Mr. Clayton W. Lord
2022 Trends: Money, Money, Money
Mr. Clayton W. Lord
This is one in a series of blogs about trends that will impact the arts in 2022 and going forward. Links to the introduction and full series appear at the end of this post.
Rising inflation, a shift in industries and priorities, and global economic uncertainty are opening the door for conversations and ideas that were on the fringe before the pandemic.
An Inflating Inflation Balloon
Inflation has been a bear lately (that’s a finance joke). As inflation in the U.S. and globally has been rising and breaking records, financial experts don’t anticipate it will go away any time soon. While much of the cause of current inflation is connected to residual pandemic-related supply chain issues, the price of gas and some other consumables may be being driven up by profiteers—something that federal government is working to address. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve (and some, though not all, others) anticipate a popping of the “housing bubble” that has inflated real estate prices and mortgage rates are on the rise, although they predict that such a bursting would likely not be as devastating to the overall market as the end of the 2009 housing boom.
The R.O.I. of U.B.I.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) and Guaranteed Income programs are being piloted in cities and states and illustrate a positive outcome of the economic and social stress of the pandemic. What had been a fringe idea is feeling less so in what Michael Tubbs, one of UBI’s big champions, calls “a time of pandemics.” Artist-specific UBI/guaranteed income pilots are occurring in various places, and some advocate for UBI as a preemptive solution to increased automation and decreased work opportunity. Early data shows that UBI programs do have significant positive impacts—and don’t, generally, decrease productivity—but such programs, so far at least, are often (but not always) viewed as liberal dreams and fiscally irresponsible by conservatives.
After the Flood
While much of the pandemic relief funding currently flowing out will carry on for years, thinking about what happens as it begins to end is important. To date the federal government has spent $4.6 trillion on various relief and recovery measures; this is unlikely to occur again in our lifetimes. And yet certain funding is already stopping—including particularly funding for testing, treatment, and tracking of COVID-19 infections; Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provided a safety line for many independent workers; and rent and mortgage protection policies, which have kept people from being evicted for lack of funds. It is likely that the funds will end before the perceived and actual impacts of COVID-19 are done—which is why pursuing systemic policy changes not specific to the pandemic that address some of the longer-standing challenges populations face is crucial.
How will these trends impact the arts?
These three trends are all related, of course, and their effects will be interrelated as well. As the price of goods rises, costs will likely flow as far downstream as possible—which means cultural organizations and artists will continue to get hit with rising costs while arts patrons are likely to have more expenses that eat away at disposable income. At the same time, the slowly closing spigot of relief and recovery funding, mistimed to the needs of our field where things are still solidly behind where they were prior to the pandemic, poses serious risks to independent workers, creative entrepreneurs, and arts organizations. Will public policy solutions like UBI (and related large-scale public policies around unemployment and healthcare access) scale enough to make the difference? It’s hard to imagine—but even two years ago it would have been hard to imagine multiple major cities running UBI pilots specifically designed to support and maintain a creative class, so maybe there is a ray of sunshine emerging from the COVID-19 clouds.