ART AND POLITICS
INA POST-MODERN ECONOMY
A Personal View
Harry Hillman Chartrand ©
Research Director, The Canada Council
Parliamentary Interns 1988-89
Room 208, West Block, Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada September 16, 1988
we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praise of famous men are
the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter,
either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best,
but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State.
Plato, The Republic. Book X.
I wish to thank Professor Conrad Winn of Carleton University, Director of the Parliamentary Intern Program, for this opportunity of addressing the Parliamentary Interns of 1988-89. Before doing so, however, I must state that the views expressed in this paper are mine. They do not necessarily represent the opinions or the policies of the Canada Council. This experiential approach, however, will reflect more than just personal opinion. To understand, consider what I mean by Science, Art and Technology.
Science can be defined in many ways. For our purposes, it is defined as systematic and formulated knowledge. This permits inclusion of both the Natural and Social Sciences. In this context, Research is the process by which scientific knowledge is discovered, developed and advanced. In contemporary society the focus for scientific research is the University. This has not always been the case, nor need it remain so in future.
Art can also be defined in many ways. For our purposes, Art is defined as skill developed through practiced application. Therefore, Art involves experiential as opposed to scientific learning. In contemporary society the focus for artistic advance is the professional non-profit arts community including traditional art forms such as opera and ballet. Unlike Science, the New does not necessarily displace the Old in Art. Thus images and words of artists from long vanished civilizations continue to inspire contemporary creators and consumers. Artistic knowledge, in fact, tends to appreciate rather than depreciate as in Science.
Technology can be defined as the application of knowledge, either scientific or experiential, for practical purposes. In fact, the word Technology is derived from the Greek teckne meaning Art combined with “-ology” derived from the Greek logos meaning reason. Accordingly, both artistic and scientific knowledge are sources of Technology. In fact, it is only since the Second World War that university-based scientific research has become the primary source of what is popularly called technological change.
In what follows, I will explore seven themes with variations. The themes are:
1. Who am I or What Professional Information Do I Carry?
2. The Economics of Information
3. The Politics of Information
4. Social Scientific Information and the Art of the Possible
5. Bureaucracy and Information
6. Access to Information
7. Application of Information
In my present professional incarnation, I am research director for an arm’s length statutory foundation which, by law, is not an agent of Her Majesty. The Canada Council is mandated by the Parliament of Canada to foster and promote the arts, and therefore those great cultural symbol makers - artists. The legal status of the Council, as a legislative agency, would be more clearly understood if it reported to Parliament, not through a Minister of the executive branch but through the Office of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The origin of this unique institution, created out of the death duties of two of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs - Sir James Dunn and Isaac Walton Killam - is the stuff of which Canadian public policy myth is made. For example, what is not generally known, and even less understood, is that the Canada Council was modeled after such great private philanthropic American foundations as the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, representatives of which attended the first meeting of the Canada Council held in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Canada Council was in fact intended to be both politically and financially independent of the Government of Canada. But in the Arts, there is an expression, Nothing fails like success. By the mid-1960s, the success of the Council led the Government of the day to provide it with an annual appropriation. Today, more than 90% of the operating budget of the Canada Council takes the form of an annual Parliamentary appropriation.
As an employee of such an unusual organization I recognize that in many ways we know more about the folkways and traditions of West Coast Amerindians than we do about the traditions and behaviour of institutions like the Bank of Canada, the Canada Council or the mysteries and rites of passage of the House of Commons. Participant observers are not common in such institutions. Accordingly, your position as Parliamentary interns is an important one and your experience is of value to all Canadians. It is in this sense that I have learned a great secret about the arts by working within the inner sanctum of the Temple called Can Cult. Specifically, I have learned why arm’s length arts councils exist.
From the beginning of Western civilization, the question of the relationship between Art and the State has occupied the minds of philosophers, statesmen and dictators. Plato and Aristotle were convinced that Art, unguided by censorship and control, would destroy the State.
Fear of the political potential of Art for Art’s Sake continued through the Middle Ages. In Umberto Eco’s medieval tale, The Name of the Rose, it was Brother Jorge’s fear of the power of Aristotle’s comedy to endanger the authority of the Church that feeds a tale of murder and causes the destruction of a great library – the collected enlightenment of an age - by the fires of censorship.
