by Arjo Klamer(1) formerly titled “Cultural Goods are Good for More Than Their Economic Value”
Cultural Economics, Japanese Association for Cultural Economics (3) 3: 17-38,
March 2003 & Cultural and Public Action, V. Rao and M. Walton, eds., Stanford University Press, 2004
It may be a bridge, a piece of wood. Or a temple, a windmill, a painting, a piece of furniture, a mask, jewel, bead. It may even be a language, a ritual, or a practice. Whatever it is, it differs from other goods because people may consider it a symbol of something — a nation, a community, a tradition, a religion, a cultural episode — and endow it with various meanings over and above its usefulness. They may ascribe to it artistic, aesthetic or sacred qualities. They may draw inspiration from it, or value it because it gives rise to hatred in some and antagonizes others. Let us say, then, that the good has cultural value in that it is a source of inspiration or symbol of distinction.
Therefore, we call it a cultural good.(2)
Things cultural draw intense media attention. Ample space in local newspapers is given not only to cultural performances, exhibitions and parades, but also to disputes and conflicts over cultural goods. Even people unaware of the plight of refugees in Afghanistan in March of 2001 probably read or heard about the Taliban’s demolition of two giant Buddhas. For weeks, Western newspapers had held readers in suspense with stories alleging the intentions of the Taliban. When the news finally broke that the Buddhas had indeed been destroyed, it summoned up apocalyptic notions for humanity. (The actions of the Taliban contributed to the impression that they were a barbarian regime that had to be removed.) During the war in Bosnia in 1993, the destruction of the ancient Mostar bridge seemed more devastating than the day’s loss of human life.(3)
Travel pages lure readers to cultural artifacts around the world, whether it be to the Great Wall in China or a burial place on Bali. Other pages tell about programs to save national cultural heritage, or about conflicts over the possession of cultural heritage. Governments seem more eager than ever to reclaim cultural goods lost during wars long past. The Greeks want the British Museum to return the so-called Elgin Marbles. This sculptured frieze, once part of the Parthenon, has been in British possession since the early nineteenth century. The British authorities maintain that Mr. Elgin, a British diplomat, acquired the Marbles in a legitimate manner. The Greeks insist that the sculptures are their cultural heritage and, as such, should be in Greek possession. Aboriginals in Australia fight to keep tourists away from sacred grounds that UNESCO has declared World Cultural Heritage. All this ado is about things whose value is mainly symbolic.
Even so, these cultural disputes do not seem to affect the thinking about and design of economic development strategies. They certainly do not figure in conventional accounts of economic development. When economic hardship is the foreground, cultural concerns recede. In the face of poverty and deprivation, spending on things cultural seems wasteful, and is quickly judged immoral. Wealthy rulers of poor countries cause dismay with their sumptuous palaces, cathedrals and prestigious cultural objects. Cultural needs, like the need for identity and aesthetics, tend to be perceived as luxuries, stuff most distant in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If basic needs come first, securing them is what development is about. People need food, clean water and shelter before they can address cultural needs. Or so we are led to think.
Even a perfunctory glance tells us something is amiss in this account. From cavemen to Australian aboriginals, from Afro-American slaves to contemporary African tribes, people in the most deprived conditions find time, resources and energy to make music, build religious temples, maintain sacred places, engage in extensive burial ceremonies, cherish icons, and fashion all sorts of art. Cultural activity matters. And indeed, what would a life be without music, rituals, ceremonies, icons — without sources of inspiration?
Cultural here refers to “culture as expression” as opposed to “culture as identity,” using the distinction that Walton and Rao make in this volume. Cultural goods, like temples, burial grounds, bridges, and ceremonies, may relate to culture as identity — a monument may stand for a community — but they generally have meanings over and above the social. When Sen states in this volume that culture matters, he is referring to culture as identity. If we were to follow his argument, cultural goods matter insofar as they affect culture as identity. And culture as identity matters insofar as it affects development. So we need to establish that cultural identity affects development, then determine that there is a clear relationship between cultural goods and cultural identity before we can conclude the relevance of cultural goods for sustainable development.
Yet “culture as expression” appears to have significance beyond any social and economic impact. The cultural disputes tell us that they may have a value regardless of any social or economic connection. Yes, the Mostar bridge is an important social symbol as the connection between the Bosnian and Croation communities of the town of Mostar. But it is more: it has a presence in the history of architecture; it has inspired poets, novelists, citizens and visitors. The furor of belonging and destruction tells us that people need to realize certain cultural values, and that they can clash in doing so.
I will argue that the ubiquitous instrumental mode of reasoning — where all goods need to have value as an instrument towards the goal of economic development — prevents us from acknowledging the special role that cultural goods play in the lives of people. The disputes alert us to the uncertainties involved, the sensitivities that are in play, and the clashes between values. I am seeking to develop a framework that invites us to recognize the complexities that characterize the life of cultural goods, that shows their importance to groups of people, and that eventually will stimulate a re-evaluation of development strategies.
Case I. The Taliban and the Buddhas(4)
For centuries Islam has been the dominant religion in Afghanistan. The giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan dated back to pre-Islamic culture and were considered idols of a pagan king and queen by the local population ever since it had been converted to the Islam. It was probably during the ruling of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658—1707) that the faces of the statues were sliced off, their hands hacked of, and their feet destroyed by cannon fire. For the locals, the Buddhas had lost the original religious connotations.
In the nineteenth century, British travelers glimpsed and described the relics of the pre-Islam era. They were especially struck by these unusually large Buddhas. Thus Western involvement in the exploration and preservation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage began. Since 1975, the UNESCO has become increasingly involved in the archeological preservation of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, listing the statues on its World Heritage List.
When the Taliban announced its intention to destroy the statues, the UNESCO reacted strongly. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, went to Afghanistan not only to attend to the plight of its refugees but also to plea for the conservation of the statues. Buddhist countries such as Japan and Sri Lanka sent personal envoys. Even Islamic countries such as Egypt condemned the Taliban for their plans. The Taliban did not renege. Confirmed on March 12, 2001, the statues had been blown up.
