Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Cultural governance of the economy


Spyros Mercouris chairing the ECCM Symposium

When discussing cultural policy and the concept of culture at the ECCM Symposium, 'Productivity of Culture' (www.productivityofculture.org), held in Athens Oct. 2007, there was on everybody's mind the changing relationship between culture and economy.

One reason for this were recent findings as to the value of culture to the economy. For instance, ArtForum had declared on December 18, 2006:

"A European Union commission will put down a set of proposals for a common cultural policy by June 2007. As APA and Der Standard report, it is the first time that the EU has undertaken such an initiative since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 made culture a part of the EU agenda. . . . " 1

Louis Baeck and others had spoken already about the need to re-think the relationship between culture and economy at the Fifth Seminar, 'Cultural Actions for Europe' held in Athens 1994. At the 'Myth of the City' which followed in 1995, poets and planners discussed modern living conditions in cities which were expanding to create 'rur-urb' as new economic spaces. Neither rural or strictly speaking urban, for the urban economy was encroaching ever more so upon wild or untamed places in nature, it leaves modern thinking without a ratio society/nature to refer to. As a result of this problematization, and due to the collaboration between Phil Cooke, Jürgen Eckhardt and Hatto Fischer, the CIED project emerged.


Since the ERDF Article 10 project CIED ('Cultural Innovation and Economic Development') in 1997-99 brought about an even greater awareness about the relationship between economy, culture and planning with regards to city development, and it included 'Cultural Industries' in Cardiff, Wales as much the tourist industry in Galway, Ireland, all the more reason to heed what Michael D. Higgins would emphasize, namely that 'culture is wider than the economy'.

Consequently by 2000 following premises were taken into account:

Further attempts to improve upon the interpretation as to what governs the relationship between culture and economy were undertaken by promoting cultural heritage through use of new media. It was assumed that cultural heritage and cultural diversity are the basis for a common European cultural identity.

That there are real cultural differences in Europe was pointed out already by economic historian Louis Baeck insofar as he distinguishes between the Mediterranean and Atlantic tradition; while the latter seperates culture and economy, in the former the economy is really integrated into culture and therefore not the market but the 'household' is the main decision maker in such a setting.

Needless to say, Europe entered an economic crisis linked to huge state deficits; as a result austerity measures and loss of economic prospects brought about high unemployment. The crisis came about by something often not recognized but crucial once the relationship between economy and culture is understood. For primarily many mistakes or wrong decisions were made by not heeding cultural constraints even though that it is the way to become creative and to find solutions were before many think there are none. By giving instead too much weight to money retaining its purchasing power while viewing solely economic prospects as enhanced by a single market, policy became a manipulative inter-exchange between institutional and market related measures all designed to uphold a single currency for the sake of easy credit. The spill-over effect of that was ill use of pension funds and banks becoming irresponsible when lending huge sums of money without taking care acceptable risk limitations. It drove everything in the direction of unsustainable outcomes, whether now a Spanish town building an airport never to be used to full capacity or German banks lending huge sums to the international shipping industry and thereby flooding the shipping market with ever new container ships. That is like over fishing with no more demand and supply being balanced out by the market itself. At the same time, more and more particular economies within the Euro zone failed to contribute to both economic growth and cultural sustainability.

Interestingly enough, the EU 2020 vision foresees a specialization of regions, in order to promote the pooling of resources so that special activities are taken up within the region as to what it is best at i.e. most competitive. How this specialization will eventually look like across the board, that remains to be seen, but it is the strategy which the EU Commission proposes for the new funding period 2014 - 2020. Since such a selection process will require new entities over and beyond the political authorities at various levels to decide about the kind of specialization, it will be interesting to see if they can become decisive factors in the future economic development of these regions. A lot of resistance can be anticipated as common sense may prevail in avoiding both an inter-regional dependency and loss of independence in certain key sectors maintained until now in that region e.g. traditional ship building industry or in Greece agriculture linked to the Mediterranean diet. Also specialization by regions may contradict the very notion of sustainability the EU proclaims to be striving for once regions become over dependent upon others for the supply of certain goods.

As such it may alter the interface of the European economy, but at what costs? Funding is, of course, a way to intervene but can in the process of adaptation not bring about the desired efficiency and competitiveness but rather quite the opposite of what is being claimed as the strived for and therefore desirable goal. This would be the case if constraints are replaced by artificial restraints or negative institution limitations. There is a lot of complaints coming from alone the farming sector when seeing how entire cultural landscapes have been devasted either by abandoning the land with its rich olive grooves in Greece or else the interaction with nature no longer a cultural outcome but a negative consumption of space due to one sided approaches being adopted due to just furthering the tourist sector.

