Friday, December 30, 2011

Who funds the fine arts (and does it matter)?

Yves Smith of the Naked Capitalism blog tipped me off to an interesting blog post regarding the funding sources of the fine arts (specifically, orchestras), and whether orchestras and other organizations should accept funding from "tainted" corporate sources. The article centers around a discussion as to whether banks are now, in the wake (eye?) of the financial crisis, affected with the same stigma as are tobacco companies. However, I think the piece may actually miss a bigger picture question, as I'll address later.
Exclusive Overgrown Path research shows that 45% of corporate sponsorship for ten leading orchestras in Europe and North America comes from the banking and financial services sector. This is more than five times greater than from any other corporate funding source. 
A second funding tier comprises companies from the automotive and media industries, with each sector accounting for around 8% of sponsorship. Below that a third tier is made up of companies from the aerospace & defence, pharmaceutical, retail, utility and law sectors. As the research analyses source rather than revenue (see explanatory note below) it is likely that the fiscal contribution of the banking and financial services corporations is considerably greater than 50%. 
A number of the corporate funders, both in the banking sector and elsewhere, have been linked to ethical issues, some of which are noted in the supporting material below. This raises the important but little-explored question of what price classical music is prepared to pay for funding.
The author goes on to cite specific examples of unethical behavior from Deutsche Bank, which largely funds both the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic. This is all well and good, and we could easily have an extended ethical discussion over whether or not any organization should accept money from anyone who does anything unethical or illegal (Does accepting money from a criminal make you a criminal? Is everyone who attended Penn State somehow liable for the alleged actions of Jerry Sandusky, or is every Republican a sexual harasser because they share a party with Herman Cain?), but I definitely think it misses the point.

You see, down in the comments section of that post, one reader made a particularly astute observation. In noting that the blog author had neglected to consider those orchestras that received primarily state funding--focusing only on those that relied on corporate sponsorships--the commenter remarked the following:
I note your point... above, but let's not forget that all government funding is ethically compromised. 
Government money comes from tax, including that on the profits and wages earned in such industries as pornography, junk food, oil, armaments, gambling, tobacco, alcohol etc. 
The state is often an active participant in dodgy industries like armaments and gambling. For example, in the UK, the government's huge gambling operation, the National Lottery, is used to fund 'good causes'. 
Does ethically compromised money conveniently become ethically cleansed when it has passed through the hands of the state? 
In the opinions of those who are given it I suspect so.
That commenter makes some fantastic points, especially when he brings up the National Lottery. I've long been uncomfortable with the double standard that exists--both in the United States and elsewhere--whereby gambling is illegal and condemnable, unless it is explicitly sponsored by and supporting local governments. We go out of our way to pretend that our state lotteries are somehow virtuous because they are (often) used to fund public schools, while we are asked to kindly ignore the fact that this funding often comes on the backs of degenerate gamblers whose lives are compromised or ruined by their gambling addiction. Why does that double standard make sense?

In my estimation, any government is simply a reflection of all the elements of a society--both virtuous and nefarious--put together into one big bucket. If you accept money from a government agency of any kind, you are by proxy accepting money from a bank, a tobacco company, a railroad, a strip club, a sex shop, and, thanks largely to California, a medical marijuana dispensary--all of these and more, without any way of distinguishing one dollar from another. If the trend toward moral relativism with regard to state budgets continues (and it's almost certain to), this dynamic will only become more pronounced, further blurring the line between unethical companies and government agencies.

The only remaining question is, do we care? Personally, I don't. If a company takes liberties with its customers or the taxpayers, and we are all collectively naive (or stupid) enough to continue doing business with them, then we are legitimizing their business practices by proxy, and we in large part lose our right to cast moral judgment in their direction.

We may find banks and tobacco companies to be distasteful, but as a collective unit we continue to support them as customers. If they feel like re-channeling some of this "dirty money" into more virtuous areas in the name of image enhancement, I say we let them do so. That goes for corporations, governments, and individuals alike--if we don't like what they're doing, we should stop giving them our own money in the first place. Refusing to take it back from them later is simply stupid and self-defeating.

[On An Overgrown Path]  
(h/t Naked Capitalism)

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