and have got an awful lot out of it; the fact that others choose not to visit is their affair.

    I don’t visit the Cairngorms, or the Serpentine – should we flog those off, too? I’m sure the Chinese would be interested.

  2. Two things. Actually, three.

    Flog off all the art and the same thing happens as did to a certain Rt. Hon. G. Brown with the gold.

    The state isn’t capable of making sound investments with the money raised. It would mostly be wasted.

    How much of the stuff in the galleries actually belongs to the state? As opposed to private trusts, or persons, who have lent the stuff for exhibition because there isn’t enough wall-space on the yacht to show everything at once?

  3. Yes, no point as the money would be pissed away and wasted. At least we have something tangible at present.

  4. BiG raises an interesting point about who things belong to. Makes me think of market places
    Almost every town & village in the UK had a central market place. Councils sold off most of them for development. But who’s were they? France works on a commune system so the democracy is very local. And they’ve kept their market places & weekly markets.. UK admin areas are much larger. A village loses its market so a town can have a bigger council office block?.

  5. > We should therefore sell off all such art and close down the museums.

    You’ve got yourself confused. “sell off all such art” only applies to the vastly expensive paintings; museums are full of much other less valuable stuff. If you flogged off only the stuff worth more than ten million, you’d still have a huge amount left. So the “and close down the museums” part doesn’t follow, even if you initial idea is correct.

    > Flog off all the art and the same thing happens as did to a certain Rt. Hon. G. Brown with the gold. The state isn’t capable of making sound investments with the money raise.

    Well, that’s one point. Another is that if you started flooding the market with very valuable paintings, the price would likely decline. I’m assuming the amount of art in public museums is a substantial fraction of oligarch demand.

  6. @WC No – plenty of people would like to buy paintings for £100,000, or £1,000, or £100.

  7. I’m sure they would. But Timmy’s calculation of the cost-per-view falls dramatically for such. Its no longer clear that they aren’t worth hanging in public.

  8. You can go and buy a Miyazaki or Kubrick movie for a tenner and get art. Decades ago we created technologies that made pictures on walls that you had to go and see redundant, but for some bizarre reason we’re still propping this up, including making new art that is shit that suits a gallery. You can either see more advanced art (like movies) or get your own print. The cost of a print is now cheaper than the cost of a train fare to go and see one in a gallery (as well as all the costs to the state).

    Galleries, like theatre are mostly kept alive by the social status that you gain from visiting them. Saying that you watched Captain America gains you far less kudos in certain circles than saying you saw a Pinter play, even though the latter is shit.

    If people want to play those games, fine. But I don’t see why we take money from cabbies and binmen to pay for it.

  9. The elephant in the room is all the prime land occupied by artistic institutions. Try flogging the National Gallery and relocating all the works to a warehouse on an industrial estate in Croydon, and we’ll see how much people really value art.

  10. The Stigler raises an important point here.
    What exactly is art? Much of what’s in museums are lifelike depictions done by artists with paint on canvass. We can do that with a camera. “Oh but there’s also the artist’s input. That’s how the artist chose to see them.” But you can use software processing to render an image closer to an accepted value of attractiveness, or ugliness, or sinisterness or innocence or any other value you wish. Or let software choose the values. Thanx to 3D printing, the medium used could be anything. Oil paints, gouache, gravy.
    Gets complicated, doesn’t it?

  11. @Willy – No, again. The big draw is the big paintings. Once they have gone, almost no-one will be bothered to see minor works by obscure artists.

    So if you flog off the big ones (which I wouldn’t) there’s even more reason to flog off the small ones and find an alternative use for the real estate – finding an alternative use for the real estate being an important part of the whole deal.

    You dummy.

  12. @BiS, It’s distressing to see councils deliberately destroying their markets. I have Bolton in mind, where a fabulous market, which enabled the motivated poor of the North West to eat fantastically and cheaply, has been gutted by the raising of rents to established tenants and favouring handlers of cheap pans and hardware, which now occupy about a third of the food market area. The destruction of what was one of the best “downmarket” markets in the country is well underway.

    On art, much of the demand that keeps jobbing artists in their freezing garrets is from middle class people with a bit of money left over who want something “original” and “unique” to stick on the wall or mantelpiece. This largely explains the rise of Modern Art. A few thick daubs on a canvas looks immeasurably cooler on your living room wall than a framed print, and is affordable, whereas a painstakingly detailed Canaletto would take too much artist-time to be affordable to that market. This stuff does not belong in galleries, it belongs on peoples’ walls and in skips once they die.

