Friday, 8 June 2012

Cultural Economics: Part 1

by Viva Avasthi

Since people are the driving force in economics, the question of how the economy can create attitudes and vice versa is one that I've been pondering over recently. After a bit of magic from Google, I've found out that this branch of economics is called cultural economics, where 'culture' is the shared beliefs and attitudes of particular groups.

people, culture, cultural economicsI've decided to write a few articles on this subject. Although my primary focus will be on the British economy and culture, I will also be looking at countries around the world in my investigation and I would love for you to send in your personal opinions about how the culture of where you live might be influencing the local economy and how the economy could have helped to create that particular culture.

Let's start by exploring how culture and economics are closely interconnected through the use of a scenario...

jobs, search
Does the benefits system make finding a job a
waste of effort for some?

If you were unemployed and had been in search of a job for some time, would you decline a job offered  by a reputable company? What if there were a few conditions attached? Presumably, you would want to consider the conditions first. Let's say that the conditions of the job are compulsory work on Saturday and drugs and alcohol testing for staff.

Remembering the fact that you've been searching for a job in vain for a while, would you say that the conditions are unreasonable?

I believe it's time to reveal that this scenario is not, in fact, fictional. Last month, Tata offered to invest £200 million (US $130 million) in providing 1000 jobs in their Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) plant in Castle Bromwich, England.

It seems that while people in the West Midlands (where Castle Bromwich is located) are complaining of having to live hand-to-mouth and are struggling with some of the highest levels of unemployment in the country, they aren't really helping to improve the situation for themselves. After the offer was proposed to the Unite union which put the deal forward to its members, it was rejected by 64%.

In such harsh economic times, how could people refuse job prospects? If working on a Saturday and being tested for drugs and alcohol means a more stable life is made possible for both the self and the family, then there is no reason why the jobs should not have been quickly snapped up. After all, Tata has the right to be sure that its workers aren't coming into work every morning drunk and unfit to work efficiently.

alcohol, pub
Why do some regard alcohol as the most important
even in such harsh economic conditions?
To me, both the fact that drugs and alcohol testing were required as part of the offer, and the fact that the offer was rejected indicate one thing: there seems to be a cultural problem. Evidently a large number of the working class value recreation and relaxing at the local pub as more important than earning a living.

The big question now is: what has caused this attitude to be created? To make things a little more interesting for those readers who aren't British and to improve my own knowledge, if possible, I'm also going to explore the cultural economics of other countries.

Some of the things that I think have contributed to the creation of the reluctance of people to sacrifice pleasure for necessity in Britain include:

  • the role of government (and the welfare state in particular)
  • societal pressures and norms
  • our consumer society 

In the next article, I will further the ideas listed above by explaining and exploring them. I will also  compare how these three factors differ from country to country. 

If you can think of any more factors which could have contributed to the reluctance of the majority of the British working class to sacrifice pleasure for necessity, comment below or email your ideas to:

Don't forget to share your opinions by commenting below :)


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