While talk has been at the end of 2012 about moving ahead in terms of economic governance insofar as the Central European Bank receives more powers to oversee and regulate banks throughout Europe, there is a much more worrisome tendency. The latter is becoming self evident by the fact that greater emphasis is being given to the defense sector. It does not make sense at all nor has it really the moral jurisdiction especially after the Europe Union received the Nobel peace prize.

It is known that a 'war economy' is less efficient than any other type of economy. Eisenhower saw that very clearly once the United States emerged out of Second World War. There was an over proportionate segment of the economy dependent solely upon weapons production.

The inherent dangers of such a development cannot be white washed by claims that this helps promote innovation and shall provide jobs, even while it may not even suffice to satisfy certain security needs. The EU was only really successful as long as it placed emphasis upon social and economic cohesion and therefore upon internal solidity and solidarity. This was the case under Delors as President of the European Commission and lasted until 1999. Then came the bombardment of Kosovo and since then there is only talk about expansion and unification of Europe from the outside e.g. by establishing a rapid intervention force.

Europe as a military power of whatever intention will neglect even more culture and therefore the most important stabalizing factor of society, namely the Right of everyone to have access to community. It means something else when formulated as cultural openness compared to the slick jargon used by EU officials when they refer to 'inclusive practices' or as in the EU 2020 vision to 'inclusive development'. None of that is true so long as society is not self reflective enough to know what it is doing. By the same token not everyone shall be needed or stated differently who shall be in demand and obtains a job will depend in the final end on what the economy has been designed to do, in order to satisfy certain needs. The domination of particular interests will then become a pecularity of the European Union.

It should not be forgotten that cultural and economic policies will make only then sense, if between them they are no contradictions and incompatibilities. Or if there are, then culture and cultural work shall be needed, as this means giving way to working through contradictions. What takes on then value is what can and does attain consistency over time. Consequently memory work becomes a prerequisite in order to understand the process and be able to appraise the outcome. Methods and aims are linked by memories passing through imaginative sphere while having real activities of mankind in mind. It is of interest that the EU is moving towards such governance, insofar efforts are made to coordinate different policy areas to ensure measures are compatible with one another. Also it has become standard procedure to exchange 'good practices' whatever that means. Definitely all this and more shall have an impact upon future developments throughout Europe in the years to come.

Despite such a positive outlook for the future, it has to be said that EU governance has been approached to date unfortunately only from the economic side while not really giving culture a voice. In the EU 2020 vision culture is not even mentioned. Instead all the talk is about 'smart, inclusive and sustainable' development. Culture is taken solely into consideration when it has a clear economic benefit.

The growing importance of one aspect of culture in the EU

One reason for this change in policy direction at EU level was that more and more findings established the fact that culture does have not only some but rather a substantial economic value. This pertains not to culture overall,  but rather to a very specific aspect. That follows itself what studies established as notion of culture having economic value.

For instance, ArtForum stated on December 18th, 2006 that "according to a financial study commissioned by the agency, culture employs 5.8 million (3.1 percent of employed EU citizens) and accounts for 2.6 percent of gross GNP, more than the chemical industry (2.3 percent) and real estate (2.1 percent). Cultural profits—in 2003, estimated at €654 billion ($866.8 billion)—outdo the auto industry (€271 billion [$359.2 billion]), as well as information and communication technologies (€541 billion [$717 billion])." 2

When KEA undertook this study about the value of culture to the economy, no one could have anticipated the importance it gave suddenly not to culture per say, but specifically to the Cultural and Creative Industries. As said the study was published by the Commission in 2007. Since then this study has become a major premise for EU thinking about funding culture for the sake of a certain type of economy.

The new orientation can best be described as putting ever more emphasis on 'creativity' and 'innovation'. They are considered to be in the prime factors of productivity and therefore contributors to economic growth. At the same time it is claimed, that it is these factors which help decisively to meet the demand for improved competitiveness of the EU economy at global level.

This shift in focus is clearly expressed by the 'Creative Europe' program envisioned for the 2014-2020 funding period. The programme includes a third strand which shall favour clearly Cultural and Creative Industries.

The problematic side of Cultural and Creative Industries

If cultural and creative industries are perceived as prime drivers of the so-called 'new economy', where does that leave culture? It is an epistemological question as to what this term means, or rather what these terms imply for organizational strategies and even more importantly for cultural identity.

When referring to these terms of cultural and creative industries, there is no longer so much talk about artists, writers, actors or musicians, but rather about film makers, web designers, computer programmers or cultural operators etc. It appears as if this 'creative class' (Richard Florida) are the makers of a new universe to which policy should be geared towards.

