Willy Hutton today

We don\’t know what the fuck this digital revolution will bring but we must plan it anyway.

For how could anyone ever manage to do anything without me to plan it for them?

36 thoughts on “Willy Hutton today”

  1. Note Hutton’s sly use of the term “creative industries,” which conflates the usual Arts Council leeches with advertising, commercial television, recording studios, graphic designers, computer games developers, etc. I.e., businesses run as businesses and which generate profit because what they produce is of value to their customers, as determined by their customers and not by some imperious committee – such as, for instance, the Arts Council.

    Several Guardianistas, including Jonathan Holmes, Charlotte Higgins and Polly Toynbee, have used the same rhetorical trick. I guess there must have been a memo.

  2. The reason the arts are subsidised is that that is pretty much the only thing that “the rich” get any of their tax money back for. I’d be really happy for the local opera house to get less public money, as long as in turn I paid less tax so had a bit more for the more expensive because less subsidised tickets. But that would mean a “tax cut for the rich”, as indeed all tax cuts are in general, thus politically impossible. So we “the rich” make do with this kind of thing instead.

  3. He’s making a terrible mistake in lumping together all arts. From an economic point of view, some arts have multiplier effects, positive externalities; but others don’t. Hosting a book festival in a rural town like Hay-on-Wye generates lots of tourism spending: transport, hotels, restaurants, trinkets from gift shops, etc.
    But books themselves have no multiplier. You read them at home, while spending no extra money. You probably ordered it off Amazon thus not even spending money on the bus fare to the bookshop and back. Even the time spent reading books might have been better spent engaging in economically productive activities, i.e. either earning money or spending money.
    I’m playing devil’s advocate somewhat, but the point is clear that different types of art have different multipliers, and thus to conflate them is a gross error. Any policies predicated on such errors are therefore void.

  4. JamesV,

    Your local opera house doesn’t get much money from the rich. Most opera funding comes from the National Lottery now.

    The other problem (and I say this as an opera goer) is that the companies are run poorly. They travel around doing a couple of performances in each location. They sell-out performances despite tickets selling for

  5. JamesV,

    Your local opera house doesn’t get much money from the rich. Most opera funding comes from the National Lottery now.

    The other problem (and I say this as an opera goer) is that the companies are run poorly. They travel around doing a couple of performances in each location. They sell-out performances despite tickets selling for 17 quid. They almost give away programmes. They put on “new” or “challenging” operas that barely sell any tickets.

  6. I would like Nesta to have pushed on and shown how the constitution of British firms, and long-standing short-termism of the financial system, disables creative enterprises so we have too few self-standing companies of any scale that have not been sold overseas.

    A creative economy is one where you’re turning over companies. You create something, build it up, and then flog it.

    We simply aren’t going to shift either Hollywood or Silicon Valley because both have network effects. It’s like in the UK. If you want to be a software developer, live somewhere near Reading. If you live in Sunderland, you might have a programming job, but good luck getting another one if yours gets canned.

  7. @Tim, my local opera is Frankfurt and it gets money out of my property taxes and that part of national income tax that is disbursed to the local authorities.

    The new and challenging stuff is what the subsidies are needed for, and what keeps the artists interested and the snobby fans like me turning up at all. Yes, they should rather cross-subsidise it by overcharging for the ABCs (Aida Boheme Carmen) to the once-in-a-lifetime crowd than out of the taxpayer’s pocket.

    And seventeen quid tickets there are, if you have the luxury of being able to book in advance. Otherwise I have trouble finding anything under a hundred quid a seat in London.

  8. This whole “the arts have a multiplier effect” as a reason for subsidy, is a complete load of bollocks. Everything can have multiplier effect. It’s why the best place to open a shoeshop is in a street full of shoeshops. Why it’s good reason to have a kebab place opposite the pub & a minicab office round the corner.
    But it’s really a zero sum game. There’s only so much dosh available to be spent. If Hay-on Wye book fair generates a lot of tourism, great for Hay-on-Wye. But not so good for Hampstead, Hereford or Huddersfield, or where ever elsethe tourists come from, because the money won’t be spent in their pubs restaurants or bookshops.

  9. BIS-

    Thank you for stating the bleedin’ obvious. Because it is astonishing just how few people understand the bleedin’ obvious what you just stated.

    The belief in “multipliers” might be the most pernicious fallacy in economics today.

  10. I suspect what irritates people quite a lot is the number of tax breaks (or rather tax avoidance measures if it were another industry benefitting) that are meted out to the arts lobby.