Six months later, on September 11, 2001, two airplanes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, killing nearly 3000 people. On October 7, the US attacked Afghanistan; around December 12, the Taliban regime disappeared. UNESCO worked on the idea of restoring the statues with foreign money, but experts concluded there was no use.
Those of us who explore the interconnections between the economic and cultural worlds (both identity and expression) get tossed between the two. Culturalists — archaeologists, art historians, historians, theologians — acknowledge the cultural values of things and understand scenarios in which cultural goods figure prominently regardless of their relationship to the economics of development. To them, the fate of the Bamiyan Buddhas is of such great historical, religious and aesthetic significance that it justifies any effort to save or restore them. Culturalists are especially adept in analysing and describing what those values are. They stress the uniqueness of the good, its exceptional quality, and look in dismay at the economist who brings up issues of costs and benefits. They are Oscar Wilde’s romantics, seeing the value of everything and the price of nothing.
Most of my fellow economists inhabit the other world which, together with politicians, civil servants, has adopted the economic way of thinking.5 They are Wilde’s cynics, who see the price of everything and the value of nothing. They want to know what price a good fetches in the market place. They want to know how much people are willing to pay for it. If they had had an opportunity they might have presented to the Taliban the argument for preservation of the statues in terms of costs and benefits. The costs would surely have been high, including the costs of international sanctions that most likely would follow the demolition and the loss of tourist income. (The costs of their demise would have been prohibitive, so I presume, but such outcome could not be foreseen.) The benefits would comprise the emotional relief of knowing that the statues were gone. When put in those terms, a cultural good is like any other good (cf Grampp1989, Owen 1998). Its value is captured in its price. That makes all talk about historical, aesthetic, spiritual and other substantive values superfluous. The price says it all and we don’t need culturalists to tell us otherwise.
But you’re not considering imperfect markets, the culturalists may retort. Shouldn’t we make an exception for cultural goods since markets often price them insufficiently? Aren’t they often public goods? Surely, governments can correct markets with subsidies, tax breaks, conservation programs, and the construction and exploitation of national museums and monuments. But while economists readily acknowledge imperfections in markets, they deny that this makes cultural goods necessarily exceptional since many other goods are financed that way — armies, police force, clean air, road maintenance and the like. The risk is, presumably, the chance that culturalists will influence politicians by impressing upon them the enormous value of a cultural good, justifying any amount of spending on it. Economists, therefore, have designed a research strategy aimed at the elimination of the role of culturalists. Their goal is to develop methods and approaches that “objectify” the valuation of cultural goods and thus render the subjective valuations of experts superfluous.
The first line of attack was an estimate of the economic impact of investments in cultural goods, like monuments and museums. This scheme, however, has been languishing as the results were meagre and dubious (see Klamer 1987, Klamer and Throsby 2000, van Puffelen 1987). The economic impact of cultural goods is often marginal and, in comparison with the impact of alternative investments, not obviously better. Culturalists continued to be convincing with their argument that more than economic values are at stake in the provision of cultural goods. People may want the preservation good because they may eventually enjoy it (the so-called option value of the good); they simply like to know it is there even if they will never enjoy it themselves (existence value) and they want it be there for their progeny (bequest value).
This alerted economists to the range of values in play.(6) But instead of consulting culturalists, they wanted to know the values of the potential “consumers” themselves. The (implicit) argument was that such a procedure was more democratic. Thus economists went about investigating what people were willing to pay for the cultural good as in the costs of travel to a cultural site, the extra expense for a house in a historic centre. In willingness to pay and contingent valuation studies economists are even prepared to ask people what they would be willing to pay for a good. Because of the danger of bias in the responses economists have resisted such studies for a long time, but after the commendation of a committee headed by two of their Nobel Prize winners (Arrow et al, 1993) we have seen a flood of contingent valuation studies. The reservations remain in force, however. Investigators acknowledge the problem of leading questions and free riding (those who do not actually pay the amount that they said they were willing to pay). The same applies to more recently developed choice modelling approaches in which respondents are asked to rate various characteristics of cultural goods (cf Mourato and Mazzanti, 2002). Bruno Frey (2000) champions referenda as are in use in his native Switzerland since only there do people have a direct say on the allocation of collective sources. Whatever method economists have proposed, they all have in common the aim at sidelining culturalists by rendering the valuation of cultural goods objective and democratic. Their argument is that only then will politicians, organisations like the UNESCO, and private foundations be able to make rational choices concerning the selection and financing of cultural projects.
However desirable and admirable the democratic aspirations of economists, reality defies their dream. As the disputes indicate, deliberations on cultural matters involve a great deal more than ‘objective’ valuations. Where the impact of economic studies on them is dubious, to say the least, the voices of culturalists and their interest groups tend to be loud and clear. Those involved do want to know about the historical relevance of the Mostar bridge and the culture of the aborigines — more than they need to know someone’s willingness to pay. Moreover, the disputes about Buddhas, old bridges, Elgin Marbles, and the sacred grounds of Australian aboriginals suggest that economic concerns can succumb to cultural concerns, with “cultural” referring both to culture as identity and culture as expression. The disagreements furthermore illustrate — more than any economic analysis — that cultural goods can play a constituting role in the life of individuals and their societies. They may conceivably figure prominently in what people consider a good life and a good society.
Even so, economic concerns cannot be tossed to the wind. Scarcity is a fact of life that even the hardest romantics cannot deny. Choices have to be made. The value of one good must be weighed against others. The Taliban made choices. Those campaigning for the restoration of the statues are choosing to allocate resources away from construction of schools, the improvement of the Afghan infrastructure, and other worthwhile projects. So how do we acknowledge the economic dimension while not undermining the cultural one, and vice versa? How can we account for their often contentious role?
