In a leaked Fortune interview, Politico reports that the U.S. arts spending might be one of the first to be slashed if a Republican is voted into the White House. We’re not talking cuts or belt-tightening. If Mitt Romney is elected president in November 2012, the presumptive Republican candidate will kill government subsidy to the arts. Period. Goodbye arts subsidy programs.  Goodbye Amtrak subsidy. Goodbye PBS. Goodbye National Endowment for the Arts. Goodbye  National Endowment for the Humanities.

Why? “I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf,” Romney tells Fortune magazine.

Here is an excerpt from the leaked interview:

–FORTUNE: “What sectors of the economy are you most sanguine about? Or put it this way, if you were to start a business today what would it be?”

ROMNEY: “… I believe if I’m president you’re going to see a dramatic increase in the production of gas and oil, as well as continued production of coal, and I believe you’re going to see nuclear come back and I believe renewables will continue to grow. So I believe energy jobs will rise. Second, I believe you’re going to see manufacturing return to this country over the coming decade, particularly as we take advantage of our low-cost natural gas. Third, I believe infrastructure is going to see very substantial investments over the coming decade. I’m talking about highways as well as rail and air and communications infrastructure.

“And of course health care will be an area of growth, not only because of the aging population, but also because if I’m president we’re going to go from a government dominated healthcare system to a consumer choice health care system, and in a consumer choice market-driven system there will be enterprises that find ways to deliver better products at lower cost, and they will grow and be successful.”

–“I don’t think that this is a time for us to be passing new gun legislation.”

–“I indicated as I announced my tax plan that the key principles included the following. First, that high-income people would continue to pay the same share of the tax burden that they do today. And second, that there would be a reduction in taxes paid by middle-income taxpayers.”

Government spending he would cut: “[F]irst there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf. …

“I would like to tie the compensation and benefits for federal workers to those which exist in the private sector. I don’t think government workers should be paid a better deal than the taxpayers who are paying for them. That saves about $47 billion a year, by the way. With regards to the military, I believe that we will find enormous opportunities for efficiency and cost savings in the military. I do not anticipate those savings will be able to be used to reduce the deficit but instead will be necessary to increase the number of active-duty personnel by approximately 100,000, to restore our military equipment which has been destroyed in conflict, and to invest in the coming technologies of warfare.”


Another version of they-love-what-they-do-so-they-should-do-it-for nothing-if-they-can’t-make-it-in-the-commercial market?

What is the role of federal government in arts funding? According to Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, not much; it would make a small dent, at best:

The problem is, eliminating federal supports for Amtrak and cultural programs would barely save any money. Repealing Obamacare would actually add to the deficit, given the net savings that are in the health-care law. And the savings that Romney projects for tying federal compensation to private-sector levels seem to be overblown, according to recent figures from the Congressional Budget Office. Overall, the cuts that Romney specifies would just be a drop in the bucket, and they still don’t explain how his budget would produce the savings that he promises.

Here’s how it breaks down: In fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $1.42 billion on Amtrak, $444 million on PBS, and $146 million on the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Getting rid of all these subsidies would have saved the government about $2 billion this year — chump change relative to the scale of cuts that Romney wants.

Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgess notes that Romney’s interview with Fortune shows a “shift in his position [that] might be more devastating to the people who benefit from those subsidies, both as employees and as audiences for the work supported by them.” Romney originally campaigned in the primaries that he would cuts arts spending in half.

Arts funding is a way at getting at an interesting question. Should the government perform functions only that we believe shouldn’t be allowed to be controlled by private interests, like control, regulation, and deployment of the armed forces? Or should it step into voids left by private enterprise and personal charity when there are important functions that don’t appear to be supported by the market? That’s a real conversation, and scapegoating arts funding is a way of avoiding it.

–rg, in the theater of One World

Art Relecting Art, Reflecting on Art

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