This essay considers how policy thinking about culture has been steadily transformed into an overwhelmingly economic subject matter whose central trope is the “creative economy”. The development of current ideas and their background are discussed. Policy ideas first fully developed in the UK have had a global resonance: the illustrative examples of the European Union and the United Nations are discussed. The embedding of creative economy thinking in British cultural institutions such as the BBC and cultural support bodies is illustrated. The impact of current orthodoxy on academic institutions and research is also considered. Countervailing trends are weak. New thinking is now required.