the exodus of the creative class

Richard Florida has a piece in the current issue of Washington Monthly called Create Class War. Its an interesting article. It starts by focusing on the example of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and how Peter Jackson, the director of the series, has, in a very short period of time, made Wellington, New Zealand an international hub for film production. If I recall correctly, Florida then gives a few examples of people leaving Hollywood for New Zealand. Basically, his premise is that national boundaries wont keep the truly creative people here in the US. Furthermore, he states that the US no longer attracts the best and brightest from other countries. This, according to Florida, can in great part be attributed to the leadership of a sheltered and backward George Bush. By the time to you get to the end of the article youve discovered that its pretty much pro-Dean campaign literature. (Florida ends by saying that Dean is the only person out there who, like Clinton, understands the inherent power of an inclusive nation that reaches out to and attracts brilliant, creative people.)

What follows are several quotes from the article. If you find them at all interesting, you might also want to check out the lively debate taking place at metafilter.

Clinton’s whole life is a testimony to the power of education to change class. Bush prides himself on the idea that his Yale education had no effect on how he sees things. Clinton was a famous world traveler, appreciative of foreign cultures and ideas. Bush, throughout his life, has been indifferent if not hostile to all of that. Clinton, especially in the early years of his administration, had the loose, unstructured management style of an academic department or a dot-com–manic work hours, meetings that went on forever, lots of diffuse power centers, young people running around in casual clothing, and a constant reappraising of plans and strategies. The Bush management style embodies the pre-creative corporate era–formal, hierarchal, with decision-making concentrated in the hands of only the most senior executives. Clinton was happy in Hollywood and vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard. Bush can’t wait to get back to Crawford. Clinton reveled in the company of writers, artists, scientists, and members of the intellectual elite. Bush has little tolerance for them. Clinton, in his rhetoric and policies, wanted to bring the gifts of the creative class–high technology, a tolerant culture–to the hinterlands. Bush aimed to bring the values and economic priorities of the hinterlands to that ultimate creative center, Washington, D.C.

For several years now, my colleagues and I have been measuring the underlying factors common to those American cities and regions with the highest level of creative economic growth. The chief factors we’ve found are: large numbers of talented individuals, a high degree of technological innovation, and a tolerance of diverse lifestyles. Recently my colleague Irene Tinagli of Carnegie Mellon and I have applied the same analysis to northern Europe, and the findings are startling. The playing field is much more level than you might think. Sweden tops the United States on this measure, with Finland, the Netherlands, and Denmark close behind. The United Kingdom and Belgium are also doing well. And most of these countries, especially Ireland, are becoming more creatively competitive at a faster rate than the United States.

But having talked to hundreds of talented professionals in a half dozen countries over the past year, I’m convinced that the biggest reason has to do with the changed political and policy landscape in Washington. In the 1990s, the federal government focused on expanding America’s human capital and interconnectedness to the world–crafting international trade agreements, investing in cutting edge R&D, subsidizing higher education and public access to the Internet, and encouraging immigration. But in the last three years, the government’s attention and resources have shifted to older sectors of the economy, with tariff protection and subsidies to extractive industries. Meanwhile, Washington has stunned scientists across the world with its disregard for consensus scientific views when those views conflict with the interests of favored sectors (as has been the case with the issue of global climate change). Most of all, in the wake of 9/11, Washington has inspired the fury of the world, especially of its educated classes, with its my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy. In effect, for the first time in our history, we’re saying to highly mobile and very finicky global talent, “You don’t belong here.”

Obviously, this shift has come about with the changing of the political guard in Washington, from the internationalist Bill Clinton to the aggressively unilateralist George W. Bush. But its roots go much deeper, to a tectonic change in the country’s political-economic demographics. As many have noted, America is becoming more geographically polarized, with the culturally more traditionalist, rural, small-town, and exurban “red” parts of the country increasingly voting Republican, and the culturally more progressive urban and suburban “blue” areas going ever more Democratic. Less noted is the degree to which these lines demarcate a growing economic divide, with “blue” patches representing the talent-laden, immigrant-rich creative centers that have largely propelled economic growth, and the “red” parts representing the economically lagging hinterlands. The migrations that feed creative-center economies are also exacerbating the contrasts. As talented individuals, eager for better career opportunities and more adventurous, diverse lifestyles, move to the innovative cities, the hinterlands become even more culturally conservative. Now, the demographic dynamic which propelled America’s creative economy has produced a political dynamic that could choke that economy off. Though none of the candidates for president has quite framed it that way, it’s what’s really at stake in the 2004 elections.

If there are any countries out there that would like to bid on Linette and me, please let us know. We will be accepting offers through this spring.

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