However, what the extension of the arts and culture into an explicit form of 'creativity' means once any creative potential is used in an industrial i.e. organisational way to advance the economy, that is not clear. While creative cities and creative labs spring up everywhere, disturbances and desorientation can be noticed in the way literacy is gained or rather neglected. Whether outcome of the new media age or the result of a failed educational system, no one seems sure what it are the consequences when now instead of the resources of nature are harnessed, instead the same method is being applied to the creative capacities of people.

There is afterall the warning, for instance, in the German Constitution that 'human substance and dignity are untouchable', and no one should be compelled to externalize this human nature. If creativity lies within that realm of something very personal and is deeply connected as to what constitutes a human being, then it is indeed highly problematic if such human substance and dignity based on being creative and hence alive as a human being should be confined and exploited within a given working order to the sake of new production types.

Production using 'creativity' as force may range from designing a new logo to conceiving an entire exhibition. As complementarity to 'productivity', creativity is linked up with the innovative capacity of the organizational unit. This is done in order to estimate and to establish value creation. One measure for that is, of course, how paintings gain in value over time.

The shift in focus shows how giving value to what work is being done, reflects not merely a type of thinking within a certain value creation chain, but also what the merging of culture and economy does imply. For instance, the inclusion of creativity into the work process has consequences in terms of insurance policy. For artistic or creative work falls under another category as part of the general tax law and, therefore, is treated differently.

In Germany, this means the artistic insurance meant in the past for writers, journalists and all artists who live from their own work has been extended to include now all these new job categories like web designer. When compared to hard labour or industrial work which are governed by repetitive actions and therefore cannot claim to be making 'creative' inputs, they are insured differently from those with full or semi status similar to that of artists and free or self employed, that is independent income earners. In terms of insurance coverage, the factory owner or employer is no longer responsible to cover the insurance costs, but now the person must alone seek coverage through the artistic insurance scheme. It shows that gaining a different status in society has as well policy and more so financial implications, only these far reaching consequences are not really recognized in time as they have a long term impact, structurally speaking.

Unfortunately many of those who are insured by this scheme fail to anticipate these consequences and thus end up with not enough money to live on once they go into pension. As the amount paid out depends on the monthly contributions paid over at least 35 years, it alters little to what most artists or creative people experience as life time earnings. They earn too little to afford a much higher needed contribution rate, if they wish to end up with a normal pension. Even the target of 600 Euros per months is not really enough to live on. If that is the case with the traditional users of this insurance scheme, what about the newcomers? It is an open question how they will end up. Already the existential problem of many living below poverty line once they go into pension is a real problem besetting all societies, and it does not help if there is talk about extending the retirement age from 65 to 67 or even higher, for people still need to live. They cannot if the minimum wage or pension is below 600 Euros at the very minimum given all the costs to just sustain life in modern society.

Other examples can be added as to what is transforming the cultural sector. The turmoils at Suhrkamp Publishing House in Germany indicate that alone the book sector is undergoing tremendous transformations. While in 2000 the book price binding was an outstanding issue, by 2012 the e-book and other changes challenge this traditional sector with new economic models being advanced while the copy-right dispute and who controls the Internet but indications of unsettling, equally crucial questions as to how to structure and ensure a continuity of publicness in the realm of culture. For once these carriers of culture, including the small book shops with their reading corners for children disappear, then much will depend upon how society reacts to these and other challenges.

By now 'you-tube' has become a social phenomenon with world wide impact. This puts writers, poets and artists of various kinds far out on a limb or as someone would say the moment business owners of galleries and curators take over, the artist himself is left out of cultural participation. Other mixed forms of entertainment and fashion seem to take over as much as modern museums know by now a variety of models on how to attract friends of the museums and tap into various income and funding sources. Alone the importance of sales at the museum shop indicates ever more museums have to rely on multiple sources of income as state funding is reduced. There is now being quoted over and again this provocative book published in Germany with the title 'Herzinfakt' - heart stroke, for it contains the proposal to half all cultural institutions as it is ascertained there is a huge duplication so that it comes down to the conclusion more can be done with less. That means budget cut backs for culture are seemingly high on the priority list even though there are cities which resist this trend.

One important distinction needs to be made here. While any critical appraisal is insufficient, given the lack of oversight and insight into details as to how things will eventually structure themselves or else peeter out, policies are made on the basis of interest assessments and prospects for lucrative businesses. Investments are not made in dysfunctional structures and activities. Consequently any discussion on this matter risks often to become one sided or else neglects that other aspect. The dilemma is clearly while tremendous efforts need to be undertaken to safeguard culture, relating to what is happening in reality quite another paradigm.

