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Arts contributed $763B to US economy – more than agriculture or transport (2018) (artsy.net)
203 points by cphoover on Mar 15, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

Air to breathe didn't generate much money, but try doing away with it. This sort of headline is complete nonsense. Market size is completely orthogonal to actual importance. Likewise prices. Expensive and rare things like Ferraris or Jeff Koon's flowers aren't more important than free things like air, water springs and insects.

The unfortunate reality is that in order to get many decision makers to support something, you need to show them quantitative data about its value.

In a past life, I worked on the performance team at an enterprise software company. For some of our users, our main dashboard took almost a minute to load. Fixing this didn't generate any new sales or increase revenue (enterprise software like this is sold to CTOs, not employees, and the actual product quality rarely affects sales numbers). We had our PM work full time to come up with numbers supporting our argument that making the service fast decreases churn. It was a pointless exercise, but it got us the resources to help fix the problem.

The sad reality is that while there are many things whose value should be intuitively obvious, the folks in charge do not always have an appreciation for them without seeing hard numbers.

The problem with enterprise software is the same problem with most issues we see from the producer side - those doing the work are completely different in alignment and requirements / needs than those that make the decisions to purchase for those. In Agile (and devops), the greatest friction is squarely around the reality that there's a manager caste that pushes down and makes decisions with very little feedback loops or misaligned incentives by all the stakeholders involved, and this causes churn within the group. For the buyers and the users of the software, their requirements are oftentimes lost. In your scenario, users with more power over their day-to-day software will demand better software and be empowered to select alternatives, but in more traditional organizations there will be a lot less churn comparatively because users will simply put up with bad things forcibly.

Almost all the "radical" software and project management practices to show up (and when implemented successfully at least) in the past 15 years aims to give more power to workers and to de-scope the role of management from pure decision-makers into a more supportive role with more intense feedback. There is a very consistent theme that organizations where these efforts fail are ones where management uses new processes and tooling to exert their existing political power to achieve results instead of also transforming themselves.

Often ROI is not realized on the short-term but rather the long tail. Users may not bounce immediately... however whether they stick with a product or not over time, may be a result of how usable it is. Same with if they would recommend it to a colleague or family member over a longer period of time. These things can be harder to quantify and are often omitted in ROI analysis.

How about customer satisfaction?

The economy measures where humans allocate their efforts. We put more effort into the arts than we do into getting food out of the ground. It's not nonsense.

Of course, there's an implicit bias that the arts are trivial, but most people these days don't do real work, they do virtual work. If you're in finance, STEM, the Arts, law, or education, your job is to move information around. People who do real, useful work with tangible value generally don't make much money.

> The economy measures where humans allocate their efforts. We put more effort into the arts than we do into getting food out of the ground. It's not nonsense.

Or maybe it's more a measure of how automated large scale farming has become? It requires less human effort?

But allocating effort to something is not the same as contributing to the economy. In a way, agriculture contributes the entire GDP to the economy: Without it, everyone starves and there is no economy.

If you want to judge human efforts, I think you should also factor in the actual human cost (how many manhours are in there), as well as efficiency gains due to the work performed. And I guess that in this metric a large amount of the so called arts is highly overrated compared to the typical monetary evaluation (and if you say: people enjoy art, it's generating quality of life - the 20$ spent on streaming per year/capita could as well be invested into things which help people develop themselves (such as solidary funding of highschool music education...) and create social fabric. But this is obviously very bad from an individualistic view on gains, which actually creates a lot of not so individual consumption drones.

I am not sure it is complete nonsense. But writing about all arts as a single entity is confusing. Even the art market itself is not a single industry. There is no satisfying definition of art. Is TV commercial art? In some cases, it may well be. Is the film industry only producing works of arts? Far from it. Why should starving artists starve if "arts" are doing so well? It must be because they don't do the kind of "art" that contributes so much to the economy.

Or that there are more artists than demand for art.

