March 12, 2009

Creativity and economic success

Musing about the role of creativity in economic success, and if "creative, brilliant people" are all an economy really needs, Half Sigma observes that

Anime fans don’t think that the Japanese lack creativity. Whether or not Japan lacks creativity, this hasn't prevented Japan from pulling nearly even, on a per capita basis, with the United States.

More specifically, per-capita GDP is $35,300 in Japan and $48,000 in the U.S. However, of the G7 nations, Japanese workers put in the longest hours and are the least productive. The problem is not a "credit crunch" but an "effort crunch." At the end of the day, they're all worked out.

This, as Satoshi Kanazawa documents, is a perpetual worry in Japan. The educational system equally and unproductively exhausts students. When Japanese TV writers need a quick way of indicating that a character is really, really smart, they'll tell you that he attended . . . Harvard.

The author Kaoru Takamura concurs. In the typical Japanese corporation,

employees are unable to make their own decisions and must constantly refer to their superiors. But because these superiors are also unclear about their own authority, they can't make responsible decisions. Problems just get shuffled around and everyone ends up working longer hours.

So knowing how to build a better mousetrap is not enough. You've got to protect the idea, get a business license, attract investment, arrange for manufacturing, set up a retail chain, and hire a bunch of talented people willing to work for you knowing you may go broke in six months.

And then still have the faith and freedom to go back and do it all over again. That requires a high trust environment with a strong--but not overbearing--rule of law. This combination strikes many as the opposite of "creativity," but is necessary for creativity to join hands with capital.

The U.S. is still one of the best places in the world to meet all those conditions (without paying a lot of bribes). John Stossel did a segment about this for 20/20. (Though in another report, he did discover that the easiest place in the world to get a business license was Hong Kong.)

The creative successes of anime and manga are due in large part to the fact that manga artists work as freelance contractors (retaining copyright), and anime is mostly produced by small, independent studios, rather than huge corporate entertainment entities (who just do distribution).

Watch the "making of" segment on an anime DVD like Kanon and you can't help but be struck at what a small, hands-on operation Kyoto Animation (and even Ghibli Studios) actually is.

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