To answer these questions I propose a cultural economic perspective that stresses the role of values and allows for a combination of economic and other values. The following exposition intends to show that a.) cultural goods may be exceptional; b.) that their values are subject to change and; c.) that the realization of their values by means of markets may alter those values. Rather than presuming that values are fixed and only need to be measured, as in a standard economic approach, the cultural-economic method considers the discursive context wherein values of cultural goods evolve. As the disputes indicate, valuations of a cultural good are subject to change because of attention paid to the good, education, policies, the mode of financing, and the like. I will call this phenomenon valorisation (or devalorisation, whichever be the case). An important argument that follows is that the way in which the values of cultural goods are realized (think of market pricing and government subsidies), matters to their valuation. Call it the Heisenberg Principle of economics: an attempt to measure the value of a good will affect that value. Accordingly, the cultural economic perspective claims to account for the dynamic lives of cultural goods that include both economic moments of cultural valuations and (de)valorisations.(7)
The controversy about the Buddhas, described in Case I, revolves around values. At least that is one way to make sense of it. (In everyday life most “values” are implicit, expressed in arguments, statements, emotional utterances, stories and the like, and need to be pointed out.) For the Taliban the statues stood for values that were an affront to their deeply held religious values. Their response was comparable to the erstwhile Protestants who stormed Roman Catholic churches to rid them of Maria statues, crucifixes and other icons they had abjured in their newly found faith. The valuations of other Afghans may have differed. Some people may have been attached to these statues just because they had been with them for centuries, or they may have been proud of the foreign appreciation. The people of the UNESCO valued the Buddhas as part of World Heritage. Historians are drawn to their rich histories. Visitors may have considered them a good destiny for a daytrip. The stronger the identification is with one’s v alues, the stronger the emotions will be when those values are ignored, compromised or overruled. Tourists may not be particularly disturbed at losing a destiny for an outing; to the Taliban, the statues evoked such apparently negative values that they were willing to incur the potentially high costs of demolishing them. Many readers of newspapers may have discovered that they cared more than they knew about World Heritage.
Values are not a given, nor does the economist provide a neat process of calculation. The disputes in establishing them reflect the deliberations and negotiations involved. Values evolve during the process. The disputes compel people to justify — and perhaps amend — their own values and provide arguments that render them compelling. (“There are no other specimens like these.” “You, too, destroy statues that conflict with your values.”) Deliberate, negotiate, weigh, rank — and then do it again.
Uncertainties and questions abound in this process. Why would Westerners care about statues that represent Eastern religious values? Why would the Taliban risk international isolation to destroy statues that had been in their country for centuries? There is plenty of reason for doubt. People may be uncertain about their own values and can only speculate about the values of everyone else. Is profit the motive? Is it a power game that motivates the others? Are there hidden agendas? Are the emotions genuine? The dispute is meant to clarify each other’s positions.
The live experience of disputes like this tells us how misleading the assumption of “given preferences” is. People are in need of talk, deliberation, controversy to sort out what they and others believe, think, feel, know, value. At the end of what may seem like endless talking is a moment when the UNESCO, the Taliban, the American government, tourists, and interested bystanders are ready to make up their minds and advance and articulate an opinion. After which the talking usually continues. But the talking is needed since agents do not know what they prefer or how they value. As the moral philosopher Stuart Hamsphire (1983) so nicely put it, in his own head is an agent — a committee that consists of different voices, conflicting values. Moral reasoning is like a committee meeting in which the differences are worked out in order to reach a common opinion that represents the moral judgment of that agent. If we want to understand the why’s and how’s of that judgment we do well to know what went on in that committee meeting.
One could ignore the intricacies of the process by which people individually and in groups reach decisions and focus on what they do. Economists do so by focusing on the moment of exchange. Everything that matters is the number that determined the trade an equal one, not the controversy that went into its process. All valuations and evaluations, all deliberating, negotiating and conversing, all dealings are at that moment congealed in a single value: price. This short cut is interesting, and certainly keeps the community of economists busy. If we consider the case of the Buddhas, it is not a great help, however, as there is no moment of exchange. The UNESCO could have offered the Taliban a sum of money to dissuade them from the demolition, but that would have been absurd, and probably would have backfired. Religious values generally do not lend themselves to monetary measurement. The process comes to a head when one party, in this case the Taliban, acts upon its intentions. Then the other parties have to rev eal the weight of their values. If the demolition was a factor in the later decision to oust the Taliban regime, the weight of those values must have been considerable.
The standard economic approach is quite hopeless when the objective is to understand what is going on in this case. Any effort to make use of it in the course of discussion will be met with resistance and, most likely, indignation. Neither the Taliban nor culturally minded people take well to an analysis in terms of costs and benefits. A more helpful approach would be to focus on values, to sort out which ones are in play and with what intensity, and which values determine, and are expressed in, the outcome.
David Throsby, a cultural economist, has come to recognize the multiple values that are at play. Whereas his survey article in the Journal of Economic Literature (1994 ) still advances a standard economic perspective on the arts with given preferences and all that, in his most recent book Economics and Culture (2001) he argues that economists need to take the culturalists’ perspective seriously. To that end he draws attention to cultural values, such as aesthetic, spiritual, social, symbolic and historical values (Throsby, 2001, p.29). Yet, as an economist is wont to do, he subsequently treats those values as given, as inputs in an economic valuation process. Cultural values become like preferences that people hold — as if they would know those. In reality people have to find out how to sort through values, how to evaluate, revalue or devalue them. The process of valuation is a dynamic one as the case of the Buddhas illustrates.
“To value something is to have a complex of positive attitudes toward it, governed by distinct standards for perception, emotion, deliberation, desire, and conduct” (Anderson, 1993, p. 2). Elizabeth Anderson stresses the plurality of our values: we can value a good for all kinds of reasons. The plurality of values may account for internal conflicts as when we laugh at a sexist joke and are embarrassed at that. To evaluate is to make sense of a valuation. While valuing something is often an unconscious process — as in when a musical piece surprises us or a painting strikes us — evaluation is the conscious reflection on the reasons for a valuation.
