Arnold Kling  

I Challenge Richard Florida

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Evening Commentary... Ross Douthat on Liberaltariani...

to a bet on the future of New York City. In a must-read article in the latest issue of The Atlantic, Florida says that New York will come out of the recession in good shape. I propose a $50 wager on that, with terms somewhat along these lines.

1. Come up with a measure of a metro area's education level in the 25-45 age range for major U.S cities. (He makes the interesting point that the distribution of education has become highly unequal across metro areas in recent years. So he might have a good measure already.)

2. Calculate New York City's rank as of the latest data available (2008? 2007?). Say they rank 8th today.

3. In February of 2015, redo the calculation based on the latest data then available.

4. I win if New York's rank has dropped (say, to 9th from 8th). He wins otherwise.

For me, this is more of an emotional bet than an economic one. Florida and I both share the premise that Wall Street will not come back. Florida's economic case is that the New York economy may actually be less dependent on financial services than Columbus Ohio or Hartford, Connecticut. It mostly rests on his view that cities attract "the creative class," the creative class produces innovation, and innovation produces wealth. So he is optimistic about New York.

Having grown up in a suburb of St. Louis, I have an attitude about that. I hate the Mets. I find the heavy-handed sensory overload of New York tiring and ultimately unpleasant, in the same way that I find Las Vegas or Disney World unpleasant. Although I can actually enjoy New York in short stretches, and I cannot say the same for Vegas or Disney.

But I think that a lot of my attitude is that, notwithstanding Virginia Postrel's Substance of Style case for aesthetics, I don't think that the arts are all that important. To me, creative innovation that matters is somebody in a lab at MIT coming up with a more efficient battery or solar cell. It is somebody at Stanford coming up with a way to make computers smarter or cancer more preventable. I just can't get excited about some frou-frou fashion designers and the magazines that feature their creations.


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The author at What Guru’s are Saying in a related article titled Betting Richard Florida on the Future of New York writes:
    As I said when I linked to Richard Florida's piece on how the crash will reshape America, Florida brings [Tracked on February 15, 2009 4:52 AM]
COMMENTS (16 to date)
Steve Reilly writes:

Do you frequently bet $50 on the future ranking of cities based on your dislike of fashion magazines? I have to say, it's not the sort of investment I'd recommend.

razib writes:

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200903/meltdown-geography

The Sheep Nazi writes:

Richard Florida's work is valuable in that it serves to introduce people to Joel Kotkin's.

BenjaminL writes:

Florida seems to be good at catchy slogans, but Ed Glaeser has to be the starting point for gauging the past and future of NYC. Refs:

Ed Glaeser,
"Urban Colossus: Why is New York America’s Largest City?" [PDF]

"Houston, New York Has A Problem"

http://benjaminl.tumblr.com

Mike Rulle writes:

Arnold stated: "I don't think that the arts are all that important. To me, creative innovation that matters is somebody in a lab at MIT coming up with a more efficient battery or solar cell".

This opinion raises the mysterious question, to me at least, of the service economy in general. One thinks of all the service industries which seem "unproductive" in the long (or short) run. Anything entertainment seems to fall in this category. Look at all the resources devoted to horror movies and musicals; or, look at all the resources devoted to the gambling industry; or, the mainstreaming of the massage industry; or luxury restaurants; or the car wash industry. And countless more of course.

These are activities for which one has to create a narrative "to justify" them beyond the simple demand for pleasure or relaxation. One might say that massage, or movies "refresh" or "recharge" one's spirit and body, thus making people more productive for real things like "a more efficient battery or solar cell".

Maybe they do. Yet that argument seems strained to me. I think the better argument is people simply enjoy these activities. In fact, one can reasonably make the case that "one purpose" of technological advancement is to create more time for people to pursue things other than work. One could say, therefore, that the desirability of technologies such as the "solar cell" is for the purpose of freeing mankind to pursue things which have no obvious material purpose, like "the arts".

