Is China becoming more creative than the United States? Credit: BWJones / Flickr Creative Commons
- Eamonn Fingleton, journalist and author of "In the Jaws of the Dragon: America's Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony."
In the face of rising Chinese power and influence, Americans have often placated themselves with the argument that our democratic society will always come out ahead when it comes to creativity and innovation. So then why was the company that filed the most patents last year a Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE? Eamonn Fingleton, journalist and author of “In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Hegemony,” says free societies do not necessarily produce more creative thinkers.
Fingleton says that, historically, many authoritarian societies have been creative. Here, a 1960 Soviet propaganda poster celebrates the USSR's achievements in space. The text reads: "The way is open for man!" Credit: katya / Flickr Creative Commons
The fundamental issue, Fingleton says, is that we’ve gotten the relationship between creativity and wealth all wrong: wealth builds creativity, not the other way around. What that means is that it doesn’t take a free, democratic society to foster creativity. In fact, Fingleton points out that a number of restrictive, authoritarian regimes – Mesopotamia, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union among them – were highly creative.
So what does it take? Money -- specifically, money funneled into research and development. Indeed, that’s the path China has taken, despite its communist regime, which is why companies like ZTE have become such powerhouses of creative output.
Fingleton says American universities - like MIT, shown here - are still world leaders in math and science. Credit: joiseyshowaa / Flickr Creative Commons
Is there any creative domain where America still comes out on top? America’s universities still reign as the world’s leaders in science and math. But increasingly, Fingleton notes, the students in those universities have not been Americans, but international students who often leave the country after they graduate. America’s best hope, Fingleton says, is to look toward other nations previously on the verge of eclipse – like Japan and Germany – and study the steps they have taken to revive their economies.
For more on Fingleton’s analysis of the creative race between the U.S. and China – including his thoughts on Facebook and Silicon Valley – tune in to our full interview, above.
- Read Fingleton's "America the Innovative?" in the New York Times.
- Check out Fingleton's columns in Forbes.
- On the flipside: read Richard Florida's "Why China Lags On Innovation and Creativity."