Today’s book: The Rise of the Creative Class, by Richard Florida. Or rather, the book of a couple of months ago; I really need to start blogging right after I finish something.
The book claims that something called the creative class has become hugely important over the last few decades, now outstripping the working class as a proportion of the working population, and threatening the service class, which has also had huge growth. (30% creative, 25% working, 45% service; agricultural is almost zero.) That’s just in terms of the numbers of people working in those fields; in terms of, say, financial impact, the creative class is quite a bit more important.
Which means that the creative class is starting to reshape its environment (working and otherwise); how it does that turns out to be quite interesting. For example, while the creative class isn’t necessarily particularly diverse (e.g. I work in the tech industry, which has quite a large number of white males in it), creative class members prefer to live in ethnically diverse areas, areas with a large number of gay people, etc. Creative class people like to be around an active artistic scene, but generally more at a small-scale level (lots of bands playing in various small locations) instead of a larger-scale level (stadium concerts, big orchestras). They like athleticism, but at a personal level (running, mountain biking, going out and doing something) instead of, say, going to a stadium to watch a big sports team. They don’t have much truck with, say, dress codes at work. They don’t work 9-5 hours (and frequently end up working rather more than 40 hours a week); they change jobs pretty frequently.
Most of which sounds pretty familiar to me, and most of which sounds like a good thing to me. And it gives me hope in the ongoing culture wars: the Christian conservatives scare me, but my side is growing, both numerically and economically. But, as the book also points out, we could be doing better in that regard. Creative class members turn out to be relatively apolitical, and I would be the first to admit that my political zeal has dwindled notably over the last several years. Maybe we’re too busy either working or exercising? Or hanging out at ethnic restaurants or nightclubs?
Speaking of which, I don’t quite understand the zeal for long work hours, either. Admittedly, creative class jobs are likely to be more interesting and more financially rewarding than other sorts of jobs; those would push us towards spending time at work. On the other hand, if we like living in richly textured environments, you’d think that we’d also like to spend as much time as possible out in those environments. I think there’s some sort of weird American dysfunction going on there.
The constant changing jobs seems a bit funny to me, too. People in my experience don’t change jobs as frequently as the book discusses – they talk about people routinely changing jobs more frequently than once a year, which sounds awfully fast to me. (On the other hand, there are a lot of independent consultants out there.) Now, I’m not a big one for company loyalty these days, and I can certainly sympathize with having your top priority being working with interesting people, on interesting projects. But it’s not at all clear to me why changing jobs should be a particularly good way to optimize that. I certainly don’t see why, in general, you would expect your new coworkers to be more interesting than your old ones. And while there’s something seductive about working on new projects, the flip side is that you don’t get to grapple with the challenges of long-lasting optimizations that span multiple projects (or even optimizations that last beyond, say, the launch of a new project).
I saw a lot of Jane Jacobs resonances in the book: the intermingling street life from The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the moral wars of Systems of Survival. I’ll have to think for a while about how (if?) to integrate this with the import replacement theory of The Economy of Cities, though.
One other thing the book has pointed out to me: a lot of the political writing I’m reading these days seems to take as a given (or at least imply) that it’s bad for manufacturing to be separated from design: blue collar people lose jobs, bosses get rich, inequality increases. Now, I’m all for employement and for reducing inequality. But separating manufacturing from design can have real benefits. The first is that it makes it possible for small companies to spring up and bring new products to market. It’s not just an issue of existing large companies shedding workers: it’s an issue of new companies coming into being that couldn’t have existed before. The other is that, just because manufacturing and design are in different companies doesn’t mean that jobs are being shed. In fact, the quality of jobs on both sides could improve: maybe a company that focuses on manufacturing could involve its workers more thoroughly (more creatively) in doing the manufacturing as well as possible than a less focused company that tried to do everything.
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