Through to the modern age, the State has generally exercised careful, considered control over Art. Louis XIV used the Arts to glorify himself and his alter ego, the French State. In Nazi Germany, all modern means of artistic expression -from radio and television to the motion picture - were harnessed in the service of a cause so evil that colour film of the Nuremburg Rallies has never been released to the public by the Government of the United States, which holds negatives and positives in protective custody. What in scratchy black and white is ancient history to modern eyes, is a symbol of the power of Art to serve Evil in living colour.
In Western Europe today, the State still acts as architect of cultural life, treating art and culture like other social responsibilities of government such as health, education and welfare. Through Ministries of Culture, western European governments have created an extensive system of arts and cultural support programs as well as legal rights that reflect the high social status of the artist. This socio-political status is in sharp contrast with English-speaking countries where self-employed artists are second only to pensioners as the lowest paid occupational group recognized by Revenue Canada. In Eastern Europe and the Communist Bloc, on the other hand, Socialist Realism for decades defined the relationship between Art and the State - socialist in content and realist in form - all else was treason to the Revolution and all offending artists were class criminals. During the Cultural Revolution in China, Chairman Mao resolved the problem of the relationship between the artist and the State by concluding that because all creativity comes from the masses, therefore everyone is an artist and there was no need to provide specific State support to the Arts. In fact, only in English-speaking countries is the conscious separation of Art from direct State support the policy norm. Why?
Perhaps because Cromwell and the Puritans excised art and music, laughter and gaiety during the English Civil War of the mid-1600s. Black and white was all that God would tolerate in His Commonwealth - this land called England. With the restoration of the monarchy, Art took savage revenge with a hedonism and pleasure-seeking unparalleled in the history of the English arts, even in the 1960s and ‘80s. Perhaps this scar - this experience of the fearful power of Art first controlled and then unleashed 150 years before the great Republican Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries - explains the origins of a unique English institution called the arm’s length arts council - funded by, but independent of the State. It is certainly true, however, that between the English Revolution of the 1640’s and the Second World War, there was no official policy of support for the Arts in England, except for legal exemption of art lotteries. In fact, in 1753 Parliament authorized a lottery to finance acquisition of the first collections of the British Museum.
Beginning with the creation of the Arts Council of Great Britain shortly after the Second World War and in response to the use and abuse of Art by Stalin and Hitler, the arm’s length arts council movement swept across the English-speaking world. Creation of these councils reflected, on the one hand, the perceived need of English-speaking societies to catch-up with cultural support provided by the State in all European countries, for example the extensive system of Maisons du Culture in France. On the other hand, the autonomy from political control explicit in mandates of these councils reflected an ongoing dis-ease about Politics and the Arts in English-speaking countries.
Last month at the Canada Council, a study was completed by our special research consultant, Mary Sullivan, of 16 national and provincial arm’s length arts councils in five English-speaking countries - Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The study provides consideration of their historic origins and evolutionary progress through the postwar maturation of their respective artistic communities. The conflicts that plague them and their responses are outlined.
Second, I am an economist, and more specifically, an Institutional economist who believes that maximizing behaviour takes place within the context of law and culture. If you fail to account for culture, you end up in the cannibal’s cooking pot. If you fail to account for the law, you end up in jail like many young high-flyers on Wall Street and some politicians today. This professional incarnation began after I left school and created by own firm FUTURES Socio-Economic Planning Consultants.
After operating the firm for ten years, I assumed my current position. My decision was motivated by the impact of a recession as well as the professional desire to put systems into practice that had been developed with the relative objectivity of the professional consultant. Being an economist and given my status with an arts council, I often say that I am now a practionner of the Black Art.
Two examples will demonstrate how the context of law and culture can affect the pattern of rational economic behaviour. First, consider what can be called the Bribery Theory of Smoking. Before the alleged tobacco plague became a public policy issue, a smoker in a public place could, relatively speaking, smoke freely. If a non-smoker wanted him or her to desist, then the smoker had to be bribed. Today, if the smoker wishes to indulge, he or she must bribe the non-smoker, or hide their habit.
Second, consider the distinction between copyright and droit d’auteur. In French-speaking and most West European countries, droits d’auteur or “author’s rights” are rooted in the Republican Revolutions of the late 18th century and the “Rights of Man Movement”. Such natural or moral rights are not, however, the historical root of copyright in the English-speaking world.
