Cupcakes and Infrastructure

Cupcakes are still on my mind, even after my adventures last Fall with the Rise of the Cupcake Class here in Pittsburgh.  The cupcake backlash leaves me wondering whether copyright talk about human capital and collaborative creativity doesn’t sell the social welfare mavens short.  Maybe “Show me the money” actually should mean something to 21st century IP progressives.  More below the fold.

The gist of the narrative so far is this:  Upscale cupcakes arrived in Pittsburgh late last Fall.  Cupcake foodies were thrilled.  In response, I wrote a parody — or what I thought reasonably could be perceived as a parody — of Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class thesis and posted it on one of my local blogs.  The “thesis” of my post was:  If you bake it, they will come.  The people who have $3 to blow on a fancy cupcake are the kind of “creatives” that any city looking to restore itself economically should want to attract.  So, if Pittsburgh is able to sustain not one but two new cupcake shops, that’s a barometer of impending economic health. 

To be clear, I’m not serious.  When it comes to Richard Florida’s work, I’m a skeptic (I’m a skeptic about the causal inferences he draws, and I’m a skeptic that he’s identified anything that hasn’t been floating around the literature for decades.)  And, well, not everyone got the joke. 

That led me to step back and explain:  No, really, cupcakes don’t tell you much about economic development and certainly can’t predict or deliver it.  Economic development shouldn’t focus on cupcake eaters; economic development should focus on structures that bring money — and jobs — into the region.  Goods and services out; money in.  Then, if people want to buy cupcakes, fine.  Buttercream frosting is mighty tasty!

None of this suggests to me that cupcake development is a bad thing, especially assuming that it is funded privately.  But cupcake development is only a small part of the story, and my rejection of the human capital narrative in the cupcake context suggests to me that I need to be more attentive to non-human-capital narratives in the creativity context.  Susan Crawford put up a terrific post the other day about the virtues of human capital perspectives in innovation analysis.  In information policy debates of all kinds, that kind of thinking needs to be paired with (for example) this kind of thinking (and more here)– strategic development initiatives that are designed, explicitly, to bring money to the table, and then circulate it.  That’s a species of the Brett Frischmann’s infrastructure argument, in my view.  The challenge for information policy scholars is to link the human capital point and the infrastructure point in a persuasive way.

One thought on “Cupcakes and Infrastructure

  1. Two of my favorite things … FWIW, I agree with you that there is plenty of interesting work to be done in figuring out how to bring these different types of capital resources together in a productive way.

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