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CAPITOL LETTERS (Ep. 3): The Price of Pricing the Priceless

CAPITOL LETTERS (Ep. 3): The Price of Pricing the Priceless Beauty is also in the eye of the money-holder

The intensifying dialogue among social sciences is one of the most insightful contemporary academic advancements. Promising gains stem from interdisciplinarity, by connecting themes and concepts from a variety of fields, engaging them as parts of a Wertfrei system (of scientific nature), as well as a Weltanschauung (of cultural nature), rather than stockpiling merely discrete ingredients. For instance, the bonds between cultural studies and economic sciences – perennial, as they exist “materially” married, yet peripheral, as they seem “spiritually” divorced – may be revisited and reviewed against the intertwined backgrounds of: ideological mindset (e.g., liberalism, statism), technological mastership (e.g., industry “4.0”) and ecological momentum (e.g., climate, recycling). It is in the midst of the cogitations on the future of “humanity” (both the species and its spirit) – given chronic/acute ideological clashes, given technological shifts in leisure habits and in labor markets, also recasting micro-/meso-/macro-/mondo- business structures/relations, and given ecological encumbrances, under- or over-valued – that I’m roaming some of the finest American museums and libraries.

One meta-ideological theme that crosses over the cultural/artistic representations and narratives is that of the “battle between freedom and serfdom”. While “the” choice may seem obvious, there were/are voices to praise state/coercive inroads into the “reckless” freedom of markets that fail to see the “real” truth, goodness, beauty, as R. Coase had warned us, speaking of “markets for ideas”. If only relistening to prominent discourses in the 19th century Britain (the cradle of classical liberal intellectual revelations and industrial revolutions), like M. Arnold, W. Morris, J. Ruskin, a deep-seated mistrust in the capitalist culture has long been grounded. This stance was nourished later by the Marxist-Leninist total(itarian) assail on bourgeois freedom, with its faked egalitarian enthusiasm typified by realist-socialism. Nowadays, this fear of the “classical liberty” looks surreptitiously revived by the “politically correctness” drive, to be culturally-economically decoded. Still, in cultural economics, more than in any other branch, there is a persistent need to separate (and reconcile) value- and fact-judgments in evaluating states of affairs or processes, at both micro and macro levels.

Art/culture and technology have not been isolated across the ages and their relationship is condensed in saying that art is the culmination of cultivated tech skills, with culture mediating all existential facets. A multiple relationship between the two reveals to our eyes: i) “technology as a transformer of culture”, in unpredictable manners, though with expectedly positive upshots; ii) “technology against culture”, as the former is coming with too great a cost and too few benefits for the latter; iii) “technology of culture”, perceiving the technical aspects of life as an innate outgrowth of culture, with each industrial revolution being a natural and necessary accretion of its predecessors; iv) “technology above culture”, whereby the societal weightiness of the first one is considered sensibly larger, and v) “paradoxical relationships”, when seeking to both preserve culture as well as adopt technological innovations, with cohabiting trade-offs and spin-offs. Though, in cultural economics, it may prove useful to analyze the consequences, in terms of cultural preservation/perpetuation, of the ideological demeanor on, for instance, regulating the incorporation of too “novel” or “foreign” tech.

Until recently, sustainable development has been something largely concerned with natural sciences or technology, but less with culture or arts. The amazement with the “face value” of culture makes consumers of arts forget (or ignore?) that, tangible or not, it is made of economic goods, based on resource-consuming-production-processes. Thus, culture moves towards adopting “circular economy” in sensu stricto and in sensu lato, from (mere) “works of art” to “cultural heritage”, for reasons of traditionalism and/or social responsibility. Slowly but steadily, the creators of arts started asking themselves how waste generated by an artistic product can be minimized, eventually also respecting ages-old communitarian craftsmanship. New transformative and non-polluting methods of creation/design are unfolding in order to make art more environment-friendly and heritage authentically sustainable. Yet, in cultural economics, as in more mundane corners of our lives, comparing cultural/shared/voluntary bent for eco-friendliness versus political/imposed/coercive acts may indicate the most efficient driving force in caring for, and then curing, our environment. 

(July 18, 2022 – Washington, D.C.)

Photo source: author’s snapshot at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.



CAPITOL LETTERS is a series of articles occasioned by the author’s presence in Washington, D.C. as Romanian Cultural Institute Fellow, studying industrial revolutions’ imprint on the cultural sector.
The opinions hereby expressed by the author remain his exclusive responsibility and do not engage, in any manner or measure, the organizations to which he is affiliated or with which he collaborates.




The Market For Ideas Association

The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)

Amfiteatru Economic