    The same lobby that then moves to Hollywood when they make the big bucks, thus avoiding UK taxation, all the while lecturing the rest of us about how great a Financial Transactions Tax would be on all the “tax avoiding bankers”.

  11. point is, Ian, why do plumbers & aircon engineers get this & learned economists not. Oh yes…sorry I asked that.

  12. BIS>

    How do you actually measure more general multipliers? I can well believe that our national image as a European nation – just ask an American or Japanese person – is in part founded on other people’s perception of our culture, and that not having opera and classical music would negatively impact that perception. Since they appear to require subsidy to survive, one could say that we’re subsidising something which contributes to the overseas image that attracts lots of tourists (and commerce?) to this country.

    This bit, though:

    “But [tourism]’s really a zero sum game. There’s only so much dosh available to be spent.”

    Seriously? Why would it be? I’d contend it’s pretty obvious that it’s not a zero sum game because a country can attract increasing numbers of tourists in total.

  13. @ Dave

    Extra tourists for us means less for someone else. So maybe we win a few yanks from off of the French.. but then the French just spend a few quid polishing the doorknobs on the Eiffel Tower and it’s as you were.

    Plus, do tourists really care that we have opera in this country? Do people really come *here* for opera instead of, oh.. say Italy? If all the tourists were coming for the opera then the opera would be full of tourists and not needing a subsidy (like, say, ‘musical theatre’).

  14. Surreptitious Evil

    Anecdataly, an Australian (and lives there) friend of ours has been in London the past three days and been to see Matilda, Viva Forever and We Will Rock You.

    I don’t think oor Wully would regard any of those as art and I’m fairly certain than none of them receive direct public subsidy.

  15. @Dave
    “How do you actually measure more general multipliers?” Are you allowed negative numbers. I lived in London & tourists for me were a pain in the butt. High restaurant prices. Crowded tube trains. As JamesV says above, can’t get a theatre seat for under a hundred quid.
    But.
    You might say, here, I’m in the tourist industry. Or, at least I spent part of the afternoon fixing a couple of Brit golfers with a pair of hookers. What’s their multiplier? They’ ll be spending their hard earned in the frockshops & the hairdressers. Do I apply to the Spanish government for a subsidy? Or to the Brazilian, on behalf of what they’ll send home? On the other hand, the casino’s take will be a little lighter & the green fees for that early game of golf won’t be paid. Knowing the chicas, it’d be an amazing a fail if they were.
    So why does the arts get a grant & Spearmint Rhino not? Tourism’s just another export. Why does it need subsidising?

  16. Why the fuck is there such an entity as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport? None of these things is in any way a legitimate responsibility of government. It could be shuttered tomorrow, its civil servants sacked, its buildings torn down and the sites sown with salt, and the cultural, media and sporting output of the UK would suffer not the teeniest, tiniest, most evanescent iota of harm. A wide variety of unnütze Esser in the Arts and Meejah world would find their begging bowls a little light but that is an entirely salubrious side-effect of DCMS abolition, not a counter-argument.

  17. TTG>

    “Extra tourists for us means less for someone else.”

    Again, why? What makes you say it’s a zero-sum game, when it’s so obviously not? It’s quite clear that the market for tourism has grown over time, and it seems extremely likely that it’ll continue to grow in the longer term.

    BiS>

    “So why does the arts get a grant & Spearmint Rhino not?”

    Well, if we’re going with the national-image theory, then I think we’d prefer London to be known as a city of opera than the city of strippers. Although, saying that, the city-of-hos thing has worked fairly well for Amsterdam.

  18. So Much For Subtlety

    Willie is so awful he must be trying:

    There are powerful, market[]distorting mega[]corporations [] many of them Tory donors [] which guard the entry to crucial creative markets in everything from search engines to music.

    Of course the obvious megacorporation that guards entrance to the world of the Arts is the BBC. Not to mention the Arts Council. But Willie does not have a problem with them.

    Nesta wants Ofcom, a Tory bete noire, to be given new powers to develop an early warning system to spot market abuses and move to address them.

    Spot market abuses? He means, I am guessing, a whole new raft of powers to punish things that are not illegal but that people like Willie might not like. Not that they will stop market abuses, but that they will have the power to find people doing things that are not presently illegal and prohibit them from continuing to do so. A more stupid and illiberal law would be hard to think of.

    It wants to open up the whole approach to intellectual property to create a bias in favour of exchange and access – new markets in licensing rights, for example.

