Culture Makes All The Difference: Reclaiming the Culture of Economics


Andrew Thompson
Director, Centre for Imperial & Global History
History Department, University of Exeter

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Conversation

Last week I attended the final “Provocation” of the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value. Several such enquiries are currently in train. Together they promise a major re-examination of the UK’s arts and culture as one of the country’s greatest assets. They will no doubt touch on many things. But it will be particularly interesting to see what they have to say about the influence of culture on the economy. For this is the holy grail of the quest to quantify cultural value – a very old question yet one stubbornly resistant to an answer.

Culture, as described by one celebrated critic, is among the most awkward words in the English language. The broad and diffuse nature of the concept has meant that many economists have long been reluctant co-opt culture into their debates about development. Yet the case for spending public money on culture is greatly weakened by this failure to get to grips with its relationship to the economy.  At a time when the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ warns that up to 60% of public sector spending cuts are yet to be implemented, the arts and cultural sector more than ever needs to make its case to government in a manner commensurable with claims made by other competing calls on the public purse. Continue reading “Culture Makes All The Difference: Reclaiming the Culture of Economics”