    Demolishing the National Gallery and putting an office block in its place would make London a less attractive place. And still, you’ve sold the plot so the government can piss the money away, rather than keeping a hugely desirable building as collateral, which is actually huge incentive not to ever get shamed into having to sell it.

    I’m not a fan of publicly subsidising stuff that can be done differently, but a city like London, which ISTM is morphing into the capital of the world, is going to need cultural institutions of outstanding, global importance to maintain that kind of status, however they are funded.

    @WC, the point I made is that if you sell off stuff this way you are defining the bottom of the market. The stuff is probably worth more on the walls (collateral) than sold off.

  13. @Stigler

    We could probably knock down old buildings, sell off the stone and recreate them out of plywood or plastic, too.

    There is something to be gained from seeing art created by brilliant men in trying times.

    How do you know that some of the people who are going to look at the paintings are not cabbies and binmen?

    (I would be more than happy to remove state subsidies and make art galleries pay-entry, mind you.)

  14. Interested,

    There is something to be gained from seeing art created by brilliant men in trying times.

    How do you know that some of the people who are going to look at the paintings are not cabbies and binmen?

    Some of them are cabbies and binmen. But 67% of people who attend a museum or art gallery at least once in a 12 month period are in the ABC1 demographic groups, with the AB category making up 40% of attendances.

    I’m not saying that poorer people don’t appreciate art. They just don’t have the same social rules about what things you should participate in as rich people.

  15. @The Stigler
    Reckon I’m firmly in the not-rich couldn’t give a f**k about Art (capitalised) demographic.
    But it’s interesting to relate this thread with a discussion about public statuary, merits of, at a different place.
    My contention would be another wgaf? Few people ever look at it more than twice, unless they’re foreigners. It just becomes another obstacle to steer around. One rarely sees more than the knees.
    Like most of these things, they’re largely the preserve of that AB group, who have very loud voices.

  16. Tim, your economics calculation (ASI) doesn’t start to factor in a whole myriad of other factors – for example, such as London’s attractiveness to tourists and potential employees, its world status (as a capital city), and hence the impact such infrastructure has on aspects such as these, etc..

  17. I personally would find a different question more pertinent in assessing this:

    “Are we richer from having something, or poorer”?

    Unless you define “rich” in a very narrow (money in the bank today and that’s it) sense, I would have very little doubt that UK plc (and London in particular) is richer from having its museums and art.

  18. PF,

    “Unless you define “rich” in a very narrow (money in the bank today and that’s it) sense, I would have very little doubt that UK plc (and London in particular) is richer from having its museums and art.”

    OK, what’s the benefit of having an original Turner on a wall in London over a copy that was painted by a restorer that 99.9% of the public couldn’t distinguish from the original?

  19. @Stigler

    OK, what’s the benefit of having an original Turner on a wall in London over a copy that was painted by a restorer that 99.9% of the public couldn’t distinguish from the original?

    It’s a perfectly fair question – but I was simply contesting the economics of Tim’s “flog them and shut it down” policy.

    Actually, for what it’s worth, I actually think there is a real value in having originals. Consider the tourist brochure:

    “London’s museums contain some amazing art”, vs

    “London’s museums contain lots of photocopies”.

    I accept that a copy done by a restorer is not a photocopy, and that many originals are in any case restored, but you get the gist.

  20. @PF
    Have you ever stopped to wonder what Londoners, it being their city, get out of tourism?
    Being one of that rapidly decreasing & increasingly far flung tribe, I’d say not a lot. Yes there’s an inflow of money. Which largely goes to the influx of foreigners who’ve come to London to benefit from the tourist trade. Cabbies do well but the Tubes packed with backpackers. Nigh on impossible to find an affordable restaurant anywhere near the center. Most of the “attractions” require half a day’s queuing. Property prices soar, lofted by ianB’s money cannons. And no, high property prices are not a benefit any more than expensive bread would be.
    Most of us wish the tourists would bugger off & let us get on with our lives in peace. Or do what i have & escape.

  21. BIS,
    “Most of us wish the tourists would bugger off…”

    Us, Bloke in Spain? Who do you mean “us”? (Clue’s in the name.)