Creativity and Innovation

This shift in focus does, however, reflect the need of society and the economy to adapt to an age based on computer based systems driven by technological innovations. Since these innovations transform in a rapid succession all other changes, including what happens in terms of communication, new policy strategies are needed to come to grips with such a changed reality. At the same time, the European Union is fully aware that it is lagging behind the United States in terms of competitiveness when it comes to inventions and innovations in both soft and hard ware. All the more reason to harness even more creativity in this direction.

To step back a bit from overt forms of criticism, it can be said that there are examples of good practices when it comes to linking creativity and innovation. Fore mostly managerial expertise in these areas require another capacity in order to allow for such innovative processes which allow for creative leaps. They appear to be irrational from a strategic point of view, but from within the experiences being made in this search for answers to particular questions, observations and learning especially from 'failures', such experiencial domain with a logic of their own have to be not only accepted, but be financially supported.

A key term for that is 'creative hubs'. One is not sure what is going on, where what will happen, but altogether there is a buzz and atmosphere to allow some expectation eventually something of value will come out of it. Equally with 'creative clusters' but which can follow linear or other patterns by which coincidental complementarity is increased. That applies as well to 'spill over effects' best known onhand of the Leipzig book fair when still located within the city near Plagwitz. It meant book sellers needed publishing houses who needed printing machines and graphic designers and all wanted to know where is a good place to eat. An entire cluster of complementary work places were created. There came into existence famous cafes and simple bars as go in-between places for labour working in factories developing the newest printing machines and literary critics discussing with audiences the latest reflections about social theory.

Innovation was defined in the past as an idea being developed and becoming within a given time a real product. When Bauhaus linked the arts to the design of furniture and typewriters, it was not far removed from stage design and architectural drafts for new types of buildings. At the core of this innovative capacity were the creative arts like painting, but as extension to other circles of activities, it meant dropping the fear of not being considered an artist, but one who was doing merely 'functional art' i.e. to be used by industry.

Another equally crucial prerequisite for innovation is the establishment of a 'learning hypothesis' so that everyone can become engaged in improving a product until a leap can be made. This was the case with the camera and the taking of photos or making films. Ever more closer scientific and industrial exploration came to refine how light was cast on the film to allow the development of the negative into a positive image. That refinement continued until suddenly digital camera was introduced and did away completely with the need to develop the film in a dark room. Always close observations and the desire to improve something till now a kind of hinderance means to reflect any product as not being perfect, but rather a mere reflection of the latest state of art in terms of technological know-how.

Cultural development and investments in culture

Completely absent is in this policy shift an attentivity to the notion of cultural development. Culture can also be neglected to the point of risking to lose the power to renew itself and which would constitute at the core cultural sustainability. Hence not surprisingly EU discussions about culture seem to miss out on the need for investments in culture, investments not to be reduced to cultural heritage alone. Cultural diversity is not a mere given due to various languages and experiences which shape the European cultural landscape, but reflects vitality if sustained by forms of creativity not linked to the economy.

If this discussion is to be taken up about the need for proper cultural investments or more clearly investments in culture, some cross-reference can be made to the proposal by the EU Commission as to how to envision investments generally within the framework of the Structural Fund. It would be a matter of careful deliberation as to how funds are to be used specifically to further European culture through specific projects. To give but a few examples, a good writer is not brought about by individual encouragement and promotion, but has to come out of three generations of writers all known for their sound criticism and honesty. This is what Seamus Heaney said when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, for he stated that this is due to three generations of poets in Ireland. Not to recognize this need to be challenged and to challenge so that things do not descend to mere comfort zones, means never to take life as being self-understood or to take things for granted. If self-understanding forms the basis of culture then the dictum by Adorno has to be kept in mind, for the only conceivable self understanding is that there is no 'self understanding'.

A shift in focus has been detected when it comes to cultural projects during the 2007-2013 funding period when compared to the previous one of 2000 - 2007. There is no longer evident a single focus on cultural infrastructure (theatres, museums etc.); instead, intangible aspects are emphasized and link to cultural services required, for example, in the tourist sector. Most interesting is to observe that some cultural cooperation projects touch upon such vital issues as the sharing of values and how locals perceive immediate cultural resources in comparison to outsiders who wish to come into that local area e.g. tourists from Russia visiting Greece. Often the emphasis given to tangible aspects on the Greek side does not match to the wish for intangibles i.e. access to a culture based on convincing narratives (and not legends or national myths). All too often that mistakes has been made as well by the traditional tourist sector, namely to offer merely local products or representative expressions of a national culture.