Values may change. People develop values and adopt new values. They may learn to develop a positive attitude. In the language of economists we would say that they acquire their taste (see, for example, Throsby 1994). I will call this process one of valorisation, that is, the enhancement and affirmation of a value8. Valorisation appears to be particularly important when cultural goods are the objects of interest. Westerners usually dislike Arabic music when they hear it for the first time, but immersed in the Arabic world they may begin to appreciate the music, especially when they become knowledgeable about it and learn to distinguish different variants. People in a modern art museum for the first time tend to have some difficulties appreciating the abstract works by Mondrian, Newman, Twombly and the like; they, too, need to learn to value modern art. The context matters. When immersed in an academic setting, even the most practical students (“I’d like to make some money, you know”) may learn to appreciate t he value of reading and even “studying” texts. The academic setting hopefully affirms and intensifies the values of reflection, critical inquiry and other such academic values. (I would argue that my most important task as an academic teacher is to express and hopefully impress those values on the students, more so than to instruct them in the principles of cultural economics.)
In each deliberation some valorisation is going on. Confronted with a report on giant Buddha statues, I may appreciate something I did not even know existed. When people in my environment want to share their indignation about the imminent demolition, I may feel compelled to go long lest I am made out for a Philistine. I may actually look up articles on Buddha statues on the Internet and learn about their variety, their history and their meanings. Who knows, I may even adopt a firm opinion on the matter because of all this, and feel a sense of great loss when the demolition occurs, my initial ignorance notwithstanding. Something similar may happen when foreigners point out to indigenous people that the piles of old stones are actually cultural treasures, and that they are willing to pay to conserve them. Because of the foreign intervention the indigenous people may change their perception of those stones, and may even begin to value them. Declaring a cultural good worthy of being on the UNESCO World Heritage List causes people to value it more. The same may happen when a painting ends up in a museum, or when it gets sold for millions of dollars at auction.
Noting the role of values in cultural disputes helps us to see the complexity of the various positions as well as the dynamics as values are negotiated, weighed, and evaluated. How high is the value of the Buddhas for the World Heritage List? And what is the value of that list? How about the integrity (value) of the Taliban? Over the course of the deliberation, values change. The Buddhas have become more valuable because of their turmoil. They have gained a history.
Having established the prominent role of values in cultural disputes, it will help to differentiate between three types of values: economic, social and cultural. These groupings are a first step to substantive and interpretive studies of the deliberations in which valuations come about.
Economic values occupy a significant portion of the value sphere. Usually, these values refer to the prices of things, or their exchange value. When economists speak of valuing a good, they mean the pricing of the good. It is a special kind of valuation as it focuses on the moment of exchange. (When the exchange does not actually take place, the economist will figure out price by reasoning as if the transition took place.)
Economic values can take all kinds of forms and expressions. The GDP (gross domestic product) is a measure of the flow of economic values that a national economy generates. The economic value of a cultural good is what people are willing to pay for it. The economic value of knowledge is the income that can be earned by applying it. Economists speak of human capital to indicate that knowledge is a stock of value that generates a flow of value. In general, economic capital is a stock that will generate a flow of economic values.
At certain moments and during certain periods economic value will be the center of attention. As such, everything appears to revolve around “profit,” “wealth,” “income,” “economic growth,” and so on. “It’s all for the money” seduces most people into acquiescence. In such a climate profits are key, people are valued by their income (or wealth), and the purpose of getting an education is to be worth more in the labor market. When cultural producers have to justify a new theatre, the expansion of a museum, or the conservation of an archeological site in this climate, their best argument is to point at the income that the investment will generate by way of jobs created and additional tourist spending in the local economy. Such justification requires economic argument. Economists have complied and developed “economic impact” analyses, contingent valuation methods and willingness to pay studies (cf Throsby, 1994, Klamer and Throsby, 2000). They are all intended to determine the economic value of a good.
In the conventional economic frame there is no reason to look further. The presumption is that all kinds of values are embodied in the price of a good. A demand-supply analysis brings together values in the production process, such as technology, the price of labor, real assets and financial capital; and values on the demand side which are expressed in the form of preferences. Grampp (1989) and Cowen (1998) are therefore consistent when they argue that the price of a good is its value. End of story.
But it is not. Even if we chose not to depart from the sphere of economic values, a wide range of other values intrude.9 Among positive values are “commercial,” “business like,” “results-oriented,” “ambitious,” “entrepreneurial,” “markets,” “freedom.” Examples of negative values are “cold,” “ruthless,” “unjust,” “immoral,” and “constraining.” “Freedom” pops up when people associate economics with “markets,” and link them to “freedom of choice” (thanks to Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman). These values, however, are not strictly economic values; “ruthless” is not a price that can be attached to something. One might say they are spillovers of the engagement in exchange relations (cf. van Staveren 2000). To economists they are externalities. Interacting in such relations implies the valorisation of the values that are common to all such relations, that is, to the culture of the market. Keep working the market and you learn to appreciate the uninvited values that accompany it. These values, distinct from economic values, are better grouped in the separate category of social values.
Social values operate in the context of interpersonal relationships, groups, communities and societies. People appeal to them in negotiating relationships with other people and groups of people. Social values have a broad range and comprise the values of belonging, being member of a group (cf Waltzer, 1983, chapter 2), identity, social distinction, freedom, solidarity, trust, tolerance, responsibility, love, friendship and so on. In everyday conversations these values preoccupy people far more than economic values. We are constantly deliberating our relationships with others, weighing the values that are important to us, and assessing relationships in the light of those. “Should I spend time with my children when I feel responsible to finish this article?” “Can I trust those people to be sympathetic and caring?” “Is she friendly out of friendship or because she expects to gain from knowing me?” “Shall we eat out or make our own dinner?” Examining and re-examining our social values is a consuming process. We spend little time, in comparison, determining and evaluating our economic values.
It is no different in controversies like those over the aboriginal grounds and the Buddha statues of Bemiyan (Case 1). Insofar as economic values are at play, they play reticently. Most clearly heard are the negotiations about identity, heritage, justice, obligation and so on. In the case of the Buddha statues, the Taliban want to assert their religious identity and national identity. Critics appealed, in vain, to their sense of responsibility towards World Heritage. Snubbing international opposition was an important part of their resistance.
