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Recently, the author of Illicit Cultural Property (ICP) has taken aim at two critics of the “cultural property” regime now ascendant in legal systems throughout the world. I enjoy his blog and respect his generally well-thought points of view. For the first critic, the author shows that the response to the publication of James Cuno’s Who Owns Antiquity? seems predictably vitriolic, if Lee Rosenbaum is any indication. No doubt, part of Cuno’s thesis, that the notion of cultural property has been perverted and that laws protecting it stem more from public choice explanations than the preservation of culture per se, would be expected to upset those who favor the status quo and get excited about any extension of regulation into this field. But the real question is: who is right?

You know where I stand on this: I believe Cuno, and those who agree with him, are certainly on the right track. The author of ICP respects Cuno, but is probably not one to join his bandwagon. But one of those who apparently respects and agrees with Cuno is The New York Times’ Critic-at-large and former chief music critic, Edward Rothstein. His column in the NYT, “Antiquities, the World is your Homeland“, received a critique from ICP. Though the shots seem designed to torpedo Rothstein’s column, they each widely miss the mark. His main criticisms are (1) Rothstein confuses cultural property with cultural heritage, (2) Rothstein is unaware of the benefits of NAGPRA, (3) if cultural heritage becomes the exclusive paradigm, then there will be no justification for locating many antiquities in “encyclopedic” museums, and (4) Rothstein does not understand the word “illicit” in the context of this legal discourse.

So let’s start from the top.

1. Rothstein confuses cultural property with cultural heritage

The author of ICP writes:

…he makes a major blunder by confusing cultural property with cultural heritage. He mistakenly argues that nations of origin view antiquities as cultural property. Not so, in fact most would use the term heritage, or an approximation of that in their native language. I think cultural property is a narrower subset of a larger body of what can be called cultural heritage.

First, let us look at the author’s assertion in the light most favorable to it by assuming that the author is right. Let us say that he does make the mistake of confusing cultural property with cultural heritage. Why is it a major blunder? No explanation. What does it mean? Apparently, the main sin is that cultural property is just a “subset” of cultural heritage. Therefore, the author implies that what Rothstein was really describing is cultural heritage, not cultural property. Unfortunately, we are left to wonder why this even remotely matters. It seems that it is a blunder insofar as it was mislabeled. So what? The difference between cultural heritage and cultural property is, at best, esoteric, which is not to say the difference is unimportant. Far from it. But it is to say that the author’s argument does not depend on the difference. Therefore, even seen in its best light, this is not by any means a major blunder.

Now let us assume that the author is wrong. Maybe Rothstein isn’t confusing the two. Rothstein uses the term “cultural property” 18 times by my count. In an early use of the term, Rothstein explains one of the seminal definitions of the term:

In its statement Unesco asserted that such “cultural property” was part of the “cultural heritage of all mankind” and deserved special protection.

This explicitly shows that Rothstein is aware of the distinction between cultural property and cultural heritage, at least in global terms. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t commit the “major blunder” of confusing them, only that he is aware of the difference. Of course, if he is aware and still commits the sin, the sin’s commission might be all the more loathsome. As we shall see, this is probably not the case. The first time the word is used, Rothstein compares cultural property to material property in that it has changed hands a lot. True, so that use of the word checks out. The second use was the excerpt I mentioned. That checks out. We can go through all 18 of them, as I have, and they all check out as perfectly acceptable uses of the term “cultural property.”

By contrast, it seems that the author of ICP has misunderstood the words being used. He believes that Rothstein is confusing the two, when in fact, he explicitly mentions that cultural property was originally conceived as a subset of cultural heritage, just as the author of ICP argues. The tricky part is interpreting Rothstein’s argument. Consider this excerpt:

Italy, for example, affirms as its cultural property “virtually every kind of object produced in or imported to the land we now call Italy over 1,200 years of recorded human history.”

One might consider Rothstein’s argument to be exactly what the author of ICP’s is: that cultural property is being confused with cultural heritage! Rothstein argues that the alleged protectors of cultural property, such as Italy’s policymakers, are making the term so expansive in scope that cultural heritage itself is protected. This, of course, would be an absurd extension of government power and one that should be subjected to extreme scrutiny, which is one of Cuno’s points.


