The Creative Class? Manhattan Institute's Steven Malanga Demolishes the Argument


Steven Malanga wrote a devastating critique of Prof Richard Florida's "creative class" argument in 2004 (RI Gov Chafee is still trying to tout Florida's expired arguments now):

All of these cities have been inspired by the theories of Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon professor whose notion that cities must become trendy, happening places in order to compete in the twenty-first-century economy is sweeping urban America. In his popular book The Rise of the Creative Class, which just appeared in paperback after going through multiple hardcover editions, Florida argues that cities that attract gays, bohemians, and ethnic minorities are the new economic powerhouses because they are also the places where creative workers—the kind who start and staff innovative, fast-growing companies—want to live. To lure this workforce, Florida argues, cities must dispense with stuffy old theories of economic development—like the notion that low taxes are what draw in companies and workers—and instead must spend heavily on cultural amenities and pursue progressive social legislation.

... According to Florida, the winners in an age that values these attributes include gay-friendly San Francisco, laid-back Austin, multiculti New York, and progressive Minneapolis. Florida advises leaders of cities trying to emulate this group to ensure that their towns remain “open to diversity” by promoting laws that creative types see as welcoming while guarding against social legislation that makes their cities seem less tolerant. (Although the professor isn’t explicit in his book about what kinds of laws attract the creative class, this summer he told a Canadian newspaper that “the legalization of gay marriage is one of the great talent attraction packages of the last hundred years.”) Political leaders should also invest in “lifestyle amenities,” like bike paths (an obsession of Florida’s) and running and rollerblading trails. Cities should follow the example of Austin, where public television features live music festivals, and where city leaders require companies that want to expand downtown to contribute to an arts and culture fund.

... But a far more serious—indeed, fatal—objection to Florida’s theories is that the economics behind them don’t work. Although Florida’s book bristles with charts and statistics showing how he constructed his various indexes and where cities rank on them, the professor, incredibly, doesn’t provide any data demonstrating that his creative cities actually have vibrant economies that perform well over time. A look at even the most simple economic indicators, in fact, shows that, far from being economic powerhouses, many of Florida’s favored cities are chronic underperformers.

... It is exactly because Florida is an exponent of this kind of aggressive, government-directed economic development (albeit with a New Age spin) that liberal policymakers and politicians have latched on to his theories so enthusiastically. To them, an expanding government is always more interesting than an expanding economy—especially if economic growth depends on something so very uninteresting as low taxes and small government. But it is just as likely that the Floridazed brand of aggressive governing will get things as wrong as the builders of sports stadiums and convention centers.