IQ + Effort + Creativity = Creatocracy: Reconsidering Creative Talent at Work in the “New Economy”

Sunday, June 26, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
134 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
David Kyle, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA
Dustin Mabry, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA
This paper argues that high levels of income inequality and unemployment cannot be explained without reference to the new ideologies of the cognitive creative economy (the “New Economy”) since the 1980s. When British Sociologist Michael Young coined “meritocracy” in 1957, he offered it as a tongue-in-cheek description of a system promoting merit but making it ever harder for most to achieve it. He saw the emerging Cold War formula as “IQ + Effort.” Before he died, observing the impact of such programs as the “talented and gifted” and a range of student tracking experiments, he wrote an article that both described how his vision had come true and, to his horror, how “meritocracy” was now thought to describe a legitimate ideal, if not reality.  In its more earnest conceptions, meritocracy represented the final overthrow of the great man genius at the center and the fulfillment of what Thomas Jefferson called an “aristocracy of talent.”

However prescient Young may have been, the rise of creativity as part of the ethos of the culture of work, roughly corresponding to the belief in the post-Soviet “New Economy,” seemed to both recognize Young’s critique but at the same time misunderstand and misplace the solution: creativity, a word associated with anti-bureaucratic entrepreneurs, would become another feature of human resource testing and subsumed within human capital models. We offer here a brief history of meritocracy and why the addition of creativity represents a doubling-down on the moral economy of a neuro-hierarchy, which we label “creatocracy.”

Drawing on a database of over 3,000 sources, this paper begins in the pre-meritocratic world of the spoils system, and moves us through sociocultural and economic developments, which folded talent into the financialized world of investment and commodity futures. Key here is our approach to the strange marriage of “imagination” and “productivity” via the Mid-Century lab-formulated “creativity” as they are added to the meritocratic equation in context of strong, and ever-developing, associations among disruptive technology, footloose finance, and the continuing rise of corporate power as legal persons. This context is seen in contemporary relations between creativity and technology, especially as they play out in the cognitive approach to machine learning, which seeks to break through the creative ceiling, in order to join the human effort of the imaginative application of talent and novelty animated by the human-machine partnership. We then approach the implications of these developments and hold that one's acceptance of this newly-imagined, and subsequently naturalized, approach to the self has become the measure of one's degree of loyalty to progress in the diffusion of technological change. We follow this by illustrating the ways in which Creatocracy reproduces inequality under the guise of democratization and the fulfillment of our all too human dreams. The framework allows us to engage with newly-emerged developments in the realm(s) of culture and capital, while giving us a stronger foundation upon which to understand the lived experience of knowledge, power, and inequality in a rapidly-changing world.