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Richard Florida

Richard Florida is author of the global best-seller "The Rise of the Creative Class." His latest books are the "The Great Reset," and "The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited,"[…]

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

Question: What is the danger of geographic sorting by rneducation? 

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

Yourn know, they asked Jack White, the founder of the White Stripes Rock On rnTours, one of the greatest musical minds of his generation, “What gave rnDetroit a great music scene?” “Oh,” he said, “That’s easy. There’s an rnamazing talent base there and what these bands are, they’re like little rnstart-up companies and the people are always combining and recombining rnin different little start-up companies, different little bands, and rnsooner or later, one hits. Not all those bands.” So what a city does is rnallow that mixing and matching of creativity and skill and inputs and rntechnology and it creates something new. 

I think what’s happenedrn is that certain cities have galvanized that, New York in media and rnentertainment and finance and very broadly, LA in entertainment and rnother fields, they’re big and they can do a lot. San Francisco and rnSilicon Valley in technology, Nashville in music, we can go on and on rndown the line. Other cities have lost their way and they’ve wanted rnsomething to specialize, so what you’ve got out of this is a geography rnthat’s terribly economically unequal. I’ve been writing about this for rnmore than a decade. Our regions are becoming further apart and within rnour regions, even our most innovative, we have levels of inequality, rnspecial, geographic inequality, rich and poor neighborhoods, unlike rnanything we’ve ever seen. Somebody has to wake up and smell this rncoffee. 

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

After the first reset we built rnmanufacturing industries, we started to build those industries in the rnlatter part, or the middle part of the 19th Century. We strengthened rnthem up in the later part of the 19th Century. Henry Ford came along andrn he gave us the assembly line, and it wasn’t until Roosevelt and the Newrn Deal and after the war that we actually made manufacturing work good rnwork. My dad always told me this story. He said, “Rich, my dad had to rnquit school in the seventh grade in Newark, New Jersey, he took up work rnat a factory,” and he said, “He, my grandfather, my grandmother, he, andrn his six siblings, all had to work to make one good pay, one family rnwage.” When he came back from World War II after unionization, the rnWagner Act, Social Security, and attempts to really lift productivity, rnhis job, a manufacturing job, was a good job. We got to create good jobsrn in our country and our society. And obviously we’re going to create rntechnology jobs, those are relatively high paying for engineers and rnscientists, we’re going to create media jobs, we’re going to create rncreative jobs. And, you know, about 35 million Americans work in those rnjobs, we’re expected to create another 6 or 7 million of them over the rnnext decade or so. 

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

The other rnkind of jobs we’re creating are these lower-wage, lower-skilled jobs in rnthe services and people joke. It’s a Costco job, it’s a Best Buy job, rnit’s a food preparation job in McDonalds, home health care aide, hair rncutter, who cares? 60 million people work in those jobs and it’s become rnsomething that I probably care more about than anything else in the rnworld. We’re working on it in Toronto. Our mayor and our council are rnbehind it, in Toronto. We got to make those jobs good jobs, we can’t rnwrite off 60 million people. We can’t just write them off and say those rnare bad jobs. And the things we did to make manufacturing jobs good rnjobs, we can do in the services. We can organize workers to improve rntheir own efficiency. We can introduce continuous improvements, rnsuggestion systems. I mean, it sounds so, lean, they call it "lean rnmanufacturing," lean, they’re talking about lean starts, lean services. rnCompanies are doing it. And when I look at the list of the best places rnto work, I was startled to find it was some high tech companies like rnApple and the Sands Institute and all of this, Genentech, but there werern service companies like Best Buy and the Container Store and Whole Foodsrn and Wegman’s, way up, Four Seasons, way up at the top of that list. 

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

What I find so rnamazing about services is many of them are very local. And, you know, I rnalways say this funny line, but I mean it. Whether it’s the person who rncuts your hair, the person who takes care of your older parent, the rnperson who takes care of your kids or your lawn, or the person who givesrn you a manicure or a wax, whatever you want to call it: it’s hard to rnimagine that being off-shored. For me, I don’t even see how it could be rnoff-shored. So they are jobs that are very sticky and very local. If rnwe’re going to build a modern economy—if we’re going to take care of ourrn people and overcome inequality—we can talk all we want about other rnapproaches and bringing manufacturing back up. There’s this guy who rnpokes fun of me, Matt Crawford, and I like his book on the shop class rnand the soul craft, and he says, “You know, Florida is crazy, he rnbelieves creative people and knowledge workers, they’re all automatons rnstuck in an office and the service, they’re crappy jobs,” and he says, rn“People should be like me, like a motorcycle mechanic.” There are 16,000rn motorcycle mechanics in the United States. There are 5 million people rnwho work in mechanical work, repair, there are 62 million people who rnwork in the service industry. 62 million versus 5 million versus 16,000.rn And, you know, I only wish everybody’s job could be like Matt rnCrawford’s. Matt Crawford not only works with his hands in a motorcycle rnplace, not only that, that’s a fabulous job, he’s an entrepreneur, owns rnhis business, who has control over his schedule, who can make his time, rnand does work he loves. You know, maybe that’s what we should say. rnEverybody deserves, whether they’re in service or high tech or creative rnor motorcycle repair or auto, everybody should have a job that’s more rnlike Matt Crawford’s job than like what... and it doesn’t matter, what Irn say in the book, it doesn’t matter what kind of work you do. We rnshouldn’t raise those distinctions. Whether it’s service, creative, rnagriculture, you should have work that’s meaningful, that pays well, rnthat uses your full skills, and I actually think it should be a basic rnhuman right. I say this, that the ability to use your skills and engage rnin work that’s meaningful instead of having to go out and buy stuff to rngive yourself an identity, that should be a basic, that should be a rnbasic human right and I think it’s, you know, where our country, and rnother countries, need to head.

Recorded on April 27, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman