Monday, May 30, 2016

Contradictions public and private

I usually don't get around to the front page of the Sunday Times, because Mary grabs that while I start with Sports, then move on to Week in Review, followed by Business, if I get there. Today being Memorial Day, I got to it.

There were two stories branching from Page 1 that pointed up aspects of something we already know all too well:  tons of money held privately, with not enough flowing to the public sector. The first story was about "free ports", where rich people store art, wine, and other expensive stuff away from the public eye in a tax-preferred setting. Nuffbeit to say that lots and lots of art is stored in this fashion in places from Geneva to Singapore to Newark, Delaware. There's debate about the wisdom of having so much art hidden away from a cultural standpoint, as in shouldn't people be able to see the art.  I get that, but I don't worry about it too much. There's plenty of art in the world, and people can always and always are creating more anyway. The chief lack is a lack of time to appreciate it, and/or piece of mind to be able to facilitate its appreciation, because people are stressed about feeding their families and/or otherwise vouchsafing their safety and prosperity.

But there is a lot of value being stored away and non-trivial taxes forgone. Though it's not as if just putting the art in the public eye and/or circulation would increase economic value. To the extent that it decreased scarcity, the forced showing of all that art could crash art markets and/or constrain margins at art museums. Which would be a relatively victimless crime, it's true.

The other article concerned the decline of CUNY, which, like many public universities, but perhaps more acutely so, is hugely underfunded but also has a lot of high paid administrators. New Yorks State and City and funding it as once they did, so higher fees are being pushed onto students, buildings are falling apart, classes are getting bigger and fewer between, etc.

It seems like a classic situation where rich people need to step into the breech and give to CUNY.  In general it seems like the high net worth are more inclined to give to the fancy private schools that they attended than to less well-heeled public ones, but that maybe back in the day this was less the case, that your Carnegies and Rockefellers better understood the need for supporting public institutions. We need to get back to that, and the Giving Pledge that Gates and Buffett have spearheaded points in the right direction.

That said, I can say for myself that this is a good deal more easily said than done. I came back to NC with a vision of giving to causes outside of my socio-economic milieu, to institutions like NCCU in particular, but the exigencies of life and how it happens have led me to support the things that impact us more immediately:  cancer (after Leslie's breast cancer and Sophie's losing battle) in particular is hard to get away from. Yes, I support Josh, and yes, I go out of my way to participate in the recovery community in places where I at least see and can help less wealthy people (Governor's Institute in particular), but really I live my life among affluent white and Asian people, and I rarely break out of that, and I slave away to protect my own class status by educating my kids well. And that is in turn driven by uncertainty about the future and their own ability to maintain their own class status, because of common causes (technology, globalization) and particular ones (autism).

It is hard to do the right the by the public sphere.

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