Of interest is that the most experimental projects in this sense can be found in cross-border cooperations where different cultural approaches have to be mediated and brought together. But this vital element for European integration is countered within the European Capitals of Culture ever since Bob Scott was chairman of the Jury selecting the ECoC cities insofar as he wishes the city receiving the designation to be the cultural representative of its nation and thus he did not wish to promote border cities like Görlitz in Germany.

With regards to various cultural policies being followed through at different - local, regional, national, European and international - levels, there prevail most of all traditional approaches to culture per say. It is then all about presentations, exhibitions, festivals and cooperations while not observant enough as to what were the carriers of cultural voices.

Cultural economy

The real question in need to be posed is whether or not a 'cultural economy' is in the making? So far every indication has been a strifing for an economy at the exclusion of culture, or if at all taken into consideration, then in the sense of wishing to harness cultural factors such as creativity and innovation, and therefore the Cultural and Creative Industries, for the economy. Thus if the answer would be a 'yes', then what would be the major characteristics of such an economy? Following points can be made out to signify a 'cultural economy' in the making:

Culture matters in terms of which values are upheld. Already it was noticed once Thatcher started to break up the City to let newcomers in, and all with the justification to make it more open and competitive, the result was a loss of honesty. Till then bank employees cared about the reputation of the banks they were working for. But once decisions were based solely on the need and creed to make a lot of money fast, irresponsible loans were given e.g. German banks to the international shipping industry. By the time the crisis in the banking sector hit the economy and forced the states to adopt austerity measures, it was too late to correct the mistakes which have accummulated over time. Reference to the fact that some of them "are too big to fail" says it all, for such shifts in power due to amassed money, in reality based on bad loans, emerge out of false dependencies within the system to what drives such a system towards the next crisis. It is well known that Capitalism does strive on crisis for it allows an inexpensive re-organizing of all resources as if a mere matter of redoing the cards. While this is being played out, it matters whether or not real value determines the purchasing power of the currency in circulation or else it is a ride on fake value reflecting all the fake dependencies. The latter spell out the list of priorities as to what needs to be done to avoid the next crisis e.g. the Fiscal cliff in the United States by the end of December 2012.

That such a crisis is wanted, can be traced back to the deliberate act by the Bush administration which reduced taxes in particular for the wealthy and thus plunged the state budget from a surplus to a huge deficit. For that means the state becomes dependent upon those who have the money. In the writings of Marx according to Rudi Dutschke this was the meaning of calling such a form of governance with the state over dependent upon key financial sources the 'Asiatic mode of production'. In today's global economy this centralized - de-centralized version is the reason why proponents of such practices call for less governance while at the same time wishing to secure the scarce resources solely for these banks and companies which can keep the economy afloat. The state under Barack Obama managed to get out of this one sided dependency solely by continuing to print money and in a way promoting over spending, in order to get the economy out of recession. Interestingly enough it goes hand in hand with a nationalist rhetoric and is reflected in speaking about the 'sovereign debt' of Greece despite all of the interdependencies within the EU to counter any claim that there exist still within Europe at least autonomous national economies.

Leaving behind the national economy

Once the cultural question is posed, it means to face very differently the contradiction between a need for world governance and nation states seeking to retain their national identities and hence sovereignties. The latter has been reinforced since the end of First World War by a strict 'self determination' as prescribed in the Woodrow Wilson doctrine. It means upholding national values and drawing borders to ensure nation state building continues as concrete expression of not democratic but national aspiration.

Nowadays the limits of nations' capacities to govern themselves is being tested by the European Union seeking another form of governance. The decision at the end of December 2012 to place all banks with holdings of more than 30 billion directly under the control of the European Central Bank underlines that even while narrower national interests are transcended, it is still an economic determination which drives the political decision making process, and not a culture which would allow the people to understand and to participate in the process. For this reason, a 'cultural economy' would make a significant difference if strived for.

The term 'cultural economy' differs from the 'national economy' one. Consequently the term requires further clarification than what the UNESCO definition entails.

If economy means the least number of rules by which something is organized (Descartes), then cultural economy would be based on a different set of rules and constraints. The aim would be to ensure honest prices and a fair distribution of resources and wealth. As expressions of values these would act as constraints, in order to make sure any development is being shaped on the premise that 'not everything is allowed'. Safeguarding people's health would be just one the factors in need to be taken into consideration. For nothing is more dangerous to mental health than the kind of 'insanity' exhibited by going to war and inciting all kinds of hatreds just for the sake of grabbing resources by excluding those 'others'. There needs to be given a political answer to these inherent threats to human solidarity and cultural openness required for people to stay in touch and to work together. If only some images created in the cultural fields could be pulled over to the economic sphere, things might be different. Right now the cultural side appears to be like a naive child dreaming of a beautiful world, while the economic side is dominated by adults insisting they know alone what is good for the rest of the world because it is solely to their own benefit. This kind of 'egoism' has been identified by the philosopher Horkheimer as ending freedom.