The capacity to deal with social values and adhere to social norms is nowadays called social capital.(10) The assumption is that certain people, organizations or societies have more of it than others. At least that is how Robert Putnam et al (1994) applied the concept in his study of the vitality of democracies: those with a greater ability to trust and a stronger sense of belonging and responsibility do better in making a democracy then those with less of such social capital.
A poignant issue has proven to be the relationship between social and economic capital. In a world where economic values and economic capital dominate the political domain, social capital is easily perceived as subservient to economic capital. Politicians and businesspeople argue that investment in social capital is good for economic growth and profit. Students presumably need to learn social skills to better succeed in their future occupations. After all, the goal of all things social is economic gain. Or is it? Would it not make more sense to think of economic values as being instrumental towards social values? What motivation do people have in seeking wealth other than faring better in their relationships with others? Even if people have stupendous income, the question is what to do with it. Whether they go out for sumptuous meals, buy an extravagant car, yacht, or house, or indulge in exotic travel, the matter is always with, and possibly for, whom and in what way. Lounging around in a luxurious house with a pool and a couple of cars can be quite depressing without meaningful relations. A better life has to be evaluated in large part by its measure of social values. Economic values are instrumental at best.(11)
In the case of cultural goods, satisfaction comes more from their social rather than economic meaning. Yes, local merchants are pleased when a cultural attraction draws customers to their shops, but that particular value will not ascribe to the attraction — a museum or coveted bridge — its cultural value. Its social value, that is, what it does for issues of identity, heritage, culture, pride and so on, will be far more important. Yet, what permits us to call a good “cultural” is cultural value, that is, the good’s evocation of things cultural.
Cultural values, I propose, are those that evoke qualities above and beyond the economic and the social. Throsby (2000, p. 28) includes in this category aesthetic, spiritual, social, historical, symbolic and authenticity values. I would go along except for the social values which I prefer to categorize separately. Confusion occurs as “cultural” in the anthropological sense refers to social values, that is, values pertaining to the relations between and among people. I use “cultural” to express a value that transcends social, relational or, for that matter, economic values. A temple has cultural value in that it connects with a religious practice and evokes the religious and spiritual values of that tradition. Because of its architectural properties, it can appeal to an aesthetic sense. It has historical and symbolic value if it restores the memory of something of grave importance to a group (community, organization, society). Aboriginal art has spiritual meanings apart from its decorative and aesthetic qualities. The latter appears to enchant Western visitors and has recently attracted the attention of Western museums. A temple may have social value by being a meeting place or functioning as a national heritage and economic value if it generates income. But such values are distinct from the cultural values that the goods represent.
A cultural valuation includes the attribution of sacredness to an icon, statue, or temple. A good that a group considers sacred has a special meaning, and receives special treatment. The special treatment may exhibit viscerally in response to the good’s imminent sale or destruction. American Indians have gone to extremes in defending their sacred burial grounds. Because of the cultural values attributed to them, people must have felt similarly aggrieved about the destruction of the Buddha statues. According to Kant, the quintessential cultural value of a good is its ability to evoke an experience of the sublime. It has a quality that causes awe and “stirs the soul.” Kant purports that this quality is disinterested; it does not serve a social or economic goal.
When I follow this characterization of cultural values, I come to the conclusion that cultural capital is the power to inspire or to be inspired absent social and economic influence. It is the inbred, acquired and developed ability to experience the sublime or sacred character of a good, to see its beauty, or to recognize its place in cultural history. Cultural capital, then, lends us the ability to realize a meaningful life over and beyond its economic and social dimensions. It is one thing to have good social relationships, yet quite another to be in awe of sight or sound when strolling through a museum, attending a religious ceremony, or struggling across a mountain ridge.
In this interpretation, cultural capital is more than the symbolic knowledge that Bourdieu (1986) claims it to be in that inspiration is not an emblem, and less then what Throsby (2000) defines it to be in that he includes all tangible and intangible cultural goods. Throsby furthermore advances the notion of cultural value to mean that it generates both cultural and economic values. In my definition, cultural capital is the ability to deal with cultural values without regard to possible economic returns.
The metaphor “capital” has become somewhat confusing as it encourages an economic interpretation. Like human capital, social and cultural capital would represent economic value, in the form of additional income and profit and so we would drift once again to a sense of life that revolves around economic values. Yet if we take the metaphor to mean something like power, capability or “a person’s ability to do valuable acts or reach valuable states of being” (Sen, 1993, p. 30), the focus is rather on what enables people to strive for a good and valuable life, that is, a life in accordance with relevant economic, social, cultural, and other values.
To be sure, the possession of certain social capital and cultural capital can contribute to the generation of economic value. Inspired people may work better. Then again, it also may impede the build up of economic capital as in the Amish religious community, which is opposed to the application of modern techniques. The influence is mutual. The amount of economic capital that people have appears to be positively related to their cultural capital (cf Bourdieu, 1984). The reason is that income is positively related to the level of education, and the latter is again an important condition for the level and nature of cultural capital that a person has. This is not to say that people with no education have no cultural capital. The aboriginals of Australia may have little education and income but they have developed, with their rituals and practices, a cultural capital so rich that it inspires highly educated and wealthy Westerners.
Whether and how the relationship between cultural and economic capital can be exploited remains a question. When people “invest” in their cultural capital for the purpose of economic gain, the efficacy of their investment will be less then if the investment had only a cultural purpose. It would be akin to becoming Christian in the expectation that God will bless you with greater richness for believing in Him. When economic motives surface, credibility is lost. For example, a friend who turns out to have engaged in friendship in the hope to benefit from it economically will not be my friend anymore.(12)
By claiming a separate category for cultural values and cultural capital, I am arguing — and culturalists are ready to demonstrate — that they are distinct from economic values, require special skills, and operate in a unique sphere. Cultural capital has nothing to do with economic capital, although it may incidentally add it to it (people working better) or take away from it (the doings of a fanatically pious group).
