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Australia wins at the global creative game

lauren rushing

I like a good index, and the University of Toronto-based American economic geographer Richard Florida has been my main supplier for a few years now.

His super-popular Creative Class products are all made of the same three progressive ingredients: Technology, Talent and Tolerance.

The label on the bottle tells an uplifting story of how great American cities are not made of steel mills anymore, but of gay-friendly citizens, great universities, and bicycle paths. Like Helen of Troy, his ideas were of such inestimable beauty that some 1,000 city government plans were launched to create, at very least, some of these university-flavoured bicycle paths.

Dr Florida’s idea is that you take these policy prescriptions, then you wait (it was never actually specified how long – some say 10-15 years) for the effects to kick in. What will happen is that first you will start to feel creative, and then later prosperous.

So I always look forward to my latest delivery of creativity index. (Some colleagues and I sometimes even make our own, here and here.) This year’s product (from his fine research group) does not disappoint – being a Global Creativity Index no less!

We’re #1!

And guess what? Australia is number one! We win at the global creative game! Ozzy, Ozzy, Ozzy!

NZ is number three – suck that NZ and your stupid Rugby World Cup – and the USA is rather pathetically only number 2.

(An entirely predictable list of Canada, some bicycle path-ridden Nordic countries, Singapore, and some other overeducated quasi-Nordic countries make up the rest of the top ten. The 11-20 spots are mostly occupied by the good coffee precincts in the Eurozone.)

Australia wins because of its consistent performance over all of the measures. Most countries fall down on at least one.

Australia is 7/112 on the Technology index component. (South Korea, Japan and Israel make up the top 3.)

Australia is 4/136 on the global tolerance index, a mix of attitudes to gays and lesbians and racial and ethnic minorities, only just behind the world-class tolerance of the Canadians. But they also gave the world Justin Beiber, so should probably lose some points for that.

And get this: Australia is 1/134 on the global talent index. (This is a mixture of creative class density, and educational attainment.) That’s amazing – we win over education powerhouses of Finland, Singapore, Denmark and the US because of our proportionally higher ranking in the creative class measure, which in many ways is a reflection of the high past quality of Australia’s education.

Yay! Now what?

So, what would be an appropriate way to celebrate this great and deserved win? Let me suggest with a few hearty rounds of deregulation.

If these index findings are indeed true – and I have no reason to doubt them: the list of ingredients is clearly labelled on the bottle – then our economic and cultural performance, our overall prosperity, should be better than it is.

Some ingredient is missing. Australia is a world-beater at the creative game. But we don’t seem to be as good at translating that sort of winning creative on-field performance over inputs (our tolerance, our talent, our technology) to the off-field realm of deliverables, our “merchandising” if you will.

What’s missing from our great potential in innovation is entrepreneurship. Being creative is not enough. We also need to improve our entrepreneurial game. (This same point was also made, in specific reference to Australia, by the US think-tank the Kauffman Foundation.)

Dom Talimanidis of the Institute of Public Affairs produced a report last year entitled Where have all the entrepreneurs gone?. It showed how the number of new firms created has fallen by almost 50% since 2002. A major reason for this is the high and growing regulatory burden in Australia, which raises the costs of entrepreneurship, inhibiting entry. This is bridling our great creative potential.

Maybe the Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy will lead us through this with the tech-community’s favourite answer: start-up incubators and accelerators.

But a better strategy to work on our translation game is simply to increase the size of the team on the field. This doesn’t require redirecting resources, or increasing taxes, but simply giving our highly creative world-class players a bigger, freer space to run.

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