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Dr. Vibrant`s Back: Richard Florida Still Wrong About "Creative Class"—Bohemians Don’t Invent Technology. Nerds Do
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June 27, 2012, 04:33 PM
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For over a decade, I`ve periodically debunked the theory of Richard "Rise of the Creative Class" Florida, who has pocketed near-Gladwellian speaking fees by telling local leaders what they want to hear: the way to make your little backwood burgh rich is to bring in a lot of gays, artists,   bohemians, and immigrants. Notice how San Francisco has a lot of gays? Well, did you also notice that San Francisco is also the Tech Capital? Huh?

Now he`s trying to milk his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class further with a tenth anniversary edition.

Modern American doesn`t have much of an intellectual immune system. Institutional America has an endless appetite for hucksters of ideas for politically correct theories about how to make money, ideas that frequently make far more money for their spokesperson than for the poor saps who try to implement them.

My role has often been to play rogue white blood cell in the English-speaking world`s undergunned intellectual immune system.

So, way back in 2002, I wrote in VDARE:

These research high technology centers are not actually located in the cities of San Francisco, Boston and New York at all, but in their much less diverse suburbs. The authors’ methodological blunder is obvious: they use overly expansive definitions of “metropolitan areas.” Thus, they label “San Francisco” both the Gay Capital and the Tech Capital, even though Castro Street in San Francisco and Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto might be 90 minutes apart – in normal traffic. 

All across the country over the last 45 years, the pattern has been unmistakable: the techno-innovators congregate out in the far suburbs, a long, long way from what is normally called “diversity.” … 

Obviously, colleges can play important roles in creating tech centers, as can nice weather and good scenery. Yet the Bay Area’s technopolis didn’t grow up around UC Berkeley, as the Florida & Gates’ theory would predict, but around Stanford – the school for smart rich kids way off in the orchard-filled Santa Clara Valley. … 

Bohemians don’t invent technology. Nerds do. … Nerds tend to be especially devoted family men, possibly because they find chasing women so painful. And the most important component of any serious technology company’s workforce is married men with children. 

The suburban high tech nerdistans (to use Joel Kotkin’s phrase) are diverse in the sense that they are full of not only white nerds, but also Chinese and Asian Indian nerds. But that’s not exactly what most pundits mean when they talk about Diversity. 


In 2005, I wrote in the Washington Examiner:

“And, sure, booms and bohemians tend to correlate, but who really attracts whom to a metroplex? Do the engineers and salesguys actually pursue the gay art dealers and immigrant restaurateurs, or are Dr. Florida’s footloose favorites more likely to follow the money generated by the pocket-protector boys? 

“In the 1970s, for example, Houston suddenly became one of the gayest cities in America, even though Houston was not famously tolerant. No, Houston got (briefly) hip because gays, immigrants, and artistes flocked there because OPEC had raised prices, making Houston’s unhip oil companies rich for a decade. 

“In contrast, famously tolerant New Orleans and Las Vegas (“Sin City”) rank today near the bottom of Dr. Florida’s talent tables because his kind of folks can’t make much money in either. 

“So, he appears to have gotten the arrow of causality mostly backwards.”


And in 2008, I reviewed one of Florida`s self-help books in The American Conservative:

When he`s not intentionally unhelpful, he`s obtuse. For example, in Who`s Your City, he reprints a popular map of America he put up on his blog in 2007 showing that the largest surpluses of extra single men are in Southwestern cities, near the Mexican border. Having had a year to think it over, Dr Vibrant asserts, "The best ratio for heterosexual women was in greater Los Angeles, where single men outnumber single women by 40,000." 

So if a bachelorette doesn`t quite have the looks to land a husband in, say, Cincinnati, she should hightail it to L.A., where there`s much less competition from attractive women. Yeah, right … 

The obvious reason there are so many more single men than single women in the Southwest is that there are so many illegal alien males there. The kind of single women who buy hardcover advice books probably aren`t that interested in a Mixtec-speaking drywaller, but Dr. Vibrant ignores such potentially controversial topics. 