The binding power of such a cultural economy would also endorse something James Clifford describes in his book 'Predicament of Culture' as being the difference between collective decision making processes and those demanded bv private owners when wishing specific community services to facilitate running their private land as they wish.

Pecs 2010 in Hungary

Since culture without fences or borders is not just a wide open field but more a space to which everyone has access, it means that prime decisions taken within the political sphere ensure that the economy regards the ethical spirit which keeps that society together in solidarity to one another. Interestingly enough the EU project moved forward as long as social and economic cohesion were the prime goals, and decisions made in accordance with a solidarity for the weaker regions. Naturally there can be altered perception of backward regions once 'backwardness' in cultural terms is perceived as being in reality a most advanced expression in the arts and thus a positive sign of resistance against false dependencies which fake models of development can entail.

All that becomes most evident when this kind of development leads on to only more mass consumption, Greece a case to be studied. For once this country imports its own olive oil from Germany 3, then something has gone wrong in not only the distribution mechanism. Moreover there prevail in the debate about the future of the Greek economy overt misconceptions as to how inefficiency came about. Such misconceptions are misleading criticisms especially when they chastisize Greece for having an economy which is not competitive enough but do not address the real factors of corruption within a system of redistribution of wealth favoring only a certain class of people. Competitiveness is judged overtly by the fact that the country cannot export more than what it imports.

Forgotten is all along what kind of strategy is used to make the European economy look like what it is today with large segments over dependent upon subsidies and likewise leaning towards still further going forms of corruptions. Unclear remains the real losses since the politics aims to cover up these losses. The latter has led to a subjegation of Greece to become just another consumer for products from the North European countries. How to reverse this negative determining factor without falling into the trap of another overt movement, namely Nationalism, is the political question of how Greece and Europe shall emerge out of the crisis. It started in 2009 once Greece declared its state deficit to be no longer sustainable. Since then ways are sought to make the economy more competitive by proposing harsh remedies without touching the overall system which has led to this one sided dependency upon European funds to stay afloat.

At the conference in Paris the need for the economy to upholding an ethical spirit, articulation thereof would have to rely not so much upon church and religion, but on culture. Only the latter can bring about the secular spirit of openness and tolerance for the other. Too often religion and culture are confused with one another or even worse taken to mean the same. Yet no artist making paintings or a theatre play determines how to think about issues. Cultural determination, if it exists at all, cannot be compared with a preacher. For behind him stands a theological school of thought aiming to make laws into an absolute. Art and culture live from openness and constant questioning as this dialogue of the senses with reality is an ongoing learning process on how to interpret things and what importance things have once mankind gives to them a certain meaning. And without empathy and imagination such an understanding of meanings in life cannot be really communicated. In short, the cultural premise for such a communication process is what an economy needs to uphold and to respect. The distortion of meanings is the case whenever also prices are not set in a honest way, but brought about by a lack of cultural consideration. Here the economic analysis pointing to lack of competition as reason for price distortion is missing the cultural point. Honesty is not brought about by competition but by freeing people from the fear to be honest.

Certain key aspects stand out when undertaking a further epistemological clarification of the term 'cultural economy', and this on hand of specific studies searching for alternatives to Capitalist economy. For instance, the anthropologist and economic historian Michael Polanyi examined 'primitive, archaic and modern economies'. He compared them by taking up the main claim of the modern economic system as being the most sophisticated and freest organization since based on money. That claim is made since money is conceived as being the most efficient decision carrier. Freedom is attained by money given for a product or services without complying the one receiving the money to do something specific with the money. At the same time, this exchange principle guarantees, so the claim, that needs are satisfied. Linked to democracy this claim is supported by the proof that only societies which respect the operation of the free market have not experienced massive failures in agriculture and therefore have not gone through famine as have China or Russia when experiments were made with Socialistic types of planning interventions and the key concept being 'collective farming'. That has led until 1989 to only limited inquiries aiming to find out if viable alternatives exist to such a system based on the exchange principle and on money. Polanyi came upon the so-called reciprocity society which frees everyone from the 'exchange principle'. He describes that society as letting everyone exercise daily skills in making the right decisions with regards to a just distribution system. Things would not be given in exchange for something else, but according to one's perception as to who is in need of certain goods or services. No one would bother to get something in return from the same person for having given something. Rather others would take care that one had enough to live and thrive.

