America is, to paraphrase LCD Soundsystem, losing its edge—and not just “to better-looking people, with better ideas, and more talent.” It gets worse. According to celebrity economic-development professor Richard Florida, the U.S. ranks a dismal 11th in the global creative-class stakes, behind powerhouses like Estonia and Finland. Who’s No. 1? Why, Ireland, of course!
Florida is no stranger to making oddball measurements; in his 2002 bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class, he relied heavily on markers like the “gay index” and the “bohemian index” to show how cities like San Francisco had more ingredients for a competitive creative economy than, say, Baton Rouge. If the numbers in Florida’s new book are even slightly right—and if it befuddles you that America appears to be getting trounced by an island whose previous claims to innovation include Guinness, the IRA, and U2—we have every reason to be worried. In the most convincing segment of Flight, Florida outlines how draconian post–9-11 legislation is undermining America’s ability to attract and retain creative-class workers, an umbrella term encompassing everyone from scientists to entrepreneurs to musicians. He highlights the alarming drops in the number of immigrants being granted visas, and in the number of foreign grad students choosing to study in the U.S.
It’s hard to disagree with Florida. His books read the way a skillful politician sounds. He’ll open a statistics-laden passage with a touching story about his dad, or pepper an economic argument with anecdotes culled from regular creative-class folks, like an artist from Spokane or the immigrant from Morocco. He sometimes sounds like a motivational speaker, with lines like “Ideas don’t fall from the sky; they come from peo-
ple.” But peel away Florida’s throat-clearing and new-agey rhetoric, and you’ll find some genuinely disturbing data.