Monday, November 03, 2008

The Creative Class

John Solow, an economist at the University of Iowa, recently published the Iowa Creativity Index, which studies the correlation between creativity and economic growth in Iowa’s 99 counties. Solow’s work is actually based on that of another economist, Richard Florida, who has spent a lot of time thinking about what he calls the “creative class.” I wasn’t familiar with the term, so I dug up Florida’s 2002 essay, “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

Florida never quite defines his “creative class,” but he describes it as “a fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend.” As examples, he points to scientists, engineers, university professors, poets, novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, architects, nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, and analysts.

The central thesis consists of two points:
(1) The creative class is good for economic growth.
(2) Economic growth is concentrated in hip, urban places that attract the creative class, like San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle.

I don’t disagree with any particular point, but I can’t help but feel that “creative class” is something of a misnomer. In my mind, creative means innovative, but Florida means something altogether different. He uses creative in the sense of creating something.

Etymologically speaking, he’s certainly not wrong. But steelworkers create steel, and baristas create tasty coffee beverages. Are they any less creative (in Florida’s sense of the word) than professors and engineers?

Had Florida used the phrase “knowledge workers” or “college graduates,” I wouldn’t have blinked. But this research has more to do with economics, education, human capital, and social mobility than with creativity.

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