The fact that there is so much economic demand (and supply of course) for these kinds of services is fascinating. I can see how one (myself included) can view these activities as less productive for mankind than more material technological activity. But I have a hunch that is simply a normative perspective, even just an unquestioned premise.

There is no rational economic basis to "prefer" solar batteries over the arts. At the least, if one goes down that intellectual path, it raises far more interesting--and mysterious--questions about man's nature.

Ironman writes:

Arnold wrote, beautifully:

Having grown up in a suburb of St. Louis, I have an attitude about that. I hate the Mets."

Well, the Mets are, after all, pond scum. (I don't know why acknowledging that is so cathartic!)

And if you're looking for a blending of Virginia Postrel's ideal aesthetics with creative innovations coming out of the lab, I strongly recommend both scrolling and paging through the Core77 blog. Once you get into it, you might lose several hours of your day.

R. Pointer writes:

Dr. Kling,

I grew up in U. City. I remember my father razzing on Darryl Strawberry from the bleachers as a kid. As a St. Louisian with deep-seated dislike for New York, I hope you win that bet.

I remember reading some Bill McClellan article about 5 months back saying how it was a shame that St Louis couldn't have been the financial hub some of these second rate cities have become. That Boatman's could have become Bank of America. I find it amazing that Bill would have wished that upon us. But I don't find it strange that his is amazingly wrong.

Good luck with the bet.

andilinks writes:

Following Sturgeon's Law (or revelation) that 90% of everything is crap it would follow that the failures of the arts community will clutter our culture for years while the failures of scientists never see the market or are driven from it almost immediately.

The subjective tastes of the consumers of art and the tendencies of elite cliques to form cultish followings for enigmatic and meaningless art works ensures that this will always be true.

Ironman writes:

R. Pointer wrote:

I remember reading some Bill McClellan article about 5 months back saying how it was a shame that St Louis couldn't have been the financial hub some of these second rate cities have become. That Boatman's could have become Bank of America. I find it amazing that Bill would have wished that upon us. But I don't find it strange that his is amazingly wrong.

The name of the local bank should tip you off as to why it didn't. The leaders of St. Louis destined the city for the national commerce backwaters when the river barge barons used their political influence to prevent the construction of rail bridges near the city, fearing the impact to their business.

Even though they did later, Chicago had succeeded in becoming the rail hub for the U.S. with St. Louis an offshoot, rather than the other way around.

Tim writes:

Dr. K - Where in St. Louis? Another former U Citian here now in Cambridge, MA.

The main problem with St. Louis v. NYC is that most with ambition and brains (TS Eliot, Vincent Price to Kevin Kline (used to buy 45s from his father's store in Clayton) are "from" there rather than there. The best and brightest from NYC and nearby remain for life other than the occasinally escapee to LA.

Ned writes:

As a resident of NYC, I'm afraid that Florida is wrong. After all, it was the Wall St. money that kept all the great restaurants in business, filled to Lincoln center etc. etc. A city of this size cannot subside on tourists. Remove financial industry and what you have in the long run is Buffalo South.

Scoop writes:

My problem with Florida's analysis is that it rests entirely on one factor: the observation that productive people like to be around one another. NYC attracts many of them beyond fashion designers. It has major research universities, the nation's third highest concentration of high tech start ups, etc.

But there are dozens of factors that determine where people live, factors that Florida doesn't really consider in any serious way. Taxation, regulation, unionization and so many other factors count -- and most of them count against New York. I hope Florida is right. I love New York for the sheer size and density, which will never be recreated in this country. But I fear the city has too much to overcome.

J writes:

Why not give him odds?

Josh writes:

Doesn't a lot of this depend on how much federal money goes to NYC?

James writes:

"I don't think that the arts are all that important."

People from around the world who study cave paintings, which are a form of art, and how they helped man evolve into the creature that strives to cure disease and solve problems related to earth's demise would heartily disagree.

Art, in ALL forms, help us to better understand ourselves and our fellow man, even the pointy-headed ones who lack creativity and social skills.

Chris Hyde writes:

It's really no wonder why they call economics the dismal science.

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