Cultural Economics

Global transformation, national transformation, corporate transformation, and even personal transformation take place at the intersection of Culture and Economics.
(Dr. James W. Jackson,  "THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD: Life Lessons from a Cultural Economist”)

I am a Cultural Economist, and I am compelled to make this obvious announcement: People have something to do with economics!There is a temptation to view the study of economics as a complicated and intimidating hodgepodge of charts and graphs used by corporations and governments to manipulate the consumers and persuade the voters. However, the study of economics is a valuable interdisciplinary study, and it is sad to see that so many educational institutions have dropped the teaching of the subject to our students. 

Traditional economics concerns itself with the process of how we efficiently allocate and manage our resources of land, labor, capital, and the entrepreneur, and how we choose to organize the production of goods and services. We take our collected data and apply it to chosen charts or matrices so that we can project our conclusions into the future on the basic assumption that future reality will be an extension of past reality. It is easy to visualize the iconic economist with his wire-rimmed glasses observing something taking place in the real world . . . then retreating to his study to research if that which he has observed could actually work in theory. 

But, it is good for us to remember that economics is all about people. It is the people with their emotions of love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and fear who make up cultures. And it is cultures that affect economics. And, likewise, economics affects cultures. Wherever you find the clashing of culture and economics, you will find the process of transformation taking place. For example: 

Global: Observe what is happening in Greece. Rioting is taking place in the streets since May, 2010. The violent protests are over unemployment, inflation, corruption, the national debt crisis, and implementation of austerity measures. In Greece and elsewhere around the world Global Transformation is taking place at the intersection of culture and economics. 

National: A quick comparison of the issues represented within the U.S. by the Occupy Wall Street group and the Tea Party group will reveal the extent of the national transformation presently taking place. Occupy Wall Street is a protest movement employing civil disobedience to support their demands for wealth redistribution through “opposing cutbacks and austerity of any kind,” and eliminating corporate influence of the financial services sector over the government. The Tea Party opposes continued excessive spending and waste, U.S. national debt levels, excessive taxation, and it demands government adherence to the Constitution. 

Corporate and Individual: Change at the corporate, and the individual level as well, takes place at the intersection of culture and economics. Wherever the components of the culture, e.g., traditions, institutions, families, and individuals intersect with components of economics, e.g., resources, labor, capital, and the entrepreneur . . . that’s where change takes place. 

We all stand at the curbside of that intersection. Each of us participates in the flow of history as it passes through that intersection. At that intersection we actually become the “change agents” of history. 

Cultural Economics is the branch of economics that concerns itself with the relationship of culture to economic outcomes. It studies how various aspects of societal cultures interact with economic events, behaviors, and conditions. A given culture will influence our political systems, traditions, religious beliefs, our formation of institutions, and even our value ascribed to individuals. And, conversely, economic philosophies and systems have the power to affect and shape our cultures. 

Economics is not a “Dismal Science” as Thomas Carlyle referred to it in his essay written in 1849. It is an exciting adventure when the studies of economics and culture are combined. It can open our eyes to the understanding of motives, methods, behaviors, successes, and failures regarding the stewardship of our world’s resources and human endeavors. Perceptions and persuasions sway even our purchasing patterns. Our economic environment has the flexibility of metamorphosis in reaction to current events and preferences. That makes the study of Cultural Economics an exciting study.