The Creative Economy: Beyond Economics

First published on May 2013.

In 2009, we had no idea what a new, post-crunch British economy would look like. What we did know was that whatever shape a new economy took, it would depend increasingly on creativity. At the time, there was very little public recognition of this fact, prompting us to invite over forty commentators from across the creative and cultural sector to present their thoughts on the future of the creative economy to provoke and stimulate wider debate.

In this 2009 essay, Edna dos Santos-Duisenberg asked how we could bring the ethics back into economics, questioned the unwillingness to move beyond neo-liberal capitalist theory, and presents the creative industries as a sector where culture, technology and economics are becoming integrated in a way that holds the potential to promote a more socially just economy.


The signs of disintegration of the world economy seem to be indicative of a paradigm shift. Conventional economic models have failed in addressing the asymmetries of our society and the consequences are becoming every day more disastrous. Polarization among countries has been accompanied by increasing income inequalities across and within nations.

In this era of transformation, it seems crucial to examine the shortcomings of neoclassical theories and the causes of the failures of past strategies, particularly because neither of the two dominant economic structures applied in the last century – the orthodox communism or the liberal capitalism – have succeed in bringing the expected welfare for the large majority of individuals in our society.

In our interdependent contemporary world, time has come to look beyond economics. In searching for remedy for our current difficulties and move ahead, the world needs to adapt and bring culture and technology into the mainstream of economic thinking. Development strategies have to be updated to cope with far-reaching cultural, economic, social and technological shifts which are rapidly changing our lifestyle. It is time to look for a more holistic approach which takes into account the specificities of countries’ cultural differences, identities and real needs. Policy coherence should be reinforced through concerted multi-disciplinary and inter-ministerial actions.

In this context, the concept of the “creative economy” is gaining ground by dealing with the interface between economics, culture and technology. Central is the fact that creativity, knowledge and access to information are widely recognized as drivers of socio- economic growth . In a globalized and interconnected world increasingly dominated by images, sounds, texts and symbols the creative economy is already leading employment, trade and innovation in many countries. Giving its development dimension the creative economy has the potential to foster development gains by generating income, jobs and export earnings while at the same time promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and development.

At the heart of the creative economy are the creative industries. They can be tangible products or intangible services with creative content, economic and cultural value and market objectives. The creative industries can be defined as the cycle of creation, production and distribution of marketable products or services that uses creativity as primary input. In other words, they are a set of knowledge based economic activities intensive in creativity, and able to generate revenues through trade and intellectual property rights. Creative industries have a vast scope dealing with the interplay of various subsectors related to cultural heritage, arts, media and functional creations. Creative products comprises a series of goods and services ranging from folk arts, music, festivals, books, paintings and performing arts to more technology-intensive fields such as audio-visuals, design and new media, as well as services-oriented areas like architecture, advertising, innovative scientific research, cultural services etc.

In recent years, the creative industries have been one of the most dynamic sectors in world trade, and became one of the high-growth value-added sectors of the world economy. Over the period 2000-2005, international trade of creative goods and services increased at an unprecedented average annual rate of 8.7% reaching US$ 424.4 billion in 2005, according to UNCTAD . This positive trend occurred for all group of products and in all regions of the world. Connectivity and constant advances in information and communication technologies, led to new business models which are changing the overall pattern of cultural consumption worldwide and the way creative products are created, produced, reproduced, distributed and commercialized at national and international levels. We are probably witnessing a transition from the Information Society era of the 20th century where the focus was on communication led by information, towards the Creative Economy approach of the 21st century where the driving-force is creativity led by knowledge and supported by connectivity.

In this scenario, the creative economy seems to be a feasible innovative response to cope with the current recession. We should just recall that the creative economy is omnipresent in our daily lives, providing stimulus for our happiness and well-being. Every individual in any part of the world consumes creative product every single day through education or work, as well as in leisure and entertainment. We wake-up in the morning and dress (fashion), we listen to music, we read newspapers, we watch TV and listen to radio (audiovisuals), we consume digital services (software, video-games), we go to the cinemas, theatres etc. In summary, the crisis is likely to have a positive effect for the demand of some creative products, particularly those which are regularly consumed at home like music, TV and radio broadcasting, video-games, video-films etc. While some tourist-led products such as art-crafts might be negatively affected, the crisis may encourage domestic tourism stimulating the organization of festivals, local gastronomy etc. Let’s try to use our creativity and find solutions to make the crisis a moment of renewed hopes, re-affirmed values and identify and innovative and wishful thinking.

This article is written in a personal capacity and reflects personal views, which are not necessarily the official views of the UNCTAD secretariat or its member states.

Further contribution by Edna dos Santos-Duisenberg to 'After The Cruch: Revisited' can be found here.