Purpose – The aim of this paper is to bring into question the idea of the global knowledge economy. Design/methodology/approach – The paper explores the characteristics of the knowledge economy, as elaborated by academics and policy makers concerned with knowledge in the contemporary global business environment. A range of available data is reviewed concerning the global distribution of investments in knowledge, information and communications technologies (ICTs), international transactions in knowledge-intensive services and royalty and licensing fees, employment by sector and literacy rates. Such data provide a basis for an initial critical evaluation of the notion of the global knowledge economy. Findings – The use of the term “global knowledge economy” fails to acknowledge the uneven distribution of knowledge-based economic activity. Moreover, as currently constituted, the idea of a global knowledge economy, which focuses on knowledge as conceptualised in the commercial activities of advanced countries, overlooks the diversity of knowledges present in the world today. Originality/value – This paper provides the first attempt to question and critically explore the global knowledge economy.