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Violins unbound

BY BEAU ELLIOT | DECEMBER 07, 2010 7:20 AM

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A 1741 Guarneri violin is going on sale for the record price of $18 million, NPR cheerily informs me, in the way only NPR can.

$18 million? I say. Well. That’s certainly not just fiddling around.

Who can afford to pay $18 million for violin? you ask. Not musicians, NPR informs us. Rich violin collectors, it turns out. A few years back, a Russian collector paid $10.5 million for another Guarneri, which leads me to believe that some people have been less affected by the economic mess than a whole lot of other people.

Ah, yes, the economic mess. Most of the time, I have to admit, I prefer to ignore the economy, because that’s what we have economists for.

Isn’t it? I can’t really think of any other reason you’d have economists cluttering up the landscape.
Which leads us inexorably to the state of Iowa budget. I know, I don’t want to go there, either (I’d much rather think about football bowl games — well, maybe not), but the state’s budget will affect the University of Iowa’s finances, and those eventually affect almost everyone in this fair burg.

(Speaking of this fair burg, how clever was it for the local government to pass an ordinance that eventually led to some bars closing and a bunch of people losing their jobs in a time of high unemployment? That’s what I thought, too.)

The state of Iowa, it turns out, will receive $6 billion more next year in tax receipts than it had expected — which, you have to admit, will buy a lot of overpriced Guarneris. Not that we’d expect our state officials to hop into the violin-collecting business. (I mean, they did such a fine job hopping into the moviemaking business.)

But still, $6 billion — that’s a fair amount to play with. Or rather, spend soberly and carefully. So we won’t have to bear the brunt of draconian budget cuts, right?

No, that’s not how it’s going to work out. State officials are going to slash the budget, $6 billion extra or no $6 billion extra. Why? Because there’s no federal-stimulus money coming down the pike.

Ah yes, the federales. Right now, the Democrats and Republicans are squabbling over whether the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended for rich people. They agree that the middle class should keep their tax cuts, but the rich?

The Republicans seem determined to make the economy safe for yacht buyers and collectors of old violins. The theory is, so far as we can discern a theory, that if the economy is safe for yacht buyers and violin collectors, sooner or later, it’ll be safe for us, too.

The problem is, sooner or later almost always turns out to be very, very much later. And even then, we couldn’t possibly afford a 1741 Guarneri.

Now, President Obama could stand tough about the tax cuts — after all, he could remember that then-President Bill Clinton spurred America’s longest sustained economic growth by raising taxes on the rich.

But Obama, as it turns out, is a nice, intelligent guy who also happens to have the spine of an oyster. Which gives you hope you can grieve in.

So we’ll have some sort of compromise, and the rich will get to keep their tax cuts so they can buy some more yachts and Guarneris.

Or, as Warren Buffet, who knows a thing or three about being rich, put it: “The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money, and we’ll all go out and spend more, and then it will trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”

Um, not exactly.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to forget about the economy and go listen to some nice violin music.


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