This may come as something of a shock to some people, if they have not already heard this news, and I think many are currently despairing. Ben Stiller’s Night at the Museum, best known for its ubiquity on trans-Atlantic flights, has been green-lit for a sequel. Not only that, the set-up for the plot will no doubt be doubly convoluted and desperate, for the title is Night at the Museum 2: Escape from the Smithsonian.

I will say that when forced to watch it on a flight over the Atlantic, I was mildly entertained. That is, I didn’t want to kill myself, as after Battlefield Earth, or hurt someone else, as after Babel (and the soundtrack had so much potential!). Moving on, as reported by the Washington Post and

Twentieth Century Fox paid $550,000 to the Smithsonian Institution for the right to use its name in Night at the Museum 2: Escape From the Smithsonian, the Washington Post reported. It’s the first time the Smithsonian name has appeared in a title produced for theatrical distribution, the newspaper reported.

Hmmmm. That’s actually a pretty penny just to use the name of a well-known public institution. Would a movie have to pay money to use the name the Pentagon? This isn’t the formal name of a corporation or other business entity, it is true, so what about Rush Limbaugh’s Escape from the EPA or Ron Paul’s Thwarting the Federal Reserve? It seems that the license payment, while legally unnecessary, was practically a prerequisite since shooting had to be done at the museum and this probably just resulted from intense, prolonged negotiations between the parties. In any event, good lawyers are perhaps the most risk averse set of human beings on the face of the earth, for clients do not enjoy being sued, and this was just a cost involved with the overall shifting of risk in the contract.

Let’s hope it is worth it: shooting will take place at the Air & Space Museum, which I think it is safe to say is most people’s favorite, though it has met with declining attendance in recent years. That doesn’t mean it’s the best, but let’s put it this way: attendance increased 25-33% or something (I can no longer find the URL proof!) after the starship Enterprise was installed. I profess to being a bit biased, having made many a pilgrimage to the site, but it is just as large a part of the American consciousness, and its relationship to space flight, as any space shuttle (ironically not including the space shuttle Enterprise, our first space shuttle, because it never soared into full orbit– though this, too, is now a part of the broader National Air & Space Museum).


As I so often do when considering this relationship, I turn in conclusion to Herbert Muller’s The Uses of the Past. I bought the book for $0.10, not knowing what it was, rushing to get the bargain buys at a Friends of the Library book sale. I just dumped the book in my shopping cart and it was the best $0.10 that I ever spent. In many ways, it is like Dimnet’s landmark work of the early 20th century and was published only a few decades after it. Muller’s words express, far better than any I have yet read, the wonder and the depth of the relationship between architecture and the soul. In The Uses of the Past, Muller proposes to examine the Hagia Sophia so that he might learn:

Upon close inspection, indeed, St. Sophia is an everlasting wonder in its anomalies. Its basic construction is honest, forthright, superbly solid; the more the architect learned about the secrets of its structure, the more he marveled at the resourcefulness and skill with which its builders had carried through an undertaking as bold and magnificent as the world had known, or yet knows. At the same time, there is hardly a straight line or a true curve in the majestic structure, even apart from the wear and tear of centuries. Everywhere one sees an exquisite care in the refinements of decoration, and an amateurish crudeness in the rudiments. The splendid columns of porphyry and verd antique are typical. There capitals, and the arches resting in them, are elaborately carved; their bases are so roughly finished as to shame an apprentice. And in inconspicuous places even their ornamented capitals are likely to be unfinished. Everything stands; but everything is wavering, bulging, or askew. [Admiral’s emphasis.]

Do you get a sense of the sensuousness that Muller gives the Hagia Sophia? Out of this magnificent edifice, we can hear the statements of civilization, leaders, workers, designers in their different voices echoing down the millennia. In the end, the structure, like humans, is neither good, nor bad. It stands as a testament to its own beauty; an end in itself. Out of this, Muller derives his insights:

What, then, does St. Sophia have to tell us? I should not restrict its meaning to the few implications I have chosen to stress from the drama of fourteen hundred years. I should insist only that there is no one simple meaning, and that we must realize the profound incongruities of the drama if we hope to rise on stepping stones of our dead selves to higher things. St. Sophia remains an inspiring monument, glorious and vainglorious. It is a symbol of humility and pride, of holiness and worldliness, of the power of faith and the limitations of faith. It is an everlasting triumph, of a society that failed. It may epitomize all the great societies and golden ages of the past, which also failed and still inspire. It calls for reverence, and irony. […] [M]y reflections failed to produce a neat theory of history, or any simple, wholesome moral. Hagia Sophia, or the ‘Holy Wisdom,’ gave me instead a fuller sense of the complexities, ambiguities, and paradoxes of human history. Nevertheless, I propose to dwell on these messy meanings. They may be, after all, the most wholesome meanings for us today; or so I finally concluded.

