When Charles Dickens landed on America’s shores in 1842, fans lined the streets of New York to see the man widely feted as the greatest author on the globe. That is, until Dickens began giving speeches in which he noted American publishers were conveniently forgetting to pay him royalties for printing and selling his books. New York’s Morning Post disapproved of Dickens’ crass request for payment from American publishers, saying it was “bad taste in Mr. Dickens to allude to the copyright business in his speech here.” As detailed in Rebecca Romney and J.P. Romney’s excellent Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History, America was virtually unregulated when it came to foreign copyright rights. Book companies would steal foreign works and sell them cheaply, citing the philanthropic need to educate the masses. And the American public liked the cheap books – as publisher Roger Sherman put it, copyright reform amounted to “the clamor of two hundred authors against the interests of fifty-five millions of people.” In mid-March of this year, President Trump introduced his subtly-titled “Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” a plan that seeks deep cuts in some previously untouchable federal spending programs. Among other sacrosanct cultural programs, Trump’s blueprint eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Naturally, the aggrieved parties immediately appeared as if transported by Star Trek-style Teleporter. The usual suspects bemoaned “cutting Big Bird” and erroneously attacked Trump for wanting to dismantle the “Meals on Wheels” programs for seniors. “Arts groups have already begun a furious lobbying campaign to press Republicans in Congress to save the endowments,” wrote Sopan Deb in a New York Times article that miraculously didn’t include a single quote from anyone supporting elimination of the NEA or NEH. The article goes on to say the $300 million endowment cut is actually a “tiny fraction” of the government’s $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending and that “grants from these agencies have been deeply valued financial lifelines and highly coveted honors for artists, musicians, writers and scholars for decades.” (Of course, if Republicans passed, say, a $300 million business tax cut, the chance the Times would go out of its way to portray it as “tiny” is almost certainly zero-point-zero percent.) Clearly, the people reliant on these programs see themselves as the Charles Dickens side of a Roger Sherman-esque equation: It’s a small but intense group of them against the interests of hundreds of millions of American taxpayers. (The primary difference being that Dickens was right.) It is something completely different than the fights over cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency or the State Department. Typically, these boisterous beneficiaries of government cultural programs succeed in making taxpayer support for their causes compulsory year after year, decade after decade. Once the government creates a program, it’s impossible to wrest it away without an interest group the program benefits launching an intense campaign to keep it. Undoubtedly there are drug dealers on America’s streets envious of the government’s business plan – give the people just a taste, and you’ve got a client for life. Of course, when a new program is created, taxpayers barely feel the pinch. It’s the law of diffuse costs versus concentrated benefits – when Congress creates a new program, the costs are spread out over hundreds of millions of taxpayers, but a small, intense interest group of beneficiaries is then born. That group then spends its time not only convincing legislators that the world could never have existed without taxpayers making it rain on their cause, but that even more money is now necessary to keep America from sliding backward. (Lacking any sense of irony, director Robert Redford cited NEA cuts that were proposed by a recently-elected president and which must also pass through Congress before enactment as an example of America’s “democracy being threatened.”) But as long as TheNew York Times is in the mood for context, here’s some more: In 2015, private charitable giving for the arts, culture and humanities totaled $17.07 billion, an increase of 7% over the prior year. The entire budgets of the NEA and NIH would make up only 1.7% of total charitable contributions to the arts in the U.S. Clearly, support for culture is thriving without government coercion, and orchestras and paintings and dance projects would march on in the absence of government funding. Certainly it’s a shock to see a Republican actually carry through on a threat to cut government programs; in recent years, “cutting” has simply meant “slowing the rate of growth.” But getting taxpayer funds out of the arts altogether would demonstrate that America can have a thriving creative scene without using money that could better be spent on health care, child care or national security. And if Trump’s cuts do go through, feel free to write a spectacular poem, song, play or modern dance to wage your protest. But be aware that if your art is too good, you’ll be making his point for him.