    So it also wants to take away IP rights from their present holders? Interesting. Apart from the fact that this would be massively damaging, I am not sure I oppose. It is criminal that anyone who comes up with a drug that cures cancer gets a piddling twenty years to recoup their money while some moron who draws a ridiculous mouse should have had 90 years to profit with every expectation of an indefinite period to come.

    It urges the BBC, a pivotal part of the ecosystem and another Tory bete noire, to place digitalisation at its heart and open it up to all. But this requires resources and a decent licence fee settlement. Rupert Murdoch will object, but he must be overruled.

    And of course because it is Willie he wants more of our money be given to the BBC so that it can do whatever the hell it likes.

    Amazing.

  19. ” I think we d prefer London to be known as a city of opera ”
    And I’d say, with those words, Dave neatly destroyed his own argument. There’s nothing remotely economic about it. It’s pure cultural elitism.

  20. So Much for Subtlety

    JamesV – “The new and challenging stuff is what the subsidies are needed for, and what keeps the artists interested and the snobby fans like me turning up at all.”

    That is to say, it is Stuff White People Like – a class marker to show that you are not a hick. A high price to pay I admit, just to show that you are a member of the elite, but as they only go for an hour or two I suppose it is worth it.

    “Yes, they should rather cross-subsidise it by overcharging for the ABCs (Aida Boheme Carmen) to the once-in-a-lifetime crowd than out of the taxpayer

  21. So Much for Subtlety

    JamesV – “The new and challenging stuff is what the subsidies are needed for, and what keeps the artists interested and the snobby fans like me turning up at all.”

    That is to say, it is Stuff White People Like – a class marker to show that you are not a hick. A high price to pay I admit, just to show that you are a member of the elite, but as they only go for an hour or two I suppose it is worth it.

    “Yes, they should rather cross-subsidise it by overcharging for the ABCs (Aida Boheme Carmen) to the once-in-a-lifetime crowd than out of the taxpayer-s pocket.”

    No they should not. Good art should not suffer at the expense of crap no matter how many of the cognicenti they impress. Crap Opera is crap no matter how much money you pour into it. What is worse this model just means that tossers can take actually good Opera and turn them into crap by making Wotan a Lesbian Bereavement Officer or something.

    bloke in spain – “There-s nothing remotely economic about it. It-s pure cultural elitism.”

    I am not sure that he does not have a point about the long term effects of being known as the Bangkok of the West as opposed to a would-be Vienna of the Atlantic.

  22. But which city makes more money out of tourism? Bangkok or Vienna?
    An economic argument’s an economic argument. A cultural argument’s a cultural argument.

  23. Incidentally, it’s fun watching the “subsidy for the arts” argument morphing to encouraging tourism & further morphing to “the right sort of tourism”. Happens every time.

  24. @SMFS,

    I suppose your argument would have some merit if I were white.

    Opera is only a class marker to the extent that the great unwashed rarely go, and will definitely not go to something they have never heard of. Really, no one goes to get seen except royal galas, opening nights, and the like. Where I agree you are unlikely to find the cognoscenti, in fact because of the inflated ticket prices.

    As for the modern productions, when you go 20, 30 times a year you can get seriously bored of opulent costumes and big wigs. And there is “classic” rep out there that is seriously dull when done with a straight face (ahem, cosi fan tutte) but which can become memorable with a bit of spicing up.

  25. Also, isn’t London big enough to be both Vienna and Bangkok?

    Come enjoy a night at the theatre and then get your cock sucked by a Brazilian ladyboy. They’ll come in droves.

  26. And of course, the usual entirely circular argument:
    JamesV – “The new and challenging stuff is what the subsidies are needed for, and what keeps the artists interested and the snobby fans like me turning up at all.”
    We need to subsidise performers to put on shows & then encourage the public to go see them. Now let’s try that with any other product. Nobody’s particularly interested in buying it but if we sell it at a fraction of cost some might be. Not exactly going to be a money spinner, is it?

  27. A particular problem with the arts is that once a cultural heritage has gone, it can’t be revived.

    For example, the DCMS is responsible via English Heritage for Stonehenge and the Tower of London (though they don’t actually own them), not to mention some 400 other sites and monuments. David Gillies suggests that the state has no business getting involved in the Uk’s cultural heritage, and it would of course be possible to abolish the DCMS and to withdraw state support from, say, the maintenance of Stonehenge. Let it pay its way, and if it can’t, well let the owners sell it off if they wish. I’m sure there are plenty in the US who’s be happy to snap it up and re-erect it in a North American location more accessible to tourists than Salisbury Plain, or indeed to chop up the stones into handy fragments suitable for sale as souvenirs.

