Don’t believe it? Take it up with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (the catchily acronymed UNCTAD), which published these figures ahead of a big meeting in April to discuss the increased influence of creative industries in world economies.
What exactly are creative goods? According to UNCTAD:
Creative products can be exclusive or mass-produced, since they are at the crossroads between the artisan, service and industry sectors.
They’ve broken products into categories like:
Cultural heritage: Crafts, traditional cultural expressions, festivals and cultural sites
Creative services: Architecture, advertising, research and development, cultural and recreational services
Design: Furniture, interior, graphic fashion, jewelry and toys
All sounds a bit vague, doesn’t it? These definitions have led UNCTAD to name Italy the top creative goods exporter among developed nations, and Europe as a whole as the world’s top source of such goods, accounting for US$149 billion, or 44% of the world total.
Where does the United States stand on this list? The US is a textbook case of a creative economy, and surely few countries can match its cultural reach? Apparently, however, American creative output pales in comparison to China’s, coming up to just US$25.5 billion in 2005.
Surely there must be a problem with the methodology here. Can the US, which pumps out the movies, music, software, clothing and other stuff consumed by people everywhere, really export three-times fewer creative goods than China? That’s a strange conclusion to reach.
Some of this is explained by this AFP report on the figures. Merely manufacturing a product that falls into the ‘creative goods’ category counts toward that country’s total.
At present, a fashion product by a French designer which is made in China would count as Chinese, said Edna dos Santos-Duisenberg, chief of Unctad’s creative economy and industries programme.
This is a fairly controversial methodology, but the paper’s authors didn’t highlight it. Instead, it looks like they’re downplaying it by saying it’s just a starting point for further studies. But this starting point is already directing us down the wrong path.