Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

THERE are many global measures of relative economic performance. On some of them, we do better than others. According to this recent study by the World Economic Forum, South Africa measures 52nd in the world in terms of competitiveness (we’re wildly inconsistent, ranked first in the world on the trustworthiness of our financial markets, second on the soundness of our banks — and 144th on employer/labour relations).

But what about creativity? The urban theorist Richard Florida and the Martin Prosperity Institute, based at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, have developed a measure of economic competitiveness and prosperity they call the Global Creativity Index.

As Florida puts it, the continuing economic crisis has seriously challenged to the way we understand and measure economic growth. An increasing number of economists, social scientists and policymakers suggest that traditional measures such as gross domestic product have outlived their usefulness and have sought to replace them with broader measures of economic prosperity, sustainability, happiness and subjective well-being.

The Global Creativity Index ranks countries according to Florida’s three critical Ts of development: tech, talent and tolerance.

• Tech: R&D investment, researchers and patents per capita. On this measure alone, Finland ranks first, followed by Japan, the US and Israel.

• Talent: education and the creative class — a major driver of economic growth. It includes workers in business, tech and science, healthcare and education, and arts and entertainment. Singapore has the world’s highest proportion of creative class workers, followed by the Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia.

• Tolerance: this measure is based on a country’s treatment of immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, and gay and lesbian people. As the report explains: "The ability to attract both talent and technology turns on openness to new ideas and openness to people." Here Canada ranks first, followed by Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

There are no surprises at the top of the overall rankings: Sweden, followed by the US, Finland, Denmark and Australia.

South Africa ranks 45th, between Cyprus and fellow Brics nation Brazil. By way of comparison, Russia ranks at 30, India at 50 and China at 58.

We do well on tolerance, ranking 15th, and our performance at tech is middling at 45th — but where we really fall down is talent, where we rank 68th. Considering the parlous state of our education system and our small percentage of creative class workers, there are no surprises there.

Read the full report