He has, after all, built his success on telling business and civic leaders that if they want their dreary little burgh to become the next Silicon Valley, they`ll need a lot of homosexuals, like in San Francisco. He says, "Gays predict not only the concentration of high-tech industry, but also its growth …"

Slowly, a few other people have started to notice the obvious problems in Florida`s theory. In "The Fall of the Creative Class," writer Frank Bures, who moved to Madison, WI a decade ago because it seemed like the Next Big Thing in Floridian breakthroughs, calls up several social scientists to ask how the evidence is working out for Creative Class theorizing: not good. 

The most fun part is a section on Penelope Trunk, a less slick version of Dr. Florida, whom, to my surprise turns out to be a real person.

One of these peo­ple was a woman named Pene­lope Trunk, a brand­ing expert, a Gen Y prog­nos­ti­ca­tor, and a ruth­less, relent­less self-promoter. Her arrival in Madi­son could not have been more dif­fer­ent than ours. She announced on her blog that she’d done exhaus­tive research and con­cluded that the best place in the coun­try for her to live was Madi­son,  Wis­con­sin. Trunk’s name was splashed across the papers, and seemed to con­firm every Florid­ian sus­pi­cion. Local cap­i­tal­ists bankrolled her new com­pany, Brazen Careerist. She blogged and blogged and blogged about how best to choose the place to work and live. She was an apos­tle of Florid­ian doc­trine and flew around giv­ing speeches about how places could attract the shock troops of the cre­ative econ­omy the way Madi­son had attracted her. 

One day I met Trunk for cof­fee. She was loud and brash and talked over the din of the other peo­ple. She seemed to be under the impres­sion that I’d come to her for career advice, which she gave and to which I politely lis­tened. And while I liked her energy, I could tell by the way peo­ple shot her dirty looks that Madi­son was going to be a tough fit. 

Four years later, Trunk left town, which seemed odd, given her much-ballyhooed arrival. By then, we had fallen out of touch, and I was never quite clear on her rea­son for leav­ing. So I called her to find out what had gone wrong. Trunk now lives on a farm in south­west Wis­con­sin, (she divorced her hus­band and mar­ried a farmer). On the phone, she was still brash and bom­bas­tic and as she told it, her hon­ey­moon with the city started to end almost as soon as she got there. One day her ex-husband was googling, “sex offend­ers,” and he dis­cov­ered there were four reg­is­tered on their block. Next, she dis­cov­ered that the pub­lic schools were ter­ri­ble. “I started talk­ing to every­one,” Trunk said. “And I said, ‘Hey, aren’t you upset the schools suck? How is every­one send­ing their kid here?’ And peo­ple said, ‘Oh, no, I really love my school. I make sure for my kid it’s all about val­ues.’ I mean the bull­shit that peo­ple were telling me was utterly incred­i­ble. Then it just became like an onslaught. Tons of lies. Madi­son is a city full of peo­ple in denial. Peo­ple don’t leave Madi­son, so they don’t real­ize what’s good and not good.” 

I asked her if she had any regrets, or if the move was a wrong one, or if she had any advice for other peo­ple look­ing to relo­cate. Or maybe, I sug­gested, life was just messier than research? 

“No,” she said. “Life is totally clear cut. It’s exactly what the research is. All the research says go live with your friends and fam­ily. Oth­er­wise, you have to look at why you’re not doing that. If you want to look at a city that’s best for your career, it’s New York, San Fran­cisco or Lon­don. If you’re not look­ing for your career, it doesn’t really mat­ter. There’s no dif­fer­ence. It’s split­ting hairs."

That`s cartoonishly overstated, but the "friends and family" part makes a lot of sense. Keep in mind that you aren`t going to make friends as easily the older you get, so if you`ve got a pretty good class of friends by the time you get out of college, try to hang onto them.

And don`t overlook the huge contribution that a good grandmother can make to your family life. My aunt, for instance, has driven at least a million miles to take care of her grandchildren who live on opposite sides of Greater Los Angeles. 

I had a terrific mother-in-law, a bright, energetic woman who really liked me. But, then, a few months before our first son was born, she was killed in a car crash. The 1990s turned out significantly more difficult for us than if we had had her around to pitch in.