Patrick Kabanda

The Creative Wealth of Nations

Air Date: August 27, 2018

Patrick Kabanda, musician and author, talks about his new book “The Creative Wealth of Nations” and the importance of the arts in development.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Hefner, your host on The Open Mind. He graced the chambers of all-school meeting at my beloved alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. A Julliard trained organist, Patrick Kabanda is a musician and international thought leader. He was a scholar at the Fletcher School, taught at Andover, has consulted for the World Bank, and contributed to the UN Development Project’s recent reports on human development. He’s now author of his first book, “The Creative Wealth of Nations” out by Cambridge University Press. Calling our attention to the essential role of imagination, creativity, and the arts to improve our collective economic livelihood, Kabanda brings a unique lens to Adam Smith’s classic, “The Wealth of Nations” for the new millennium. “Without inspiration for imagination, the world is a dead place. Kabanda has presented in a very convincing way the role of creative industry and arts in the broad framework of development discourse. Anybody interested in economic development must read it. It gives a completely new perspective.” Those last words from Nobel Peace Prize winning Muhammad Yunus. Patrick, it is a joy to be with you again.

KABANDA: Thank you Alexander. It’s great to be here.

HEFFNER: And I know you’ve been on tour internationally in Europe and Africa, now here in the US. What has been your takeaway, so far, hearing peoples’ reactions to the book?

KABANDA: That there are a lot of people that are like so happy to see that I’ve written it. I admit one person at the Cambridge University Bookstore said, oh, you’ve written a book I should have written. I’ve been thinking about this and you know, I haven’t, I’ve been procrastinating so I’m glad you’ve written it and I will probably be inspired to also pick up where you stopped and write something along those lines. So it’s been wonderful to see that kind of response all over the world.

HEFFNER: What do you want to convey? Because the subtitle is a question, as your thesis about the power arts can provide, how the arts can be leveraged to advance economic health.

KABANDA: Yes. So, given that the subtitle is a question, “Can the Arts Advance Development?” That question sort of bequeaths one to say like, okay, what are the possibilities of how to do this? That great economist Amartya Sen who also I think is a philosopher has won the Nobel Prize in economics who wrote the foreword to the book. He’s really the first one, economist who inspired me to look at this idea seriously, not just looking at the economic angle because it’s quite powerful, but also look at the other non-monetary angle. And that is the arts can hit it past mute social capital. One example may be if you liked organ music so much you approached me and then we became friends and then you invite me into that show. And the show may have my book get noticed. And that’s a very powerful example to show how just being friends through music can help us achieve those kinds of objectives or make connections and friends that way. But also, if you look at the area of arts education, as I talk about discussing the book, education should not just be like you get a job to work at Wall Street, but you should get a job that you can be a more informed citizen, develop patience, learn how to observe and a discussion of observation comes up, are quite strongly in that book, question things which are always been presented as facts or truth when they are really not. And I think those are not generally going to make you make money as such, but they, maybe they may will, but they are important traits anyone who gets an education should, and I’d say education is one of our best ways to achieve something like that.

HEFFNER: Seems like Adam Smith’s thesis was never fully resolved in his assertion that the free market could realize the bounty, the beautiful bounty of equality, which was really the notion that free enterprise, economic competition could create a durably equitable society. And it occurred to me reading your book that it is creative wealth and the right kind of creative wealth that may actually generate the society that Smith envisioned.

KABANDA: Yes. That’s quite interesting because some people can, have said that Adam Smith may be their favorite economist because that’s a branch of economics which is gaining more and more ground. Right? And if you look at it, I think in Smith’s time there was the idea of division of labor, specialization, Smith talked about those kinds of things and actually he talked about trade being able to, for countries to trade with each other without all these sort of barriers of some sort. But also by then one can imagine one of the most important pieces of worth was land, things. If you had land, which is true to a certain extent, if you had land all over the place, you are really very worthy. And that, you know, all these people who are doing service and stuff, we’re not really maybe as important as landowners. But today most of our world runs on ideas. And as I talk in that book, you may have all these things in the world, but if you don’t have the right mindset and ideas to see what you can do with them, I don’t think you can do much. And when you look at the issue of human development, countries which tend to invest in people, about education, health and things like that, tend to prosper more that countries that just want to build things because if you build things and people don’t know how to use them when they can’t envision building of that, then you’re going to just be stuck. In fact, the United States is a country which being open to ideas I think has benefited it so greatly.

HEFFNER: The reality is you can never quantify that effect of one’s music on the psyche.


HEFFNER: That is something that is not monetary.

KABANDA: Yes. I think as so many people have pointed out, I actually point to a study of thoughts by Joseph Nye was of a soft power. Right? I don’t know if you.

