Putting the economics back into culture

from our Copenhagen correspondent.

Ever wondered why most of the worlds UNESCO heritage sites are in Europe or why the Eiffel tower isn’t one?  These and many other aspects of what lies beneath the World Heritage Site plaque featured in the ACEI (See yesterday’s post) conference’s Keynote speech by Bruno Frey from the University of Zurich.  Does designating one place a world heritage site cause money to be diverted from arguably no less important places that havent been annointed?  Does expert opinion play too much of a role in the selection of sites when the ‘public vote’ might choose others?  In an at times controversial (to this observers ears) presentation Prof. Frey, author of ‘Happiness and Economics’ suggested the market might be a better mechanism than UNESCO to select and preserve ‘important’ sites of cultural heritage such as the Great Wall of China.  Well perhaps – but it was the threat of UNESCO delisting that helped persuae the City’s councillors to stave off the Haymarket Hotel development that many felt would have been a blot on the Edinburgh cityscape.  Difficult in that case to see how the ‘market knows best’ would have produced a better outcome.

One of Prof. Frey’s more intriguing ideas is that instead of getting their own sites listed, countries could instead buy “World Culture Certificates” which they could spend protecting sites anywhere in the world, with one attraction of spending them in low income countries being that the money would go further renovating Bhutanese monasteries than it would bits of, oh say, Bath.  Not sure this idea is going to prove as popular as Carbon Trading…

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