In the 15th century, with the introduction of the printing press (the first engine of mass production), the Tudor monarchs began to grant to approved printers the right to copy approved works, i.e. copyright. Thus the root of copyright is censorship and royal grants of commercial privilege analogous, for example, to the royal charter granted to the Hudson Bay Company. These residuals of feudal law did not vanish with the advent of democracy. On the contrary, they survive, albeit, in attenuated form to plague democratic law and government and influence “the spirit of the law”.
Thus in English-speaking countries, copyright is traditionally the legal foundation of industrial organization of the arts. This partially explains the dominance of American commercial culture. An extreme example will demonstrate how copyright is used by American communications conglomerates. Consider a book, the copyright for which is sold or licensed to become a play. The play is then made into a motion picture. A sound track, posters, T-shirts, toys and other ancilliary products are then marketed. The film is broadcast on TV and the sound track on radio. A book is then made about making the movie and then a sequel to the film is made. These products and associated profits, all flow from the copyright in the original book. However, without legislation by the State creating copyright and the penalties associated with infringement, no market would exist
Some say we confront an Information Explosion. Others see the rise of the Knowledge Industries. I believe that a new source of economic value has evolved which breaks the confines and tolerances of the current economic theory of value. A walk down the memory lane of economic thought will demonstrate my point.
Through history, the goods and services that we buy, in which we invest and on which we pay taxes has changed. The total of these final demands on our pocketbook is called National Expenditure. Similarly, through time, the means by which we earn the income to consume, invest or pay taxes has come from a changing set of factors of production including capital, labour and technology. Taken together, these income flows are called National Income. In economics, National Expenditure and Income represent an accounting identity. The one is exactly equal to the other, and are said to be identical.
Changes in the nature and mix of these factors of production have generally involved crises in confidence concerning previously accepted systems of economic thought. As will be demonstrated, however, the addition of new factors of production to the National Income equation is, in a sense, similar to Maslow’s Need Hierarchy. The new factor does not displace the old but rather creates a new margin for economic growth based upon a foundation consisting of existing factors of production.
In the so-called Pre-Classical Period, from the 16th until the end of the 18th century, it was accepted that only physical capital, e.g. gold, silver and land, was productive of an economic surplus. Through re-investment of this surplus in primary industries like farming, fishing and mining, it was believed that national wealth would increase. In fact, these were considered the only productive sectors of the economy. Today, these sectors make up what are called the Primary Industries of the National Accounts. Monetarists and Gold Standard advocates continue to echo, in one form or another, this ancient economic dogma of value.
In the Classical Period from 1776 until the 1870s, division of labour combined with physical capital in the form of machinery was considered productive of an economic surplus. This theory is embodied in the National Accounts as the Secondary or Manufacturing Industries. Those who believe that manufacturing of a physical product is the only basis of increasing national wealth, as well as Marxists who believe that only labour is productive of a surplus, continue to incant this theory of economic value. In fact, these two ideas form the theoretical root of the Materialsim so characteristic of capitalist and communist economies - if it is not tangible, or if it can’t be counted, then it is not real or productive.
Between the 1870s and the 1930s during the Neo-Classical Period, systemic technological change operating through perfectly competitive markets was recognized as productive of an economic surplus. Investment in improving financial markets, steam-powered transportation and enhanced communications such as the telegraph was believed to increase national wealth. Today, finance, transportation and communications form part of the Tertiary Sector or Service Industries of the National Accounts. During this period, government was generally considered an impediment rather than a source of national wealth. This was the period known as laissez-faire liberalism. Neo-conservatives who believe in setting business free through deregulation and shrinking the power and reach of government, accept this economic dogma.
The Great Depression of the 1930s convinced most economists and policy-makers that the perfectly competitive market was no longer the dominant form of industrial organization. Large scale industrial enterprise combined with widespread unionization required Government’s active involvement to maintain full employment and price stability in the face of imperfect markets.
