This chapter demonstrates the way in which an economic rationality of state support for the arts was developed in the 1970’s and 80’s by analyzing three crucial debates between economists of the arts and others. It is argued that the economists of the arts sought to provide a more solid foundation for specific state policies directed at the arts. But in the process of doing so they narrowed the grounds on which such support could be justified, and they had to sidestep the most crucial issues: what is excellence in the arts, and what is the moral status of consumer preferences in the case of the arts? Those critical of this economic rationality, and the economic approach to the arts more generally, argued for the fundamental difference between politics and the market, and individual preferences and social values. Overall the debates were characterized by mutual misunderstanding. The exception was the debate over the ‘merit good’, but it ultimately was an unsatisfactory argument for both sides. The economists were not convinced that it was really an economic argument, and the critics felt that the merit good did not capture the special role of the arts in a liberal society.
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC)

Dekker, E. (2017). The Economic Legitimation and De-Legitimiation of Arts Subsidies. In Economic Rationalities – Economic Reasoning as Knowledge and Practice Authority (pp. 113–120). Retrieved from