    On a more serious note, what do small state libertarian types do about the fact that much of the art and galleries was given on condition or at least understanding that it would be publicly displayed? Wouldn’t selling being state interference with private property? Similarly with compulsory purchase.

  22. BiS,
    High property prices are a benefit to the exchequer, and thus to other taxpayers, in that they lead to higher business rates. If we had decent property taxation (such as LVT) then we’d gain even more.
    In a parallel world where local authorities get to keep business rate revenues, we’d be clamouring for a decent art gallery to bring in tourists and boost local property values, thus leading to lower council tax bills for the rest of us.

  23. ” what do small state libertarian types do about the fact that much of the art and galleries was given on condition or at least understanding that it would be publicly displayed?”
    I really like this collection of old car tyres I’ve got in the garden, so I’m giving it to you to maintain & look after in perpetuity.
    Still like?

  24. @BIS

    Being one of that rapidly decreasing & increasingly far flung tribe

    In my case, not “far flung”..:)

    Actually, whilst I hear what you say, London has a vibe to it which I would suggest is at the core of its appeal, both nationally and internationally.

    Generally, that means more activity, trade, business and tax.

    Yep, not always so good for those of us commuting, I agree, but then there is always the “get the hell out” option as you say..!!

    I have heard London described as “for those who have not yet tired of life”. At some stage, I have no doubt I shall tire…

  25. @BIS

    I really like this collection of old car tyres I’ve got in the garden, so I’m giving it to you to maintain & look after in perpetuity.

    I don’t have to say yes!

  26. ‘I really like this collection of old car tyres I’ve got in the garden, so I’m giving it to you to maintain & look after in perpetuity.’

    I can only assume you are on the piss today.

  27. BIS, most museums spend their time rejecting tat (apart from Maidstone City Museum, which probably would collect your tyres.)

    I’m not trolling. Let’s assume with Tim that, whatever the original merits of the bequest, the sale value far outweighs the public benefit of viewing. Is the state entitled to override the wishes of the testators/donors? I’d say probably yes, but then I’m the totalitarian communist round here.

  28. Have I missed something, or is Tim ignoring the consumer surplus here? I don’t have enough money to be willing to pay what it’s worth to me for the privilege of looking at great art in person, so I’m very happy that it’s available for free.

  29. Like,

    “On a more serious note, what do small state libertarian types do about the fact that much of the art and galleries was given on condition or at least understanding that it would be publicly displayed? Wouldn’t selling being state interference with private property? Similarly with compulsory purchase.”

    Is the owner alive? In which case, give it back to them. If they’re dead, sell it and see what action they take.

  30. Dave,

    “Have I missed something, or is Tim ignoring the consumer surplus here? I don’t have enough money to be willing to pay what it’s worth to me for the privilege of looking at great art in person, so I’m very happy that it’s available for free.”

    But we also have to consider Bastiat – what else could we do with that money?

    And it’s not free. Even if you exclude the value of the art and the buildings housing them, it also costs rather a lot of money to keep art in good condition, maintain buildings and so forth.

  31. Or, if they’re dead, go look for their heirs to give them their tyres (minus death taxes) back?

  32. @Stigler

    ‘Is the owner alive? In which case, give it back to them. If they’re dead, sell it and see what action they take.’

    What effect would this have on future bequests by other benefactors, though?

    Not that governments are not short termists, of course!

  33. Stigler, glad to see you agree that property rights are bestowed by the state, so can be taken away by the state.

  34. “Unless you define “rich” in a very narrow (money in the bank today and that’s it) sense, I would have very little doubt that UK plc (and London in particular) is richer from having its museums and art.”

    Apropos of nothing, its odd how in discussions like this the concept of working out the value of something like art in terms of hard cash is derided as being vulgar and not measuring the intangible impact it has on people, whereas when we are considering the impact immigration has on an indigenous population (for example) its all hard cash calculations, and the value of intangibles can go hang.

  35. Like said: “Wouldn’t selling being state interference with private property? Similarly with compulsory purchase.”

    You could sell what was given without condition or bought with taxpayer money and return everything else. Getting the state out of art and displaying art wouldn’t be an attempt at raising money but at making the state retreat.

  36. I’d have thought the state could turn a tidy profit on art. Buy new works for a song from up-and-coming artists, promote them through the state-owned BBC, then once the value of the artwork has risen, sell it to the highest bidder. Rinse and repeat.

