Technology and Society

Book Reviews
Home
What's New
Privacy & Individual Rights
Commerce, Security, & the Law
Net Culture, Art, & Literature
International Affairs & National Security
Ethics, Rhetoric, & Metaphysics
Science Fiction

Other Resources
News
Publishers
Other Book Review Sites
Letters
Contact
Copyright

Title: The Flight of the Creative Class
Author: Richard Florida
Publisher: Harper Business
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 006075690X
Pages: 326
Price: $25.95
Rating: 90%
In The Flight of the Creative Class, Richard Florida argues that the United States has become less supportive of members of "the creative class": individuals who develop new processes, businesses, technologies, and art. The end result is that the U.S. attracts (or allows in because of Homeland Security concerns) fewer foreign graduate students, academics, and entrepreneurs, which in turn will drive down our competitiveness.

Americans should be proud of our home-grown talent, but it's also true that first- and second-generation immigrants have helped fuel the American economic upsurge that began at the start of the Industrial Age. Florida highlights that aspect of the American environment as our main competitive advantage:

America's growth miracle turns on one key factor: its openness to new ideas, which has allowed it to dominate the global competition for talent, and in doing so harness the creative energies of its own people--and, indeed, the world. (p.4)

Florida, an economist and professor at George Mason University, developed a number of indices he uses to measure an area's attractiveness to the creative class. At the national level, he and his research team developed the Global Creativity Index (GCI), which rates a country along three axes: talent, technology, and tolerance. Based on the GCI, the U.S. ranks fourth behind Sweden, Japan, and Finland. At the city and regional level, U.S. metropolitan areas such as San Jose, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle still stack up well against foreign cities, but recent growth and potential for future growth outside of the U.S. means that American firms will have to compete that much harder to attract the innovators who drive development.

And that's the point. If 10,000 members of the creative class choose to relocate to Vancouver instead of a U.S. city, it's not that big of a hit. But if 10,000 more decide to go to Dublin, another 10,000 go to Toronto, and another 10,000 strike out for Sydney, the numbers start to add up quickly.

So how does the U.S. compete for the attention of foreign creative types and retain domestic talent? According to Florida, by investing in technology, emphasizing the talent already in place, and creating a good atmosphere for folks of all walks of life. His findings have ruffled quite a few feathers in the conservative press, but the author's research indicates that an urban area's tolerance for homosexuality correlates strongly with the area's economic performance. Florida emphasizes that the relationship is merely a correlation...critics have accused him of claiming that tolerance for homosexuality causes economic growth.

It can be tempting to divide the nation into red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) states and note that the majority of cities with strong GCI scores are in blue states, but analyzing the issue at the state level doesn't provide the granularity required to get a good handle on the problem. When you examine the 2004 presidential record at the county level and color each county based on the proportion of votes the two major parties received (Robert J. Vanderbei's "purple map"), but Florida cites a number of studies which indicate that social mores are converging at a significant rate. So why did so many ballot measures defining marriage as being between one man and one woman pass in so many states? Because the Republican Party mobilized its aging constituents, who tend to be much more conservative than their younger church-going counterparts.

Overall I found the author's arguments to be compelling. Though his (quite brief) proposed solution for the American educational system boils down to "we should do something to improve creative thinking", his findings argue strongly in favor of enhancing economic development by investing in technologies and being tolerant of new immigrants and Americans with differing values. Don't worry if you haven't read the author's previous book, The Rise of the Creative Class; Florida spends the first chapters describing his model and responding to his critics.

Curtis D. Frye (cfrye@teleport.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He is also the author of several training courses and thirteen books, including Microsoft Office Excel 2003 Step By Step and Privacy-Enhanced Business. He was formerly an analyst for The MITRE Corporation in McLean, Virginia.