During this Keyensian Period, government fine tuning of the economy and counter-cyclical management of aggregate demand were considered critical in assuring economic growth. Government, however, was assumed not to generate wealth directly, but rather to maintain and sustain its growth by assuring the efficient interplay of capital, labour and technology. Thus while tax cuts could stimulate growth, growth resulted from the return of resources to the private sector where improvements in the allocation and mix of productive factors was possible. In effect, the Government became recognized as responsible for setting the rules of the game for economic behaviour. The role of Government is recognized in the National Accounts as the Public Sector.
During this Keynesian period of economic thought, Art and Science were recognized as public goods. It was accepted that if the social benefits of an activity could not be fully captured by private producers in the marketplace, then Government had a legitimate role in ensuring that an appropriate quantity and quality were made available to the general public.
The success of the world economy from the Second World War through the early ‘70s led most economists and politicians to accept the Keynesian creed that government intervention was the ultimate guarantor of growth and development. By the mid-’70s, however, stagflation, recession, the oil crisis, and growth of public sector debt created a crisis of confidence, a crisis predicted by Keynes himself.
Today, various economic theories and dogma compete for attention and acceptance. To an extent, the 1980s are a time of Cultural Counter-Reformation in which many strive to resuscitate values and beliefs swept away by the turbulent cultural revolution of the 1960s, and the economic crises of the ‘70s and ‘80s. This lack of confidence is similar to contemporary architecture in which the certainties of the modern or international style have been replaced by an eclecticism of design known as Post-Modern Architecture. By analogy, we have entered the era of Post-Modern Economics, an era without a generally accepted dogma, an era in which we must begin again a long trek for economic truth, understanding and public confidence.
While at present, no single school of economic thought enjoys general public confidence, various new schools have emerged in recent years which share a belief that new factors of production have become the source of economic growth. Such new factors generally have been recognized through re-definition of older concepts such as capital, e.g. information capital, and technological change. It is my professional opinion that re-definition of our concept of technological change is a more fruitful avenue of exploration.
The importance of breaking out the constituents of traditional technological change is evident when its contribution to growth in National Income is considered. In fact, at least two-thirds of all growth in National Income in the last 100 years is attributable to changes in technology. But we have no idea why some things are invented and others not, or why some inventions are innovated, i.e. brought to market, and others not. It was during my first class in economics that the professor noted that effect of technological change on economic growth was The Measure of Our Ignorance in Economics. To improve our understanding of this critical factor, I propose breaking-out technological change into three distinct epistemological roots.
First, advances in physical technology result from research in the Physical Sciences. In the last several generations such research has created the chemical, electrical and nuclear industries. In this generation, physical science research has generated the electronic and bio-technology industries. It is generally accepted that this type of technological change leads to growth in national wealth. To the best of my knowledge, however, there are no empirical studies that demonstrate a causal relationship between investment in physical research and development and growth in National Income. Theoretical and political belief in the argument, however, is strong. Various terms have been used to describe what, at any moment, is considered to be the most efficient physical technology. The term leading edge has been used. Similarly, the expression State of the Art has been applied.
Second, the ways in which workers and managers are motivated and the ways in which they combine with financial capital, plant and equipment to create business enterprise and other social institutions can be called Organizational Technology. Advances in organizational technology emerge from research and development in the social and management sciences. Such advances lead to growth in National Income and affect the capacity of a company or a country to effectively innovate new products and processes. The economic impact of improved Organizational Technology on national wealth has been estimated at 20 to 40% of the net national product of the United States. The Economic Council of Canada has also recognized the negative consequences of poor organizational technology with respect to innovational capacity of Canadian businesses. The phrase which has become the touchstone for organizational success is In Search of Excellence.
Third, just as the physical and social sciences are the source of physical and organizational technological change, Art is the epistemologic source of improved product Design. Unlike the sciences, however, advances in Art do not generally take place in the university but rather emerge from the professional non-profit fine arts where art for art’s sake is the dominant motivation.
The contribution that Design brings to the marketplace can be called Elegance. This term is also used in mathematics, the physical sciences and economics where it expresses Occam’s Razor, a guiding principle of the scientific method: Fewest assumptions for the maximum explanation. Elegance can also be defined as “ingeniously simple and effective”.
Aesthetic Design is fundamentally different from technical or functional design such as a more fuel-efficient automobile engine. Its impact on consumer behaviour involves what has been called “the best looking thing that works”. If a consumer does not like the way a product looks, he or she may not try it. Similarly, a rich endowment of natural resources does not guarantee a nation will develop upscale value-added products, e.g. Canada is the largest timber producing country in the world and yet imports Swedish IKEA furniture. This is not because Swedish pine is better (particularly because IKEA uses Polish pine), but rather due to superior design and marketing.
