Friday, March 25, 2005

What or who should be the real target?

What or who is the real target?

From Dr Eamonn Butler, Director
Adam Smith Institute, 23 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BL, UK
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“THE SCOTTISH ARTS COUNCIL is giving a £30,000 "Creative Scotland" grant for someone to write poetry about this summer's G8 meeting in Gleneagles. No doubt it will be very moving. But if we really are riddled with poverty and injustice as the anti-globalization campaigners claim, wouldn't £30,000 of our hard-earned cash be better put to that problem instead?

My colleague, Dr Madsen Pirie, has penned his own poem on it:

"I think the G8.
Is great;
But to get an Arts Council Grant,
I'd probably need to take a different slant."

(He asks if the £30,000 could be mailed to his home address.)”

Copyright of Butler and Pirie acknowledged.

A bit of Punch and Judy is always fun but beyond the banter we have to think a bit more deeply. I should declare a mild ‘interest’ here in that I attended a meeting on Wednesday in ‘deepest’ Perthshire , Scotland, on 18th century portrait painters given by Dr Stephen Lloyd, Senior Curator of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, where Robin Bell, the recipient of the Arts Council grant was present and spoke when moving the vote of thanks, but I have never met Bell, nor spoken to him ever. I know nothing of him.

Robin Bell is quoted as saying:

“The political agenda for the past thirty years has been all about the wealth of nations. I will be writing about the health of nations. I will examine what it takes to make human beings healthy as individuals, and what makes for dysfunctional organisations both locally and internationally. It will be my job to cut through the double-talk and the cynicism that obstructs genuine goodwill. I’ll keep on asking the simple questions. The judging panel has placed quite a responsibility on me. I will do my best.”

First, I should say that for the comfortable intelligentsia, the wealth of nations is not of great importance; they already share well in the current distribution of wealth. For many millions of others, even the poorest of which in Britain, one of the richest countries on Earth, are much better off than the average – let alone the poorest – of the poorer nations in the United Nations. For the latter, fortunately a declining minority in world affairs, the wealth of nations is somewhat higher in their order of priorities than the ‘health’ of nations as experienced (it is too much to say ‘suffered’) by the comfortable intelligentsia alluded to and spoke of so eloquently by Robin Bell.

But I must make a comment on Dr Butler’s contribution, as he is Director of the prestigious Adam Smith Institute (see links). I think he is too ‘tabloid’ on this issue. We can always point to any item of government expenditure and link it to another item or need and ask ‘is this worth it?’

Now, I have no brief for the attempts by groups of demonstrators (and the violent among them) who will try to disrupt the G8 meeting in Scotland in July. The millions that will be spent protecting the G8 could be spent elsewhere in alleviating poverty rather than deterring demonstrators from wealthy countries from trying the patience of the individual police officers trying to uphold law and order. It is not as if the British political system is devoid of processes to change policies democratically (the least worse of its alternatives, evidenced by history not utopian theory).

But the protection costs for the leaders of democratic countries is the fixed cost of having democracy. By definition, the leaders of democratic countries do not choose to meet in countries, including poor countries, where law and order is attained by robust means well beyond the range of powers open to non-tyrannical governments who would ‘clear the streets’ with scores of dead and injured bodies left behind.

So £30,000 pounds for a poet (I know nothing of his credentials) writing about the issues that may be discussed by the leaders of the democratic countries from whence they come and, perhaps, the demonstrators who enjoy the freedoms of protest of which the country they intend to demonstrate within, seems not a large issue, or even a symbol of a large issue.

The millions that will be spent by public and private media services in the environs of Gleneagles make insignificant the £30,000 allocated to a poet. Yet the poet and the Scottish Arts Council receive the criticism of Dr Butler?

I have no idea of what Robin Bell will write. I would rather judge the worth of his £30,000 after I read his poems, not before.

If we object to the Scottish Arts Council spending public money in this manner, we have a remedy at the ballot box. Most of the world doesn’t. If we do not approve of demonstrators we can stay away. If we want to change the agenda of meetings of the G8 we can elect leaders who will deliver the changes we want.

What point is Dr Butler raising and how is it consistent with the legacy of Adam Smith?


Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Comments on Adam Smith Institute Blog and my replies:

"If we object to the Scottish Arts Council spending public money in this manner, we have a remedy at the ballot box."

Er... how is that? How exactly does the ballot box enable me to end the Scottish Arts Council? Which box should I tick?

Posted by Joan at March 26, 2005 10:56 PM
The Scottish Arts Council was set up by a Government. The appropriate way to change its behaviour is via a different government. These are elected by voting in ballot boxes in this country.

Or, you could volunteer to be appointed to the Scottish Arts Council -- all vacancies are advertised and the process of applying clearly set out - and change it from within.

Er, are you suggesting some other way to 'end' it? How do you know that your 'solution' is well enough supported except by voting for it, or are you assuming that what you want is what the rest of us want?

Posted by Gavin at March 27, 2005 10:12 AM
..And that shows the whole folly of doing these things through government. The idea that I can change the Scottish Arts Council only by voting in a huge package together with my views on the Iraq war, the NHS, crime and education is absurd.

If the Scottish Arts Council were funded by voluntary contributions, those who disagreed with its stance could decline to contribute. Now that's real democracy.

Posted by Justin at March 27, 2005 11:40 AM
'Folly' it may be, but that is how we are governed in our democratic system.

You pose a hypothetical alternative: "If the Scottish Arts Council were funded by voluntary contributions". The fact is that it is not and getting from what we have to where you want us to be requires a change in the law by voting for a different policy in an election.

Laws are changed in Britain by Parliament, not by "ifs" on Blogs. Unless you are proposing some other system of changing our laws. Out of curiousity, exactly what are you proposing?

Meanwhile, it might be useful for you to read Adam Smith's "Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1762-3 and 1766",edited by Meek, Raphael and Stein,1978, Oxford University Press and 1982, Liberty Fund, and his "Theory of Moral Sentiments" Book VI, chapter 2,2.15-17.

Whichever theory of governance you imply, it does not appear 'smithian' to me.

Posted by gavin at March 27, 2005 07:36 PM

7:39 pm  

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