A Contrarian Dialogue

Eber Views


Don't stop the axe

Music Ethics Be Damned

Index Capital Gains

A Most Egregious Pronouncement

Cocksure Public Spenders

Balanced Budget Busting

15 Sept 1997 to WSJ

Don't stop the Axe

The marketing director for the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra gave a talk about his fundraising agenda to a group of MBA students at the University of New Mexico. Couched in terms of developing a marketing plan as a class project, one might cynically argue that he was really looking for a new network of corporate leads. But that is only good marketing. After making the obligatory criticism of the Republican Congress bent on de-funding the arts, and disdainfully opining that "they want performing arts to be more like show business and make a profit," he outlined a new "leaner and meaner" strategy that was having recent success, and suggested that, with just an extra enthusiastic marketing push (and some free help from graduate students), it might even amass enough private funding to replace the cuts. Aha! It can be done.

After hearing for months the dire consequences of weaning groups off the federal gravy train, we need not fear calamity. These groups have been gearing up for their budget reductions with aggressive fundraising efforts, complete with new buzz words like "business partnerships," and "event marketing." Did you think these people were going to stay idle and let their organizations "whither on the vine" because the easiest money was threatening to dry up? Following the advice of Adam Smith ("if you don’t work, you don’t eat) they are, in the true entrepreneurial spirit, busy hustling their own sources of water to keep their vines alive.

Despite all the previous energy wasted on whining, they deserve applause, if only to say that, with such encouraging results, we shouldn’t stop with art. What about the rest of the entitlements: aid to victims, aid to forests, aid to corporations, aid to children’s lunches, aid to… As we all know, the list is a long one, with the little, politicized, multipurpose block grants on the bottom, and the massive, "exempted" Social Security Ponzi scheme on the top. Oh, people will be indignant. But few people are more indignant than those who have taken away from them that which has always been free!

Ultimately, however, we must be pragmatic. Since most people clearly favor incrementalism over dour and uncompassionate Republican extremism, we should be careful to eliminate only one program at a time. The happy self-sufficiency that results, albeit with some initial muttering and grumbling, will again confirm the notions of Mr. Smith, and we can vigorously proceed to wield the ax on each of the strangling bureaucracies. Most importantly, when using our ax, the operative words are "chop down" and not "trim." Otherwise, as the bureaucracies grow to strangling very quickly, we’ll soon be trimming again. Hopefully by then, no one will have stolen the ax.