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The End of the Creative Class?

As an IP guy, one of my long-time interests is the intersection between IP rights and the social and cultural institutions that IP rights enable (and at times, disable).

What should we make of this essay, in Salon?

Its argument is essentially this:  The so-called “Creative Class,” the tier of knowledge workers who were going to drive the American economy forward through the 21st century, has been decimated by the combination of the recession/depression of the last three years … and the Internet.  And just about no one has noticed.

For many computer programmers, corporate executives who oversee social media, and some others who fit the definition of the “creative class” — a term that dates back to the mid-’90s but was given currency early last decade by urbanist/historian Richard Florida — things are good. The creativity of video games is subsidized by government research grants; high tech is booming. This creative class was supposed to be the new engine of the United States economy, post-industrial age, and as the educated, laptop-wielding cohort grew, the U.S. was going to grow with it.

But for those who deal with ideas, culture and creativity at street level — the working- or middle-classes within the creative class — things are less cheery. Book editors, journalists, video store clerks, musicians, novelists without tenure — they’re among the many groups struggling through the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset. The creative class is melting, and the story is largely untold.

A geographer friend of mine picked up this theme and ran with it here, arguing in effect that the U.S. may be Greece to China’s Germany, or at least that places such as Pittsburgh, which has been relatively untouched by the recession, may be Germany to California’s Greece.  (The idea that California is an unmanageable economic train wreck seems to be generally accepted, even if small pockets of the state and a handful of industries and companies are hanging in there.)

It is difficult to come by specific IP law or policy arguments out of any of this, even if it is completely right, which it may not be.  It does make me pause, however, and consider what role arguments about re-mix and the like play in larger scale questions of economic growth, and economic justice.

Just for fun, consider this video essay on the origins of creativity:

3 thoughts on “The End of the Creative Class?”

  1. Mike,

    I actually think my Minecraft paper responds to the Salon article! 🙂

    Personally, since I think the creative class was always considerably larger than the set of folks who were pulped, grinded, and shipped in that video, I think the creative class is actually getting more creative. The economics of creativity is certainly shifting, though, and the quote from Lanier is right — the new middlemen (Google/Facebook) are taking a big bite out of the old middlemen (newspapers/broadcasters). But that’s the Schumpterian story of technology, not a story about a cultural doomsday. Yes, it is sad when people trained to edit books and newspapers lose their jobs — but if the society helps them through this transition and lets them learn a new trade, there’s more than enough work that need to be done.

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