The importance of Art to international economic competitiveness was first recognized in the English-speaking world over 150 years ago in the United Kingdom with the establishment of the first school of design in 1836. Until 1814, the Statute of Artificers had regulated training and employment of artisans in the craft guild tradition. In that year, responding to deregulation or laissez-faire economic policies, Parliament abolished the Statute. In short order, the guild system collapsed and the labour market became flooded with unskilled workers. By 1835 the quality of British production, particularly textiles, had declined to the point that the British Board of Trade appointed a Select Committee to investigate the problem and recommend remedies. The Committee called for the direct application of Art in manufacturing in order to maintain competitiveness with European rivals. The result was creation of schools of design. Similarly, manufacturers in Boston forced the State to introduce art education in the schools of Massachusetts in the 1870s. In Canada, the same rationale was used to establish programs in arts education during the 1880s.
While the impact of improved Design has not been quantified, its impact on competitiveness is again being recognized by, among others, the Macdonald Royal Commission which reported:
There is, then, another aspect to culture, namely good taste, good design and creative innovation, that should enable smaller industrial economies to compete effectively in the world economy... In this endeavour, higher quality implies an organic relationship between business and engineering, on the one hand, and design and craftsmanship, on the other... High-quality products, technologies, plants, homes, cities and locales require the presence of creative artists of all kinds. To increase the long-run supply of artists... governments must support the artists and the arts. The long-term return from investment in artists and the arts is real and substantial. In the absence of strong public support of this sector, Canada will not reap these benefits. Governments at all levels should increase their contribution to their respective arts councils (Royal Commission, 1985, 115-116).
Changes in physical technology resulting from research in the physical sciences, improvements in organizational technology resulting from social and management science research, and improvements in design resulting from advances in the Arts are now major sources of growth in National Income. Advances in physical, organizational and design technology are legally protected by intellectual property rights legislation including: patents (emerging from the physical sciences); registered industrial design (emerging from the physical sciences and the arts); trademarks (emerging from the arts), and copyright (emerging from the physical and social sciences, humanities and the arts). Managerial and industrial know-how also falls into this category of abstract goods and services. At present such abstract goods and services constitute what can be called the Quaternary or Fourth Sector of the economy.
At any point in time, there exists a stock of capital and labour which embodies current and past technical and educational attainment. Advances in physical, organizational and design technologies are flows that become embodied in new products, industrial processes and equipment, organizational methods, styles and fashions. In dollar terms, research, both scientific and artistic, involves a tiny amount of resources compared to the existing capital stock and labour force. However, its role in economic growth is that of a catalyst stimulating changes and improvements in the quality and efficiency of capital and labour. The Information Economy is based on the buying, selling and licensing of abstract intellectual property rights which result from advances in physical, organizational and design technologies.
Scientific research is the most information-rich source of intermediate or producer demand for information in the so-called Information Economy. Art is the most information-rich source of final or consumer demand for information. Intellectual property rights such as copyright, patents, registered industrial design and trademarks form the legal foundation for the industrial organization of activity in Art and Science. In the Sciences, computer-communications technology is furthering this process, while in Art, it is the Home Entertainment Centre which currently represents the leading edge of the industrialization process. Contrary to popular misconception, the emerging Information Economy does not imply a Golden Age of free flowing information. Rather, it involves the reification of the economic value of information, i.e. the monetarization of information.
Within this framework of economic value, it is possible to distinguish between information, knowledge and understanding. Thus the emerging economy has generated a dramatic increase in the quantity of information. But this enormous amount of information is not generally available in an organized, recoverable form, i.e. knowledge. Hence we confront an information explosion and experience information overload. But beyond knowledge, there is the question of understanding, i.e. having organized information into knowledge, what does it all mean and how can it be applied in practical terms?