    It’s similar to Radio 1’s promotion of new music; only in this case the state takes a cut of the profits.

    Obviously it’s a long way from the state’s core responsibilities; but it would be a good way of sweating our nation’s assets.

  37. I think I’m with Jim on this.

    Let’s say Tim’s calculation needs refining: the opportunity cost (the discount he decribes) is added to the cost of maintenance and security. Then we take the tangible income benefits from it. Assuming that leaves us with a net cost, we invite all those who consider it makes us “richer” in an externality “you know the price of everything and value of nothing Tim, you neoliberal moron” sort of way to form a trust and they can cover that cost together, leaving the rest of the taxpaying public out of it. Or we could just charge on the door. That way our nation’s art lovers can show us the true value of the art, the value I and the other morons just can’t appreciate.

  38. Jim, good point. But when you consider the intangible/hard to calculate effects of immigration, are you assuming these are positive, negative, or saying you don’t know whether they are positive or negative?

  39. In a genuine free market who knows if galleries would survive or even thrive on the proceeds of showing art. There are so many factors–the vastly greater and ever-growing wealth of a free society, private, non-shite schools, the fact that people would have to fend for themselves and live useful and productive lives instead of being on the tit and watching soap poison(–thus their brains might be more alive), the absence of thieving taxes and without the need to beg political and bureaucratic filth for the right to breathe, lower costs thro the end of said taxation, regulation. inflation etc. It is not clear–but if the galleries did keep going it would be on their own resources–not on stolen money.

  40. There is a gorgeous irony in this very expensive gov’t spending being defended on the basis that, if released to be spent elsewhere, the money would only be “pissed up against the wall”.

    It’s just a bit of a cliche on this blog isn’t it: gov’t pissing it up against a wall. Yet gov’t money spent on things that I like, ME. ME; well that is manifestly well spent.

  41. It’s funny, gov’t spending is always “pissing it up against a wall” until it’s spending on something I like, ME ME. Then it’s manifestly a good thing.

  42. @Ironman

    I don’t think that’s true.

    I think some government spending is definitely, objectively, waste. NHS IT systems that could never have worked, for instance.

    I think some government spending is definitely, objectively, not waste. A defensive Army, for instance.

    I think some government spending falls into arguable grey areas. Art galleries are one of those (though that is, of course, arguable!).

  43. @Luke: I don’t know. There are obviously intangible benefits to immigration and intangible detrimental ones too. But the argument over whether ‘immigration is good for the country’ only ever seems to boil down to whether immigrants produce more economic resources than they consume, a pure cash calculation. My guess is that the positives intangibles are more long term (the creation of a UK curry culture for example) whereas the negative intangibles are more immediate (the primary school that has umpteen different nationalities with English as a foreign language for example)

  44. Interested, agreed

    My point is the arguable is presented too often – yes, on this blog too – as unarguable.

  45. @Jim ‘@Luke: I don’t know. There are obviously intangible benefits to immigration and intangible detrimental ones too. But the argument over whether ‘immigration is good for the country’ only ever seems to boil down to whether immigrants produce more economic resources than they consume, a pure cash calculation.’

    Jim, I can’t agree with this. The benefits to the country are often described to include cuisine, music, art, literature, some unspecified ‘vibrancy’, and so on.

    (Some of which I agree with, personally, being not against immigration on the basis that we have one life, and we should live it freely; I just place the law of the land above everything else, and I don’t think immigration works in a semi-socialised state. But I digress.)

    I think the financial aspect is often quite a way down the scale.

    Incidentally, I’ve been watching Stewart Lee’s BBC comedy show (very funny, it’s on iPlayer) and he’s amusing, if cuntish, about immigration and ‘the UKIPs’.

    He presents the whole issue in terms of culture, but then he’s not likely to have his BBC show dropped in favour of a sarcastic Romanian wordsmith. Whereas… well, try performing the same material in front of an audience of English ex-fruit pickers in Norfolk, or English plumbers in, say, Coventry.

    Still funny though, as I say.

  46. Jim – “its all hard cash calculations, and the value of intangibles can go hang.”

    Intangibles have value. If we can evaluate it fully, we can turn all of that “intangible” into hard cash flows.

    Ironman – “Value of nothing / price of everything” is really just a euphemism for “we haven’t properly considered all of the cashflows”.

    they can “form a trust and cover that cost together”.

