The Creative Economy

In recent years various research papers, strategies and inquiries have examined the potential of Northern Ireland's 'creative industries'

The interest stems from the claim that we live in a new knowledge-based economy based on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. The claim is generally taken for granted and while there have been significant changes, such as the revolution in Information Technology (IT), there is also plenty of hype and exaggeration.

It is worth recalling that following the declaration of a knowledge economy in the 1990s the stock values of IT companies soared, before crashing spectacularly in 2000. But the ‘dot-com bubble’ failed to dent the exuberance. 

The endurance of the narrative owes much to the body of consultants who promote it - while offering to sell the secrets of the new creative age. And the offer of cheap and easy solutions has been eagerly taken up by those charged with the onerous responsibility of stimulating economic development. As Richard Florida, the most prominent creativity guru says:

“I like to tell city leaders that finding ways to help support a local music scene can be just as important as investing in high-tech business and far more effective than building a downtown mall.”  

The creative economy discourse also appeals to social liberals, as it opposes out-dated prejudices such as racism and sexism for constraining talent (although the extent to which this happens in practice is debateable[1]).

But the main reason for its success is its usefulness to powerful vested interests. At the centre of the creative economy imagery is the entrepreneurial individual who must be free to deploy their talents and, critically, allowed to fully enjoy the rewards of their labour.

However as Mariana Mazzucato points out in The Entrepreneurial State, the icon of the innovative individual is something of a myth. The i-phone, held up as the epitome of the new economy, is a telling example. According to popular belief it was created by the individual genius of Steve Jobs. In fact the technologies it relies on (including the internet, touchscreen display, and GPS) were funded by the US government. Similarly, Google’s algorithm was publicly funded. But it is accepted that these technologies and products were privately created and that the gains should therefore also be privatised.

There is plenty to embrace in the IT revolution but much of what is labelled private innovation is really the repackaging, patenting, and marketing of the work of others – the new opportunism rather than the new economy. Fitting then that the creative economy narrative is itself being used as a glossy veneer, behind which lies the familiar agenda of light regulation, low taxation, and inequality.



The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.

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