    In my view this would be regrettable. Once Stonehenge has gone, it’s gone for ever. And lest anyone suggest that this could never happen, let’s remember that Shakespeare’s house was torn down by its private owner because he got fed up with people asking to see it.

    Of course there is bound to be contention in state support for culture – why this monument and not that one, why this theatre company and not another, why this composer, and so on. (Incidentally, I can’t quite work out why everyone is so pre-occupied by opera – in the scale of things it’s a pimple on the backside of DCMS expenditure.)

    These are matters of judgement, not fact, and I really couldn’t care less if a few grants are awarded to projects which with hindsight didn’t quite fulfil their aspirations. It all adds to the richness of life in the UK.

    That having been said, I genuinely don’t know what Will Hutton is going on about.

    Tim adds: Stonehenge was privately owned until 1918. Didn’t get transported…..

  28. OK Mr Rincewind, lets take Stonehenge.’Spose it could be sold to the Yanks but bearing in mind they got the very unremarkable Victorian London Bridge, maybe they’d be a little windy this time.
    But buying Stonehenge’d be an interesting project. Leave the stones undisturbed. Put in a decent museum of early British archaeology. Maybe tuck a faithful working replica of a contemporary settlement into a nearby fold of Salisbury Plain. Turn the thing from a windy walk to look at some old stones into a complete experience of stone-age life. Think that’d be quite a tourist attraction & well worth private investment.

  29. So Much for Subtlety

    bloke in spain – “But which city makes more money out of tourism? Bangkok or Vienna?
    An economic argument-s an economic argument. A cultural argument-s a cultural argument.”

    Well yes. I am not sure which makes more money our of tourism. That is not the question though. Which makes more money over all? Which city is one business people will be more happy to relocate to? Which city attracts the most investment? It is not just tourism but a whole lots of things. Thais do not have the best reputation in the world. Although I suppose if you told someone you were going to marry a Thai you would get a very different response than if you told them you were going to marry a girl from London, and not one that is going to help my argument.

    25 bloke in spain – “Incidentally, it-s fun watching the [subsidy for the arts] argument morphing to encouraging tourism & further morphing to [the right sort of tourism]. Happens every time.”

    I do not, in any way, support a subsidy for the Arts. It may help tourism, it may not. I do not know. But arguments about tourism are a little more complicated than raw numbers suggest.

    26 JamesV – “I suppose your argument would have some merit if I were white.”

    No, I think it stands on its own. Non-White people can, if rarely, fall for the SWPL schtick too. Obama has been pretending otherwise his whole life.

    “Opera is only a class marker to the extent that the great unwashed rarely go, and will definitely not go to something they have never heard of.”

    I am not sure we are talking about the great unwashed but the great aspiring middle class. The Older Elite needs to distinguish itself from the rising lower Middle Class. Hence the Opera, modern classical music and art that no one in their right mind likes. Thus it is a class marker to pretend you like the modern stuff so that all those children of accountants and even plumbers will f**k right off. They do not like it because it is awful, so if we turn up, we can be sure they are not there.

    “As for the modern productions, when you go 20, 30 times a year you can get seriously bored of opulent costumes and big wigs.”

    I am sure people can. But that does not mean they will enjoy the sights and sounds of a sheet metal works. Which actually would be more fun than any modern opera I know of.

    27 JamesV – “Come enjoy a night at the theatre and then get your cock sucked by a Brazilian ladyboy. They

  30. So Much for Subtlety

    27 JamesV – “Come enjoy a night at the theatre and then get your cock sucked by a Brazilian ladyboy. They-ll come in droves.”

    If you tell your wife that you are off on a business trip to Bangkok you will get a very different response than if you tell her you are off to Bonn. I would suggest that as a business centre London is better off if people think it is Bonn rather than Bangkok. Although it seems to me London does quite well pretending to be Bonn while having plenty of Ladyboys on tap.

    29 Churm Rincewind – “A particular problem with the arts is that once a cultural heritage has gone, it can-t be revived.”

    Morris dancers and Welsh-speaking sheep shaggers would beg to differ.

    “I-m sure there are plenty in the US who’s be happy to snap it up and re-erect it in a North American location more accessible to tourists than Salisbury Plain, or indeed to chop up the stones into handy fragments suitable for sale as souvenirs.”

