Morton Marcus: Could we use a smidgen more arts, theater, sports?

Polly Morphos can be irritating. Willy-nilly she’ll change her opinion, or the topic being discussed. Recently, we were talking about the role of entertainment in American society.

“We’re being swallowed up by entertainment,” she said. “Everything has to be entertaining, happy news, newscasters joking around. Commercials all tell little entertaining stories. It’s another deterioration of society.”

“It’s not true, Polly,” I said. “According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 1997 AER (Arts, Entertainment and Recreation) accounted for 1.1% of private sector GDP in the U.S. and 1.2% in Indiana, and those numbers hardly changed by 2022.”

“You and your odorific statistics,” Polly sneered. “Those numbers don’t tell us anything about how much time we spend watching reruns of ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Seinfeld’.”

“You’re right,” I said. “GDP is the market value of goods and services produced.”

“Of course, I’m right,” Polly enthused. “Look at the outrageous amounts of money earned by athletes and Taylor Swift.”

“But that’s what people value,” I said. “Our economy is such that we can accommodate the ‘outrageous’ without cutting back on other goods and services. The payments to performers, including athletes, are included in the numbers I gave you.”

Polly paused. I could hear the wheels in her mind turning. Naturally, I pressed on.

“Indiana actually has not done poorly in providing such services. We ranked 19th among the states in the growth of performing arts, spectator sports, museums, and related activities over the past quarter century. Just a smidgen below the national growth rate.”

“What’s a smidgen?” Polly asked, pleased to have caught me unprepared. I chuckled, having the data right at hand. “In this case, 0.02%.”

She was deflated, but resilient. “Well,” she began methodically, “we’re hearing we need more sports, more entertainment, more recreation in Indiana all the way from Hudson Lake to Tell City, from Richmond to Toad Hop. It’s how we can keep our own and attract workers with the skills we need.”

“Where would you start?” I asked.

“That’s obvious,” Polly asserted. “Community theatre! Nothing like it to involve people who want to explore fresh material, to play different parts in life, to put some excitement into their town.”

“You don’t think twisted metal sculptures on odd plots of land adjacent to heavily traveled roadways demonstrates community sophistication?” I asked.

“Noooo,” Polly was dismissive of that one. “What we need is more acoustic music on our streets. Ever go to the Art Institute in Chicago when the drummer or the saxophonist is there? That’s excitement, that’s entertainment.”

“So, you like the baseball games and stadiums in Gary, South Bend, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis?” I asked.

“Sure,” Polly insisted. “We need them in Evansville and Terre Haute.”

She might have gone on, but I heard those wheels turning and a different passion was on its way.

Morton Marcus is an economist. Follow his views and those of John Guy on “Who Gets What?” wherever podcasts are available or at Send comments to [email protected].