The notion of capital has the advantage of reminding us of the need to invest in social and cultural capabilities. Like economic capital, they require attention and a great deal of work. People usually “build up” cultural capital by participating in cultural activities; it may require discipline, study, and all kinds of sacrifice in order to achieve insight, wisdom, enlightenment, piety, or the ability to experience the sublime. People may also lose cultural capital in, say, leaving their country, shifting religion, or neglecting a cultural practice. Unlike economic capital, however, cultural capital (and also social capital) does not depreciate with use, but rather increases in value. When I visit a museum, I use my cultural capital in order to make sense of what I am seeing and experiencing, and by doing so I add to my cultural capital: because of this experience I may have a more intense experience the next time.
This brief exposition of the role of values and different notions of capital may provoke more questions than that it gives answers to. Let me briefly anticipate a few. There are, of course, other categories of values. Physical values may influence a healthier diet; environmental values may contribute to a healthier planet. To keep matters relatively simple, I refer only to the three categories of economic, social and cultural values.
The ephemeral character of notions like social capital, values, and cultural capital make them virtually impossible to pin down. Aristotle insisted that our actions are emotionally homeostatic: geared to negotiate adequacy and to prevent us from doing too much or too little of a good thing. Soldiers can be courageous, reckless, or cowardly and no one can tell in advance which they will be. Every action calls for evaluation before it can be declared courageous or not. Accordingly, we can write down our values, assert them (“I would give my kingdom for that painting!” “Honesty is all that counts.” “To live longer for my children I will eat only healthy foods.”) but values are expressed only in what we do. We do not own them, we can only try to work with them.
An inadequate measurement system stands in the way of establishing the roles of cultural and social capital more explicitly. Economic values and capital dominate contemporary public discourse (at least in the Western world) possibly because they can be measured so much better. During the previous century or so, economists have worked hard on statistical measures of economic values, such as Gross National Product, profit, income and wealth. The accounting for economic value has become quite sophisticated, although it has not been without problems. It has generated an entire industry of statistical offices and accounting firms. Measurements of social capital are being developed but are still in the pioneering stage. Measurements of cultural capital, if possible at all, are far off. The UNESCO has been gathering a range of cultural indicators but its compilation of data on all kinds of cultural activities does not yet add up to a meaningful measurement of cultural capital (UNESCO, 2000). Additional subjective measures are called for that can account for the experiences and perceptions of various cultural stakeholders such as local people, visitors, experts, politicians.(13) Deficient and lacking measurements make it difficult to take cultural values into account when developing policy or considering action, their relevancy notwithstanding.
When people produce art, they usually have no idea of its value. Family and friends may be in awe, but such valuation is relative. The issue is rather how other artists, experts, and consumers respond. Whatever the case, artists seek to realize the values of their art. (Putting a cultural good up for sale in a market may not only be an imperfect method but may also be impossible, inconceivable, or immoral.)
When goods become candidates for exchange, they become commodities (Appadurai,1986). In this phase — possibly an important one — their economic value is being realized. What economists may see as the beginning and end of a good is actually a good in its nascence. The initial shaping of its economic value is just that, a phase: its being a commodity is but one moment in its biography (Appadurai, 1986 and Kopytoff, 1986). Things have a life and pass various stages in which their values are being realized, sustained, affirmed, questioned and so on in characteristic ways.
During gestation, goods are the subjects of conversations dealing with their production. A painting comes about in conversations about technique, the world of artists and art in general. In those conversations the producer and others involved value its qualities and evaluate the values that are being applied. For example:
“I wanted to paint again as an antidote to the technique.”
“But why in this way? This is really cliché.”
“No it is not, I am elaborating on earlier work.”
When the good enters the phase of exchange, it becomes subject of totally different conversations, like those of the marketers, gallery owners and, of course, consumers. Now price, use and consumer appeal will be major subjects. One exchange might be:
“It’s a pretty large painting and considering past sales, I’ll price it at 10000 euro.”
“But don’t you run the risk of missing the buyer who is looking for an interesting piece above the couch? And why would my work be priced less than that of A___’s? Maybe I should take it to another gallery that will appreciate it more.”
“It has nothing to do with that. We just assess where the market is. We can do no better than this. In the end the buyer will determine whether the price is right.”(14)
Some goods, however, will never be in such a phase as they are “blocked from exchange” (cf Walzer, 1983, p.100). Goods like friendship, freedom of speech, divine grace, and, in the Western world, marriage and political office are examples. The valuations of such goods take place in conversations that are distinct from others:
“You are not going to risk imprisonment to defend your freedom of speech! I don’t want to lose you!”
“It’s a worthy cause, something I have to do.”
“So that freedom is worth more to you than our relationship?”
The consuming of the good constitutes yet another stage of the good. In the conventional economic account consumption is it; as soon as the good ends up in the hands of the consumer the story ends, as does the analysis. For quite a few goods the consuming process is a lingering one, involving various people and comprising a variety of experiences, valuations, evaluations and so on. When people visit a museum, they are said to consume the services of the museum , i.e. the exhibition. Yet, what actually happens? They may visit the museum with their family, so the outing may actually be important for the life of the family. They may have used the visit to have a nice lunch in the museum or to enjoy being in the building itself. They may have gone to the museum in the hope of meeting certain people. They may experience something in the museum that has a long time impact. They may have conversations about their experiences afterwards so that the museum visit may have a longer life than the mere visit. People may have learned something; and they may have to account for what they did. So it is not immediately obvious what the consumption is all about. It is obvious, however, that the valuation of the museum visit, that is, its consumption, is an entirely different matter, and subject of again different conversations, than its economic valuation.
The cases below illustrate the stages through which goods may pass. Case IV describes how goods become enchanted because of the purchase and create the need to be disenchanted. Case V shows a nice reversal of value. Beads once symbolized the dominance of Western culture to Africans and served as a means of payment. Now beads have become a desirable object for Westerners as a sign of African culture. Having been part of African culture has added particular value to the beads; it made them special. We could speak of a valorisation in this case: the beads have been re-evaluated and appreciated in value because of the life they once had.
