Bohemians and Gays Are near Ground Zero in the Culture Wars

Richard writes:

When I say “self-expression” he says “bohemian self-expression.” … He says my concepts are “overloaded,” but in reality it’s his adjectives and modifiers that are really loaded. … I have no stake in the cultural wars. None, Nada. How many times, in how many ways, can I say this. I already said that I’m a registered political independent and that my team runs the gamut from right to left and everything in between; … the only thing I can think from Robin’s last couple of posts is that it’s he who’s hung up on the cultural wars.

In the preface to his main book he wrote:

Social conservatives have gone apoplectic over my finding that places with high concentrations of gays and bohemians tend to have higher rates of innovation and economic growth. … often when I talk about the correlations I’m finding between cultural factors and economic health, people start shouting moralisms at me.

Richard, in that book you use the word “gay” on 54 pages and “bohemian” on 73 pages. When I and other readers try to figure out what you mean by notoriously vague words such as “creativity,” “diversity,” or “self-expression,” we naturally look to such frequently mentioned words to form more specific associations. And surely you are aware that “gay” and “bohemian” hardly have neutral associations in politics or the culture wars, especially when your ideal places turn out to be San Francisco and New York. Surely you did not expect the far left and the far right to be equally likely to object to your conclusions. Like it or not, you are in the culture wars.

Ed and Frank, I invite you to weigh in. How comfortable are you with Richard’s association of bohemian/gay style “creativity” with typical business innovation and “creative” jobs that are “more exciting, more fun and challenging”? How useful is it to abstract away the differences between these kinds of “creativity” in the way that Richard attempts?

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • In this month’s lead essay, Richard Florida, bestselling author of Rise of the Creative Class, argues that the old industrial era has given way to a new creative era. Science and technology, art and design, and culture and entertainment have superceded natural resources and industrial infrastructure as the key to economic success. Talent is now the key factor of production and winners in global economic competition will be those who can best deploy and attract it. However, the creative economy is a source of increasing inequality both within and between nations. Florida argues that the key to bridging the gap between the creative and service sectors is to harness the creativity of service sector workers to make their jobs both higher-paying and more satisfying.

Response Essays

  • In his reply to Florida’s lead essay, George Mason economist Robin Hanson argues that creativity matters less for economic growth and the future of work than Florida thinks. According to Hanson, Florida’s emphasis on creativity distracts us from the prospect of a truly revolutionary change to work and economy just over the horizon: rapidly exponential growth driven by smart machines. “An economy with intelligent machines could grow very rapidly indeed,” Hanson argues, “and induce rapidly falling human wages.” Will we be prepared if we’re busy making the Creative Class comfortable?

  • MIT economist Frank Levy agrees that creativity is more important than ever in a world where computers and foreign workers can do routine work less expensively than domestic workers. This shift, Levy says, requires better education in problem-solving. But education can only do so much. The gains from rising labor productivity are going largely to the wealthy, Levy argues. Unless policies and norms are reinstated that spread those gains more widely “all of the nation’s institutions will be at risk.”

  • While agreeing with much in Florida’s essay, UCLA economist Edward Leamer suggests that the key to understanding the future of work isn’t creativity, but talent. “Is a personal computer like a forklift or a microphone?” Leamer asks. Forklifts are forces for equality, washing out individual differences in ability. Microphones, on the other hand, amplify difference in ability and talent. If training cannot create talent, but can only enhance it, the gains to training will be highest for the talented, and it will not be possible to close the talent and wage gaps by offering more training to the less talented.