On May 23, 1985, Sir Keith Joseph came to re-open Gresham College in one of the glass-and-concrete towers of the Barbican.

There are those who declare that Gresham College has never been closed, for its spirit has been alive for nearly five centuries. Free public lectures have been given in the City of London by Gresham professors, while in the nineteenth century a music library was established in Sir Thomas Gresham's name. But the building which once housed the College fell down or was pushed in the mid-eighteenth century, since when the academic body has floated like ectoplasm from place to place. Now once more there is a physical presence bearing the name Gresham College, a landing on the twelfth floor of Frobisher Crescent, easily found by following those yellow lines provided by the Barbican authorities to check on who's sober; and it was this sleek semicircle of offices, seminar rooms and resources centres that Sir Keith came to launch.

Sir Thomas Gresham was a merchant and Lord Mayor of London in the reign of Elizabeth I, who knighted him. In one sense, his monument is the whole of the City of London, for he founded the Royal Exchange. In 1858 H. D. Macleod borrowed his name for an economic law to the effect that bad money drives out good", Gresham's Law, and the City derived its strength from the soundness of its currency. It seemed wholly appropriate that a minister from a monetarist government should open a college dedicated to Sir Thomas Gresham. But Sir Thomas was a Renaissance man and perhaps a lover of Elizabethan ambiguities. Surmounting his crest, crouched a grasshopper, feasting on an ear of corn. It is assumed to be a symbol of prosperity, but what is prosperous for the locust is famine for the farmer, which is not another Gresham law.

Sir Keith had had a hard day with the teachers, who were asking for more money; and the graceful diffidence of his entrance, flanked by the Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs, suggested that he feared for the consequences of opening yet another college at a time like this to cause trouble to his successors. He began with a few modest remarks about the nature of his office. His tea lady had seen fifteen Secretaries of State for Education and Science come and go. There is nothing permanent about office. Far too much is expected from governments. He learnt that lesson from Lord Alport in his early parliamentary days as a PPS 'or, in school parlance, fag'. What really matters is not what governments want to do, but whether they have any money to do it with. All ministers like to be loved, but whether they can afford to spend more money on higher education depends on the health of the economy. How many people here," asked Sir Keith, 'contribute to the trading base of the British economy?" It sounded as if Sir Keith were asking us whether we earned our livings, which of course we all did, in our various ways, or so we thought, even the Lord Mayor.

If he meant. of course, how many worked in shops or factories, then the answer would have been 'Very few'. Alternatively, if Sir Keith were talking about commerce on a wider scale, then we could have provided him with several captains of industry, not to mention bankers, financiers, chartered accountants and brokers, for this was the City, which prides itself on being more central to British commercial life even than Whitehall. But the answer to Sir Keith's question depended upon what was meant by 'trading base', which was why we all hesitated before answering, thus allowing him to develop his theme without the confusion of facts.

It transpired that he thought that most of us were academics, that academics by definition were in the professions not trade and that therefore we were not wealth creators, but wealth consumers. He explained how universities were paid for out of taxation, which has to be raised from the more productive parts of society and that until Britain becomes rich academics have to be satisfied with what society can afford to give them, which wasn't going to be much from this government, not that governments have much power anyway, at which point the Vice-Chairman of Gresham Council got up and thanked Sir Keith warmly and said that we were all behind him in his battle against inflation. At 6.20, according to schedule, the Lord Mayor and his Sheriff's departed for another engagement and Gresham College was duly launched with ‘all who sail in her', as Sir Keith gracefully quipped.

It was kind of Sir Keith to come at all, and we were left with the im- pression that he must be a very nice man, underneath it all, but I couldn't help feeling that his little talk was tactically unsound, philosophically dubious, economically unreliable and politically inept, which helped to explain why, if that form was anything to go by, his talks with the teachers had reached deadlock. It was tactically unsound because he was not just talking to academics but to financiers as well, whose support for Gresham College would be needed if it were not to turn to the government for help. It's bad enough for academics to be told that they're just parasites feeding on the wealth that others have created, but they have received worse insults in their time. To inform the so-called wealth-creators that higher education is parasitical is to invite an immediate cessation of funds, which cannot have been what a Minister for Education intends.

It was dubious philosophically because higher education and the production of wealth are more closely interknit than Sir Keith seemed to suggest. Our universities are full of academics complaining about the bright ideas which industry has ignored or discovered too late. We are supposed to have invented the computer, but we certainly didn't start to produce or market it until it was too late. Academics may be philistine sometimes when they demand more money for their pet projects which others have to find, but equally industry is philistine to ignore what the universities have to offer. Of course, Sir Keith would acknowledge that technological discoveries should be taken up and commercially exploited, but not all research leads toimmediate gains, not even in scientific fields.