Case IV. Enchantment and disenchantment of commodities in Africa
In the course of her fieldwork among the Peki of Southeastern Ghana, the anthropologist Birgit Meyer (1999) encountered a fervent Pentacostalist preacher who had a special experience with a pair of underpants. He had bought them at the local market. After the day he began wearing them, he was frequently disturbed by erotic dreams about having sex with beautiful ladies. It took him some time to realise that the underpants caused these dreams. The preacher did not only tell the story to Meyer, but to many members of the church. He warned his people about the possible demons in the goods they bought and offered to exorcise these demons by means of prayer. Thus the enchanted goods would become disenchanted. Meyer learned that such ideas of enchantment and practises of disenchantment were widely shared in Ghanaian Pentecostalist circles. She found that “in order to retain control over Western goods, a person has to strip them of their fetishist properties, thereby making use of religion in order to produce them as commodities in the sense of Western economists’ prose.” (ibid, p. 151).
Case V. An example of the valuation of art: beads
As early as the fifteenth century, European traders introduced coloured glass beads in the African markets. These beads functioned as a means of exchange through which Europeans could purchase African goods. The beads also played an important role in the realm of diplomatic relations. They were desired because they came from far away, could not be produced locally and were not available on the local markets. The beads were incorporated in local African cultures and came to symbolise status, rank, affluence and membership. The end of this practice came with the introduction of monetary currency (Steiner 1994, 124-125). During the past few decades, African demand for beads has been replaced by European demand. “To the travelers who now buy old trade beads in the markets of West Africa, their appeal, at least in part, stems from the fact that their long presence in Africa has again made them exotic. Once more, they have been packed with a symbolic charge. This time, however, their symbolism communicates encounter with a romanticized vision of traditional, pristine Africa. Hence, at one time beads were popular because they were foreign and European, now they are again fashionable because they are considered “ethnic” and therefore, by definition, still foreign” (Steiner, 1994, p.128).
Accordingly, the notion of “the life of things” alerts us to the valuations and valorisations outside the commodity phase. Indians realize the cultural value of a cow when they refuse to remove it from the road or slaughter it when they are in need of food. The cow has significant value yet no market has a role in determining that value. Daily religious practices bring out the cultural value of a temple or church; critical discursive practices as well as institutions like museums account for the cultural value of Van Gogh. And the value of a flag may prove itself in the heat of battle or grief of death. Accordingly, we would not do justice to the life of any good, or its values, if we were to focus on its commodity phase alone. Valuations and evaluations take place in different settings, and in distinct spheres.
The exceptional character of cultural goods may be related to the nature of the conversation in which its cultural values come about. Their valuation, therefore, may call for conversations that are incongruent with those that constitute the market. Having it subjected to the discipline of the market may affect its values, and possibly alter them for the duration of its life. Pricing a sensitive value — friendship, love, courage, truth, perhaps even art — alters the value of the good. Realizing a value by means of market exchange causes it to be a different good from the one whose value had been realized in the form of a gift or as part of a collective program.
In this line of argument I deviate once again from standard economic analysis with its implicit assumption that the mode of valuation does not affect the values of a good. In the standard approach the value of a good is ideally realized in a market; an alternative is a realization by means of a grant from the government or a foundation. Whatever method is followed, the economic value of the good is presumed to remain the same. Yet, when we take into account the full range of values, this presumption becomes dubious. As Anderson argues: “To realize a good as a particular kind of good we place it in a particular matrix of social relations. . . [G]oods differ in kind if people properly enter into different sorts of social relations governed by distinct norms in relation to these goods.” The context in which a good is placed to realize its value(s), may matter.
When we submit a cultural good for sale in the market in order to realize its economic value, we subject it to conversations that are characteristic for the sphere of markets (which come in all varieties, producing a host of distinct conversations). Comparison with other goods is a good starting point in setting a price. Its economic value may be stressed: potential to generate tourist income, ability to attract customers, and so on. Anonymous buyers may enter the bidding. The rigor of being placed in the sphere of commerce, measured, compared, discussed, priced and treated like any other commodity may very well affect its subsequent evaluation. If the price was exceptional high, the valuation may increase accordingly (called the crowding in effect (cf Frey, 1997b). Alternatively, because of a sale the good may be branded “commercial,” and lose some or all of its cultural value in the eyes of those who care (crowding out effect). In both cases the fact that the economic value was realized has an effect on the value of the good. It is a case of (de-)valorisation: some values get enhanced, others diminished.
The valorisation may also work on the social values that are associated with the market, like freedom of choice, consumer sovereignty, efficiency, commercial value, greed, and ruthlessness. By transforming a good into commodity people affirm and possibly enhance such market values. Such are the external effects of any valuation. By subjecting a good to the regime of the market, people contribute to, or valorise, the values that those who operate in this market have in common. This is a general feature of human action: even if it is thought of as individual or incidental, any human action will affirm and enhance a sense of the common values. By fathering my children I contribute to the values and institutions of fatherhood, family and the like. Similarly, when artists try to realize their art by means of a market exchange they (willingly or unwillingly) affirm and enhance the values that this market sphere have in common. Thus the method of realizing the value of art will not only affect the valuation of art as a cultural good, it will also affect the larger, common values. The effects may be small, but when more and more artists do the same again and again, they become significant. In the end, the culture of the world in which they operate may change.
