On our last visit to the Whitworth Gallery I was surprised to see an exhibition about economics. I love economics - it’s ‘my’ subject - but it tends to get a bad press. Thomas Carlyle called it ‘the dismal science’ almost 200 years ago and ever since then it has been an easy target.
So the Whitworth’s exhibition, presenting economics in a positive light, really caught my eye. It explores the relationships between economics, art and community, showing us that economics isn’t just about producing and selling goods, or just about bankers and high finance. It’s also about what goes on in communities, in the not-for-profit sector, in the arts. It’s not all about money.
I was particularly struck by a graphic which showed the different layers of economic activity in the form of a cake. At the top, the icing represents the most visible, traditional economic transactions. But these only make up half of the cake. The rest represents non-monetary activities which are the bedrock of the monetary economy.
Other panels develop the theme that economics isn’t just about money. In fact many of the most important economic transactions have nothing to do with money. As Oscar Wilde told us, ‘A fool is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’