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Hitler and the NEA

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A recent op-ed in the New York Times provides a perfect demonstration of why this country is in a world of hurt, fiscally speaking, and why the situation is almost certain to get worse, at the least in the short term.

The op-ed is entitled “Why Authoritarians Attack the Arts” and was written by a person who is obviously very educated — Eve L. Ewing, a sociologist at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and the author of a forthcoming book entitled Electronic Arches.

In her op-ed, Ewing takes President Trump to task for proposing the abolition of the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency created by Congress in 1965 to fund artistic projects.

The amount of debt owed by the federal government now totals almost $20 trillion. That amounts to $165,621 per taxpayer. That’s an important point because ultimately taxpayers are on the hook to repay the money that the federal government owes creditors.

The debt problem is getting worse. In 2017, the federal government is projected to spend almost half-a-trillion dollars more than it brings in with taxes. That means the federal government’s debt next year will be $20.5 trillion.

Despite what many college and university professors teach their students about the virtues of government spending and borrowing, everyone can see Greece and Puerto Rico, where too much government debt, combined with massive welfare-state spending, has caused the governments in those two countries to implode, throwing the entire country into greater economic chaos and impoverishment.

Moreover, many years ago Congress began enacting a “debt ceiling,” which is a maximum amount of debt that the federal government is permitted to incur by law. The debit ceiling is an implicit acknowledgement that any debt in excess of that maximum is a very bad thing for the country.

None of this is pointed out in Ewing’s op-ed. In her only reference to the federal government’s spending and debt crisis, she points out that since funding for the NEA amounts to only $150 million or .004 percent of the federal budget, eliminating the agency would be “a fairly inefficient approach to trimming government spending.”

But what would happen if we were to propose to Ewing an abolition of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as well as a dismantling of the entire Cold War national-security establishment, including the military-industrial complex, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, as well as an end to their forever wars and all their overseas military bases.

Given the enormous amount of federal funding for those government agencies and programs, Ewing would have to concede that abolishing them would certainly be “a fairly efficient approach to trimming government spending.”

My hunch though is that she would have the same conniption fit, perhaps bigger, than the one she experienced as a result of Trump’s proposal to abolish the NEA. “Without those welfare programs, seniors and the poor would be dying in the streets and there would be a nationwide revolt. Without those warfare programs, America would quickly be taken over by the terrorists, Muslims, illegal immigrants, and drug dealers! Figure out somewhere else to trim government spending.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of Ewing’s op-ed is her suggestion that if a person opposes government aid to the arts, that means that he is opposes the arts themselves. When I read her op-ed, my immediate reaction was: There is no way she can genuinely believe that. She is much too educated for that.

But then it occurred to me: That is precisely what some people believe whenever they hear libertarians calling for a repeal of drug laws. “Don’t you libertarians know how harmful drugs are to people in society? Don’t you know how many deaths they are producing? I can’t believe you libertarians are pro-drugs and pro-death.”

Even when libertarians carefully explain to these people that calling for an end to drug laws doesn’t necessarily imply a condonation of drug use, their minds simply are incapable of thinking and analyzing at that level. They are unable to process the notion that it is possible to favor the legalization of an act without endorsing or condoning the act itself.

A good example is adultery. Most people agree that adultery is not a good, positive thing. Nonetheless, libertarians oppose criminalizing adultery. We don’t believe that the state should be prosecuting or jailing people for adultery. Our opposition to the criminalization of adultery subjects us to accusations that we are “pro-adultery.” Oh well.

That is Ewing’s mindset when it comes to aid to the arts and, most likely, any other welfare-state spending. Giving her the benefit of the doubt — that is, assuming that she’s not being disingenuous — in her mind, if a person opposes government funding for the arts, that must mean that he is anti-art. Her mindset will not permit her to conceive of the possibility that a person can oppose government funding of the arts and be pro-art at the same time.

One of the funniest aspects of Ewing’s op-ed is the fact that she raises the Hitler card to make her case against the abolition of the NEA. She begins her op-ed by showing that Hitler used government control of the arts to advance his collectivist agenda and to quell dissent produced in art.

Why is that humorous?

Two reasons:  One is that it reminded me of Godwin’s Law, which states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involved Hitler approaches 1.”

Two, Ewing’s Hitler comparison involves a total failure of logic. On the one hand, she complains of the Nazi government’s control over the arts but then wants the U.S. government to continue funding the arts. Perhaps she is unfamiliar with the adage, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” In other words, there are few better ways for government to control people than by making them dependent on the dole. Abolishing government funding of the arts is one of the best ways to create independence for the arts.

The welfare-warfare state way of life has proven to be one of the most disastrous errors in U.S. history. After decades of death, destruction, loss of liberty, impoverishment, and economic chaos, the time has come for Americans to dismantle the entire welfare-warfare state apparatus, leaving a limited-government republic and a society based on the principles of the free market and voluntary charity. We have to start somewhere. Why not with the NEA?

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.