HEFFNER: Yes, of course Joseph Nye.

KABANDA: Did take any course or read his work,


KABANDA: But it says something and I think it was him or someone quoting him, but you know, things like, you know, marriage, you know when you marry someone or you don’t say, Oh, I love my wife, 95 point six percent. You just love that person, if you have a child and the child annoys you just, oh my life had diminished two point five percent from where it was. These things are not quantifiable, but yet they are so important in our lives, so some of the most important things we have in our lives cannot be quantified and I think that’s something we should really be appreciative of and try to seek out, always remember.

HEFFNER: Psychological, emotional connection.


HEFFNER: Could triumph over anything.

KABANDA: Yeah, I mean, I will tell you, I was in a discussion recently with a friend and we were talking about people who have had things, or money or worth and it’s all vanished. Part of it is lack of planning, but then you have people who have come from nowhere through their talents and those talents can range from things like knowing how to play soccer very well, knowing how to play an instrument very well, or being a great teacher or being a great student, and if you look at it’s, it’s to do with the mind. So I think that if you don’t have a nice, a good framework of how you can sort of plan for your self, or even take risks, those things all require imagination.

HEFFNER: And I think the creative implies mindfulness.

KABANDA: Yes. Yes.

HEFFNER: There is a creative definition in this country that is not, that is unmindful, mindless. So can you talk to us about what mindful creativity means in the countries you looked at in this book?

KABANDA: Yeah. Mind creativity will mean that I will go to, for example, Paraguay, where I talk about students who made instruments from trash, that you see this landfill filled with all this I think thrown away. Like what should we do with this stuff? You start making instruments. You start making cellos, violins and drums and that’s one example to show you how you can look at something which is really trash, but then actually make it something better and you can go to a place like New York, New Jersey, I mean which has had troubles in itself. I think things have improved. Someone said, let’s try to build a performing arts center here. Not just building more malls and financial centers, but why a performing arts center? Because you are likely to draw in kids, you are likely to bring in people to see concerts. You’re likely to make connections more possible in a creative way other than just saying, okay, well we’re going to have a factory which produces this and that and that. Which is also great. I’m not saying we should not have that, but having these things like art centers can be very powerful in drawing in young people, in making a connection, the community more livable and enjoyable. I don’t remember Newark because it has a near us near the airport. I remember it because it has the great, New Jersey Performing Arts Center and I think many other people will probably agree with that kind of analysis

HEFFNER: A chemical equation where you inject creativity into the society and it produces sustainable growth.

KABANDA: Well, there’s a friend who has taught me to try to go to Colombia and I mention Colombia, because I’m a big fan of Antanas Mockus who was the mayor of Bogota and what he did. We don’t know if we can measure it yet in what economists like to measure. They used to have traffic problems and I think they still do, where people will be killed in traffic accidents. So what Antanas Mockus did was like, look, why don’t we have mimes, take mimes in streets so people will start making fun of bad drivers. Why don’t we draw, put signs in the road where people have been killed. So if someone is driving fast and sees a sign, like you know, someone was actually killed here, slow down. So you see, those kinds of things have helped so much. So I think Bogota gets a point, when you look at the study, which I think was an article which appeared in Harvard Gazette or somewhere, or even actually Antanas Mockus himself writing in the New York Times. It’s like their traffic accidents dropped. Now when you look at it economically, suppose I’m a father and I have five children and I’m mostly the breadwinner, is that the way you put it, If I go and get hit with a car, I have to go in the hospital. That actually is a problem because then I won’t be able to feed my family, school fees will be late and medical bills go up. So you can see by just improving a traffic site using the arts, not more police officers or military police in the road, but things like the arts can be, can go a long way in actually making a country very well. But then the United States, you know, the United States is called the United States because it’s not one monolithic country. It’s, there are many, many, many different countries.

HEFFNER: Personalities.

KABANDA: Go to California. California is really running on the creativity, you know, look at the movie like Black Panther, Black Panther has come out and it’s making how many billions, you may know those figures more than I do, but it’s all about people’s ideas and when you look at the jobs created in one of the examples which I thought was great was I think that Boston Globe reported that people are now going on to buy African attire or things we should look like this in Black Panther, and that’s the way you can use creativity, to actually even generate more economic growth. Yes.

HEFFNER: And if you were to say, based on this book,


HEFFNER: Make an argument to the American citizen that we should spend less on defense and more on artistic design.

KABANDA: Wasn’t it an American President who said you have a military industrial complex.

HEFFNER: Right. And that was a General.

KABANDA: Teachers are starting to strike here in some places because they’re not paid well.