But that isn't the point. This is a politically motivated article trying to counter the dialogue surrounding the cuts in arts funding. It isn't saying we cannot live without arts. It is saying that we don't want to, and based on its value to our economy, we don't need to.

If you want water springs and insects but also want economic growth you should be thankful that people are spending money on art and music rather than bigger SUVs, houses and jet travel. The only way really to have unlimited economic growth on a finite planet is for the money to go into that kind of stuff.

> The economic impact analysis comes as the NEA is facing severe cuts under U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, and one year after the agency staved off the threat of total elimination by his administration.

Did you somehow read the article to be saying that we should immediately stop driving trucks and growing food? It's an extremely practical story. It's not about what humans need, but what the US specifically exports and how investing in those industries is important to our economic future.

Investing in more transport (aside from fixing failing infrastructure) or agriculture will not result in much of a return. People don't consume more food because there's more available. They do consume more culture.

> Expensive and rare things like Ferraris or Jeff Koon's flowers aren't more important than free things like air, water springs and insects.

TV, film and books, mainly. But the NEA is budgeted at 150 million (set to be cut to 29 million) for returns of 763 billion, with 4.9% growth. Investing in the arts is incredibly profitable and great for the economy. It's all worthless if the ocean covers the plains, but 150 million is practically nothing when it comes to the environment. The taxes from whatever portion of 763 billion that the NEA's budget fostered is surely higher than the 150 million dollar input.

I don't think you can say the NEA is responsible for anywhere near the 763 billion... In the article it even states that the government spends:

>The government (federal, state, and local) also provided a major $101.5 billion boost to the sector, mainly in visual and performing arts education funding, according to the data.

The NEA is a rounding error in government arts spending.

The US has 338M people and they are claiming $763B PER YEAR for art. That's $2257 PER YEAR for every man, woman, and newborn infant in America. Total BS. Even if you include music and movies and TV, this is still way too high.

It's also dishonest, since this is a politically motivated attempt to counter cuts in NEA funding, yet very little of TV, movies, or music is sponsored by the NEA, which just goes to show how unimportant it is except to pseudo-elites who think that a urinal in a museum is art as long as the rabble don't approve of it.

Without the arts there is no content. Goodbye internet, radio, TV & films. Telcos and the consumer electronics industry? A tiny fraction of its current size. You have to be truly delusional to think that $2K per year is some sort of low-ball number for this. If anything this number is minimizing the second-order effects.

You've missed my point entirely. The OP is playing a game by defining arts (clown mask on) to be all of the entertainment industry (and citing that size in the headline) while supporting an argument for (clown mask off now) the NEA, which is an organization for the Fine Arts, not Katy Perry videos and iPhone apps.

Exactly. It's like looking at how little people spend in total on drinking water and deciding that this means it's not very important to the economy.

Exactly. Plumbing improves my quality of life way more than the internet.

This is my favorite (and the most unexpected) Hacker News comment of all time.

Thank you.

came here to use the exact example but didn't see the headline soon enough to beat you to it. This is why I read the comments first before I click on any bait links.

Artists amount to 1.8% of the American workforce


Farmers, 0.05%


Not surprising that art is a bigger industry? Unsurprising, with ~40X the number of people involved, arts produced 4X the revenue.

Can an artist draw 1000 paintings like a farmer can (automatically) milk 1000 cows per day?

I am under the impression that farmers have automated pretty much everything that is automatizeable in their workflow. Artists still have to put pen to (virtual nowadays) paper and spend time on each and every piece of work. Same for other forms of art (be it furnitures or scupltures or animations and video).

So yeah, I don't think you can compare easily.

> Can an artist draw 1000 paintings like a farmer can (automatically) milk 1000 cows per day?

Record artist can sell millions. Visual artist can sell copies of his works. Writer writes a book once and just copies.

It's seems that art scales and automates better than farmers.

Andy Warhol had an art factory. More modern artists dabble with machine learning. It makes one wonder how we will value the art when we get to a case where an artists trained avatar lives on beyond them.

I’m working on this very thing.

