Creativity and the U.S. Economy

By Sean Cavanagh — August 27, 2009 1 min read
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Earlier this week, I attended meetings at the National Science Board on what schools can do to nurture students’ innovative skills. As America’s foreign competitors spawn new businesses with the help of a growing class of entrepreneurs—and cheap labor—some argue that U.S. growth will increasingly depend on innovation, the kind that can drive business and produce breakthroughs across society.

But how do you measure a nation’s collective innovative and creative power and its connection to economic growth?

One such measure, albeit an imperfect one, was mentioned during a presentation at the science-board meeting by R. Keith Sawyer, of Washington University in St. Louis. It’s data from the World Intellectual Property Organization, and it seeks to measure the link between “creative industries” and countries’ gross domestic product and employment.

As you can see from the chart to the right, the United States ranks higher than any country in the link between creative industries and GDP. Sawyer, in his presentation, pointed to the United States’ relative strength in this area, but argued that in the future, it’s likely that the American education system will have to do more just for the U.S. to keep up.

I’m sure you’re asking, well, what is this chart really showing? As Sawyer readily acknowledges, the definition is fuzzy. It appears to focus on “copyright-based” industries, though he also believes this could include manufacturing of tools for distribution, such as CD players and VCRs. Presumably, it would also include video-game production and the music business.

During Sawyer’s presentation at the science-board event, one attendee speculated that the United States’ apparent creative economic power might be driven primarily by Hollywood. Sawyer said that link was certainly one explanation. You’ll also notice a couple countries with economies far less advanced than the United States, like the Philippines, faring pretty well in terms of creative employment. Sawyer speculates that this could be explained by the aforementioned manufacturing of entertainment equipment.

After you’re had a look at the chart, and the accompanying WIPO report, give me your thoughts. You can also read more of Sawyer’s views on innovation and the economy here. (Click on the table above, from the WIPO, for an enhanced image.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.