KABANDA: It is an American presidential candidate who went and said, oh, teachers don’t create the jobs…


KABANDA: In that, you know, why should we pay them more, and should respect them. I think that’s misguided. It’s not right that you know, a meter, and again, I’m not saying that it’s not great to have the best military in the world, but you know, let’s look at how we spend and how are the areas which are not well funded, that we should also increase money to funding these areas.

HEFFNER: So how can we be inspired by their ingenuity?

KABANDA: And I think I will go to somebody who I talk about in that book. Steve Jobs. If you’re looking at just economic competitiveness. I’m not saying that Steve Jobs was a greatest guy from what you read about him I think he was not the easiest person to be around.


KABANDA: But quite clearly those of us who are looking at this intersection of humanities now, some people say he was a genius marketer, some people say was an artist, but there was this thing about him really being very very passionate about the humanities and I think he’s the one who came up and advocated the concept that technology is not for technologists through the concepts of design, which I think Steve Jobs was very, very passionate about, which came from the creative sort of thinking, he was not just a great, wonderful software engineer, but how do they work in teams to serve your needs as a human being and getting these creative ideas together and, you know, I don’t know how many people are for employees, but that’s, I think that is one of America’s greatest sort of companies we have today.

So I think that creativity plays a strong, strong sort of contribution to how the economy can run. Those kinds of things are not very easy to look at when you go to many schools we go to, some of us go to music, we are told you are going to starve to death, you are told you’re going to, you’re not going to be able to pay rent. There’s truth to that. But you have to recognize, for example, that the focus started, I think Airbnb, I think they were design students and the Rhode Island School of design. I haven’t spoken to them to see what, where their creative ideas, were responsible for them to be successful. But when I heard the interview on NPR, I think that one of the suggestions came that they should start putting pictures on these rentals, the demand went up.

Now, people who take these pictures are using creativity. So how can we show your apartment better that someone is will be attracted to it and sort of be able to rent it. So those are some of our very basic, simple examples.

HEFFNER: Is there any data you found though about the livelihood, the appreciation of the artist’s livelihood?

KABANDA: Well, what I will go back to, and I think I am even including Amartya Sen we have already talked about this. When you go to a country like Uganda, you know, resources are very scarce generally, and as in many other countries, our low-income countries or countries which are mid -income or even in rich countries, what makes people happy mostly? Go to a music festival. Now the trouble is that we have not been able to monetize that. I think now we have tours with either social media or things that I can see if people point on this “like” know that “likes” mean anything.

Will that be able to give us data to show that actually people are more responsive to artistic things? They are more likely to be interested in what’s going on if there’s an artistic component. In terms of data, what I can tell you is that Uganda had terrible issues with AIDS, HIV, AIDS, HIV virus and this was in the 19 in the 80s and I was a young person, so you know it was a big problem and you get politicians to go talk about this. But I’ll tell you who was more effective at actually informing young people about this was a singer I mentioned that book called Philly Lutaaya. He went out and sang and taught, said, look, you have to be careful; this is a true disease, through his music and drawing that kind of attention. Now when you look at some data, it shows that the numbers actually went down, what we may not know, whether it’s true was is that Philly Lutaaya was able to contribute to that coming down of the aids crisis or there are many other factors, but what I can know is that his contribution was immense because most of his concerts where always packed. People are going in because they are drawn to the message it was, it will be very different than a president of a country went and gave speech after speech.

HEFFNER: You identify that song and dance and music are becoming a critical mechanism to teaching communities about climate change.


HEFFNER: And that seems to be where there is potential for the alignment of economic generation.


HEFFNER: And communities of gentrification.


HEFFNER: Are there stories that you can relate to our viewers about how that environmental consciousness contributed to the greening of both the entities and the enrichment of those communities for the long-term? Is it happening?

KABANDA: I think it’s happening. What will be interesting because this is all new. We’re just starting to pay attention and that’s why I was lucky to write that book I think at the critical moment,


KABANDA: we need to just rigorously to start collecting data. What are, what continues is that about maybe six months or three months ago. So I read an article saying that in an island of Zanzibar or there, Madagascar, around the coast of east Africa, people are getting plastic bottles because even in the United States, you know, the bottles we use to drink water, soda, end up mostly on the shores of rivers and lakes or our water bodies.

