Chapter 1: Application of Welfare Economics
William J. Baumol There are some very agreeable and beautiful talents of which the possession commands a certain sort of admiration; but of which the exercise for the sake of gain is considered, whether from reason or prejudice, as a sort of public prostitution. The pecuniary recompence, therefore, of those who exercise them in this manner, must be sufficient, not only to pay for the time, labour, and expence of acquiring the talents, but for the discredit which attends the employment of them as a means of subsistence. The exorbitant rewards of players, opera-singers, opera-dancers, &c. are founded upon those two principles; the rarity and beauty of the talents, and the discredit of employing them in this manner . . . Such talents, though far from being common, are by no means so rare as is imagined. Many people possess them in great perfection, who disdain to make this use of them; and many more are capable of acquiring them, if any thing could be made honourably by them. (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Bk I, Ch. X, Pt 1, ed. Cannan, pp. 108–9) Welfare analysis and rationale for public funding of the arts Welfare economists seem not to have devoted much systematic attention to the arts. The connection, rather, grew from the other direction – the arts seeking justification in the analysis of welfare theory, not for themselves, but for the public funding on which they often rely. The problem is that, for a number of reasons, the arts have found...
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