Australians buy more magazines per head of population than anyone else. They also purchase the odd book. Taken together this would imply lots of work for decent writers. True enough I here you say.

But the incredible thing about Australia is that you do not even have to be a decent writer. There is plenty of government money to support bad writers. Recipients of such grants and “prizes” are known as Artists.

It is hard to define what exactly makes a writer an artist, but a few factors seem to be necessary. The most obvious one is an inability to sell many books. Poets have an inherent advantage in this and consequently are almost universally known as artists. Their work does not need rhyme nor rhythm or even to get published. Although the latter helps if special purpose artistic grants, rather than unemployment benefit is being sought.

An inability to appeal to a mass audience is a key characteristic of most artists and probably the reason why footballers and their like are generally referred to as heroes, rather than artists. Artists also have a propensity to believe in the central role of government in society. Not because they rely on government money to survive. But because they are particularly perceptive, artists can see what we miss, namely the extent of market failure.

Market failure is what happens when people do not buy your creative output. It differs in some metaphysical way from what happens when they do not buy your brand of toothpaste or some other product.

Or perhaps it does not. Many artists are able to see a connection between their work and other goods which people do not want to buy. Not the obvious connection. Any fool can see that the production of both uses resources that could be put to better use producing something people actually want. Only artists can see the deeper connection. They can spot that people make goods people do not want. Not just any old person, but workers. These workers rely on the money provided to them for producing these unwanted products to live. Without the production of these goods the workers would have to get some other job to be paid.

Being forced to change jobs is unpleasant. If it is through no fault of your own then it can seem unfair. In many countries such as the USA, UK and Australia it can even be illegal. Generally it is not illegal for someone to be forced to get a new job because the product they work on is not doing well or if the company they work for has financial problems. But just because it is not illegal does not make it right. It is this injustice which artists are often able to see. That is why they campaign to have the government thwart the market and maintain production of goods which people do not want. In some areas where artists have particular clout with the government they will not even allow the product into the marketplace, lest its failure gets to contaminate the otherwise pure good.

State broadcasting is a classic example.

Artists know the state television stations to be one of the few remaining bastions against the iniquities of the market. They can masquerade as productive members of society when the state broadcaster is paying them. Not just productive members of society, but socially aware perceptive people.

They can take government money and rail against the government. This is called editorial independence and only applies when there is a responsible government in power. Irresponsible governments loosen the public purse and buy their way to popularity. Always self defeating, but then governments are not known for being long sighted. The next election and possibly the one after are long enough. By then even a mere backbencher will be looking at a generous pension payment if they loose their seat.

There is nothing like receiving the government’s money to reassure you of the failings of the market. And make no mistake it is the government’s money, not yours. It is not your income that the government takes to distribute to its worthy causes. Debt is not incurred in your name to fund the pet schemes of the politically connected. Oh, no. It’s government money. Its use has no cost. After all, the government can always get more. Printing more might have gone out of fashion, but upping taxation is not yet seen as being too odious to contemplate.

Government money that is used to prop up industries that do not produce things people want also has no cost associated with it. Companies will not close or never come into existence because of the increased taxes used to maintain industrial dinosaurs. This certainly never happens when the dinosaur is given legislative, rather than direct financial assistance. Brains that could be thinking up useful things will not be directed at getting government money. Armies of accountants do not exist to help people and companies make the most of government tax exemptions.

Government economic distortions and grants to artists and industries create jobs. It certainly does not destroy them. Removing destructive distortions that past governments have built into the economy is the height of folly.

Clearly an identified loser is worth more than unidentified winners. Removing distortions benefits many and harms a few. But the few are known. Just as a known life is valued more than an unknown, so is a known job. It is worth destroying many unknown peoples jobs to maintain one known persons. It might sound stupid, but it is the way the world works.

It seems removing what someone has, is worse than denying other people the chance of getting the same. Even if it is known that ten times as many people will benefit by the same amount as the one who loses.

The socially concerned cry foul at the idea of harming a known few to benefit many by removing government distortions. Presumably they do not object to the concept of a parato optimum. This is the principle in economics that things are particularly good when no person can be made better off, without someone else being made worse off. In most economic theory messing with a parato optimum is not on. It therefore denies the morality of harming someone to help others. It does not allow the government to take a dollar from a rich person to give to a beggar. But in getting to the parato optimum, rich people are allowed to voluntarily give money to beggars. The voluntary nature of the transaction meaning both parties believe they will benefit from it.

Fortunately artists are able to not just see the underlying truth of things, but to enlighten the rest of us. They can point out the follies of market failure and the benefits of government action to remedy it. You need do no more than realise that:

Without government grants many artists would have to get themselves another job. The market left alone would stifle their creative genius.

The market would not cave in to Artists collective pleading and they would have to produce stuff people were actually prepared to voluntarily pay for. If this could occur in a magazine hungry, sunny land, what hope is there for American or European artists? It is little wonder that Australia is to the world what Greece was to the Roman Empire. Do not doubt the power of good all the government money achieves.

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