Creative Class Warfare (or Richard Florida’s Grievous Oraculism)

For much of this summer, I’ve been cataloging the shortcomings of Richard Florida’s Creative Class Theory. It started with a story I did for Thirty Two Magazine called The Fall of the Creative Class, a piece which quickly took on a life of its own.  Within two weeks it had racked up nearly 50,000 page views and was picked up by Long Reads, Long Form, Salon, Architect Magazine, The Awl, Real Clear Politics, Willamette Week and others, also eliciting a torrent of feedback. (I talked to John Dankosky at  Connecticut Public Radio about the story here as well).  The response grew so big that Florida himself finally had to issue a response on his website at the Atlantic, in which he made more dubious claims that I had to address (Still Falling: On Chickens and Eggs, Cause and Effect and the Real Problem with the Creative Class) by drilling down to the core problem with his theory. More recently, I had another short piece out (The Price of Everything) about the value of art and the danger of monetizing it.

To save you some time, here’s the gist:  I once believed in Florida’s theory, but became disillusioned with it. On closer inspection I couldn’t find any compelling evidence that the so-called “Creative Class,” 1) has any measurable economic impact, 2) is migrating in significant numbers in pursuit of amenities, or 3) actually exists in any meaningful way.

The fact that so many people responded so strongly to the story suggests that there are lots of us with doubts about Florida’s theory. Indeed, other critiques have been coming faster than a fleet of fixies down Valencia Street, including those by Enrico Morretti, Thomas Frank, Ian David Moss, Alec MacGillis, and others.

Part of this backlash is because of increasingly obvious problems with Florida’s idea. Because as Joel Kotkin recently put it, “He had one idea and he’s going to stick to it.”  The past decade hasn’t been particularly kind to that idea, but Florida concedes nothing and dismisses critics with a wave of his hand.

Another part, no doubt, is a reaction to the oracular aura Florida has cultivated.  For a decade he has been putting out pronouncements and predictions which sound like they were cribbed some from a pre-dotcom bust message board, but that are delivered with unshakeable conviction. It is an aura that doesn’t leave much room to acknowledge serious problems with Creative Class Theory. Watching as his one idea crumbles from within, it’s hard to not to suspect that, like would-be gurus throughout history, Florida is finding that while you may start out selling an idea, the danger is always that you end up selling yourself.

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