A Response to Florida

One of the current memes floating around right now is the so-called "creative class" concept. Coined by author Richard Florida, the "creative class" is a group of idea-creators from art, science, design, etc. that is identified as the primary economic engine as we move further into an information age. Florida's "creative class" could be seen as a more populist version of Wark's "hacker class".

A short sample from a recent Salon.com interview with Florida (italics mine):

Salon: Your first book, "The Rise of the Creative Class," was so optimistic about the potential of what you termed the "creative economy," but this new book is almost alarmist in nature. You argue that the U.S. is facing a potentially crippling economic crisis if it doesn't improve the ways in which it attracts and retains creative workers.

Florida: I've studied competitiveness for 25 years and the current economic threat is by far the gravest competitive threat to ever face the United States. It's far more significant than the challenge posed by Japanese or Asian competition in the '90s because it's aimed at the crux of our advantage, which is our ability to attract the best and brightest talent. Everyone is frightened of letting terrorists into the country when it's actually more likely that they're keeping out the next Einstein. Look at the amount of attention given to Social Security, look at the attention given to building football stadiums — and you can't even get a conversation going about attracting and retaining talent!

This is not the first time I have noted Florida railing against the sportocracy here at sportsBabel. My ideas have finally coalesced somewhat, and I can say that though I understand the point that Florida is trying to make, I have two main problems with his anti-pro-sport argument.

First, I think he perpetuates, from the art side of the debate, an art versus sport binary, which frankly is most damaging to athletes in sport. Both sides share co-operative and competitive qualities, both offer creativity and a sense of being-in-the-moment, both have outcomes that may produce objects of consumption further down the road. Are you telling me that Allen Iverson or Tracy McGrady don't have the creative genius of the great artists, the sense of space, time and body awareness that elevates them from other mere basketball players? Please.

The second is a minor quibble regarding his "maintaining talent" thesis. True, the United States is finding an increasing number of manufacturing jobs move overseas to locales where the labour costs are lower, and has for some time. What is relatively new, however, is the growing number of blue and white collar information jobs that are moving, via the Internet, to Europe and Singapore and developing nations such as China and India. What he fails to note from a sports perspective, though, is that these departures have created a vacuum in American production, which exerts a tremendous pull towards the only manufacturing sector that cannot be outsourced — the cultural production of American spectacle. In the professional sports world, the United States is a net importer of labour. This warrants mention.


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