To the extent that architecture, in its canonical form of being, can give us this sense of complexity, ambiguity, and paradox within the human spirit — and deliver us to these messy meanings — it must act most surely of the arts upon the soul.

Once renowned author Ernest Dimnet spoke thusly of architecture:

Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul.

Is it possible? There certainly seems to be evidence for uses both good and bad. For the latter, one need only consider the reputation of dark mirthless Socialist architecture promulgated from Moscow through Berlin. But perhaps the architecture was not soulless, by any means, even as it bent the souls of those around it. The souls were indeed bent, but never broken. As Sudjic writes:

Architecture is used by political leaders to seduce, to impress and to intimidate.

Of course, we know that Sudjic may not be the best authority on architecture, for he has so consistently overestimated the influence of the top-down relationship between design and culture. [You can judge for yourself by reading it, please avoid the numerous nonsensical but glowing reviews of it on the internet.] For example, his theory largely discounts the spirited campaign of some designers within the Soviet bloc who were able to subvert authority and the galling conformity mandated by the state, as shown in Frederic Chaubin’s work. In the wake of stultifying cultural controls from the politburo, the case that architecture may act on the soul in positively transforming ways is being made as well, for the peoples of the former Soviet bloc have burst forth with frenzied excitement and anticipation for what is to come. They are anxious to see the shapes and forms the soaring human spirit may take. We wait with bated breath, for example, to see the results in Warsaw, where Zaha Hadid’s Lilium Tower (seen right) is going up. The soul is more than mere darkness or light, however, and we have already discussed how it may be transformed. Part of the adventure of living is finding the new frontiers of experience and the soul, and this is where architecture may yet be at its most powerful. It can connect, inform, reflect, augment, lift, and distend– and perhaps it can do a great deal more than that.

What of the mountain monuments? What of the local chapels (see below)?

It would be best if you did not ask me why I was watching this, but let’s just say I am a fan of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK), as in… well… it’s my favorite movie of all-time and I have seen it thousands of times. Truly.

Okay, that out of the way, Nicholas Meyer, who directed the movie, has the best commentary I have ever heard for a Director’s Commentary. It is especially so due to the director’s keen awareness of art, in general. He speaks of the historical relationships of artists working together on something, or artists’ relationships with the subject matter of the work, or the Director’s role in making a movie. Meyer ascribes much importance to authenticity in his work, showing in the legendary death scene, to be sure.

In any case, I have always thought one of the more intriguing subjects Meyer brings up is his philosophy of creativity under pressure. Whereas Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP) had been one of the most expensive movies ever produced, and remains the most successful Star Trek movie in inflation-adjusted terms, because in terms of marginal cost, the $200 million worldwide box office revenues were considered relatively poor returns for $35 million cost. People just didn’t understand the movie in its glory. I did, but I digress. So after TMP’s costly production, Paramount pared down the budget for the next movie to $11 million. The movie went on to gross about $170 million, making the Paramount executives seem like geniuses. [Side note: TWOK had the largest opening weekend of all-time til then.]

But the real genius may have been Nicholas Meyer, who said that working under the pressure of a small budget for a Star Trek movie demanded successful innovation. It’s kind of like the misunderstanding over evolution. Many think that because we needed eyes, we evolved to have them. Not so. The eyes conveyed an advantage to those who had them which manifested itself in successful reproduction. In terms of art, Nicholas may actually be on to something. Perhaps it would be not unlike Jan Pokorny’s work in adapting historic buildings for reuse — a challenge that could lead to tremendous innovation.

So is there a divergence in artistic outputs between schools where methods are more disciplinarian, taught under strict pressures of time and technique or more laissez-faire, where artists have no restrictions? The correct answer is: it depends. Meyer thrived under the budgetary pressures, as no doubt many artists do. But another artist in his place may not have made such a terrific movie. It is hard to believe anyone could make one that comes even close, really. For every tortured Soviet pianist, there’s an untamed physicist or mathematician contributing valuable insights from her or his couch. For every athlete who trains every waking minute to excel, there is an athlete who succeeds based on talent alone.

