By |Published On: February 5th, 2022|Categories: Art, Christopher E. Baecker, Debt, Public Borrowing, Public Spending|

Few stories have received as much attention recently as the financial plight of the San Antonio Symphony.  One issue sure to gain more traction in coming months is the looming $1.2 billion bond election.

There is a bit of overlap between the two: the arts.

The drainage and parks committees stirred controversy by recommending reducing or cutting funding for public art from their respective bonds.  The ensuing protests miss an important point, skew another, and cloak it all in emotional pleas.

Some point out that “great cities,” including our sister cities in the Lone Star state, “spend more” on public art than we do.  And they’re right.  Something else those Texas cities have more of however, is the ability to pay.

They are therefore better able to responsibly service their debt on a per capita basis.  This is where the symphony problems provide a good analogy.

If it’s not worth the effort of proponents to set up fundraisers to appeal directly to citizens for a few dollars each (roughly what it would take to plug the gap) to finance sculptures or murals around the city, how proper is it to stick them with the bill involuntarily via taxes that service the debt?

That goes doubly if citizens were not inclined to contribute.  Perhaps it’d be wiser for elected officials and city bureaucrats to focus on removing the obstacles that impede our ability, and willingness to pay.

Instead, word maestros spin yarns about the need for “transformative … public art” if a city really wants to “aspire to greatness.”  That has it almost exactly backwards.  It’s almost like saying the symphony is a key to economic development.

Societies become great by letting their people be free to live their lives, to freely associate with others.  Affluence tends to follow.  When people achieve wealthy, the arts, to name one example, attract funding.  We call this a positive spillover (externality).

San Antonio’s lag in this regard, is what is hindering the symphony.  And what feeds this lag is an overactive government populism.

You can’t forcibly take from some constituents to give to others simply because the latter “wanted it,” and expect to progress.

You can’t give family businesses the run around, expecting them to play whack-a-mole with random zoning designations, and expect future entrepreneurs to take what is already a perilous dive into opening their own venture.

You can’t count on the stability of leadership that has proven willing to use “regulatory tools” to crack down on its subjects as a response to a public health crisis.

If government can’t at least be predictable, then it offers that much less value to citizens.

Rather than scrutinize those areas, the voting public is urged to have patience for another failed government program that rested on faulty premises to begin with.  Or, cues are taken from national talking points to redefine “public art … as infrastructure investment for the soul and spirit.”

As a result, we keep playing the part of a caboose while other Texas metros steam ahead.


Christopher E. Baecker works in fixed assets at ClearWell Dynamics, teaches economics at Northwest Vista College, and is the policy director and editor at InfuseSA.  He can be reached via email or Facebook.

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