Thursday, January 15, 2004

Academic idiocy

As I read through this idiot piece in WaPo, I was not sure if I was reading a dumb Op-Ed or clueless journalism. It turns out I was reading a piece by some academic. Enough said.

I'm not sure where to begin. Florida (yes, that's his name) says that the US was filled with wonderful creative people producing marvels in an orgy of productivity under Clinton, but then Bush came and they all lost their jobs, and even the non-glamorous jobs (like computer person) are going to India, and the cool film jobs (like Key Grip) are being taken to New Zealand by Lord of the Rings. So while cities like Austin are creating marvels, idiots in Red States like Texas, with their backward traditional ways, are ruining the economy. Yadda yadda yadda -- it gibbers on.

My memories of the 90s were a little different from Florida's. I remember lots of creative young people taking investors money and spending it on wonderful parties and dubious websites. All kinds of people took all kinds of jobs that probably should never have existing in the first place, which is why we now refer to it as a bubble. That bubble popped, we've worked through some of the overhang, and maybe the US will get back to trend growth in 2004. Employment is certainly back at trend levels, but then it never did dip much below trend.

(Yes yes yes, I know that the US's recent high employment rate is generated in part by lots of people dropping out of the labor force. I do not think this is a problem because 1) the US still has extremely high labor force participation and 2) I'm not actually a GDP zealot -- if people want to not work that's fine by me, so long as it's on their own nickel. Productivity from home, or utility from leisure activity, counts in my estimation, even if it never shows up on any books).

And while it is fashionable to lament the draconian visa tightening measures the US has in place, the truth is that things weren't all that great to begin with. Will this mean other countries will catch up? I hope they do. Whatever Florida thinks, economic activity is not a zero sum game, and just as Japan's success in the 80s did not come at America's expense (Detroit suffered, but the rest of us had cars that worked on both cloudy and clear days), other countries success can only benefit us now. If foreigners become better at inventing new things, that's wonderful, and Americans would probably be quite interested in buying many of them.

If you had to rank the manifestations of human competitiveness in order of desirability, striving to make better medicines, movies, and music would come at the very top of the list and flying planes into buildings would come at the bottom. The more the world picks the top over the bottom, the better we will all be. Instead of bemoaning the rest of the world developing, Florida should be pleased. Perhaps what's really bothering him is that his political party is not occupying the White House. The Rise of Wellywood just isn't bad news.


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