So it is a group of artists, not politicians, artists, it’s what I said, well, why don’t we get these bottles, create a boat and get this boat and get people to still start sailing in it. So they are getting that trash, making something useful out of it because you know, of course, you know, one could argue that recycling bottles is expensive anyway, so we should just throw them out. But do they really belong to that beach or some water body somewhere. No. So artists say, look, let’s get this and turn it into a kind of something useful, a treasure and you can go, I think now as a tourist, and go on this boat and you know, cruise around. So that’s one example. But I think when I go back to Paraguay; it shows you that they have a slogan, which is “The world sends us garbage.” Yeah, “The world sends us garbage, we send back music.” You know landfills, when you look at some, they contribute a lot because they are, they are there. There are chemical reactions going on with this and gases are fuming. If it’s true that they are able to sort of sort of get this trash and make things like instruments out of them, great. Those are micro examples, but then when you look at it, the concept itself, which I was hoping to draw from the book, maybe we should see that recycling is actually not so bad. So when you get something, how can see that you recycle it? It may not be good for the market because in pure economic terms, the more I buy plastic bugs them why it’s good for that plastic bag industry. That’s not difficult to see. But if I just keep on throwing them in going, they’re ending up in that trash or somewhere in the riverbanks is that, does that make sense?

So, and what can we do to be creative? Some people are…

HEFFNER: Well, you envision Creativeria, Creativeria is your fictional country where the arts are valued and endowed with that economic potency.

KABANDA: Yes. Yes.

HEFFNER: How can you argue that Creativeria is a viable concept and is not a utopian idea?

KABANDA: Yeah. So, you know, that was inspired by “Silent Spring.” I’m a big fan of Rachel Carson since we’re talking of climate change, she is definitely, that book “Silent Spring” really is one of our books which changed my life in a way. I was amazed how she was able to pull it off. And if you’ve read that book, you see how she got all this data contested and it’s very readable, but she starts out with this imaginary place in the introduction. So, I’m like, why don’t I get the same kind of imaginary kind of thing?

And what I want to get to is the issues I get to later is like lets fund arts education to get kids to be interested. Maybe they will be the next ones who design the board, which will be made of this trash.

HEFFNER: A cultural trade index.

KABANDA: Yes. Yeah.

HEFFNER: So they’re tied together.

KABANDA: Yeah. So that, that index may be like, for example, one of our things they are struggling with, some of us are trying to say, let’s get the data to prove the things going on. Not, I should make a point though, that it’s not if we don’t get the data, people, people won’t act. People are definitely sometimes wanted to go with things they believe in. If you present them, look at what we have in the… We have all the information, but still. So but at the same time, there is an argument that let’s try to start collecting and use it where we can, you talked of, I think scores maybe that underwriter might to be a useful thing for to teach about …

The Cultural Trade Index might tell us which country in the world actually does recycle more and export recycled materials which have been basically trash, but they’re expecting them to be put into create things maybe used for frames in car designs. We can look at that. We can look at the culture trend index because if you design something let’s assume you are an architect and you, you go and design the most climate friendly building and you are an American who travels around the world, you know, that’s a service export. Which country has more of those kinds of designs? Can we come to that? And then the other thing we can look at, okay, which country in the world actually has stronger intellectual property protections that people who are exporting their creative output end up being more…

HEFFNER: And those countries are able to preserve.

KABANDA: Yes, yes.

HEFFNER: The talents of such artists.

KABANDA: Yes. So, basically that index will be. That it can be also purely instrumental. Like, ok well I noticed that the United States sells more movies to Africa. How many movies does Nollywood sell to the United States? We can tell that? Okay, when you look at production now we know that I think Hollywood is number one, followed by Bollywood, which I talk about with Nollywood, so have that in terms of production, when we try to correlate it with GDP and population will be, it will be different because America’s GDP is in the trillions. Nigeria’s not. Then we start to compare and contrast dividing; maybe Nigeria will be on top. So that index is just a way, technical tool to get us to get there.

HEFFNER: Patrick, you are a national and international treasure. Do you have anything more to add other than this joyous occasion of us being back together?

KABANDA: Oh, I mean I just want to thank you so much for giving me an opportunity to be here and thank your audience for being interested in the subject.

HEFFNER: Creativeria is maybe around the corner at least.

KABANDA: Well we’ll all get honorary citizenship in Creativeria. And the other thing is that it will be great to continue funding arts education, getting, recognizing artists, even those were not the Michael Jackson of the world.

HEFFNER: And the Max Meyers of the world, right?

KABANDA: Yes, exactly. And also things like making sure that we appreciate, be on the lookout of how the arts enrich our lives daily without even noticing. And lastly, and finally, there is always a great, a question which comes up, oh, show us how the arts can contribute to A, B, C, D, E, but I think they’re just a great way to be like: okay, well how can we find out those things which can’t make it how the arts enrich us, as I said in that book, if people do that I’ll tap dance on my feet may each, I think it will be great.

HEFFNER: Absolutely. Thank you Patrick.

KABANDA: Thank you so much. Yes

HEFFNER: And thanks to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time for thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas. Until then, keep an open mind. Please visit The Open Mind website at to view this program online or to access over 1,500 other interviews and do check us out on Twitter and Facebook @OpenMindTV for updates on future programming.