Art can be electronically and digitally reproduced and distributed. An artist today can have their work presented to literally billions of people in seconds, a distribution feat that physical goods can never hope to match.

There are more people involved in farming than farmers. I imagine that number does not include farm hands or laborers, who probably significantly outnumber their employers.

Bureau of labor statistics 2016 says 856,000 "agricultural workers" at a median pay of $11.41/hour.


That seems like a good way to look at it. However, the amount of people producing revenue in the arts sector is far greater than just the "artists". In addition, it isn't clear whether video games fit under the arts sector as reported in the OP.

The arts is s broad category dominated by radio, tv and the film industry, as well as books and music and such. It’s not so much your artist in lofts and buskers on the street.

Absolutely. Music, acting, and story telling, etc have almost always fallen under the category of art. Is it always high art? Of course not, but I think most would still consider these things art.

Maybe entertainment is a better label? I was confused too.

How about news broadcasting then? The weather report?

I suppose if an artistic person broadcast the news in an artistic manner, sure, why not?

So, 40% of this figure is Disney alone?

This is disingenuous. They're comparing the entire entertainment industry to the manufacturing portion of the agriculture industry. If you include agriculture's entire impact after the manufacturing step, you'll find the retail and food services industry that arise from it contribute $5.75 trillion to the economy. [1] That dwarfs the arts and entertainment industries by several times.

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/197569/annual-retail-and...

And if you are going to add the entire food chain to agriculture then we will add the telcos and consumer electronics industries that depend on content consumption and the tertiary industries like advertising and marketing that draft off the economic engine of content delivery. I think that in the end it is going to be the case that arts and entertainment have a far larger footprint than food over the past few decades.

Unfortunately everything that comes on top of your mind when you hear Art is probably at the end of list. Entertainment and Media are dominant.

I don't think it's unfortunate that oil paintings don't generate much money. Hopefully books would be at least halfway up the list though.

It would be more honest to use "Entertainment"

Yes, a lot of movies or video games block busters, no matter how pretty they are, are closer to a rollercoaster than to a van gogh painting.

Indeed, you may have a lot of fun in the rollercoaster, and it may be aesthetically pleasing, but it's not made with an artistic intent as much as a desire to make the audience feel good and spend money.

You can call anything "art", so it's not like we can state precisely what fall out of the category. Plus I think the intent make things clearer: do you create music for the music, or do you reuse a well known working formula hopping to sell a lot of air time ?

You can mix both, of course. But when ROI is measure by those producing the thing, it's more a product than a piece of art.

That's not art?

The whole point of art is to make someone feel something. And a big part of getting people to feel is playing on familiarity - for example, how much rock music can be traced directly or indirectly to Chuck Berry? Almost every guitarist has been affected by him. We all mine Chuck Berry riffs, and thus the audience can latch on to our original music and have a spark of recognition.

Product "or" art? It's not either/or.

Van Gogh paintings are more like a rollercoaster than most paintings :)

indeed, from the cited article (https://www.arts.gov/news/2018/arts-contribute-more-760-bill...):

The arts saw a $20 billion trade surplus, leading with movies and TV programs and jewelry.

It definitely would not. "Entertainment" to me would include industries like sports and gambling, which are, to most people, not art (although some gambling could be argued to be art).

I'm not sure why some people in this thread have such a strict definition of art. Hollywood blockbusters are just as much art as poetry.

Why compare a broad category like arts with narrow category like agriculture?

Why not compare something general like arts and with something general like food? Could it be because the contribution of the food industry dwarfs the arts industry? Or compare something specific like "instrument market" with something specific like agriculture?

Also, isn't contribution defined by how we arbitrarily choose to measure it? Do we ( or should we ) assign the value or portion of the value of the goods transported to the transportation system?

My initial thoughts were: Such is the fate of efficient economies (like the US) that have effectively turned farming and logostics into specialized utilities

Quickly followed by: Try enjoying your arts and entertainment when you are hungry and have to walk to the venues.