Understanding is a higher order of awareness than knowledge. It involves what can be called unconventional forms of information. Information is generally considered to consist only of intellectual facts, e.g. Canada occupies 10 million square kilometers. The intellectual faculty of the human psyche uses concepts as its unit of knowing. By the way, the word concept derives from the Latin meaning to grasp firmly with the hand, or in the Sicilian vernacular, to steal. This etymology reflects the material or external orientation of intellectual understanding. There are, however, with notable exceptions including Pierre Elliot Trudeau, very few politicians who make decisions purportedly based upon intellectual fact and reason. Those who do so can be called the Thinker-type of politician. By using personal anecdotes, let me demonstrate other ways of knowing used by politicians.
My first contract coming out of university was as a speech writer for the newly elected President of the Canadian Federation of Mayors and Municipalities at the Quebec Conference of 1972. During the conference I attended a panel discussion on community development. During this discussion a Ph.D sociologist confronted a rural Ontario mayor with the question: How many books have you written and how many degrees do you have? The mayor, who had held office for more than 35 years retorted: And how many elections have you won? This confrontation led to blows and the two men had to be physically separated.
In 1979, the Canada Council commissioned Malcolm Black, an outstanding Canadian theatrical director, to conduct an inquiry into theatre training in Canada. At that time, the York University Faculty of Administration offered to provide survey and computer services free of charge to support the inquiry. Mr. Black, and my predecessor at the Canada Council, René Lemieux (who is currently a research officer with the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture) travelled to the York campus to discuss the proposed survey.
Mr. Black asked the York specialists to answer a series of questions particularly relevant to him as an artistic director. Time after time, however, the specialists responded that for this or that technical or methodological reason, answers to these questions were not possible. In frustration, Mr. Black threw his coffee cup into the air, rose to his feet and gave a demonstration of the histrionic, elocution and rhetorical skills gained through many years of practising his Art. The specialists fell back overwhelmed by this emotive, yet meaningful attack on their ability to answer questions basic to evaluating artistic issues.
Finally, at the time of the Liberal Party Convention that nominated John Turner as Leader, Maureen Forrester, Chairperson of the Canada Council and world-class contralto, was to sing the national anthem at the fair well to Pierre Trudeau. She walked to the stage and said, in effect: Ladies and gentlemen of the Liberal Party of Canada, you know that you share this stage with us. the artists of Canada -0 Canada... . Of course, everyone stood up and saluted. This sharing of the stage is one source of antipathy that some artists feel about politicians and vice-versa.
The point is that intellectual information is not the only type relevant to the public policy process, particularly to the politician. Many, for example, understand their constituents and make decisions not through intellectual concepts but through precepts - moral or other axioms involving dichotomies such as Good/Bad, Beautiful/Ugly, Right/Wrong, etc. This is the Feeler-type, a politician who feels what is right or wrong for his or her constituents. Sometimes they are called Idealists.
There are also politicians, perhaps like the mayor who held continuous office for 35 years, who rely on an intuitive understanding. This Intuitive-type politician just knows where his constituents stand on a given issue, and therefore knows what position to adopt for electoral purposes, whether this position is morally or logically correct is beside the point. Then there is the glad-handing, back-slapping, baby-kissing, laying-on-of-hands politician of the old school who gains understanding through physical or sensate contact with constituents. This is the Sensate-type politician. Accordingly, it would be superficial to think that information in the public policy process consists simply of empirical intellectual facts. A good politician, in my opinion, combines some or all of these alternative ways of understanding.
In a study commissioned by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, I had the opportunity to review the academic literature concerning application of social science research in the public policy process. My findings in summary were:
(a) because the social scientist requires a long time-frame to conduct research, the findings often arrive too late to be applied by the politician who faces an immediate crisis;
(b) the social scientist cannot permit poor methodology or conceptual weakness to slip into the research agenda, but to the politician this may appear as an exercise in intellectual hair splitting;
(c) the self-image of the social scientist as a disinterested observer and that of the politician as an active agent of social change, sometimes conflict dramatically; and
(d) without “the ear of the prince”, i.e. the politician, the social scientist is unable to implement research findings in any concrete way.
From these findings it should be clear that if social scientific evidence is to be effective in the public policy process then it must be developed in anticipation of crisis because once it arises, the politician does not have time to wait for answers. Furthermore, it needs to be transliterated from the alphabet of the social sciences to the vernacular of the art of the possible.
