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If Only Afua Hirsch Knew A Little Economics



Afua Hirsch tells us that it’s just lovely spending upon the arts. Which, to be fair, if it’s the people consuming the art who spend upon it of course it is. Why wouldn’t we be happy with people gaining more of what they desire?

Sadly, that’s not actually what she suggests. Rather, it should be more of ours spent upon what the government wants to call art. This is rather less successful as a method of delivering what people desire to consume – although it has often been an excellent method of ensuring that people have to consume what others wish to produce. That being rather the problem with it of course.

Further, Afua desires that government spend very much more on such art:

If Britain looked anew, it could learn so much about the arts from Africa
Afua Hirsch

Ooooh, Goody. What could we learn?

Senegal, in particular, has a history that can teach us so much in modern-day Britain. It shook off formal French imperial rule in 1960 – and although its economic base and viability was far from certain at the time, Senegal understood the value of its arts in a way that our government has shown itself totally incapable of.

Led by the poet president, Léopold Senghor, one quarter of the new nation’s budget was allocated to the arts. A huge investment by any measure, this money was used to build presses, theatres, museums, art schools, archives, and workshops. It allowed Senegal to position itself globally as a leading proponent of black art, attracting the diaspora of black artists – a legacy still visible today – and hosting annual salons, international exhibitions and festivals, as well as providing a generous system of bursaries and civil service jobs to entrench art in the economy.

Britain does not have a track record of learning from countries like Senegal,

Well, OK, what would be it be that we could learn from Senegal? What could this entrenchment of art as a result of spending a quarter of the government budget on it do for us?

Well, it would keep us piss poor, as it did for Senegal:


GNI per capita (constant 2010 US$)


So that’s GNI, gross national income. It’s the economic income that accrues to people in Senegal, rather than the GDP we’re more used to – the production in Senegal. GNI is a better measure of living standards. It’s also in 2010 dollars, meaning that we’ve already taken care of inflation.

So 40 years after they spend 25% of the government budget on art the place is still as piss poor – this is equivalent to some $2 a day per person, that absolute poverty – as when they started. This is not a good advertisement for the plan now, is it?

On the other hand, the British experience over much the same time span:

We’re twice as rich as when we started and we started from a very much higher point to boot. So, spending a quarter of everything government steals from us on art is contraindicated really, isn’t it? Or at least it would be for anyone who had even a peabrain’s knowledge of economics.

But then this is Afua Hirsch we’re talking about…..



  1. Tim, can you make your graphs bigger? I can just about make them out by magnifying them by 2 or more, but they’re horribly fuzzy.

  2. Resize in photoshop.or equivalent. Work out a width in pixels works best with your web site. Then resize everything to same pixel width with the “keep proportions the same box” ticked

  3. “attracting the diaspora of black artists – a legacy still visible today – and hosting annual salons, international exhibitions and festivals, as well as providing a generous system of bursaries and civil service jobs to entrench art in the economy.”

    also a bit of a “picking winners”. In the early 60s, they backed a load of old art rather than the new arts of cinema, TV. radio.

    Personally, I see no reason to subsidise art because it’s something people love doing. There’s far more wannabee film directors than film directing jobs. Why subsidise poor kids when there’s armies of rich kids burning through their trust funds?


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expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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