Immigration, Density, and Tolerance

Great post, Robin. You and I agree on two things, both backed by solid empirical findings.

Immigration: The most powerful driver of economic development in small and mid-sized regions, as Rise of the Creative Class points out, is immigration. The other factors Robin and I have debated, the gay index and bohemian index, are important to very large regions. Schenectady actually went after immigrants, specifically Guyanese immigrants in Queens, and the strategy seems to have worked fairly well.

Density: it also really matters. Jane Jacobs said so, long ago. And my Carnegie Mellon doctoral student Brian Knudsen found very strong density effects across U.S. regions.

I mention tolerance training as an aside, only because older regions tend to chase away some segment of their talent, especially gay people, and in many case young people because they are not open to them. Our recent Gallup survey of 22 urban centers found something interesting, here. When we asked these 3000 residents if their cities were “good places” for a whole slew of groups, guess what group came in last place? Not gays, not racial minorities, not immigrants, but “young recent college graduates looking for work.” I’m not saying becoming more open and tolerant would save the day, but it would create a social climate more open to immigrants and young people, as well as other groups.

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 Science and technology, art and design, and culture and entertainment have superceded natural resources and industrial infrastructure as the key to economic success.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.