Andres Oppenheimer

Colombia’s plan to grow an “inspiration economy” should inspire other Latin American countries to do it, too | Opinion

Colombian President Ivan Duque, speaking with Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer on Sept. 27, wants to nurture “creative industries” in his country.
Colombian President Ivan Duque, speaking with Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer on Sept. 27, wants to nurture “creative industries” in his country. MOCNER@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Skeptics make fun of Colombian President Ivan Duque’s stated intention to turn his country into Latin America’s “Silicon Valley.” It’s unrealistic, they say, given the country’s relative backwardness in education and technology.

But Duque is one of the few Latin American leaders with a good plan for the future, and his vision is on target.

Duque, in Miami Friday to participate in a public forum organized by the Miami Herald and the University of Miami, says he wants to diversify Colombia’s exports beyond traditional commodities such as oil and coffee.

He wants to supplement them with exports from “creative industries,” such as movie-making, radio and television productions, music festivals, tourism-oriented carnivals, advertising, gastronomy and web design. He says he wants to turn his country into a “Silicon Valley of creativity.”

It sounds like a trivial endeavor, but it could become an economic lifeline for Colombia and other Latin American countries that have traditionally depended on commodity or manufacturing exports. Those exports are going down in value, and the people they employ are increasingly under threat of losing their jobs to automation.

According to a 2013 Oxford University study by Carl B. Frey and Michael A. Osborne , 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk of disappearing over the next 15 years because of robots, artificial intelligence and other forms of automation.

When I interviewed the study’s authors for my book “The Robots are Coming,” they told me that the percentage of jobs at risk of being eliminated by automation is higher than average in Latin America and Asia. That’s because one of the easiest things robots can do is the kind of mechanical, repetitive and manual work done in many Latin American and Asian textile plants and car factories, for instance.

Duque told me in an interview that “creative industries” could be Latin America’s solution because, “The world will have artificial intelligence, but not artificial creativity”.

“Latin America should bet on creative industries,” Duque said. “They can help the region increase youth employment and have another growth engine.”

There are already about 600,000 Colombians working in what Duque calls the “orange economy” or the “inspiration economy.” That’s three times the 200,000 people employed in the country’s mining industries, he said.

Colombia’s creative industries represent about 1.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. By comparison, Colombia’s coffee industry — the country’s most traditional export — represents 0.8 percent of Colombia’s GDP.

Duque said he wants to significantly increase the size of Colombia’s “inspiration economy” over the next two years. He already has passed key measures, such as a seven-year tax amnesty for new “inspiration economy” startups that make a reasonable investment or employ a minimum number of people.

In addition, Colombia earlier this year launched a $150 million bond for creative industries’ startups. It already is financing 3,200 small companies, he said. And Colombia is about to set in motion its first-ever Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation this year, to speed up knowledge economy projects.

Critics point out that you need an educated workforce to create a Silicon Valley, whether it’s in the technology world or in creative industries. Colombia ranks poorly in international standardized student tests and in the registration of international patents of new scientific or technological inventions.

But Colombia is rich in talent. It has produced international rock stars such as Shakira and Juanes, novelists, including Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and artists such as Fernando Botero.

Likewise, there are tens of thousands of talented musicians, artists, screenwriters and web designers in Colombia and other Latin American countries who can help expand what already is a formidable export industry. Already, some cultural and artistic events such as the Rio Carnival in Brazil and Colombia’s Cartagena Festival are significant contributors to their countries’ economies.

Unfortunately, few Latin American presidents are thinking about the jobs of the future. In addition to Duque, the only others that come to mind are those of Chile and Argentina. Skeptics should follow in their footseps,however, and think seriously about the coming wave of technological unemployment before it explodes in their faces.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera