The Economics of the Humanities

You’ve heard the story: our modern economy demands more and more students to pursue scientific and technical fields to keep up the pace of growth.Given the exorbitant costs of a college education, students should be discouraged from pursuing frivolous, non-productive fields such as the arts and humanities. And so on…

A recent article from the Economist challenges these myths… from an economic point of view. The author points to facts often overlooked in conventional analyses of productivity. He also reminds us of the enriching experiences and finer pleasures available in advanced societies–experiences and pleasures that are directly tied to the flourishing of the humanities.


What is economic growth for, anyway? It’s for expanding our choices and making life better. Is it really so surprising that, as we grow wealthier as a society, more and more of our young people, when the amazing resources of the modern university are put at their disposal, choose to use them learning something satisfying and enriching and not for anything except cherishing the rest of their lives? Is it really so surprising that taxpayers are not in revolt over the existence of poetry professors?

As we grow wealthier as a society, we also devote ever more money and time listening to music, attending performances, reading books, watching film and TV. Somebody has to make this stuff, and I’m certain its full value is not captured in the economists’ growth stats. I spent last evening reading a fine Pulitzer prize-winning novel by a graduate of a state-university creative-writing program. I appreciate everything math majors do for us. I really do. But, as far as I know, a math major has never made me cry.

read more:

(thanks to Marc Olivier for the link)

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