Age of mass intelligence?

Tyler Cowen, over at, has a pointer today to a long article entitled The Age of Mass Intelligence in the Economist’s online magazine. It’s a long, hard-to-summarize article, with the main point that there are many more people interested in “high culture” than cultural pessimists think and these culturally-interested people are a more heterogeneous group than one might expect. The emphasis is primarily on the UK, understandably. The article already has a small number of comments at the bottom, and I expect more to appear there soon.

Cultural pessimism has already made an appearance in the comments. I am not sure it’s warranted. One particular comment in this vein that I dislike says that we shouldn’t count people who are simply nouveau-cultured as cultured; they are just buying culture. For that commenter, culture is always for a small minority. To this I say “Bah!”. Elitism at its worst.

One good way to use the information in the article would be as fodder for planning by non-profits in the arts. A good thing to read for the management of Lyric Fest, my own favorite non-profit, for sure.

Update: if you revisit the article, you will see a lively debate between the commenter who made the remark I bemoan above and myself.

2008 Swedish Bank Prize in Economics (“Nobel”) goes to Krugman

As he put it in his New York Times blog, Paul Krugman had a funny thing happen to him this morning. Here is the official press release, information for the public and the longer article with the scientific background, the latter of interest mostly to economists. I am not an expert in international economics or economic geography, but I do know that Krugman’s work was very influential in both fields, essentially resurrecting economic geography. Congratulations are in order. I also feel that the selection committee has made this year’s prize look like a political award, given Krugman’s violent criticisms of George W. Bush in the New York Times. While I share Krugman’s attitude on Bush, I do not like the politicization of the prize. I admit the politicization goes back many years, though, and indeed seems to apply to many if not all Nobel prizes. How else can we explain that Dario Fo got he literature prize but Vladimir Nabokov (or a number of other worthy candidates) did not?

Arthur C. Clarke, RIP

Transience, the fate of humanity. I’m sure I’m only one of many millions whom his stories reached and moved at a young age. I remember being awed by “2001: A Space Odyssey”, absorbed by “Childhood’s End”, and crying on reading “Transience”, all as a teenager. And for all I know, this very blog post will be transmitted to some remote part of the internet via a satellite in Clarke orbit. Sir Arthur, good bye, and maybe see you on a seashore a few million years in the future.

On the role of the humanities in higher education

(So much for my promise in the last day of 2007 to post here more often… But I still intend to do it, and I might as well start today with the following.)

This article by Mark Liberman made me think about the humanities in Universities today. Yes, even more than the hoopla from Apple, whose keynote I did peruse online when it was reasonably complete. Liberman’s article, and the two NY Times blog posts by Stanley Fish it links to, are thoughtful explorations of the justification for teaching humanities in higher education. It is hard for me to imagine writing on this topic more clearly or incisively than Liberman or Fish, so I will not try. Instead, I will recommend them highly to you, o readers, and will return to the work I interrupted to write this post.

Opera boom in America…

…according to this article from The American. Thanks to Cafe Hayek (!) for bringing it to my attention. Here is a quote from the article (the comparison with NFL is a amazing to me):

The U.S. now has 125 professional opera companies, 60 percent of them launched since 1970, according to the trade group OPERA America. The U.S. has more opera companies than Germany and nearly twice as many as Italy. In the most comprehensive recent study, the National Endowment for the Arts found that between 1982 and 2002, total attendance at live opera performances grew 46 percent.

Annual admissions are now estimated at 20 million, roughly the same attendance as NFL football games (22 million, including playoffs, in 2006–07). In part, this reflects a shift toward seeing opera domestically. “Foreign opera destinations like Salzburg and Glyndebourne are more expensive, and more Americans are staying home—and probably feeling safer for it,” says Richard Gaddes, general director of the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico.

French author F. Martel on "Culture in America"

French author comes to America, wonders “where’s the Ministry of Culture?”, is surprised by US vibrancy in arts, writes hefty tome. Sacre bleu! Maybe a country doesn’t need a Ministry of Culture to have a good arts scene!
Tyler Cowen has written Good and Plenty: The Creative Success of American Arts Funding (Princeton University Press, 2006). This article in the New York Times, found from Arts Journal Daily, points out that a French author has recently come out with a weighty tome on the same subject, reaching the conclusion that the US has a very effective decentralized system for supporting the arts; and that in France the intellectual elite are more into trying to preserve their privileges when they argue for more government support for the arts than trying to really promote the arts. The last point is of course no surprise to any economist; ulterior motives are not hard to see when you have been shown how to look for them.
If you want to read one of these books, Cowen’s has a lot to recommend it (and I confess ignorance of the book by Martel that the New York Times article discusses beyond what I read in the article). Perhaps the most important virtue of Cowen’s book is its brevity. I know I don’t have time to read Martel’s…