From economic to cultural governance

What Adorno and Horkheimer describe in 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' as failure to bring about knowledge in the interest of good governance has not been understood to date. An economy driven only by the need to appear 'successful' risks to attribute wrong qualities to being successful. Thus a person who rationalizes the work organisation can easily fire people, and thus is perceived as successful, if the shares of the company go up as a result and profits are made, while a politician who does not succeed in providing people with work is deemed to negative criticism, if not considered to be a failure as if this problem of employment / unemployment is not the other side of the same coin. Also people who act in solidarity of others, but do not earn enough money to afford a luxurious life, are also seldom recognized as being successful in human terms. What counts in the economy is money. That leaves out all the other attributes which make anyone into a human being. Along those lines many end up misjudging what it takes to be a responsible person.

During the Presidential election in the USA 2012 the difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama was an interesting test case as to which model of thinking about the economy would prevail. While Obama follows an ethical principle linked to the middle class, Mitt Romney wanted to project a kind of leadership as if the entire society is a corporation to be run successfully according to strict economic criteria. The lack of compassion and solidarity with those who feel unprotected if exposed fully to private interests and private enterprise, that may explain why he could not win neither the electoral or the popular vote. He gained only in rural or suburbian areas but not where a new coalition of people with a multi-cultural background strived for another future.

No economic solution can be advocated without consideration for the ethical spirit. It is no longer a religious one, but a social and cultural one.  While considerations for a society structured to serve almost exclusively the rich when compared to the fate of Middle Class determined the debate during the US election in November 2012, it meant in terms of this multiple coalition something was afoot already for some time now. For it goes hand in hand with a notion of governance which is orientated as to what has future in such a society! To this an interesting point was made by James Clifford in 'Predicament of Culture'. He cited the poet William Carlos Williams who described what he suddenly realized when he walked one day into his kitchen and saw the woman he had hired to help him in household chores. She was a woman who every kind of blood running through her veins. When he compared himself as White, Anglican, Saxon, Protestant with her multicultural nature, he saw that she had future while he had none. For future means here successful integration and adaptation to a changing society in composition and complexity. That includes as well values and different ways of doing things.

Here European politicians, including Sarkozy, Cameron and Merkel have failed when they declared the multicultural model to be dead. They did so in response to the murder of the film maker Van Gogh in Holland, to the uprising of the Algerian youth in the suburbs of Paris, to the bomb attack on the London Tube in 2005 and to the growing problem of a Turkish-Islamist community developing own laws within Germany. All was taken as sign of non integration.

Governance includes what can and should uphold in reality a life in Europe, namely living its 'cultural diversity' so often claimed as its richness but rarely really appreciated. But some positive changes can be noted. In Holland the extreme politics of Wilders were rejected in the elections of 2012 while people in France remarked one big difference between Sarkozy and Hollande. For gone is out of daily conversation the shrill and hard overtones of racist's arguments supported by the anti-migrant, very racial rhetoric of Sarkozy. Now that he is gone, more space and tolerance seems to prevail within the social space. That does not mean the problem of the Extreme Right Wing has been resolved, but it dominates no longer the core issues of everyday life.

It does matter how politicians respond to the cultural and social tensions within society. The people in the Netherlands have also distanced themselves in the meantime from the radical programme of Wilders who wanted to mobilize first of all against all Muslims and followers of the Islam religion, and secondly against all migrant workers coming from Eastern Europe. Again it shows that the cultural components of society need to be taken into consideration when wishing to advance a policy which can support the working out of differences while keeping the economy going. The best way is not to over regulate but to set constraints. This can be done much better by cultural than economic or legal means.

One key factor hindering a bringing together of artists and people engaged in daily work is the usual split with here society and normal life, and there the wild ones or the artists who do not conform to the usual need to earn a living, but regardless of this need pursue their artistic need for freedom of expression. What Adorno and Horkheimer pointed out in their amazing book 'the Dialectic of Enlightenment' is that this split began already way back when Homer describes Odyssey finding a safe passage past the Sirens. While Odyssey was tied to the mast his men had to stuff their ears with wax, so that they could neither hear the treacherous songs of the Sirens nor the command of Odyssey to untie him so that he could go to the Sirens. They managed to row past those dangerous riffs but without hearing the pleasure Odyssey had when listening to the Sirens. Even nowadays the economy lives off this splitting off of pleasure (artistic creativity) from work (repetitive production). It left Western Societies without a chance to bring together the 'tamed' and the 'untamed', nature and society, culture and the economy.

Naturally when speaking about cultural economy, it still depends whether reference is made to a hunting, agricultural, industrial or information society. According to these concepts of existence different skills are needed if the community as a whole is to survive. Also Levy Strauss makes the point that if everything is reduced to what use or value something has, then this reductionism shall limit the horizon of interest of this society. He remarked how interesting to learn from the Indians that they had more categories to describe nature than what they needed in order to survive in nature. Consequently a 'cultural economy' reflects the richness and variations of categories made available in order to bring about an intelligible reality. People would recognize and know of different things. It is this 'cultural literarcy' most needed especially in a digital age. It would also include knowing how to read the signs of the times e.g. climate change.

