LJUBLJANA – At the Spring European Council meeting on March 13-14, EU member states’ leaders will launch the second cycle of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, a strategy launched in 2000 with the aim of making the EU the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world. The EU’s current economic upturn suggests that the strategy is working, particularly after its renewal in 2005. But some areas in which Europe could gain a competitive advantage have been neglected. One such area is creativity.
The Lisbon Strategy owes much to the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, who claimed that profit results from innovation. This is an appropriate European compromise between the theory that profit comes from exploitation (Marx) and the view that it results from transactions that make both parties happier than they were before (Friedman). It is also appropriate for an economy where goods and services fulfill people’s needs and where products compete on their technical or functional features.
But in post-industrial societies, consumers look for more in a product than just functionality. Relatively prosperous Europeans tend not to purchase a car merely to get from point A to point B, shoes to keep their feet dry, a watch just to tell the time, or a bottle of water only to quench their thirst. We buy things that mean something more to us than what we use them for.
The intangible characteristics that make a product more than simply useful are what differentiate expensive products from cheap products, and include design, brand name, and environmental friendliness. We may also be willing to pay more for products that are manufactured at home, in a safe workplace, without child labor, etc. These characteristics are intimately linked to the values and morals – to the general culture – prevailing in the market.