Yesterday I held forth at the same dispatch box that cradled the notes and timepieces of great orators like Edmund Burke and brilliant wits like Oscar Wilde. I was at Trinity College Dublin to debate arts subsidies.
Inviting state-subsidized students and academics to reject state subsidies is always a lost cause, but I made the case that subsidies corroded true art. They centralize what should give us diversity. They bureaucratize what should be free-sprited. They tax the poor for the delight of the rich. And they give us, not Shakespeare and Chopin, but an unmade bed and the Millennium Dome. On the other side, my usually bone-dry friend Dr Sean Barrett argued that arts spending was tiny, and better than most of what government does with our money.
But I wonder if Ireland's economic woes will make taxpayers there less inclined to fund any kind of state spending. After years of boom, house prices have fallen around seven percent in Dublin (some say the final fall will be three or four times that) and the unemloyment lines are growing.
Ireland's boom started, like Britain's, following a radical tax-cutting and public-sector reform programme But then Euro membership turned the real boom into an inflationary boom. Now a rising Euro makes it harder for Ireland to sell abroad and get through these hard times. Euro membership has been a euphoric drug. But now Ireland's suffering the hangover.