Reading and seeing coverage of the death of Tony Benn reminds someone of my age how far the country has moved to the right. Where once left wing Keynesanism was the accepted norm, now monetarist economics that originated by conservative thinkers are almost unquestioned. Similarly there is an acceptance of privatisation and the free market across all the main parties. It’s hard to imagine the Labour Party of 30 years ago supporting a cap on the welfare budget or people being allowed to cash in their pensions.
Just as hard to imagine any of today’s mainstream politicians promoting councils building houses or the state owning utilities or managers running managing not-for-profit institutions without financial targets. So left wing opinion is now about how best to manage a right wing economy. Where the centre is now so far to the right, left-of-centre merely means a paler shade of blue. Really it makes me laugh when the Daily Mail and others complain of the BBC’s left wing bias.
I have no quarrel with the idea of a free market economy. Experience has taught me that the less incompetent, unaccountable national or local government managers interfere the better. I simply draw the line at an out-of-control market. The problem seems to me that the market will pursue profit without conscience, overview or indeed any other restraints, including common sense. In the process of which it creates bubbles that others have to clear up and increases the gap between rich and poor which in the past has led towhole societies’ downfall.
The arts too take the free market as a given nowadays. Grants depend on us showing the economic benefit of what we do: the arts are worth so many millions to the local economy or x billions to the tourist industry and so on. I remain a believer in art for art’s sake. The primary benefit of the arts is to our well being as individuals and society and therefore cannot be quantified in monetary terms. I’ve made a career out of ensuring that arts organisations don’t spend unnecessarily and that we maximise what we get for our spending through better marketing but I don’t for a moment think that’s the same as saying that a financial return on investment is how we judge success.
The limit of the market is its lack of humanity. As humans, we use money for transactions but the value we place on what we do is very different to the price and much of what we value is priceless- love, nature, giving, happiness, health. Art needs to be paid for whether through grants, giving or earned income but its value to us is beyond price.
This blog was written by Paul Seven Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy The Lewis Experience and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn. A version of this blog appeared on the Daily Echo website.