What if American teenagers received hundreds of dollars on their 18th birthdays to spend on books, museum visits, national park vacations, movies or concerts? Or the same in your own country, if it isn’t the the United States?

This is not hypothetical in Italy. The government there is lavishing €290 million on a €500 “cultural bonus” for each recipient, according to the Independent newspaper.

I like the idea. Could this be one way to help revive the stagnant Italian economy?

Of course, the cultural bonus would never fly in the U.S., where even established cultural institutions must often skimp for money. Furthermore, the issue arises of whether there might be even better ways to spend tax money—for example, the encouragement of young mothers to read to their children.

€500 converts to about US$565. That could buy more than a few paper books and an E Ink reader or LCD tablet, as well as help pay for well-trained librarians and other reading specialists—who might even make house calls to young families and help them customize their reading.

I’m all in favor of Amazon giving out Kindles, but let’s face it, the company’s new program isn’t going to cover all in need.

So what do you think? If the money were available in your country—mention where you live—just how to do you think it should be spent? Is $565 possibly a little on the high side? Should there be a family income qualifier? And what limits if any should there be on the kind of “culture” the money goes for? Do we want it spent on racist tracts? Or books created just to get money from the program? I’d hope not. But at the same time, how to avoid onerous censorship? Luckily, here in the U.S., public librarians deal with those issues all the time. I’m confident that they could help the program come up with solutions.

Regardless of all the questions that arise, I like the spirit behind Italy’s planned expenditure, not just because culture is valuable for its own sake but also because of the accompanying benefits in many cases, such as a greater understanding of fellow human beings. Not to mention the economic kickstart mentioned earlier. Here in the U.S., the Works Progress Administration sponsored more than a few artistic projects during the Great Depression of the 1930s, by way of Federal Project Number One.

“The initiative sends a clear message to youngsters, reminding them that they belong to a community which welcomes them once they come of age,” The Independent quoted Italian Parliamentary Undersecretary Tommaso Nannicini about the new cultural bonus. “It also reminds them how important cultural consumption is, both for enriching yourself as a person and strengthening the fabric of our society.”

Detail: In terms of definitions for the new Italian program, I wonder if “books” could include the purchase of a dedicated e-reader or tablet.

Image credit: Here.