There is one more aspect to cultural economy which Karl Marx mentioned in the introduction to his PhD, namely what language is being spoken. If all the things mentioned above hold, then at best a split language is being spoken e.g. at work the language of productivity and efficiency, at home the language of personal emotions. This split will not allow the speaking of a language which could address the main pivot point of any cultural economy, namely human self conciousness. People are not mere bus drivers or civil servants, teachers or accountants but primarily human beings. Karl Marx stated in order that this human self consciousness can be addressed the language has to include 'categories of both creativity and productivity'.

In short, a cultural economy reflects the overcoming of false separations, including the difference between work and artistic creativity. Naturally all this has to do how children are educated right from the start. Culture means also what self understanding people with Adorno reminding as philosopher that the best one is a self understanding that there is no self understanding. Too many communication problems are created out of assuming too much as to what the other can understand. Of interest is here as well the interpretation Kant offers when someone does not understand what one tries to say, namely that one had not understood oneself what one tries to bring across. Since self understanding mediated through culture will have an impact on how resources are distributed in recognition of what needs to be done, it is crucial to look at the cultural economy from this point of view, namely what self understanding can be presumed and what aspects of this self understanding is in need of still further clarification. As the current debate about copy rights shows, the Internet has brought up in a much more vehement form what is individual compared to collective creativity and therefore what is 'intellecual property', if ideas can be possessed like a piece of land when in fact the earth belongs to all and to no one!


In brief, cultural governance of the economy ought to be guided by philosophical reflections. Starting with Aristotles who defined knowledge as 'theory', practical philosophy is really about knowing the goals and becoming free in the imagination so as to foresee how these goals can be realized. It is the imagination which allows for a questioning of the reality so that the given can  be perceived as something which can be changed. By acting in the knowledge of goals, it means that people are free in their imagination and therefore can see and more importantly judge how these goals are to be realized. They can articulate themselves once this practical judgement has been activated.

Governance is primarily setting such an agenda which reflects a perceptive society as to what issues need to be dealt with in time while responses forthcoming enrich the common understanding about what the proposed solutions entail. As it involves a way of doing things, reflection thereof is needed to comprehend how things are understood. For all too often things misunderstood in a systematic way due to prejudice and inhibitions. The latter are, therefore, in need to be overcome if convictions and determined solutions are not to be based on prejudices (Marx still called them a healthy reaction of people) but on knowledge (thought through solutions). Such knowledge reflects the institutional capacities to let people work together in search of common solutions.

Cultural governance entails the setting of such constraints so that ethical concerns are met. It means as well that methods and goals go together. As this requires a constant mediation of the measures to be taken, the 'memorandum of understanding' manifests how governance is understood and judged. While the European Union has considered this to be the key to upholding social and economic cohesion, the cultural dimension demands that all measures taken uphold the ethical vision of man. It expresses best that practical wisdom is maintained in all matters being dealt at both individual and institutional levels. The outcome has to be not 'common sense' but such cultural consensus measures which do provide the basis for common agreement about the need of decisions about to be taken, and which shall be taken once consensus prevails as sign of a maturation around substantial goals.

'Practical wisdom' is required to make sure that this 'measure of man' is kept. Such a judgement is linked to knowing what has consequences when this path and not that one is taken to develop things further. Hand in hand goes with this experiences of becoming creative under definite conditions. The train designer Lutz Gelbert in Berlin asserts that there are ways to become more creative, provided some systematic thinking is applied to the work in progress. This means concrete work is being done while still free to step aside and outside the system by just playing the guitar and enjoying life. It allows for the imagination to be present like the free conscience. All that is reflected in a cultural governance attentive to the wish all people have, namely to realize themselves as human beings based on the knowledge of what constitutes a happy life.

Hatto Fischer




1. ArtForum declaration on December 18, 2006:


2. op.cit., ArtForum, 18.12.2006

3. Kathimerini reports 8th Sept. 2011 that:

"Data released by the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) suggested that Greece imported 1.5 million euros’ worth of olive oil -- once a staple of its agricultural production -- from Germany in 2010, Skai reported on Thursday, adding that the General Confederation of Greek Agrarian Associations (GCGAA) believes that much of this oil came from Greece to begin with.

GCGAA member Giorgos Goniotakis said the reason for the high level of imports was that domestic olive oil production has slumped below demand due to the drop in price."

Source: http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_17660_08/09/2011_405493

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