But given that an investment in research must be made before the fact, it is an unfortunate truth within the culture of contemporary public policy that governmental libraries, research centres and statistical development are generally the first to be cut when government is faced with fiscal restraint. They also tend to be the last to be revived. In other words, social science research faces a catch-22 situation. If you don’t have useable information, your budget is cut. But if you don’t have the budget, you can’t develop useable information. On the surface, at least, this suggests that social scientific research seldom generates policy relevant information. But beneath this surface of illusion, one must recall Keynes’ last paragraph of his General Theory:
the ideas of economists and political philosphers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and poltiical philosphy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.
Given that elected politicians face a constant battle with current events, it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to invest in the time-consuming exercise of learning. It has been said that a term in office is an exercise in the depreciation of information, knowledge and understanding built up before coming to office. Politicians, especially Ministers, increasingly come to depend upon the civil service, the bureaucracy or special interests to bring facts to their attention and to propose alternative courses of action. Such interest groups reflect the underlying non-geographic constituencies that dominate what on the surface is a geographically-based democracy. Among these non-geographic constituencies, the Arts are extremely powerful due to access to the media and the experiential ability to address the public in an effective and convincing manner.
It would be more than naive to think that the bureaucracy provides the politician with value-free information or have no vested interest in what is known. I would like to outline three Laws of Technocracy which sometimes are adopted and applied by bureaux. The First Law of Technocracy is: Confuse and Conquer. If the bureau decides that it is inappropriate to inform either the politician or the public, then it can generate information that is so complex, so filled with technical jargon that the politician cannot understand it and must therefore rely on the judgements and advice of those who claim understanding. Consultants are very useful in this process. A variation on the strategy is to lock up information in a complex computer system to which only the bureau has access, or to which enormous cost-recovery charges are attached. It can then claim to know what is going on, but that its opposition does not. This situation can degenerate into the blind leading the blind and public policy development is frustrated.
The Second Law of Technocracy is: What We Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Us. If a bureau does not want anyone to know, or if it does not want to be evaluated, then it may simply not collect, compile or disseminate relevant information, or it may protest that such evidence is not admissable or relevant to the qualitative nature of the public policy in question. Instead of presenting facts and figures, the agency offers the informed but biased opinion of its experts.
The Third Law of Technocracy is: When in Doubt, Hide Behind Commercial Confidentiality. Given that commercial confidentiality is one of the supreme values of our market economy, some agencies choose a commercial agent to veil information from the public eye. When I worked with the The Level Task Force on Public Finance I discovered a number of cases where a commercial fiscal agent of a provincial or local government was used, in effect, to hide debt financing information. Thus while the Public Accounts require disclosure, if a transaction is transfered to a private commercial agent, then commercial confidentiality comes into play. For example, I estimate that between $10 and $20 million is spent every year by federal, provincial and local governments and the private sector on arts research. If the results support those in power, they are published. If not, such research studies become draft reports that never see the light of day and which have no official status. Peer evaluation is not possible and the wheel is constantly being re-invented.
These Laws can lead to a very jaded attitude. While with the Tri-Level Task Force I had the privilege of working with a wise-old-Scotsman. One day he took me aside and said: Harry, after working with Statistics Canada for more that 20 years I have learned three things:
1. If it is logical, it can’t be done!
2. If it makes sense, it isn’t possible!
3. The only hope you have is advancement by assassination!
While I believed at the time that this was too cynical by half, within three or four more years I generated my own little saying: If anything is to be done, it is always in spite of the system, never because of it!
In my opinion it is imperative that transparency becomes the information mandate for the bureaux - transparency in the sense that the activities of the bureaux are open to public view and the information generated by these activities fall within the public domain. If the information base used to make a public policy decision is shared by all those affected then a matu~re bargaining relationship can exist. All parties can agree that these are the facts and move onto the question of what to do about it. Otherwise, an immature bargaining relationship exists in which the parties argue about what are the facts and never confront the important question of appropriate action.
It is generally believed that a revolution in public policy has happened in Canada over the last decade. Specifically, the Access to Information and Privacy Acts appear to provide the public with access to governmental intelligence, while at the same time protecting the individual from invasion of privacy with respect to information he or she may provide to government. In my opinion, this revolution is more illusion than real. Canada does not have freedom of information as in the United States of America. Rather, Canadians have access, and the acronym for the Act - ATIP -gives away the story. If one has “a tip” about what to look for, then one may be able to gain access. In this regard it is critically important for you to understand the importance of a good bureaucratic acronym to the success of an agency or a program.
