Hallé and hearty: 'Priceless' concert plan is a radical lesson for our times


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The Independent Online

The Hallé Orchestra, one of the nation’s finest cultural assets – indeed, a musical Northern Powerhouse all on its own – has decided to find out just how “priceless” members of the public really think it is.

The plan to ask audience members simply to pay what they would like for a special concert is as novel as it is brave.

Tickets for the event usually cost between £10 and £40, so the organisers of this cultural experiment are obviously banking on the music-loving public to (at least on average) pay over the odds and prove the point, often enough made, that the arts in Britain are, literally, undervalued. We wish them well with the event at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.

There is a strong case for extending the experiment to even more vital sectors of the economy. Take milk and the dairy industry for example. As we all know, this is often sold at way below cost price by the big supermarkets, and that has helped to depress agricultural incomes and drive many British farms out of business. How much better it might be if shoppers were invited instead to pay what they think the milk they buy is worth. They might be guided in their decision by information about what the milk cost to produce and transport and what profit margin, if any, the supermarket has applied to it.

Much the same could be done for many other items. Ethical drivers might offer to pay that bit more for their fuel and cars; readers with a conscience could always take their custom to traditional smaller bookshops, and offer a premium for struggling new writers’ works. Such a redrawing of the market economy might turn us all into the opposite of the classic definition of a cynic – a people who know the price of nothing but the value of everything.

Like the music from the Hallé, social harmony doesn’t have to carry a hefty price.