    (Apols for responding less eloquently than Jim / Interested and others but) – Great, can we do that do with everything else as well. I’m not interested in public finances covering education, health, social services and all that – therefore can MY taxes exclude all that.

    oh, and galleries too, because whatever I have said above, not that interested in those either; it’s just what adds to making a place what it is (and therefore hard cash), unless it doesn’t of course, in which case the argument is different?

    I think what I am (long windedly!) trying to say is that just because it can be very difficult to quantify intangibles doesn’t mean we ignore them from the calculations / assessment.

  47. PF

    “I’m not interested in public finances covering education, health, social services and all that – therefore can MY taxes exclude all that.”

    Sorry friend, the calculation doesn’t work like that. These all bring tangible benefits and as a taxpayer/citizen we have entered into a contract (whether we like it or not) with the state to receive our share of the tangible benefits and accept our share of the tangible costs. The benefits I’m quibbling about – and I guess Tim Worstall also – are those that bring intangible ‘value’ that, being a philistine, I just don’t get, don’t understand.

    Don’t worry, I’m only asking you to cover this tangible deficit that, being much less than that added value you all garner from us having these galleries, is a no-brainer for you to join up and pay.

    Except that this string started with a piece from Tim suggesting that, when push came to shove, you wouldn’t.

  48. @ Ironman

    Interesting.. OK, 2 points.

    A) Ignoring the contract entered into bit, what tangible benefit do we get from things such as foreign aid. (#)

    (btw, I am not suggesting any politic preferences with any of this, simply devil’s advocate etc.)

    Surely foreign aid is an intangible? And yet, it’s firmly part of that contract that at birth I involuntarily entered into.

    B) As I pointed out above, just because it is considered to be an intangible does not necessarily mean that there isn’t a cashflow attached to it if someone bothered to do the exercise. It’s simply that the equation Tim used is only a part of that assessment?

    It’s no different to lots else (say in London) where grants are received from government and, all in, contributes to the total cashflow (present and future) of London plc?

    In business, distinguishing between fixed, variable and step costs and their revenues can be pretty difficult (and more so for London plc). But one generally wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) take decisions about customers, products etc, simply based on a “part” understanding of the costs & benefits.

    # – Defence, a “tangible benefit”? Intangible certainly, and personally I might increase rather than decrease the spend. But the positive cashflow we need for this to be determined a “tangible” benefit?

  49. PF

    Perhaps I should use the terms ‘measurable’ (however its done) and ‘social’ rather than tangible and intangible.

    Looking at your examples: the same principle can be applied to A) as to the art gallery. The ‘value’ of the gallery is the warm fuzzy worthy feeling we get from looking at a painting and feeling improved as human beings etc. Assuming that whatever income benefits accrue from foreign aid are outweighed by the costs, what are the social benefits? And, more pertinently perhaps, to whom do they accrue? If you’re not in the least bit interested in helping out people in far flung places then, yes, why should you contribute?

    Disaster relief is an easier sell here perhaps, the costs of complying with international obligations being borne by us all.

    Defence frankly is easier again, the benefits of having a safe country clearly accrue to us all. The limits of our need to defend ourselves, the limits to our national interests, now those are up for discussion.

  50. “The benefits to the country are often described to include cuisine, music, art, literature, some unspecified ‘vibrancy’, and so on”

    Well true, the intangible benefits are often mentioned as a positive along side the financial. But strangely the intangible detriments are rarely touched upon, other than to deride those who express them.

    Who calculates the loss to a young working class pupil growing up in a culture totally alien to the one that his father and his grandfather grew up in, for example?

  51. Jim

    Aaah, there’s the beauty of the immeasurable for our modern-day poltically aware individual. If there are immeasurable benefits (which, being cultured people, we can see of course) then we highlight them and decry those who don’t appreciate them. If, however, there is an unquantifiable cost, a cost we won’t be bearing so don’t worry, then we minimise them in our discourse and in our own minds and we label those who are affected by them as “bigots” (I think that’s what Gordon Brown called Kathleen Duffy wasn’t it).

  52. @Jim ‘Who calculates the loss to a young working class pupil growing up in a culture totally alien to the one that his father and his grandfather grew up in, for example?’

    Which is why I said, apropos Stewart Lee, ‘[T]ry performing the same material in front of an audience of English ex-fruit pickers in Norfolk, or English plumbers in, say, Coventry.’

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