These divergences are, in the end, the proof that art cannot and never should be regulated. There’s no general solution for economic development for the same reasons. As Vulcans would say, we humans have infinite diversity in infinite combinations (IDIC), which makes attempts to simplify us into equations futile. No amount of creativity under pressure can change that.

Why not make this a series? One of the major themes of this blog is talking about the relationship between art and markets. All too often, people have a presumption that there is not enough art or that art must be supported by government. The reality is that neither is likely true, at least not right now. I came across another interesting example of charity (read: the free market!) today in the New York Times. Melena Ryzik writes:

These have been good days for art lovers. In Colorado the Aspen Art Museum, home to contemporary art exhibitions, film and video series, has announced that starting on Thursday its admission will be free for the next 10 years, thanks to an undisclosed contribution by John and Amy Phelan. (The admission was previously $5 and under.) The Phelans are members of the museum’s council and part-time residents of Aspen.

We give away over $34 billion in foreign aid by way of charity every year, more than all other countries on earth combined. We have incredible privately-owned museums, such as Crystal Bridges, on the way. Now, due to the beneficence of the Phelans, the barrier to enjoying some “top shelf” art has been lowered so that everyone can enjoy it. This was all accomplished without the coercion of government, by way of income taxes. I am optimistic that the 21st century will be the time when we realize the power of the market to expand tastes and foster tolerance.

This is a small follow-up to my initial gardens post, which was not intended to have a sequel. Fate, however, intervened in the form a New York Times article entitled “Big Plans for Parks“. This article shows what can happen when charity is unleashed, and we know that Americans are very charitable. More to the point, this represents the most efficient use of the money because this is what the people have chosen to spend it on — as opposed to government stealing people’s money and then putting it to the whims of politicians. Melena Ryzik writes:

The Leon Levy Foundation, run by Shelby White, a philanthropist, and named for her husband, a hedge fund pioneer who died in 2003, is giving $25 million to New York City parks in what the city has described as the biggest private “green” gift. The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, below with Henry Moore’s “Large Two Forms,” will get $15 million to create a new native plant bed to study and showcase Northeast flora. In Brooklyn Prospect Park will receive $10 million to finance the Lakeside Center, a new 36,000-square-foot building that will replace Wollman Rink and its surroundings. The 26-acre area will be restored to the original design of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, with a natural-habitat sanctuary and pedestrian pathways along the lake, and will be open year round.

Awesome. I hope we all get a chance to go up and enjoy it!

When discussing difficult political or economic issues, and many exist as concerns the art world, I often try to listen as much as I can to my “opponent” so that I can fully understand her or his perspective before I mischaracterize their positions in my own arguments. I find many common points and misunderstandings on the part of, ahem, “opponents.” From my perspective, it often seems that they rely on images for their arguments as opposed to facts.

One such image is that the government is a trustworthy, neutral arbiter that acts in the public interest. When prices go too high, or it seems like there is a problem in an industry, many call for government to take a stronger role in managing the focus of the discontent.

Unfortunately for utopians, facts usually dispel this image. Since the beginning of time, whether in a democracy or not, government entities have been twisted to do the bidding of special interests and executives. This happens in the private sector as well, but at least there’s an excuse in that case, for private CEOs do not work specifically for the public by contract. Rather, they work for shareholders. What seems like excessive compensation for executives in the private sector are justified by any number of reasons: the executives are more likely to take innovative risks when they are insulated by golden parachutes (and the company decided it was worth the risk the executive would just give up in order to beat its competitors), the pyramid below is widening and to maintain proper incentives the top has to be raised, and so on.

In the public sector, somehow, things are just supposed to be different. As the image is perceived, not-for-profit motives supposedly take precedence so that executives are not so lavishly compensated and governance, appropriately insulated from dollar signs, will be commensurately superior. The Smithsonian Institution’s recent experience in the matter of Lawrence M. Small is instructive. Perhaps worse has been the art world’s round condemnation of Alice Walton’s crusade to create the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art ( I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait! ).