His remarks suggested that universities must prove their usefulness before they can expect more money, but unfortunately the application of a discovery has to wait upon the first Eureka, the discovery itself. Not all research, of course, leads to useful applications. Is it therefore wasted? Sir Thomas Gresham evidently thought not, for otherwise he would not have lent his name and bequeathed his money to establish professorial chairs which seem to have so little relevance to trade. These included Chairs of Divinity, Astronomy, Law, Music, Geometry, Physic and Rhetoric, four layabout arts subjects to three of abstract science.

What were his motives? Was he a Monsieur Jourdain, easily impressed by Culture? Or was he a true believer in Renaissance enlightenment which stressed that the good order of society, within which merchants like him could flourish, depended on finding the harmonious structure of a Golden Age, where the music of the spheres and the metrical stresses in a well- written verse both reflected a pattern deriving from our intimations of Divinity? What has happened to us in the intervening 500 years, so that we are even tempted to accept the notion that the voice of industry is the voice of God - or that Ministers for the Arts should suggest that artists would be well-advised to seek commercial sponsorship and turn their skills to the practical usefulness of advertising.

This insensibility to what used to be called higher matters has devastating consequences. Even among artists, the word aesthetics has a dubious ring, suggesting an indifference to the world as it is, a lack of common sense and social conscience. But what will damn our age in the eyes of generations to come, if there are any, is its lack of aesthetic judgement. We have lost the knack of taking well-tempered decisions. Across Europe and the States, we have built new cities that are already becoming uninhabitable. Tower blocks are crumbling, lifts vandalised. gas mains cracked, purpose-built playgrounds have become rubbish dumps and flats have mushrooms in the bedrooms. It may have been politically tempting to opt for factory building in the post-war years, but it is still not easy to understand why there are quite so many blots on the landscape. Why did an architectural fashion (more indebted to science- fiction movies than the Bauhaus) catch on, with so little opposition? We all have our doorstep Brazilias. The reason is simple. We lost the means to query styles and fashions and to look for more aesthetically pleasing solutions. The artists were at the mercy of the industrialists; and they saw no need to fight against them.

Architecture is one example of the bias against harmony, a puri- tanical dislike of what is pleasing: and the Barbican itself provides a model of what to avoid. The planners of the Barbican were not anti-art. On the contrary, they made what they regard as a more than adequate provision for the arts-a large concert hall, two theatres, a cinema, a conservatory, an art gallery and several exhibition spaces. Embossed in the pavement along one of the long grey corridors is a plaque, with the legend, 'Heritage Walk'. Since it's a little too soon for the Barbican, less than ten years old, to be part of our heritage, this must refer to the broken fragments of the old City wall, or perhaps the preserved Church, by the rectangular lake with its regimental fountains. But the overall impression is that various places have been found for the arts to decorate a scheme which is not itself guided by such humanistic concerns. These additives do nothing to mitigate the barrack- like piles of grey flats, the cold unwelcoming walkways, the freezing squares and overall dimensions of the place, at the same time finicky and overbearing. The Barbican has been constructed without regard for individual human wishes or needs. It cannot adjust to the shifts in life and ideas. It remains as its name suggests, a fortress. It proclaims and defends the power of mass money.

The catch in Gresham's Law is one which all monetarists should note. It is not always easy to tell the difference between good and bad money. Bad money is a currency which has lost its original value, so that the language of transactions no longer relates to that which is transacted. Good money retains its power to provide an easy means of swopping goods and services. The monetarists believe that too great an increase in the supply leads to inflation, hence the devaluation of the currency and thus bad money. But it is not just the supply of money which leads to devaluation, but the way the money is used. The supply is simply something which the government to some extent can control. A government cannot control the wasteful use of the existing money, which can also lead to devaluation of the currency, or the way in which money ceases to represent anything in terms of human needs and wishes. Mass money rapidly loses its contact with human transactions, which is why the Barbican tries so hard to humanise itself while remaining an artificial construction.

The original Sir Thomas Gresham understood this very well, which is why he wished to secure the trading base of the City economy by attaching it to a platform of humanist values; and if we try to reverse this early monetarist position, by making humanist values dependent upon our trading base, the result is a kind of commercial anarchy in which nothing is of much value, certainly not money. The establishment of Gresham College within the Barbican makes sense if it breaches the fortress of mass money. It can only do harm if it remains there as just another adjunct to the trading process, something else which mass money can buy.

The lingering impression of Sir Keith's speech is that he himself was not convinced by it. It was as if he were trying to overcome a prejudice from childhood, that trade was bad and abstract intellectual thought was good, being disinterested and impartial; and that he had just recognised how snobbishly British society used to treat the traders and industrialists. He wanted to reverse the process. Trade is good. Abstract thought and university life are an indulgence. He was fighting an old battle and the sad fact is that such soldiers never die, they only become cabinet ministers.