Monday, January 5, 2015

Liberals Really are the Best People, Says NYT

If you were planning the Sunday New York Times for the first Sunday in the New Year, what better than a piece from Richard Florida of The Rise of the Creative Class?

Richard Florida is a member of that elite corps of university professors that sat down and wrote a non-fiction bestseller. You can see why Florida has hit the jackpot. His thesis in Creative Class is that "millions of Americans are beginning to work and live" like artists and scientists, as creative people, members of the 38 million strong "Creative Class." These creative people are coming together in "ideopolises" like Washington DC, Raleigh-Durham, Boston, and Austin, where the Creative Class represents over 35% of the workforce.

This sort of talk is very seductive to liberals, because ever since the Romantic movement at the turn of the 19th century, they have believed in the god of creativity rather than the God of Abraham. In my writing I talk about responsible individualism, which arises from trade and the exchange economy in the city. That is where the ordinary middle class live. But there is also expressive individualism, the cult of creativity, which really gets started in the 19th century. Here is how I describe the growth of the creative culture in "The Bonds of Faith."
Charles Taylor in A Secular Age sees these three narratives — Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Marxism — combining to form a “nova effect,” an explosion of secularity that began with “an exclusive alternative to Christian faith” in the 18th century.  The initial explosion was followed by diversification in the 19th century, extending to the Nietzschean break with the humanism of freedom and mutual benefit. Finally in the last 50 years the nova has exploded to reach beneath elites to whole societies and includes “a generalised culture of 'authenticity', or expressive individualism,” of doing your own thing.
And that is what educated twentysomethings think they are doing when they move to urban hot-spots and wear artistical black.

So the job of Richard Florida in last Sunday's New York Times is to tie creativity and blue states and all good things together, and show that the extractive economy of the red states is a kind of parasite on the creative output of the Creative Class in the blue states.
Blue states, like California, New York and Illinois, whose economies turn on finance, trade and knowledge, are generally richer than red states. But red states, like Texas, Georgia and Utah, have done a better job over all of offering a higher standard of living relative to housing costs.
But this is not good. According to Florida, the reddification of politics last November means that "America's prosperity is in jeopardy." The problem is that
Blue state knowledge economies are also extremely expensive to operate. Their innovative edge turns on a high-cost infrastructure of research universities and knowledge institutions — a portion of which demand public subsidy. Their size and density require expensive subway and transit systems to move people around. Blue state cities like New York and San Francisco are booming, but they are hampered by potholes and crumbling infrastructure, troubled public school systems, growing inequality and housing unaffordability, and entrenched poor populations, all of which mean higher public costs and higher tax burdens.
You see, blue states "are pioneering the new economic order that will determine our future — one that turns on innovation and knowledge rather than the raw production of goods." Meanwhile "red states spend less per capita on education, infrastructure and social welfare than their blue state counterparts" and are content to poach free stuff from the blue state knowledge economy.
The idea that the red states can enjoy the benefits provided by the blue states without helping to pay for them (and while poaching their industries with the promise of low taxes and regulations) is as irresponsible and destructive of our national future as it is hypocritical.
You can see that Richard Florida is a Gruberist. He believes that educated experts should design and implement administrative systems to deliver cities where we can incubate "innovation and knowledge." And the rest of us should be made to pay for it.

You could say that the opposite is true. You could say that the blue states represent the end stage of a one-size-fits-all industrialism that is presently crashing and burning, as in Detroit. You could say that in a world where you can deliver tablets to kids in a village in Ethiopia and have them figure out the ABC song in two weeks and how to hack the camera within six months that there is no need for expensive blue states with their expensive subsidized lifetime employment for professors and administrators. Because we are all creative now.

But that's not the future that Creative Class booster Richard Florida sees.
As long as the highly gerrymandered red states can keep on delivering the economic goods to their voters, concerted federal action on transportation, infrastructure, sustainability, education, a rational immigration policy and a strengthened social safety net will remain out of reach. These are investments that the future prosperity of the nation, in red states and blue states alike, requires.
It's comical really. Florida is telling us that the creative future, which I would interpret means relying on "emergence" and what George Gilder calls "surprise," depends on a bureaucratic system, the system of government programs to deliver transportation, infrastructure, and the rest of the liberal agenda.

Maybe he's right. But I doubt it. I suspect that we are far more likely to see a period of "creative destruction" in the blue states that a bureaucratic renaissance paid for by new taxes on the red states.

But you have to say: Richard Florida delivers what the educated lady readers of the New York Times want to read. Good for him.

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