More information here: https://www.arts.gov/news/2018/arts-contribute-more-760-bill...

There is a lot that's classified as art here, and rightfully so. Film, TV, Broadway, music, photography, art schools, sculpture, jewelry, architecture, musical instruments...

If 2% of the workforce is comprised of artists, would it suffice to cap student loans to art majors at 3% or 4% of the student population?

At what point does a student loan become unviable to the lender, given real world statistics? Why isn't it a factor in actual loan issuance. Further, why is there massive rhetoric around student loan forgiveness, if the economy has no need for certain professions beyond a threshold (which is apparently 2% for arts). Do we want to educate people in certain majors on tax dollars, when the labor market has no demand for it?

Also, do we want to encourage kids going into degrees, without a thorough cost:benefit analysis of what they are getting into?

>Also, do we want to encourage kids going into degrees, without a thorough cost:benefit analysis of what they are getting into?

They do

Who spends more money on art/entertainment than groceries?

Most of the world population spends more on American-made movies, music and video games than they spend on American-made food.

I live in the inner city, eat out a lot and its not unusual for me to drop a hundred bucks on tickets in a week. I eat at a restaurant for my lunch break, I probably spend ~$30/week on groceries.

People like me are the reason for the article I guess.

They mention agriculture, not groceries.

Farmers don't get paid anywhere near the retail price. And that's excluding all the processed food where the farmers get even less as a proportion.

They mention broadcasting, art-related retail, and several other things associated with facilitating trade instead of creation.

If you include art galleries and bookstores, you should include restaurants and grocery stores right?

The USDA has a chart of household expenditures: food=13%, transportation=16%, entertainment+alcohol=6.2%


Looks like the NEA and the USDA are making reports that make their own sector shine. One talking about household expenditures, the other GDP "contribution". I know I could not convince anyone (or myself) of the significance of the different measurements, but when it comes to "X is bigger than Y", the takeaway for the average reader, the headline and report ring false.

"Looks like the NEA and the USDA are making reports that make their own sector shine"

Probably, you didn't point to a conflicting source, so I was just going from the article.

One thing you didn't account for is balance of trade. Art in the NEA definition is probably a net exporter. Food probably not? (you can export raw materials, and you can export the brand. As a non American though, my big mac has never seen America, so I really don't know how that would feed through to those figures). Agriculture also attracts subsidies, that could account for the disparity, although it could increase the disparity so I don't know.

Long story short, the figures don't necessarily contradict each other.

I would be interested in a breakdown of spending by different demographics. Personally, my grocery spending is pretty low, but art/media spending is almost nonexistent, unless you count my ISP bill.

It seems like they would indeed count at least a portion of your ISP bill, as it relates to media streaming services.

Netflix + Prime + (1-2 Apple Movies) + Books + Movies in Theatre + Games.. I say it's reasonable to assume people spend a lot on entertainment. May be without realizing. Different reward centers?

This article is making an argument that because broadcast TV, film generate billions of dollars, that the government should continue to fund the NEA. Is there anybody who believes that if the NEA was completely defunded that it would cause the output of broadcast TV or film to go down? This is like arguing that government should subsidize yoga instructors because healthcare is such a huge part of the economy, and yoga is part of the healthcare industry.

If you added up all the contributions different sectors claim to be making to the economy you would probably end up with a GDP that’s 50 times as much as it really is.

I can't tell if they included video games / interactive entertainment in this. If they didn't, it would be an even bigger figure.

There is a huge bias against the entertainment industry in a lot of America. On Fox, if they use Hollywood as an adjective it is a pejorative. Meanwhile our culture exports are the envy of the rest of the world, who subsidize and protect hoping to catch up.

there is a very broad definition of the arts here. It’s really the entertainment industry:

>But the largest economic impact nationwide came from the usual suspects: broadcasting, which generated $127 billion in economic activity; followed by the motion-picture industry, which accounted for $99 billion; and non-digital publishing, with $77 billion of economic activity. The “arts-related retail trade”—which includes everything from art galleries to book stores—generated $51 million in 2015. But the arts-related retail trade employed 767,000 people to “provide arts and cultural goods and services,” making it the second-highest-employing industry in the arts and culture sector.

