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Killing Big Bird

A Commentary by John Stossel

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Next week, Donald Trump releases his new budget. It's expected to cut spending on things like the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Good!

Government has no business funding art. When politicians decide which ideas deserve a boost, art is debased. When they use your money to shape the culture, they shape it in ways that make culture friendlier to government.

As The Federalist's Elizabeth Harrington points out, the National Endowment for the Arts doesn't give grants to sculpture honoring the Second Amendment or exhibitions on the benefits of traditional marriage. They fund a play about "lesbian activists who oppose gun ownership" and "art installations about climate change."

The grant-making establishment is proudly leftist. A Trump administration won't change that. During the Bush II years, lefty causes got funding, but I can't find any project with a conservative agenda.

It's not just the politics that are wrong. Government arts funding doesn't even go to the needy. Arts grants tend to go to people who got prior arts grants.

Some have friends on grant-making committees. Some went to the same schools as the people who pick what to subsidize. They know the right things to say on applications so they look "serious" enough to underwrite. They're good at writing applications. They're not necessarily good at art.

Defenders of public funding say their subsidies bring things like classical music to the poor. But the truth is that poor and middle-class people rarely go to hear classical music, even when subsidies make it cheap.

Subsidies pay for art rich people like. Like so many other programs, government arts funding is a way for the well-connected to reap benefits while pretending to help the common man.

The Trump-hating left is incensed at the idea that government might stop funding the arts.

USA Today reports that "arts groups" will "battle President Trump." A Washington, D.C., lobby says it will mobilize 300,000 "citizen activists."

We can count on the media to distort the issue.

The New York Times ran the headline: "Why Art Matters." Of course it matters. But "art" is different from "government-funded art."

New York Magazine ran a photo of Big Bird, or rather a protester dressed as Big Bird, wearing a sign saying "Keep your mitts off me!" What New York doesn't say is that the picture is three years old, and Big Bird's employer, "Sesame Street," no longer gets government funds.

We confronted the article writer, Eric Levitz. He said, "Big Bird has long functioned as a symbol of public broadcasting ... Still, considering 'Sesame Street's' switch to HBO, I concede that some could have been misled."

You bet.

Big Bird doesn't need government help. "Sesame Street" is so rich that it paid one of its performers more than $800,000.

Levitz also complains that Trump's cuts (which include killing despicable subsidies for the Export-Import Bank and the White House drug control office) "would trim a mere $2.5 billion from the budget."

A "mere" $2.5 billion. That's Washington speak. It's another reason America's going broke.

It is true that Trump's arts cuts won't reduce the deficit, especially since he plans to preserve much of Obamacare and spend billions more on things like the military. But it would be a start -- a dent in the foolish conceit that good things only happen if government funds them.

We will lose some propaganda if government money goes, but we won't lose art.

We might lose things like performance artist Karen Finley covering herself in chocolate, but most artists will keep doing what they do because they love it -- and because sometimes other people love that work enough to pay for it voluntarily.

Let people pay for the art they really want instead of the art for which the government decides to make them pay.

John Stossel is the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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