Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

The Flight of the Creative Class, Con't.
Alex Steffen, 14 Jan 04

Back in October we wrote about the Flight of the Creative Class, the possibility that repressive policies and xenophobia may trigger an outmigration of talent from the US, doing severe economic damage.

Now Rise of the Creative Class author Richard Florida is back, making the same argument with much greater depth and sophistication. Required reading:

"Last March, I had the opportunity to meet Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, at his film complex in lush, green, otherworldly-looking Wellington, New Zealand. Jackson has done something unlikely in Wellington, an exciting, cosmopolitan city of 900,000, but not one previously considered a world cultural capital. He has built a permanent facility there, perhaps the world's most sophisticated filmmaking complex. He did it in New Zealand concertedly and by design. Jackson, a Wellington native, realized what many American cities discovered during the '90s: Paradigm-busting creative industries could single-handedly change the ways cities flourish and drive dynamic, widespread economic change. It took Jackson and his partners a while to raise the resources, but they purchased an abandoned paint factory that, in a singular example of adaptive reuse, emerged as the studio responsible for the most breathtaking trilogy of films ever made. He realized, he told me, that with the allure of the Rings trilogy, he could attract a diversely creative array of talent from all over the world to New Zealand; the best cinematographers, costume designers, sound technicians, computer graphic artists, model builders, editors, and animators.

"When I visited, I met dozens of Americans from places like Berkeley and MIT working alongside talented filmmakers from Europe and Asia, the Americans asserting that they were ready to relinquish their citizenship. Many had begun the process of establishing residency in New Zealand.

"Think about this. In the industry most symbolic of America's international economic and cultural might, film, the greatest single project in recent cinematic history was internationally funded and crafted by the best filmmakers from around the world, but not in Hollywood. When Hollywood produces movies of this magnitude, it creates jobs for directors, actors, and key grips in California. Because of the astounding level of technical innovation which a project of this size requires, in such areas as computer graphics, sound design, and animation, it can also germinate whole new companies and even new industries nationwide, just as George Lucas's Star Wars films fed the development of everything from video games to product tie-in marketing. But the lion's share of benefits from The Lord of the Rings is likely to accrue not to the United States but to New Zealand. Next, with a rather devastating symbolism, Jackson will remake King Kong in Wellington, with a budget running upwards of $150 million. ...

"As other nations become more attractive to mobile immigrant talent, America is becoming less so. A recent study by the National Science Board found that the U.S. government issued 74,000 visas for immigrants to work in science and technology in 2002, down from 166,000 in 2001--an astonishing drop of 55 percent. This is matched by similar, though smaller-scale, declines in other categories of talented immigrants, from finance experts to entertainers. Part of this contraction is derived from what we hope are short-term security concerns--as federal agencies have restricted visas from certain countries after September 11. More disturbingly, we find indications that fewer educated foreigners are choosing to come to the United States. For instance, most of the decline in science and technology immigrants in the National Science Board study was due to a drop in applications.

"Why would talented foreigners avoid us? ... Obviously, this shift has come about with the changing of the political guard in Washington, from the internationalist Bill Clinton to the aggressively unilateralist George W. Bush. But its roots go much deeper, to a tectonic change in the country's political-economic demographics. As many have noted, America is becoming more geographically polarized, with the culturally more traditionalist, rural, small-town, and exurban "red" parts of the country increasingly voting Republican, and the culturally more progressive urban and suburban "blue" areas going ever more Democratic."

Why is this important to worldchangers? The kinds of problems we face as a planet are the kinds of problems only innovation, collaboration and creativity can solve. That there is a growing global culture of people working together to solve those problems, and coming up with some dandy models, tools and ideas in the process, is pretty much axiomatic here.

The dynamic Florida describes is bad news for the American economy, sure, but it's worse than that - it's the prime indictment of the current US Administration and its works. Open corruption is bad. Killing thousands in Iraq is bad. Running up the largest deficits in history through taxbreaks for billionaires is bad.

But worse than all of these is damage these ignorant (and proud of it!) men done to international understanding, law, governance and cooperation, to science, to environmental protection and climate change mitigation, to sustainable development programs, to public health, to the whole growing culture of collaboration upon which so much depends. That's not just bad, it's criminal.

