Since when are economists on the side of humanities funding?
An article by British economist John Kay might just surprise you.
Kay’s article, “A Good Economist Knows the True Value of Arts” was published in London’s Financial Times August 11, 2010. In it, he analyzes what he sees as the fallacy of the way in which most economic studies quantify the value of sports, tourism and the arts. He states, “[…] the value of an activity is not what it costs, but the amount by which its benefit exceeds its costs….the economic value of the arts is in the commercial and cultural value of the performance, not the costs of cleaning the theatre.”
What lesson does this idea hold for the humanities? Nowadays, as teaching the humanities in K-12 schools and in colleges continues to decline to make time for more reading, math, science, engineering and technology teaching—all essential for finding and keeping jobs—making the case for the importance of the humanities seems at best quixotic if not downright wrong-headed. Kay reminds us that the humanities’ contributions to the welfare of ordinary citizens are considerable, but hard to calculate. He contends, “Activities that are good in themselves are good for the economy, and activities that are bad in themselves are bad for the economy. The only intelligible meaning of ‘benefit to the economy’ is the contribution – direct or indirect – the activity makes to the welfare of ordinary citizens.”
We at the Maryland Humanities Council applaud this thinking. Read the entire article, and let us know what you think?
John Kay is an Oxford University and London Business School professor, author of several prestigious books on economics, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank and champion of the idea that markets are embedded in a social context.