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Some artists and organic farmers won’t wean

What do the arts and organic agriculture have in common? Both are at the forefront of culture. I’m all for buying art and natural food. Bravo to anyone in either of these businesses, as long as they are actually in business.

There are vocal minorities in both groups who want long-term government funding to steer culture their way. It’s what Lee Harding of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation coins “subsidized political correctness in the name of ‘the public good.’” The problem is the public has no say.

All levels of government are involved. Many cities now have “cultural directors” whose job is to spend your tax dollars to help artists apply for provincial and federal grants so they can get even more of your tax dollars. Provinces fund arts groups and organic activists like the Certified Organic Associations of BC here in my home province. These groups then use their funds to lobby for even more cash at provincial and federal levels to help the “right” artists and organic farmers get a leg up in the marketplace, all at your expense.

Stéphane Dion is trying to capitalize on this perpetually self-fulfilling arrangement by claiming grandiosely, and vaguely, that “The link between culture and the environment is the way of the future!” Meanwhile Stephen Harper’s Conservatives spent 19.7% more on the arts than did the Liberals during their last year in power, and they pumped a quarter of a million into the Canadian Organic Growers while the Liberals did squat for organics. And yet many in the media paint Conservatives as churlish boors, concerned only with getting more oil out of the ground.

The fact of the matter is that government funding for anything claiming to be avant-garde is as oxymoronic as a multi-millionaire with a private jet living in a mansion with a heated pool who claims to be fighting global warming. Art and organic farming can only hope to remain in the avant-garde as long as they’re genuine, a status guaranteed by having no tax money subsidizing them. Government funding of the avant-garde immediately renders it the old guard. It’s that simple.

Since when should government tell us, force us, to accept someone else’s version of culture? My wife and I own original Canadian art, we buy healthy, local food, and we promote both every day. Surely it’s not such a novel concept that we expect the artists and farmers we support to earn a living by serving their customers’ needs.

And no, this does not reduce art or organic food to a commodity of mass-consumption. It merely ensures that someone somewhere actually wants it before it’s produced.

When government throws money at a cause the result is lethargy, and the recipients become victims of their own inertia. That’s what happened to Jean Chrétien’s favorite “Canadian,” “private” company, Bombardier.

Like old curmudgeons who can’t laugh at the humour of younger generations, always assuming their “worldly” views trump everything, subsidized artists and organic farmers gradually quit listening, and invariably find new ways to spend even more of every dollar you and I earn. Subsidies breed more subsidies in a never-ending maelstrom of self-aggrandizement.

It’s a sad statement on the arts and organic agriculture that a choice few get what they want even if you don’t want what they’re hocking. Watch as they establish their minority vision all around you, and don’t dare criticize them because you’ll also be branded a churlish boor and you’ll still have to pay through the nose.

Most artists and organic farmers survive through the power of free enterprise. Why can’t all of them? It’s only select groups within these otherwise noble vocations who doggedly pursue the almighty lure of subsidies.

All artists should become devoted non-elitists just long enough in their careers to learn what it’s like to make an honest living. All organic farmers should have their crops tested so we know they’re really what they claim they are.

These are such simple recipes for success, and yet a few at the highest social levels play the game of appealing to the right bureaucrat instead of to the public. Their creativity and productivity suffers until one day they look in the mirror and realize they’ve become bureaucrats themselves, doddering old self-righteous fools every one.

Some will say it’s “right wing” in the extreme to force poor ol’ artists and organic farmers to survive by the same rules as the rest of us. But if surviving by the laws of supply and demand is “right wing,” then I guess left wing must mean, “Let this committee and this bureaucracy decide what’s right for you because they know better than you do.”

You don’t have to lean left or right to accept that the free market is the only way to ensure culture is genuine. As long as we all get to freely vote with our money it’s democratic, and what could be more genuine than that?

Let the people decide.

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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