Furthermore, within the Access to Information Act there is a very important, but not very visible provision that gives the designated Minister authority to approve or disapprove of the creation or maintenance of data banks. This provision has now been exercised in Treasury Board Circular 1986-19 which concerns public opinion procurement. A new sub-committee of Cabinet now has the authority to review all governmental survey questionnaires intended to obtain the opinion of citizens.
In fact, we have entered another revolutionary period, one not characterized by citizen rights but rather by the emergence of the third public sector resource - information. Once upon a time government managed its affairs by reference only to financial resources. Then person years became a critical resource. Now, through the Access to Information Act, information has become a resource that will be managed. The implications of this management are not necessarily beneficial to a more informed citizenry. What is asked and how it is asked now becomes a serious question of political choice.
Another almost perverse result of official Access to Information results from an extreme policy of cost-recovery. In 1984, for example, Research & Evaluation purchased important Census data on the employment of artists. The data cost $800. To extract the same data from the 1986 Census will cost $50,000. This is only one of a number of examples that are causing me professional concern. In fact, today, there is less information available to the Canada Council concerning the state of the arts than there was five years ago. Given that in this culture: If you’re not counted, you don’t count, this state of development seriously reduces the ability of the Arts in this country to develop the reasoned, empirical arguments needed to compete for increasingly scare public and private sector resources. The problem is so acute that I have proposed creation of a non-profit Cultural Research Institute to obtain federal, provincial and local government funding as well as support from the private sector. The proposed institute would collect statistical and other research information concerning not only the High Arts but also native and multicultural artistic activities and the applied arts and crafts.
If one anticipates and invests in the development of information, then one can, from time to time, successfully apply this information and obtain changes in public policy. Three examples from the experience of the Research & Evaluation Section will demonstrate how this can be done.
For a number of years prior to 1981, the Section collected and compiled data from Revenue Canada concerning the income status of self-employed artists and entertainers. In 1981, Jean Chrétien was the Minister responsible for the Social Development Envelop Committee of Cabinet. The government of the day stated that the priority was to help first those who need help most. The Canada Council, using Revenue Canada data, was able to demonstrate that self-employed artists were second only to pensioners as the lowest paid occupational group recognized by Revenue Canada. In response, the Minister authorized a $3 million increase in the base budget of the Council.
Second, for a number of years the Research & Evaluation Section developed and maintained an annual estimate of the size of the arts industries in Canada. This estimate, based on Census of Manufactures data and other sources, proved that the arts industry was, compared to all manufacturing industries, the largest employer, the sixth largest with respect to salaries and wages and the ninth largest with respect to revenue. When Marcel Masse became Minister of Communications he was able to take these estimates and go to caucus and Cabinet and log-roll. In effect, he was able to say: I am responsible for a lot of jobs and a lot of money. If you support my efforts I can deliver jobs and bucks to your constituencies.
Third, in 1984 Research & Evaluation took advantage of the new National Training Act by documenting, using Census 1981 data, that arts employment was very large and arts jobs were very cheap. The Department of Employment and Immigration responded by designating arts administrators and the arts industry as occupations of national importance. Today more than $30 million a year is spent by the Department of Employment and Immigration in support to job creation and training in the arts.
These three examples highlight something reported by Aucoin and French in a 1974 Science Council of Canada study entitled Knowledge, Power.and Public Policy. The authors examined the hopes and dreams of the Ministry of State concept developed in the late 60s and early 70s and embodied in the Ministry of State for Urban Affairs and the Ministry of State for Science and Technology. These two agencies were created with the rationale that theoretical understanding of a complex sector brought with it power to shape public policy. Neither Ministry possessed program funds or a significant numbers of jobs. In short order, the reality of the political process became apparent. Knowledge of where is the money and where are the jobs can be converted into power within Cabinet and caucus. Theoretical knowledge, however, does not necessarily translate into power because there are no resources to be log-rolled with colleagues.
What I have offered in this address is a very personal, experiential analysis of the culture of public policy as it involves information. I hope that it will assist you in your important activities in the coming year because to be forewarned is to be fore-armed.