Flight of the Creative Class – Why We’re Declining

Wow if any of you have already have read Flight of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, and you have been a regular reader of my site, you could not be blamed for thinking that I had read this book before I wrote these articles (This one and this one). For the record I did not!

So needless to say, I am right on the same page with Mr Florida on where I see the US going. Also, his analysis of the world being ‘spikey” not “flat” (as Thomas Friedman contends – though I’m sure they both have the same general idea) is insightful and important for the average person to understand.

“Spikey” means that creative, productive people tend to gather not by nation, but more by city-state (my word choice). There are maybe 15-25 spots on Earth where creative people would want to locate – American examples being Boston, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco/Silicon Valley. Mainly because creative people want to congregate with other creative people.

This is important for the average person to understand because the average person needs to realize that this is one of the major causes of the rich/poor divide. People with high skills move to San Francisco for example, and there is a brain drain in most of the second tier cities in the US (do you think a rising star scientist wants to be in Detroit? Why not go to sunny Cali?). In fact, it’s quite amazing how many people want to move to SF.

It’s also important to know from an immigration perspective. Remember my argument from my past articles – in the past, the US always had the “number one draft pick.” We plucked talent from other countries because those countries DID NOT support creativity and freedom and certainly would not permit an individual to profit from his own hard work. So they came here and started companies (I used, Yang from Yahoo, Omydar from Ebay and Carnegie from US Steel as examples) and employed THOUSANDS (hello nativists!).

Now we are beginning to lose these people to other “spikes.” Some go to Singapore, others to London – and some go to Shanghai and others to Sydney. And we are turning people away in the worst way – for university admissions. We are losing thousands to Canada now (even our own people – see Boston Globe article HERE) due to our high costs.

If we continue to shut the door on immigrants coming to our universities (by the way, even though they’re typically non-profit, universities are themselves a potentially huge growth business for the US), then we will be severely stunting our future growth. This idea that we can home grow geniuses by simply raising math scores or English scores on standardized tests is not going to cut it. As Marc Faber says, lets assume that 1 out of 1,000,000 people will genetically be a bona fide genius (in terms of IQ) – if China has 1.2 BILLION people and the US has 300 million, then by sheer statistics, China will have 1,200 geniuses in their population and we will have 300.

The only way we close that gap is to “import” geniuses – i.e. IMMIGRATION. I mentioned in a prior article (HERE) the story of A123 Systems – a maker of long-life rechargeable batteries. I particularly pointed out that the president/founder is a CHINESE immigrant who got his PhD at MIT (surprise surprise – Bostonians used to call MIT “Made in Taiwan” – and with good reason!). What if this guy got his visa denied? I highlighted the fact that this interesting company, which is developing the battery for GM’s Volt electric vehicle, might have been located in China instead, with its 1200 hundred jobs!!!

That company is located in Watertown, MA – right in Kerry and Kennedy’s backyard- so when these two start railing against foreign workers stealing our jobs, please, for everyone’s sake don’t listen to them. These arguments work only on uneducated electorates (that’s us!). I think it makes sense to a person who doesn’t spend time thinking about this, that foreigners are ‘stealing’ our jobs. Only with clearer understanding do people see the benefits of trade and sharing across borders – and importantly, the benefits of making¬† our country receptive and encouraging to creativity and creative people.¬† And that’s why I think reading Richard Florida’s book, Flight of the Creative Class, can help anyone understand better what is going on in the global economy and support wiser policy decisions.

Chris Grande

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