GRE Analyze the issue: Funding the arts during depression

"Nations should suspend government funding for the arts when significant numbers of their citizens are hungry or unemployed.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the recommendation and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, describe specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be advantageous and explain how these examples shape your position."

The writing topic can be found among the complete list of topics at PrepScholar. Below is my model essay, which I composed under mock exam conditions as seen in the video above.

Considering the case of a country that is experiencing an economic depression, some people may say that funding for extraneous public programs like the arts ought to be eliminated, and that their funding should be diverted to the true needs of the people in the way of food assistance or unemployment income. However, the arts, of which there are many forms, are a sort of jobs program. Public artwork not only benefits artists, but also the public that enjoys viewing art, and listening to or watching performances.

The types of government programs that put money into the economy are many. They range from education to military expenditures. The funding for the arts is relatively little in comparison to some of the other types of social welfare programs that exist, the largest of which are typically health care and pensions. The money that is spent into the economy by the government also has a multiplier effect that compounds the amount of money in circulation as the funding changes hands. The benefit of government spending in the economy is quite significant. Not only is the amount great, but the health of the economy depends on it.

The extent to which the general public benefits from government spending depends in part on the types of spending. The money that goes directly into industry in the form of subsidies makes the domestic products of a country relatively competitive. However, the money that the government spends in funding public works that create jobs, such as infrastructure projects and the arts, is actually paid into the bank accounts of employees and artists. These workers are in turn going to spend their incomes, which generates even more growth in the economy. Moreover, the income that is spent by the underemployed, as is typically the case among artists and gig workers, is greater in percentage than money injected into the market through buy-back of government bonds. Bond-holders, after all, do not tend to spend their disposable income in the same ways that low-income earners would.

Besides the income that artists receive through funding of the arts, there are two additional beneficiaries. They include the general public and the facilities that are created to house performances. These public spaces include museums and concert halls, among which there are many historic landmarks in both small and large cities. Venues ranging from opera houses to band shells require maintenance. The circular flow of money would direct this spending through every type of job related to the operation of these attractions that are so vital to tourism, further compounding the multiplier effect of government spending in this sector of the economy.

The third and largest stakeholder is the viewing public. Consider the well-being and health of a population during an economic downturn. The people that live through tough times have the same mental and emotional needs as any others. The art that is created during periods of depression reflects the conditions under which the people are living and creates a living record of those times. Both visual and performance art created under times of turmoil allow for the relief of the pressure of the society. Art, music, theater and dance are an outlet for the pain of living with deprivations. Governments have not only an obligation to support the fiscal health of their nations, but also the emotional repair that a society must go through. The funding of public arts that supports design and infrastructure projects contribute to both the economic rebuilding of a nation and the sustained development of a country through such periods of economic difficulty.

In conclusion, the money spent into the economy through a range of public programs should not be limited to the most obvious types of public assistance, nor should the spending be limited to the industries that require the greatest attention to maintain the international reputation of a country. Government spending during difficult times when people are experiencing hunger and unemployment must also include spending in the arts as it is the arts that boost the morale of the people through such depressions.

(678 words)

After composing my essay under mock exam conditions with a strict 30-minute time limit, it occurred to me that I should point out the limitations of the argument I have presented. First of all, I did not spend time preparing by brainstorming or outlining the essay, and so there were a few ideas that I was not able to include in the essay because I didn’t have sufficient time to incorporate them.

The statement in the prompt lacks any mention of the conditions under which a population may come to experience mass hunger, famine and widespread unemployment. It also makes the assumption that the debate in governments where these problems exist is restricted by the requirement of a balanced budget, and that the government is prohibited from excessive deficit spending, in which case one would assume that government spending is funded either by revenue from state-run industries or taxes. These are economic conditions that vary depending on the nation in question.

Conversely, a government’s domestic policy is legally separated from the policies of central banks, which have tools that target an optimal level of unemployment. Moreover, there is some contention among economists over federal banking policy with respect to targeting an optimal balance between inflation and employment and the real ability of federal banks to effectively control these economic indicators with monetary policy tools.

As opposed to English proficiency examinations, the GRE score is based on the strength of the argument of the essay, which is a product of the writer’s ability to directly address the prompt using logic, effective word choice, cohesion and coherence. While I approached this topic from an economic perspective, there are important foreign policy considerations involving international aid, embargos and long-term food shortages resulting from climate change, which are discussed in the links below from a United States radio and television program called Democracy Now! from Friday, October 9, 2020. In the episode, the host interviews writer Vijay Prashad on the announcement of the awarding of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to the UN World Food Program (link to mainstream news story below).

Video and transcript:

Audio only – Apple Podcasts (Vijay Prashad interview begins at minute 35 and 30 seconds)

In this article, rationale for this year’s award is briefly summarized and highlights hunger resulting from wars in the Middle East.

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