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Thailand at Bottom of Scale for Ethnic and Religious Tolerance on Global Creativity Index

Thai PBS recently carried a news story reporting on the Global Creativity Index, which seems to have been around since 2011 but is only now being picked up by global news organs. The index, compiled by the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) at the Rotman School of Management, the University of Toronto’s graduate business school, claims to measure technology, talent, and tolerance in order to assess global creativity. Global creativity, according to the MPI, is important because “In the new knowledge economy, creativity is closely linked with economic and social progress. Countries that rank high on the GCI are more likely to have high levels of economic output, competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and overall human development.”

First, for the statisticians out there, the Global Creativity Index correlates at a level of 0.648 with GDP per capita, as shown on page 26 of the full report, available here, at a level of 0.777 with the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (page 27), and at a level of 0.827 with the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute’s Entrepreneurship Index (page 28). With Thailand ranked 32nd for competitiveness in the world on the Global Competitiveness Index, the MPI’s index is clearly measuring something different, possibly more similar to the Entrepreneurship Index, where Thailand is ranked 68th.

Thailand does not do well on the Global Creativity Index, scoring 82nd overall and placing 38th for technology, 84th for talent, and 105th for tolerance, out of total of 139 countries. In ASEAN, it ranks behind Singapore (9th), the Philippines (52nd), Malaysia (63rd), and Vietnam (80th). Laos is placed 42nd, but this is based on only two subscales out of the three. Nonetheless, as with other scales such as English proficiency, it is clear that Vietnam is overtaking Thailand, one reason why capital is fleeing the country in some sectors to relocate to what was once a backwards Stalinist state. The MPI people have written a special report on Southeast Asia, available here, apparently because it is a fast-growing rapidly urbanizing region which needs to transform from an industrialized economy into a creative one. The results can be seen in this table:











































Another reason why this is troubling is Thailand is trying to innovate its way out of the middle income trap, as well as “the liquidity trap, the confidence trap and the demography trap”, not to mention the ‘living in a bizarre authoritarian version of Alice in Wonderland where North Korea is our friend’ trap. And, according to the Martin Prosperity Institute people, creativity is “closely connected to the economic development, competitiveness, and prosperity of nations. Countries that score highly on the GCI have higher levels of productivity (measured as economic output per person), competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and overall human development.” They also point out that creativity is “closely connected to urbanization, with more urbanized nations scoring higher on the GCI”, basically the widely-accepted concept that cities are drivers for innovation.

Turning now to the subscales, the MPI rates technology based on R&D investment and number of patents per capita. Technology is important to creativity because “Technology is a fundamental driver of innovation and the growth of the knowledge economy.” As can be seen on this map and in this appendix, Thailand has a zero value for R&D. This may be because the MPI is using the World Bank database, which has no value for Thailand. However, Wikipedia does have a value for Thailand here, ranking Thailand 40th in the world in R&D expenditure. For patents per capita, Thailand is ranked 51st in the world, as reflected in this map and in the same appendix, giving a composite value of 38.

Moving to talent, this subscale combines a proprietary measure of the ‘creative class’ with “a measure of educational attainment based on enrollment in post-secondary, or tertiary education,” specifically the World Bank’s Gross Tertiary Enrollment Ratio. The creative class is defined as those in “science and technology; arts and culture; and business, management, and the professions”, with Luxembourg ranked first in the world, with 54% of its population in this class, followed by Bermuda (48%) and Singapore (47%). Thailand ranks low, 81st in the world, on this subscale, as can be seen on this map and in this appendix. Thailand only has 10% of its population in such professions, as can be seen in this appendix. Thailand performs better on gross tertiary educational attainment, 46th in the world, as can be seen on this map and in the same appendix. However, this does not measure quality, and the quality of Thailand’s tertiary institutes has recently been heavily attacked.

We finally turn to tolerance. The importance of tolerance to economic development is described in some detail:

Tolerance acts on economic development by helping to establish the broad context for both technological innovation and talent attraction. Places that are open to different kinds of people gain an edge in both attracting talent from across the spectrum and mobilizing new ideas. Tolerance thus forms an additional source of economic advantage that works alongside technology and talent.

It consists of two measures in the Global Creativity Index: 1) openness to ethnic and religious minorities and 2) openness to gay and lesbian people. This is measured by the share of people who say their city or town is a good place for ethnic and racial minorities as well as for gay and lesbian people. Unfortunately, Thailand is literally off the bottom of the scale for racial and ethnic openness, as can be seen on this map and in this appendix, scoring 127th in the world for ethnic and religious openness. It scores considerably better for openness to gay and lesbian people, as can be seen on this map and in this appendix, scoring 57th.

The ranking for openness to ethnic and religious minorities is so awful that it deserves further analysis. At the top of the scale, potential models are New Zealand (1st), which has relatively strong rights in place for the indigenous Maori and three official languages, followed by Burkina Faso, which has English as an official language and three official regional languages, then Canada, which has official French/English bilingualism and 10 first nation recognised regional languages, in fourth place Norway, which has four official languages and three recognised regional languages, and in fifth place Iceland, which has a very homogenous population as well as a large degree of openness to all the Scandinavian countries and the UK. At the bottom of the scale, ranked lower than Thailand, are Jordan (128th), which is currently experiencing large intakes of refugees from the collapse of Syria and Iraq; Tunisia (129th), which has a problem with Salafist fundamentalists and serious terrorist attacks and which has not recognized its Berber minority; and finally, at the very bottom, Egypt (130th), which also has severe problems with fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, including against its 10% of Christians, and which also has not recognized its minorities, mainly Bedouins, Beja, Nubians, and Dom.

To sum up, if the Global Creativity Index begins to gain some traction with policy makers, inwards investors, and NGOs, Thailand is not going to look particularly attractive, mainly because of its problem with openness to ethnic and religious minorities. As the MPI notes, “The GCI is associated with higher levels of equality. Nations that rank highly on the GCI also tend to be, on balance, more equal societies,” and so according to the GCI, Thailand, at 82nd in the world, is likely not a country with high equality, a hypothesis supported by the low score on the tolerance subscale and especially the ethnic and religious equality indicator. This could be rectified by passing legislation recognizing Thailand’s indigenous peoples or by passing legislation supporting a strong version of the draft National Language Policy in the form of an act proposing institutional support as well as funding for the regional languages, the mountain peoples’ languages, and for Pattani Malay.