Richard Florida

In academia you need a new theory to distinguish yourself. Notice the word new not necessarily good. Richard Florida came up with a new theory. It went something like this – that a “creative class” of high tech yuppies – driven by technology, talent, and tolerance -  would drive economic development through the country, making us all the better for it

The argument, not surprisingly, found a receptive audience among high tech yuppies who helped Florida further distinguish himself through their patronage. Florida became a star, a visionary, a man who could see a radiant future where technocratic excellence obliterated all economic and cultural nuance. White flight was coming full circle as the “creative class” would not only disrupt dysfunctional communities but be greeted as liberators for doing so.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. While a new theory it was not a good theory. Florida later admitted “On close inspection, talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits.” So Florida reworked his theory and said his “ideas had evolved.”

But if his latest post at The Atlantic is any indication Florida has gone from abandoning his theory to outright attacking it, with rather compelling evidence.

More than half of U.S. states—26 plus D.C.—saw inequality increase at a rate higher than the national average over this period. Connecticut led the way with a 26 percent increase, followed by Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and New York. With the exception of Ohio, these are all larger states with robust knowledge economies. And all but four states— South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas, and Hawaii—saw inequality rise by ten percent or more

Inequality has risen consistently across all states. The level of inequality in 1979 was closely correlated with the level of inequality in 2012 (.74). In other words, states that started off with high levels of inequality remained highly unequal 30 years later, but inequality did not increase more in these states over time.

Florida then concludes, in complete contradiction of his previous positions, “The most effective strategy for reducing inequality would thus seem to lie in improving educational and economic opportunities and increasing the wages of those at the very bottom of the economic order.”

Increasing wages at the bottom? So not the creative class at all. In fact, the very people Florida’s famous theory neglects.

Photo by Jere Keys under Creative Commons license.