Here comes the news that there is to be more turnover at the Smithsonian Institution. Many must expect that SI is still consciously pursuing perfection. This is, in itself, not a problem, for even in competitive markets, firms aspire to complete domination. The problem lay in believing that such perfection is attainable. So long as humans, mortal, flippant, prideful, humans are involved — the path to perfection will be paved with good intentions.

To portray a person is to give some semblance of a biography. But in writing a biography, one may only ever recreate imperfectly, though the goal may not be to merely “recreate.” As recently-deceased Nobel-winning Czeslaw Milosz writes, “Obviously, all biographies are false, not excluding my own…. They are false because their individual chapters are linked according to a predetermined scheme, whereas in fact they were connected differently, only no one knows how.” If I were to strip away the strict linear temporal sense behind the typical biography, then I would have to arrive at a different method for discussing the life and work of a politician, like, say, Vaclav Havel! Perhaps this method might be rooted more in terms of ideas or fundamental results of the life. In any event, it might be an altogether more relevant endeavor when one considers the artistic essence of his life.

I daresay Havel would hesitate to say he is a politician, but he was President of the Czech Republic. He led the famous Velvet Revolution against the Soviets, ushering New Europe into being. And while most people know him for his role as the last President of Czechoslovakia and then the inaugural President of the Czech Republic in 1992, he is also an outstanding playwright and essayist. It is particularly fortuitous, then, that I have picked Havel as a reference here, for he is an artist in the overt, literal sense, as well as in the covert, political sense.

Havel once wrote something incredibly interesting about the meaning of truth in art. Is he a product of his time, when no truth could be had from a government run in Moscow? The extent of a culture’s influence is perhaps a subject best left to other domains at the moment. In any event, Havel strongly implies a transcendent value of truth in being and meaning:

It seems to me that these thoroughly ideological and often semantically confused categories [capitalism and socialism] have long since been beside the point. The question is wholly other, deeper and equally relevant to all; whether we shall, by whatever means, succeed in reconstituting the natural world as the true terrain of politics, rehabilitating the personal experience of human beings as the initial measure of things, placing morality above politics and responsibility above our desires, in making human community meaningful, in returning content to human speaking in reconstituting, as the focus of all social action, the autonomous, integral and dignified human I, responsible for ourself because we are bound to something higher….

Havel concludes by also alluding to authenticity—and by this he means authenticity to the self and to natural meaning in life versus that imposed by authority of any kind, but most especially against the impersonal. But might this simply be a matter of artistic preference, drawn more conspicuously because of the contrast to the stultifying and drab strawmen of the Communist Czech regimes? Havel continues:

If we start with the presupposition that art constitutes a distinctive way of seeking truth – truth in the broadest sense of the word, that is, chiefly the truth of the artist’s inner experience – then there is only one art, whose sole criterion is the power, the authenticity, the revelatory insight, the courage and suggestiveness with which it seeks its truth, or perhaps the urgency and profundity of this truth. […] The degree to which politics is present or absent has no connection with the power of artistic truth.

These thoughts suggest a will to power through which, if he had the opportunity, he would seek such truth in all forms of art, in all recognizable forms of human endeavor. I accept the “will to power” in the Nietzschean sense: the enthusiastic drive to enhance vitality to act on the world (rather than reacting to it). Havel‘s truth seems inextricably bound with a concept of authenticity that is reflexive, self-evident, pure, and timeless. Instead of reacting to other ideologies and reacting to other artists and other schools of arts, people, in their lives (and art?) should come from within, as much as possible, and so a more profound, less derivative form will become real, and come closer to truth and authenticity than any of the dominant forms.

And yet, it seems ironic that these beliefs should seem so obviously reactionary to the Communist oppressors who were nominally Czech but had to endorse all forms of artistic production, not to mention every other means of production, within the country. The Russian language was forced on millions of Czechoslovakians and clearly inner expressions will change from language to language, so that between the control of supply of art and the form of the art, the Soviet Union quite distorted the expressions of truth for Czechoslovakians in ways many of us can probably not even imagine. It is perhaps ironic then that Havel’s art/politics, which are so strongly based on a concept of inner truth (independent of external forces), should be so manifestly shaped by external forces.

