Employment: A Basic Human Right

Question: What is the danger of geographic sorting by \r\neducation? 

Richard Florida: This fellow Bill Bishop \r\nwrote this remarkable book—and Bill’s a dear friend—called “The Big \r\nSword.” Ed Glaeser, the Harvard economist, has been showing the \r\ndivergence in our levels of highly skilled people. I mean, the basic \r\nmotor force of economic development is not big companies, it’s not even \r\nbig technologies. Jane Jacobs first identified this and another great \r\neconomist, a Nobel Prize winner, Robert Lucas, kind of formalized this: \r\nit’s when talented and creative people come together in a community, \r\nthat’s when you get explosive growth. Skill multiplies skill, talent \r\nmultiplies talent. And what Jane Jacobs was saying, which is so \r\namazing... Adam Smith told us about firms and innovation and efficiency \r\nand a pin factory and a division of labor as a firm can make things with\r\n people doing fine grain tasks. And she said, “That’s a great theory of \r\nefficiency and it’s a great theory of making things more cheaply, but it\r\n doesn’t tell you anything about where innovation comes from.” And what \r\nshe said, is what cities do, is they give you new kinds of people, new \r\nkinds of talent, new input. And people in those cities comes together, \r\nand my best example of this is not only the silicon valley with high \r\ntech and people moving around and shifting jobs, changing jobs without \r\neven changing the parking lot, as they say, it’s the music scene. 

You\r\n know, they asked Jack White, the founder of the White Stripes Rock On \r\nTours, one of the greatest musical minds of his generation, “What gave \r\nDetroit a great music scene?” “Oh,” he said, “That’s easy. There’s an \r\namazing talent base there and what these bands are, they’re like little \r\nstart-up companies and the people are always combining and recombining \r\nin different little start-up companies, different little bands, and \r\nsooner or later, one hits. Not all those bands.” So what a city does is \r\nallow that mixing and matching of creativity and skill and inputs and \r\ntechnology and it creates something new. 

I think what’s happened\r\n is that certain cities have galvanized that, New York in media and \r\nentertainment and finance and very broadly, LA in entertainment and \r\nother fields, they’re big and they can do a lot. San Francisco and \r\nSilicon Valley in technology, Nashville in music, we can go on and on \r\ndown the line. Other cities have lost their way and they’ve wanted \r\nsomething to specialize, so what you’ve got out of this is a geography \r\nthat’s terribly economically unequal. I’ve been writing about this for \r\nmore than a decade. Our regions are becoming further apart and within \r\nour regions, even our most innovative, we have levels of inequality, \r\nspecial, geographic inequality, rich and poor neighborhoods, unlike \r\nanything we’ve ever seen. Somebody has to wake up and smell this \r\ncoffee. 

What we’ve been doing is pushing this aside; "No, it’s \r\nnot really there. Oh, the world is flat, we’re all happy, we’re all \r\nparticipating." Baloney. Our world, every economic transformation, every\r\n economic period of crisis, particularly with the rise of new industry, \r\nlike early industrialization, like the rise of a knowledge in technology\r\n and creative economy, carries with it tremendous economic inequality. \r\nIt takes a lot of effort to make that system more stable and here’s what\r\n I think we need to do:

After the first reset we built \r\nmanufacturing industries, we started to build those industries in the \r\nlatter part, or the middle part of the 19th Century. We strengthened \r\nthem up in the later part of the 19th Century. Henry Ford came along and\r\n he gave us the assembly line, and it wasn’t until Roosevelt and the New\r\n Deal and after the war that we actually made manufacturing work good \r\nwork. My dad always told me this story. He said, “Rich, my dad had to \r\nquit school in the seventh grade in Newark, New Jersey, he took up work \r\nat a factory,” and he said, “He, my grandfather, my grandmother, he, and\r\n his six siblings, all had to work to make one good pay, one family \r\nwage.” When he came back from World War II after unionization, the \r\nWagner Act, Social Security, and attempts to really lift productivity, \r\nhis job, a manufacturing job, was a good job. We got to create good jobs\r\n in our country and our society. And obviously we’re going to create \r\ntechnology jobs, those are relatively high paying for engineers and \r\nscientists, we’re going to create media jobs, we’re going to create \r\ncreative jobs. And, you know, about 35 million Americans work in those \r\njobs, we’re expected to create another 6 or 7 million of them over the \r\nnext decade or so. 

But we’re losing manufacturing jobs, we’re \r\nlosing the jobs that my dad had. They’re going away; we’re projected to \r\nlose anywhere from a couple hundred thousand to another million of those\r\n over the next decade, depending on who you believe. 

