There’s been a lot of talk about the UK’s "non-doms": rich foreigners who generally live in very expensive London property, thereby driving up the cost of living for everybody else while paying little or nothing in the way of taxes. Commentators like Willem Buiter reckon that, at the margin, the UK’s non-doms don’t really benefit the country all that much, net-net.
But then I saw the news that über-non-dom Roman Abramovich was the high bidder on both the $33.6 million Lucian Freud and the $86.3 million Francis Bacon, and I got to thinking: there’s no way he would be driving the top end of the market for post-war British art were he not a UK resident.
Those prices for Freud and Bacon will, in turn, going to help support the market for many other artists, both living and dead, as well as their dealers and collectors.
Why is it that so many of today’s top-selling artists are British or American, while so few are, say, French? I’m not saying that the reason for that, if there is one, is necessarily related to the fact that both Britain and America are uncommonly welcoming to rich foreigners. After all, there aren’t all that many superstar Swiss artists, either. But I do think that when the megabucks start to enter a country, they often end up in the art world, sooner or later. And every country’s art world has a soft spot for its home-grown artists.