Why are cultural goods of interest to an economist?

Cultural goods are interesting for several reasons that relate both to the past and the future of the economy.

The fact that these goods existed before humans invented agriculture and were developed to such a level of sophistication long before the industrial revolution and advances in medicine and technology raises many questions. Why did humans put so much energy and resource into developing these goods before they had discovered hygiene and developed technologies for heating their houses more effectively? Indeed it is notable that the French philosopher Descartes froze to death on 11th February 1650 while staying with Queen Christina of Sweden at her caste in Stockholm.

One possibility is that the advancements in technology and medicine were by-products of cultural goods. Hence, it was because humans developed such fine motor skills and trained their brains to such a high level of sophistication by producing cultural goods that stimulated their brains to also address practical problems from a new angle. Leonardo da Vinci was not only a painter, but studied human anatomy in great detail, as well as studying the anatomy of birds which gave him ideas how to construct an aeroplane. When I was twelve I made a model based on his drawings, and I am please to say it did fly to the great excitement of my teacher. Leonardo thus personifies the link between art, medicine and technology.

Hence it is possible that prosperity had aesthetic origins; that it were our aesthetic pursuits that made us a prosperous species.

However cultural goods are not only an antiquity of the past, they also show us the way to a more prosperous future as they evolved precisely because they were an infinite, eternal and sustainable source of value. Hence by studying the properties of cultural goods we may also gain useful insights for the future of the economy, as well as a better understanding of the mechanisms that took us to where we stand at present.

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