Bookmark and Share


Wow, first I was amazed to find a non partisan , non religious space where I could find the more interesting infoormation available to transit to a more sustainable and human future... Now I think I was to premature to cheer...

I see sadly that the blog as become a branch of the Democratic Party... for the record, I am not for Bush. I am not even American, I am Mexican, and if could ne American I would vote for Dean, but is sad to me to find that to change the world, we need to be partisan.

I think reality is more complex than what Mr. Steffen describes. Time magazine for instance reports on its European cover story how the EU is losing muuch of its best brains to... the US.

Many many Asians are going to Silicon Valley, and seeing it more broadly, as a region, many brilliant people left Hong Kong for Canada, and many brilliant Argentinians are now in Mexico.

You may be against Bush, and thatŽs a valuable choice, but dont distort reality with political preferences...

I hope ur amazing blog may be again - as when I discovered it - beyond political parties and religions.


Alfredo Narváez
Mexico City

Question 1: why there is not a woman on ur team? there isnt any worldchanging valuable?
Question 2: gender/human rights changing paradigms arent on ur worldchanging scope?

Posted by: Alfredo Narváez on 14 Jan 04

Mr. Narváez, you may have misunderstood the author's intention in this post. I don't see anything that I would consider advocacy of the Democratic party. Are you perhaps thinking that criticism of the Bush administration equates to Democratic partisanship?

Knowing what little I do of Richard Florida, I would not say that he's necessarily a Democratic partisan either. I would say that he favors a more politically and culturally progressive view, and progressive ideals are currently more likely to be found in the Democratic Party than in the "aggressively unilateralist" Republican Party (it hasn't always been that way). In the article he's taking voting data and concluding that rural Red states lean more towards traditionalism while Blue states lean more toward progressivism. More to it than that, obviously, but that's the broad stroke.

I agree with you other point: the movement of knowledge workers is more about regions than simply nations, and there are many other factors involved as well. I think it is a real phenomenon, though, and we need to better understand how it works.

Posted by: Dr. Maturin on 14 Jan 04

Alfredo, I'm afraid you didn't look very closely at the masthead. Dawn Danby is quite clearly a woman. JC Herz is, too, although her bio isn't linked yet. As for gender/human rights issues, we do talk about those, and you'll find numerous examples if you look through the archives.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 14 Jan 04

I know of one family that has emigrated to NZ at least in part because of the Bush administration's policies and politics. I know a number of people who are beginning to discuss emigration for just those reasons.

Posted by: gmoke on 14 Jan 04

As an American, I left the United States for very similar reasons. I'm also a Third Culture Kid, which may also have be a part of it.

Posted by: Taran on 14 Jan 04

This is very interesting. I've considered moving out of the country if dubya is re-elected in 2004, not so much because i dislike his cabal, but because each and every change that they make seems to be a proclamation that 'my kind' aren't welcome.

My kind isn't white, southern, and poor, though I am all of those things. My kind is young, aggresive, idealistic, unrepentant, science/technology driven, and most of all, American.

Not the veneer of McAmericanism that most (read as all) politicians drape over their personal agendas during election year.

Here's one small prayer for a new framework and system that will encourage a new breed of politicians and a new america.

Posted by: Robert Eubanks on 15 Jan 04

Great comments. I plan to stay and fight it out, but I can certainly understand the feeling of being made, in Villard's phrase "a stranger in my own land."

Adam Greenfield has something to say on the positive side of the creative class concept:

Alfredo: take a look through the archives, and you'll find quite a bit on various human rights and equality issues.

As for the partisan charge, partisan politics is not really our gig here, but the current administration is sooo bad on so many of the issues we find important, that it's pretty hard to have any discussion at all of current affairs and not sound at least somewhat partisan.

In other words, I'm not so much sold on the Democrats as convinced a trained chimp could do a better job as president than the current office holder, especially when it comes to building international cooperation.

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 15 Jan 04

Here too is an interesting critique of Florida's ideas,

and Florida's defense

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 15 Jan 04

In a way the level of bafflement over why talented immigrants don't want to come to the US is quite bemusing in itself. It's almost as if those who believe the myth that the US is the bestest and nicest place in the whole world still haven't figured out that maybe not everyone on the planet thinks so? Dubya or no Dubya.

Posted by: Zaid on 18 Jan 04



MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg