Taxation and cultural degradation

Wise words from The Urbanophile, based in my beloved Indiana:

The Miller family is nearing an agreement to give the J. Irwin Miller house in Columbus to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which has a Columbus branch. This is contingent on the IMA raising an endowment to pay for the home’s maintenance. This home, which is a National Historic Landmark, is a modernist treasure designed by Eero Saarinen. The IMA would preserve the home and offer some limited tours, but try to avoid turning it into a major tourist attraction out of respect for the neighbors.

The Miller family recently made headlines when they auctioned the home’s $135 million art collection off to raise funds to pay estate taxes. Anyone who thinks the “death tax” doesn’t have consequences, and that only rich people like the Miller’s are affected, should think again. This sale means that this one of a kind collection, which included a rare water lily painting by Claude Monet, is gone from Indiana forever. It’s a shame that the Miller family could not or would not arrange for this collection to be donated or loaned to the IMA or its Columbus branch as well. While taxes may well have been the driver, the fact is, this art auction will end up as a dissonant coda to a life that was spent doing so much good for the state.

[My emphasis. – NPO]

This reminds me of something, from Röpke, that I cited in a post down-web-log:

One of the obligations of wealth, which need not be enumerated, is to contribute to the filling of the gaps left by the market because they are in the realm of goods outside the play of supply and demand, but which gaps must not be left for the state to fill if we want to preserve a free society. I have in mind the patronage of art in the widest sense . . . .

[ . . . ]

The tragedies of Aeschylus . . . are unthinkable without the public donations of the rich Athenians as are the plays of Shakespeare without his patrons. Conversely, in so far as in our age the laws of supply and demand determine the level of artistic performance — in extreme form, in the film industry — the devastating effects are plain for all to see.

. . . Here it is important to emphasize that this spirit [of joyously accepting the obligations of richesse oblige] is smothered by the modern welfare state and its fiscal socialism. . . . [T]he rich cannot exercise their function of patronage of the arts unless they are at home in the realm of the spirit and of beauty as much as in the world of business”.

-Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market, “The Conditions and Limits of the Market”, pages one hundred thirty-two and thirty-three

Each day, as we sink further into moral crisis, I wonder why we fail to heed the prescient words of such wise men who have preceded us, convinced that American exceptionalism extends little beyond exceptional stupidity.

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