The fetish for “truth” in art was not limited to Havel, a rebel right from his youth. One of my favorite poets, Jaroslav Seifert, a Nobel Prize-winner, also seemed commanded and compelled by it:

My origins are proletarian, and I thought of myself for a long time as a proletarian poet. But as one grows older, one discovers different values and different worlds. For me, this meant that I discovered sensuality…. All language can be thought of as an effort to achieve freedom, to feel the joy and the sensuality of freedom. What we seek in language is the freedom to be able to express our most intimate thoughts. This is the basis of all freedom. In social life, it ultimately assumes the form of political freedom…. When I write, I make an effort not to lie: that’s all. If one cannot say the truth, one must not lie, but keep silent….

It is a curious perversion of totalitarian regimes that all thoughts must be controlled and limited. But any and all political administrations and systems invite reflections and contrasts. Each element of a political system has the capacity to affect personal identity, and at root, all art involves some kind of expression of that identity. We do not know the exact formula that dictates the nature and extent of the muse as we create, but it is there nonetheless. Havel himself thought the muse comes from language itself, which might make the imposition of Russian all the more alien and therefore untruthful:

At the beginning of everything is the word. But at the same time it is a pitfall and a test, a snare and a trial. More so, perhaps, than it appears to you who have enormous freedom of speech, and might therefore assume that words are not so important. They are. They are important everywhere. The same word can be humble at one moment and arrogant the next. And a humble word can be transformed easily and imperceptibly into an arrogant one, whereas it is a difficult and protracted process to transform an arrogant word into one that is humble.

All politicians must help formulate some concert of policies that will have effects on their people. Policies may have the capacity to help people express truth and act authentically, they may straitjacket and twist the contours of identity, or they could do both at the same time in different ways. Whatever curious mix the politician chooses, the people are the canvas. For an artist such as Havel, living and realizing one’s art must be the highest fulfillment of his self, as he is so committed to truth. But there exist yet other intriguing possibilities.

[Author’s note: I have omitted citations but they are available upon request. In the meantime, I encourage everyone to read Czeslaw Milosz’s extraordinary book The Captive Mind, which is the most accurate and penetrating depiction of why humans become infatuated with Socialism (and perhaps other religions) that I have yet read. I read it from the library four years ago but am purchasing it tonight. Another interesting aside is that I personally appreciate Havel for his philosophy of aesthetics, but prefer his arch-nemesis and successor Vaclav Klaus‘s art for practical purposes. Both are admirers of Margaret Thatcher, though for different reasons. Surely one of the most interesting but untold stories of modern political discourse is the story of how the Left in Eastern Europe reveres Margaret Thatcher for his her unyielding support of their movement against Communism. If you want to see one of the last gasps of authenticity in political art, watch that video link. ]

Soon, I will return to more philosophical posts, but here I wish to remain a while in my mode of arguing that the market best allocates resources for art — as opposed to the government provision of the same. In this post from More Intelligent Life, Stephen Hugh-Jones writes of the National Gardens Scheme in the United Kingdom. According to the author:

They are among 3,500 gardens in England and Wales (the Scots, of course, have their own scheme) open to visitors for a day or two each year under the aegis of the 80-year-old National Gardens Scheme. To find what is open where and when, search the website by county or postcode. Habitual garden-strollers use the NGS’s annual directory. Selling 70,000 copies a year at £7.99 ($16) in even the most urban bookshops, it is by now so well-known that is called simply “The Yellow Book“. […]

The gardens may be huge or tiny, of modern design or traditional. Your hosts may be the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth or, much more likely, plain Mr and Mrs John Smith. The tea and cake that many of them serve will come from the house kitchen, and may well be dispensed by the lady of the house herself, while her husband does the hard work of talking to visitors about his plants. Your fellow-visitors, you’ll find, are mostly pensioners; gardens don’t offer the youthful thrills of sports cars, seduction or sand-castles. Alas, it’s not pure loss: old people don’t scream and scramble or (on the whole) seduce all over other people’s herbaceous borders, but they do like company.

Charity is a powerful market force. For many years, people have thought that economics only contains the domain of finances. Not so. Economics is the study of all of human behavior, or “human action,” and has for many years shown that charity may do much more good than government intervention — and where it is most desired. For these pensioners, I imagine the NGS is a wonderful getaway. The NGS website gives a small description of its charity element:

Few people realise that through this we raise £2 million each year for nursing, caring and gardening charities. Since 1927 we have raised over £40 million (£22 million in the last 10 years). Our office is small so most of the money goes straight to the charities we support.

I wonder how long the office would remain small if it became a government office. Okay, done wondering.