I've always suspected that CNN is a work of art...

How have they narrowed down billions generated down to 1/10 of a billion or $0.6B, when what the definition or "art" is not set in stone?

Does this include TSA inspections at airports?

The art of wasting time and money?

Security theatre -- participatory performance art!

Interpretive Dance! We interpret the constitution as not applying!

Can't really compare the three fields: transportation is key to everything, people need to go to where they generate revenue. So does merchandise. Agriculture, can't eat a painting, can we? Nor can we use the art money to buy wheat from Russia long term.

so apples and oranges.

Exactly, you have to have transport and agriculture to enable that level of art. Likewise, tourism, education, construction. It is really a meaningless comparison in one sense. But it does make sense in terms of things like trade disputes: why put tariffs on ordinary steel/aluminum to prop up an inefficient and undercapitalized industry, when that imposes massive costs on a much bigger industry like construction? Or alternatively, one should look at the linkages between industries, and see what the choke points are.

All three are commodities and thus replaceable. No nation technically has to have any of the three but in practice they all do. Relying on external imports for agriculture has generally been a poor idea for any nation which can avoid it for reasons of blockade/siege vulnerability and stability and price stability but it is in fact perfectly possible to sell art and buy wheat from Russia or anybody else on the market longterm.

Hacker News visitors don't seem enthused by this

I really don't understand why. The point of the article is to simply convey that "art" is a larger part of the economy than many people realize, and that maybe we should think twice about cutting funding for the NEA. Not sure why that makes everyone so defensive here.

Without reading the article, gonna go ahead and guess this is largely TV, movies, and video games. Do ads and marketing count as art?

Gosh, if it's such a vibrant economic sector, maybe it doesn't need a government subsidy.

Please refrain from bringing down the discourse to a "reddit style" battle of controversial sound bites. Something in the scope of a well-elucidated argument/claim (complete with interesting insights and/or evidence) about why art/transportation should receive no government grants, however, might be welcomed here.

you say "subsidy" I say "investment"...

Generally you want to keep investing in things that make you money.

The NEA spends 1 out of every 5 dollars on its own bureaucracy, rather than art. Is the NEA good enough at 'investing' that they can justify a 20% management fee? That's laughable.

Nobody seems to appreciate the central contradiction in the argument of this article. People can apparently 'invest' their money in the arts without any guidance from Washington, so why not return the 150M budget of the NEA to the apparently art-loving public and let them allocate it as they see fit?

People can invest their money in science and technology... Why do we need the government to invest in that? See how silly that argument sounds...

It doesn't sound silly at all?

The NIH is pretty poor at allocating research funds, and extremely bloated. The grant application process is kafkaesque, to the point where most investigators must hire an FTE just to deal with NIH paperwork.

Private foundations (e.g. HHMI, Wellcome Trust) already do a much better job. There's less overhead, less make-work for beauracrats, and overall higher-quality science.

I don't have first-hand knowledge of other disciplines, but I doubt that it's much different. Certainly SpaceX, Blue Origin, Orbital ATK have moved from design to implementation faster than NASA with the SLS (where 3 of every 4 dollars are spent on overhead).

Without NASA I think it's fair to say none of those companies (e.g. SpaceX, Blue Origin) would exist.

I could write an essay on the momentous achievements made by agencies you've listed, and the private sector industries they've generated.

Of course SpaceX and Blue Origin, etc. are working off of pre-existing rocket technology -- that's why I'm comparing to the SLS (which was supposed to be assembled out of mostly existing space shuttle parts).

I don't think it's obvious that NASA was required to create commercialized space. One could just as easily write an essay on the momentous achievements made by private industry and philanthropic foundations.

I dare you to write an essay on the momentous achievements of the NEA and the private sector industries it has generated.

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