_The Rise of the Creative Class_ by Richard Florida


It's good reading, but I'm strongly tempted to interpret what Florida says with a critical eye, especially in light of the recent economic collapse and the peculiar way in which "courtier intellectuals" promote ideas to powerful groups. (Picture Ayn Rand's lectures to the CEOs of old about greed and the concentration of wealth benefits society.) Of course, at least theoretically, I am part of Florida's "creative class" -- people that generate value through ideas and individual development, as opposed to repetitive physical tasks and conventional conformist values. If I'm reading something that is making me feel like, "Hey, I'm good, I'm creative, that's me," there's danger afoot.

But his argument that the future well-off will be "bohemians," "gays," and noncomformists is pretty irresistible. And when I heard Richard Florida speaking on NPR, I loved his honesty; he said something like, "We are spending too much money on the US military. It's a heirarchical, conformist culture that does not create value." Now that's heresy I can believe in. Never forget that the purpose of all military activity is finding out ways to more effectively dominate people through force -- i.e. killing. That's the definitive opposite of value-creation and progress.

Lying at the heart of the first chapter, however, is a Greenspanian "irrational exuberance" for the post-industrial economy that both Democrats and Republicans have been promoting since roughly 1980. While I might write a book that people want to read, I would not presume this kind of work to be more essential than, say, the harvesting of corn, the manufacturing of refridgerators, or the pounding of steel bolts for a highway overpass. It's definitely a more attractive way to make a living to write books; likely, as many people as can write books for a living will do so until there are too many. Basically, the post-industrial economy has never worked and never will work -- no country can import more than they export and hope to hold on to wealth. It's this economic model that has ravaged the United States' middle class; we've become a nation of financial consultants employing domestic servants. But so many people in the service industry can't pay their bills; it just doesn't work.

Further, it's hard to see how one could promote bohemians, gays, and noncomformists and their white, urban, coastal culture (read: liberal) and not make a qualitative judment in favor of them and against the staid, churchgoing, conformist "Red Staters" (read: conservative). Now, I'm more partisan than even Richard Florida on this point: misery for me would be working in some kind of repetitive-task, unthinking job in a place like Detroit or Appalachia. But I don't presume to say one is the wave of the future and the other is not. Both modes are equally needed; it's a matter of human nature even -- conservatives check the social progress liberals would bring about too quickly.

Imagine reading Richard Florida in 50 years. Rise of the Creative Class comes about in 2002, right after a mild lull in economic growth, and at the beginning of seven straight years of a housing and banking bubble (promoted by the Bush Administration, and the largest bubble since the 1920s). Economically speaking, the "creative class" which disdains manual labor and congratulates itself for employing maids, nannies, and landscapers (as well as Starbucks baristas) was resplendent. They sold the subprime mortgages to naive consumers and extended lines of credit not for the purpose of actually recouping the money, but to figure out ever-more-misleading ways of fleecing customers for a short-term profit through hidden fees and APR adjustments. They thought the money was real, they were doing good, and the love song would never end. Now we're left with 10+ percent unemployment and a minimum of two years of recession, and upwards of $10 trillion in socialized debt for a handful of peoples' "toxic assets."

Like so many critics, instead of objectively critiquing an occurrence, Richard Florida became just another part of the event he thought he was seeing from the outside. Or, as a former professor of mine put it:

This book is thus an example of the history [...] to which it contributes.
In other words, instead of an objective critique, Rise of the Creative Class helps create the conditions it supposedly analyzes.
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