The other \r\nkind of jobs we’re creating are these lower-wage, lower-skilled jobs in \r\nthe services and people joke. It’s a Costco job, it’s a Best Buy job, \r\nit’s a food preparation job in McDonalds, home health care aide, hair \r\ncutter, who cares? 60 million people work in those jobs and it’s become \r\nsomething that I probably care more about than anything else in the \r\nworld. We’re working on it in Toronto. Our mayor and our council are \r\nbehind it, in Toronto. We got to make those jobs good jobs, we can’t \r\nwrite off 60 million people. We can’t just write them off and say those \r\nare bad jobs. And the things we did to make manufacturing jobs good \r\njobs, we can do in the services. We can organize workers to improve \r\ntheir own efficiency. We can introduce continuous improvements, \r\nsuggestion systems. I mean, it sounds so, lean, they call it "lean \r\nmanufacturing," lean, they’re talking about lean starts, lean services. \r\nCompanies are doing it. And when I look at the list of the best places \r\nto work, I was startled to find it was some high tech companies like \r\nApple and the Sands Institute and all of this, Genentech, but there were\r\n service companies like Best Buy and the Container Store and Whole Foods\r\n and Wegman’s, way up, Four Seasons, way up at the top of that list. 

We’ve\r\n got to make services pay and the only way we’re going to do that is by \r\njust arbitrary lifting wages. We’ve got to improve their productivity \r\nand my best example of this is janitorial work. We typically look at \r\njanitorial work as just horrible work. But we want to make our buildings\r\n greener and more efficient. Well, who knows how to do that? Who’s made \r\nthe factories greener? The people on the line, on the shop floor, by \r\nfiguring out ways to make sure spills don’t happen and working together \r\nto make industrial processes less toxic and less polluting. The janitors\r\n know more about the building and its operation and who left the window \r\nopen and can do small and large scale things when teamed with engineers \r\nthat would make our buildings much more efficient. Why don’t we empower \r\nthem? And you can do this across the board. 

What I find so \r\namazing about services is many of them are very local. And, you know, I \r\nalways say this funny line, but I mean it. Whether it’s the person who \r\ncuts your hair, the person who takes care of your older parent, the \r\nperson who takes care of your kids or your lawn, or the person who gives\r\n you a manicure or a wax, whatever you want to call it: it’s hard to \r\nimagine that being off-shored. For me, I don’t even see how it could be \r\noff-shored. So they are jobs that are very sticky and very local. If \r\nwe’re going to build a modern economy—if we’re going to take care of our\r\n people and overcome inequality—we can talk all we want about other \r\napproaches and bringing manufacturing back up. There’s this guy who \r\npokes fun of me, Matt Crawford, and I like his book on the shop class \r\nand the soul craft, and he says, “You know, Florida is crazy, he \r\nbelieves creative people and knowledge workers, they’re all automatons \r\nstuck in an office and the service, they’re crappy jobs,” and he says, \r\n“People should be like me, like a motorcycle mechanic.” There are 16,000\r\n motorcycle mechanics in the United States. There are 5 million people \r\nwho work in mechanical work, repair, there are 62 million people who \r\nwork in the service industry. 62 million versus 5 million versus 16,000.\r\n And, you know, I only wish everybody’s job could be like Matt \r\nCrawford’s. Matt Crawford not only works with his hands in a motorcycle \r\nplace, not only that, that’s a fabulous job, he’s an entrepreneur, owns \r\nhis business, who has control over his schedule, who can make his time, \r\nand does work he loves. You know, maybe that’s what we should say. \r\nEverybody deserves, whether they’re in service or high tech or creative \r\nor motorcycle repair or auto, everybody should have a job that’s more \r\nlike Matt Crawford’s job than like what... and it doesn’t matter, what I\r\n say in the book, it doesn’t matter what kind of work you do. We \r\nshouldn’t raise those distinctions. Whether it’s service, creative, \r\nagriculture, you should have work that’s meaningful, that pays well, \r\nthat uses your full skills, and I actually think it should be a basic \r\nhuman right. I say this, that the ability to use your skills and engage \r\nin work that’s meaningful instead of having to go out and buy stuff to \r\ngive yourself an identity, that should be a basic, that should be a \r\nbasic human right and I think it’s, you know, where our country, and \r\nother countries, need to head.

Recorded on April 27, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

Whether it’s in service, creative fields, or agriculture, people deserve work that’s meaningful, pays well and uses their skills.

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