Another option is to realize the values of cultural goods by means of government subsidies. Instead of being subjected to the conversation of markets — and its consequences — they become items in bureaucratic and political discussions. Here the consequence is that they become connected to other values, such as political expediency, national interest, justice and fairness, and bureaucratic discipline. Cultural entrepreneurs who seek the financial support of the government adjust their rhetoric and play to whatever values currently dominate the political realm. If politicians are concerned about national identity, accessibility, sustainability, or the integration of minorities, cultural entrepreneurs will cater towards such interests. The valorisation in such a case concerns public accessibility, national identity, sustainability and other values of the collective, integrating the good’s values with values beyond those the museum curator wants, or expects, to realize. Accordingly, subjecting a good to the government sphere involves supporting the common that constitutes it. Ideally, a good that is financed in this sphere has the status of a public or collective good and is appreciated accordingly. The subsidized temple becomes common property and is freed from the regime imposed by the market. Government officials and their consultants determine its value — not consumers and clients. In practice, certain valuations that governmental financing imposes are suspiciously similar to those of the market. But the government has to be objective in adjudicating between competing claims and is compelled to dole out in accordance with well specified rules; civil servants want measurements. And so subsidy-dependent museum directors count the number of visitors, point at the value of additional tourist spending, and reference the number of jobs the museum creates. These measurements, all economic in kind, will help them to stake their claims in the next round of subsidies.
The social sphere, too, provides a place for goods to be realized (Klamer, 1996; Klamer and Zuidhof, 1999). Obviously, this is where goods like friendship function but less obviously, a great deal of artistic value is realized in personal and informal interactions devoid of contracts, measurements, rules, and accounts. How do so many artists paint, draw, make music and the like without any financial compensation? They often are supported by parents, partners, spouses, or friends. They realize the value of what they do in social settings, by sharing their art with others. Their art is then a form of a gift. This makes for different conversations and appeals to different values from those conducted in the spheres of the government and the market. In the social sphere, people may talk about loyalty, responsibility, solidarity, care; they may also mention dependency, charity, and sacrifice. (These values may be interpreted as positive and as negative; how they are understood depends on the cultural context.)
By placing the good in a social setting, we ask for negotiations in social terms and shelter them from the blunter effects of market, political and bureaucratic values. By barring a good like friendship or religious ceremony from the commodity phase, we lock out the values that would be realized in that phase. The good takes on a life that is different from the one it would have had if exposed to a commodity phase. That makes something like friendship exceptional. One consequence may be that such a good can not be used as a commodity. Another is that such a good is not commensurable with commodities: there is no way in which we can establish the quantitative equivalent of price (c.f. Anderson, 1993; Radin, 2001).
In Mostar both local and international efforts are underway to reconstruct the Mostar bridge. Italy, Turkey, France, the Netherlands financed a great deal of the $15 million required to rebuild the bridge (plus some of the old buildings that also were destroyed during the war in Bosnia). The Mostar town council contributed $2 million and the Croatian government has committed $660,000. Restoring World Heritage is important enough to involve the economic participation of poorer locals as well as distant countries whose constituency may never have seen the Mostar bridge — and never will. An important part of the project is the conscious attempt to include workers from the Bosnian — Muslim community that dwells on one side of the bridge, and the Croatian community that dwells on the other. They work side by side in quarries and excavation sites. In this way, the rebuilding of the bridge will inevitably contribute to the bridging of the two camps that were on opposite sides during the Bosnian war. Accordingly, the realization of the values of this bridge does not only involve financial deals (the economic values) but also the social and cultural values that are generated in the process. The bridge is expected to contribute to the social capital and the cultural capital of the town, the organization and implementation of the project a crucial factor.
I advance the cultural economic perspective to break the hold that the economic perspective has on public discussions concerning the role of cultural goods. It embraces the culturalist perspective with its emphasis on the various values that constitute cultural goods while acknowledging the continuing importance of the economic dimension. The Economic perspective provides a useful framework (c.f. Cordes and Goldfarb, 1996; Frey, 2000; Throsby 2000), but it is a limiting one, at least when we want to make sense of the functioning of cultural goods. The focus on values, valuation and valorisation serves to sensitize economists and policy makers to the exceptional role that cultural goods can play in the life of individuals, communities and societies. Cultural goods are the carriers of important social and cultural values.
The cultural economic perspective compels us to distinguish social and cultural values from economic values. It furthermore points us to consider the various spheres in which the values of a cultural good are realized. Cultural goods are exceptional because they often resist the commodity phase and for good reason, so we found. For when cultural values are involved, actors need a sphere in which they can realize values that have not and should not suffer the rigor and discipline of government and market spheres. We merely need to point to religious institutions like churches, synagogues and temples: only in rare cases are they realized by means of government programs or market exchange. People who found a temple or develop sacred ground generally do not apply for government grants, find sponsors (in exchange for advertisements) or place a cash register at the entrance. Such cultural institutions rely mostly on the informal sphere and its main instrument, the gift, or donation. Insofar as reciprocity is involved, it is ill defined, not stipulated in a contract and requires an enduring relationship (see also Zelizer, 1997).
The cultural-economic perspective has several consequences for cultural policy in particular and development policies in general. As cultural goods come about and attain their value in conversations among people who know and care, their sustenance requires the support of such groups of people. The problem with the Buddha statues in Afghanistan was that they were an affront for the locals, yet were cherished by groups of people far removed from the scene. The latter group failed, understandably so, to persuade the local people of the cultural and possibly economic significance of the statues. This is a reason why cultural policy needs to be, at least partially, focused on education and ongoing discussions in journals, newspapers and on the Internet. Controversies like the one about the Buddhas can give a great impetus to the (re)valuation, and therefore valorisation, of a cultural good.
Many cultural goods will be financed by means of markets and governments. Performance companies apply for government grants (especially in continental Europe); auction houses and galleries sell visual art. It is necessary, however, to thrive in their own value spheres in order to realize their cultural values. Therefore, a cultural policy that is geared solely to the market or government fails to see the point.
This is not a practical message to translate into actual cultural policy. Take the policy of The World Bank towards an integral approach to cultural heritage.The correct premise is that cultural heritage needs to be considered in development programs (See The World Bank, 2001). As may be expected these programs give a great deal of attention to the economic values of the projects under consideration. Their methodologies stress the importance of contingent valuation studies and the like to determine these economic values. The analysis I propose attempts to contribute to these efforts by calling attention to a.) the importance of cultural goods for people in all stages of development; b.) the process of valorisation; c.) the various ways by which the values of a cultural good may be realized; and d.) the knowledge that — as Adam Smith already saw for the economic good in general — governments and international organizations are limited in their power to generate the values that are really important for people.
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