How Beyonce boosted Sweden’s inflation

Michael Grahn, chief economist at Danske Bank, estimated that the concert – spread over two nights – added 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points to Sweden's inflation in May (Source: Instagram)
Michael Grahn, chief economist at Danske Bank, estimated that the concert – spread over two nights – added 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points to Sweden's inflation in May (Source: Instagram)

Summary

  • Queen Bey’s two-night concern in Stockholm last month affected Sweden’s inflation rate and revealed the growing influence of entertainment on the rest of the service industry

Beyonce kicked off her solo career with the album ‘Dangerously In Love’ in 2003, after 14 years with the group Destiny’s Child. She has included songs from that album in her ongoing world tour, dubbed the Renaissance tour, which landed in Stockholm in May. The concert was so successful that Queen Bey – as she is known to her fans – was blamed for keeping Sweden’s inflation rate higher than expected that month, given the plunge in energy and food prices.

Michael Grahn, chief economist at Danske Bank, estimated the concert – spread over two nights – added 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points to the country’s inflation as tens of thousands of people flocked to Stockholm from across the country and overseas. Hotels, restaurants and other entertainment and hospitality services saw a huge increase in demand, and prices spiked.

That one concert by one artist could spark enough economic activity to affect a country’s inflation may seem remarkable. But Beyonce is a mega-star and Sweden’s population is just 10 million, less than half of Delhi’s. Consider a bigger event like the football World Cup or the Olympics. It would not surprise us if we were told that the host city or region experienced elevated inflation on account of such events.

Movies, television, music, sports, fiction, food, gaming, dance, drama — the universe of entertainment is huge, and growing. Once a society is advanced enough that subsistence is no longer an issue for most people, entertainment becomes a major focus. But this is not always wholesome or admirable. The fascination with football in Latin America and beauty queens in Colombia serve to divert popular attention from grossly unequal lives and thus help prevent political disaffection from turning into mass uprisings. Entertainment is also part of the consumerist culture — consuming for social distinction rather than to satisfy any innate need or want.

Articulation of creativity to engage with the aesthetic sensibility of others is one way to define art. Such an effort could fall anywhere on a continuum, one end of which evokes mere momentary delight while the other offers experiential routes to the wholeness of being, which religion and philosophy explore in their own ways. The exact point on this continuum that separates entertainment from the subliminal is a function of a society’s cultural evolution. But it is safe to assume a large part of the continuum lends itself to being labelled ‘entertainment’.

At low levels of income – where taking time out from the toil of subsistence for something as frivolous as enjoyment is considered nothing short of scandalous — travel takes the form of pilgrimage. Spiritual fulfilment, after all, is a noble goal at any level of income. Visiting holy places combines the pleasures of travel and experiencing new places, food and cultures, with the unassailable virtue of godliness. Even at this level, travel contains an element of entertainment. When travel openly pursues sun, sand and nightlife, the element of entertainment in the tourism industry rises dramatically.

Modern manufacturing is capital- and knowledge-intensive and does not require a whole lot of workers. It is the service sector that will generate the bulk of the jobs of tomorrow. We normally associate the service sector with banking and financial services, retail, travel and hospitality, public administration, health, education, communications and so on. We see entertainment as a poor cousin to these. But Beyonce’s impact on Swedish inflation shows that entertainment can drive other segments of the service industry.

In the Indian context, parents should stop pushing their offspring who show artistic flair to become engineers, doctors and chartered accountants, and let them develop their creative talent. Entertainment is set to become a dominant driver of the overall services sector, which outstrips, by far, industry and agriculture. Those who fail to become a star like Shah Rukh Khan or Beyonce are not destined to starve. Dance, music, lighting, sound, dubbing, voice-overs and hundreds, if not thousands, of other entertainment fields will generate millions of well-paying jobs.

The point is not to disdain engineering, medicine and finance, but to let the creative juices of our young flow. The point is to promote excellence and the perseverance and discipline required to achieve it, not particular fields of academic effort. Excellence and passion will create high-value jobs in all sectors, an increasing proportion of which will overlap with entertainment.

If a young person wants to pursue a career in entertainment, flaws and all, it is just fine. Every writer of computer code does not become Satya Nadella or Nandan Nilekani. Nor will every entertainer become a Beyonce. There are worthwhile careers beyond the strobe lights, which can catalyse jobs in other sectors. Bravo, Beyonce, even if that insight comes at a price!

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