mercoledì 2 novembre 2016

An Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and Popular Art, or High and Low Culture Tyler Coweni Alexander Tabarrok

Notebook per
An Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and Popular Art, or High and Low Culture
Tyler Coweni Alexander Tabarrok
Citation (APA): Tabarrok, T. C. A. (2014). An Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and Popular Art, or High and Low Culture [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from

Parte introduttiva
Evidenzia (giallo) - Posizione 1
An Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and Popular Art, or High and Low Culture∗ Tyler Cowen Alexander Tabarrok
Evidenzia (giallo) - Posizione 13
1. Introduction
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Artists both produce and consume their own work.
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the satisfaction of creating works that speak to them personally
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producers weigh their own interests against those of the market
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tradeoffs between the pecuniary and non-pecuniary satisfactions
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when do artists choose high art and when do they choose low or popular art?
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why do some artistic media offer greater scope for avant-garde styles than other
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Why, for instance, do most prominent painters serve minority tastes, whereas most prominent filmmakers aim at satisfying popular taste?
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explain how technical aspects of artistic media combine with economic incentives to direct artistic creativity 3 towards various styles of art.
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explain the forces behind the split of high and low culture.
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most popular styles have diverged from the most critically acclaimed
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Mozart was critically acclaimed
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and his music was also popular.
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Shakespeare’s work was not considered avant-garde
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Elliott Carter does not sell millions of CDs, and Michael Jackson does not command Carter’s musical respect.
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popular art is not critically acclaimed and critically acclaimed art is not popular.
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we analyze how taxation affects the supply of art
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the importance of the arts sector in today’s economy.
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accounts for approximately 2.5 percent of American GDP
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The economic importance of the arts is arguably larger, given the non-pecuniary returns to artists and given that art is partially non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, and da Vinci’s Mona Lisa all offer continuing value far in excess of their original market prices, and some current works will follow in their footsteps.
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The arts also may produce significant positive or negative externalities
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America’s changing social climate, for instance, is often linked to the influence of television, rap music, etc.
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2. Artist Labor Supply and Satisfaction
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Artists have rejected market sales in pursuit of the non-pecuniary benefits
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Beethoven wrote his late string quartets to satisfy his creative urges, knowing the works were too complex to satisfy a wide public audience at the time. Donatello and Michelangelo, perhaps the best-known sculptors from the Italian Renaissance, would walk away from commissions if they could not determine the content of the project. James Joyce chose a level 5 of esoterica for his Finnegans Wake that excluded most of the world’s readers, even intellectually inclined ones. Today, movie stars will sometimes accept a lower cut of the box office if they can work on projects of their own choosing. In a sample of over one thousand U.S. painters, 70 percent reported rejecting on more than one occasion high paying but artistically unfulfilling commissions (Jeffri, 1991).
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artists may support themselves by receiving external grants or outside lump sum support. Family funds, bequests, and other lump sum grants
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Nineteenth century French cultural activity, for instance, relied heavily upon family funds and bequests. French painters who lived from family wealth include Delacroix, Corot, Courbet, Seurat, Degas, Manet, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Moreau; the list of writers includes Baudelaire, Verlaine, Flaubert, and Proust.5
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Wassall and Alper (1992) found in their survey of contemporary New England artists that 76 percent held part-time jobs. Surveys by Statistics Canada indicate that 60 to 80 percent of the Canadians working in the performing arts also have jobs in other sectors
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explain the notorious antipathy of many artists towards the market. The market “disciplines” the artist
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Artists typically feel that market incentives lower the quality of art.
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This perception is correct, at least if we define the quality of art in terms of the artist’s own subjective index.
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Artists who maximize utility will not maximize profits
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2.1. Comparative Statics
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Proposition 2.1.
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Proposition 2.2.
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Proposition 2.3.
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there should be a positive correlation between family wealth and choice of the arts as a profession.
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in his study of the Dutch artistic guilds of the seventeenth century, Grampp (1989, 89) notes that young males from rich families tended to apprentice as painters, whereas young males from poorer families tended to apprentice in the more utilitarian field of earthenware design and decoration.
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As government or spousal support increases an artist will tend to work more hours in the art market (fewer hours in the manufacturing sector) and he will tend to produce art more in concert with his own tastes
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a possible bias
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As government support increases, artists turn away from market sales and art wages fall. Thus, as government support increases, the market appears to become more philistine and the argument for government funding appears stronger.13
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Proposition 2.4.