    Indeed. I am sure. It is hard to imagine how Stonehenge managed to survive for a couple
    thousand years before we got around to having a Department of Culture, Media and Sport. It really is.

    If you want a real example, for our sins, the DCMS also runs the British Library. That would be a loss. Although, naturally, they are busy f**king that up too.

    “(Incidentally, I can-t quite work out why everyone is so pre-occupied by opera – in the scale of things it’s a pimple on the backside of DCMS expenditure.)”

    The problem is that they are all pimples. It is not that the state wastes much money on large projects. It is that the state bleeds to death through a million small cuts. Opera goers can pay for their own damn tickets and therefore it is of some concern to people who think they should.

    “These are matters of judgement, not fact, and I really couldn-t care less if a few grants are awarded to projects which with hindsight didn’t quite fulfil their aspirations. It all adds to the richness of life in the UK.”

    Then you can pay for it. Leave the rest of us out of it. And besides, you miss the main problem with the State – it kills whatever it touches. It is the nature of government. The State will destroy Stonehenge, just as it has destroyed everything else it controls. The only way to have a rich cultural life in Britain is to get the State out of the industry.

  31. The old elite don’t go to opera or buy modern art to distinghish themselves from the semi-unwashed middle class – those are the things the semi-unwashed do.

    Look, most of that modern art stuff is fit for the skip after gracing your living-room wall. It has no place in galleries. Likewise with a lot of “modern” classical music. Most of it is worth one or two performances, about 5% of it people will still be listening to in 100 years. The same in any era. Take any decade pre-1900 and 95% of the stuff premiered then never (or extremely rarely) gets paid.

    We take a false view of old stuff = good these days because the chaff has been winnowed out by time. We don’t yet have that luxury with more recent creations.

    Even tomorrow’s junk can be worth creating today. Take a look at David Czerny’s “Entropa” for an example.

    Tim adds: “We take a false view of old stuff = good these days because the chaff has been winnowed out by time. We don’t yet have that luxury with more recent creations. ”

    Bernard Levin called this the sieve of history.

  32. Except that, we have voluminous evidence that every elite uses lifestyle characteristics- their clothing, food, manners, arts and entertainments, etc- to distinguish themselves from the lower orders. It’s just that the semi-unwashed may be more obviously doing it because we can recognise that they’re social climbers trying to copy the proper elite. The wealthy don’t have some kind of genetic predisposition towards opera, for heaven’s sake.

    Regarding Levin’s Sieve, however, one important difference between the past and present is that we remember the good stuff from the past. Modernism means that our descendents will have no good stuff to remember from our time; there will be nothing capable of passing through the sieve. Because Modernism is, in its entirety, crap.

  33. I think our descendants will listen to Henze. And Graham Fitkin. And Bent Sorensen. If they actually listen to anything as opposed to merely allowing it to pass over the ears. Which is the basis on which most critics of “modern classical” music criticise it – they tolerated 30 seconds of some pap on radio 3 then turned over therefore it is all shite.

  34. In response to various points:

    @ TW: you point that Stonehenge was privately owned until 1918 without being “transported”. So what? Are you suggesting this is evidence that if it were privately owned its future would necessarily be safeguarded? That’s obviously untrue, as I’d hoped I’d made clear in my example of the demolition of Shakespeare’s house in an act of petty revenge by its owner. I really don’t understand what you’re trying to say here.

    @bloke in spain: You may well be right. Or you may well be wrong. Who knows? My point was that if we want to be certain about the continuation of British culture (within which I’d include Stonehenge; others may not) then state intervention is the only answer.

    @SFMS: Well, it’s moot point whether Morris dancing is a genuine cultural tradition or a twentieth century invention. But as it isn’t supported by the DCMS, who cares?

    You ask how Stonehenge managed to survive without the DCMS. Good luck, I’d say. Other emblems of the British cultural tradition weren’t so fortunate (e.g. Shakespeare’s house, as above).

    You also say that the closure of the British Library would be a loss. Well, as I said, it’s all a matter of judgement. I myself couldn’t give a flying fart if the BF was closed down tomorrow. So I don’t see how you can argue that “the State kills whatever it touches” and that if I (we) want these things, then I (we) can pay for it. Fine. Let’s apply that to the British Library. If you want it, you can pay for it, and leave me out of it.

    Alternatively, we might agree that some accommodation is necessary. You keep the BL and I’ll keep Stonehenge. Deal?

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