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Proposition 2.5.
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Proposition 2.6.
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2.2. Reproducibility and Mass Market Temptations
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film, literature, and certain musical performances (not all) can be reproduced at low cost
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Few people would pay more to view the “original” print
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theatre or painting, are costly to reproduce
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Reproducibility is closely tied to market size.
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When an art work is reproducible it may be easier to increase profit
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Artists of reproducible art works, therefore, face considerable temptations to suppress their own tastes
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A painter who suppresses his own tastes is unlikely to greatly increase his audience.
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When reproducibility is impossible or very costly, artists attempt to find the individual consumers
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such consumers do not have mass tastes.
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Reproducibility enhances the effects of small quality differentials
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can create a superstar
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size of market will therefore tend to homogenize the choices of artists.
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Artist’s previously focused on market sales will take some of their higher wages in the form of aesthetic satisfaction while artist’s who previously focused only on satisfying their own tastes will be induced to conform more closley to market demands.
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An increase in the size of the market creates a dilemma
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‘discovery’ the Missippissi blues guitarist or the South African vocalist, for example, serves only his or her local-home market.
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The local market might even mean the artist himself, in which case the artist loses nothing by catering solely to his own tastes. When the artist finds an opportunity to sell in the “world” market there are significant incentives to suppress the artist’s own tastes
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common perception that some genres are best in their early
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We find such claims being made about Delta blues, small combo jazz, and punk music, for example.23
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an increase in the size of the market for a non-reproducible art work will tend to reinforce the incentive to produce for self consumption.
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the artist seeks out those consumers most willing to pay
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cognoscenti can compete against the mass-market by bidding up the per-unit price
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But even a billionaire probably will not out-bid the millions of Madonna fans for the product of her labors.
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Thus, the Delta blues musician discovered by the teenage-music market is likely to adjust his style more than the newly discovered sculptor. It is not surprising, therefore, that many musicians are said to have “sold out” but few sculptors or painters have been branded by this charge. Andy Warhol, one painter who has been accused of “selling out,” in fact specialized in silkscreen painting, a form whose easy reproducibility he exploited to produce large numbers of multiples or near-multiples.
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income effect,
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encourage the demand for non-pecuniary benefits.
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Market access, for example, has greatly benefited the Inuit
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The combination of a strong outside market for art and a dearth of alternative internal economic opportunities has created artistic havens among the Inuit, the carpet weavers of Persia, and African and Caribbean musicians. The same also may be said for inner-city American blacks who created rap music, break-dancing, hip-hop style and a host of other innovative artistic forms.
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Under the first hypothesis, artists seek fame as the primary non-pecuniary component of art.
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Postulating such motivations is not new in economics. Adam Smith (1981 [1759], p.57) saw the search for approval as “the end of half the labours of human life.” David Hume (1966 [1777], p.114) wrote of the “love of fame; which rules, with such uncontrolled authority, in all generous minds, and is often the grand object of all their designs and undertakings.”
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artists generally will face a trade-off at the margin between pursuing fame and money,
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Even if artists do not seek fame, their notion of artistic satisfaction corresponds to critical approval.
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Musicians, for example, are more likely than the general public to share the critics’ high opinion of Beethoven’s string quartets.
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When critical tastes depart very widely from popular tastes art becomes avant-garde.
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select few.
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John Cage’s compositions or James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake provide paradigmatic examples
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artists prefer these styles for their artistic complexity and novelty,
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artists may seek approbation from their immediate peers alone,
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some combination of all three hypotheses operate.
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Artists face trade-offs between market sales and non-pecuniary satisfactions
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3.1. Observed Trade-Offs
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movies tend to be part of popular
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paintings tend more towards high culture and the avant-garde?
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Artists often sacrifice pecuniary rewards
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benefits may include fame, creative satisfaction, and critical praise.
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laborers, however, do not usually reap compara-ble non-pecuniary benefits.
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Marilyn Monroe has achieved immortal fame, but the shareholders of 22 Paramount have not. Shareholders therefore will more likely pursue outright profit maximization, with little or no regard for non-pecuniary benefits.
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When creative labor accounts for 50 percent of total cost, willingness to take a pay cut may influence the nature of the final product;
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When creative labor accounts for only one percent
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Thus, artistic products tend to fit into money-making popular culture genres when shareholders have a strong influence on the final product, and tend more towards the avant-garde when shareholders are absent or have little influence.
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Film is a more capital intensive medium than theatre and theatre is a more capital intensive medium than painting.
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Films with expensive special effects,
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Our results on reproducibility and on capital costs
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film is a doubly popular
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painting doubly avant-garde
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3.2. Economic Growth, and High and Avant-Garde Art
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explain why both high and avant-garde art have flourished to such a considerable degree in wealthy capitalist countries.
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As income rises the quantity and quality of art are increased
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On the demand side, increased income causes the return to art,
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this increases the quantity of art and the artist’s pursuit of self-satisfaction.
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On the supply side
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will cause artists to become more willing to sacrifice income
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In 1875 it required 1800 hours of labor to earn enough income to feed oneself, today it requires just 260 hours (Fogel, 1999). This effective increase in income is used to purchase “leisure time,” time to do what we like rather than what we must. One application of this general result is that as the wealth of society increases the number of market sales required to support an artist decreases. Thus, the wealthier the society the more liberated the artist.
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The high art of the Renaissance came from Florence and the Italian city-states, the richest part of the Western
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Periclean Athens was a relatively wealthy trading city.
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Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, and the French Impressionists all relied upon growing propserity to sustain their activities. The great cultural eras of the Eastern powers, China and Japan, also correspond roughly to the relative economic supremacy of these territories. Conversely, low-wage countries, such as twentieth century 25 India and China, usually do not become high culture leaders. Artists in these countries tend to produce for the market rather than for their own tastes hence art from low-wage countries is typically “folk art,” i.e. art which is locally popular.
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Avant-garde art, a product of recent times, tends to flourish only in extremely wealthy societies.
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Avant-garde artists such as John Cage or Nam June Paik can earn a living in wealthy capitalist societies;
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3.3. The Divergence Between High and Low Culture
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Time Cultural commentators (e.g., Gans 1974, Brantlinger 1984, Postman 1985, Bloom 1987, Levine 1988) frequently point out that the modern world is marked by an increasing split between high and low culture. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for instance, the most renowned composers also enjoyed high degrees of popularity. Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven were very successful with public audiences, both in the concert arena and with their sheet music. Today we have many renowned composers - Carter, Boulez, Babbitt, and many others - who receive high critical plaudits but have virtually no public audience. At the same time many popular artists - George Michael, Michael Bolton, Paula Abdul - sell millions of recordings but may not pass into the history books or receive critical praise.
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The most renowned painters of the Italian Renaissance created styles that appealed to a broad public,
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In earlier times, renowned writers, such as Dickens, Balzac, or Hugo were the bestselling authors
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In the 1920s, four of the Pulitzer Prize winners for 26 fiction were among the top ten best selling fiction books in a particular year (the Pulitzer Prize started in 1918). In the 1930s, five Prize winners were best sellers, in the 1940s two were, in the 1950s four were, in the 1960s five were. Since 1968, however, only one Pulitzer Prize winner also has been a best seller (Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift, prize winner in 1976).29
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as an artist’s income increases, whether from general economic growth or an increase in the demand for art, the artist becomes more willing to sacrifice income in return
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Economic growth also tends to lower capital costs
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preferences of artists come to play a larger and larger
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For the artist, economic growth brings liberation from the market.
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The consumer, however, is likely to perceive that over time artists become more “self-indulgent, narcissistic,
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As the size of the market increases,
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the number of “crowd pleaser” artists will increase as well.
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New genres are often highly capital intensive
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and hence begin as popular mediums.
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Rather than observing popular culture growing at the expense of high and avant-garde culture, or vice versa, we may see both growing
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3.4. Taxation
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Taxes can increase the number of artists and the quality of art
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taxation increases non-pecuniary returns
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a tax on money income leaves the non-pecuniary return to labor in the arts untaxed.
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Consider, for example, a wage tax of 100%; in such a case every artist would produce only to satisfy their own aesthetic demands.
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Modern governments, therefore, provide very considerable incentives for avant-garde and high art,
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This indirect support of high art and the avant-garde may be far greater than the direct effects
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European art tends to be more avant-garde
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it is due to higher marginal tax rates rather than to differences in culture
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4. Discussion and Conclusion
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Fogel (1999) argues that this shift from what he calls “earnwork” to “volwork,” work done in large part for pleasure even if it carries with it some payment, is in fact the major story of economic growth.
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awarding of tenure will increase the subjective quality of publication
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attacks on artists for being too self-indulgent and inaccessible.
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