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Thursday, January 15, 2004

"Creative Class War" by Richard Florida: " Most of all, in the wake of 9/11, Washington has inspired the fury of the world, especially of its educated classes, with its my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy. In effect, for the first time in our history, we're saying to highly mobile and very finicky global talent, 'You don't belong here.'
Obviously, this shift has come about with the changing of the political guard in Washington, from the internationalist Bill Clinton to the aggressively unilateralist George W. Bush. But its roots go much deeper, to a tectonic change in the country's political-economic demographics. As many have noted, America is becoming more geographically polarized, with the culturally more traditionalist, rural, small-town, and exurban 'red' parts of the country increasingly voting Republican, and the culturally more progressive urban and suburban 'blue' areas going ever more Democratic. Less noted is the degree to which these lines demarcate a growing economic divide, with 'blue' patches representing the talent-laden, immigrant-rich creative centers that have largely propelled economic growth, and the 'red' parts representing the economically lagging hinterlands. The migrations that feed creative-center economies are also exacerbating the contrasts. "

"We can't hold scientific meetings here [in the United States] anymore because foreign scientists can't get visas," a top oceanographer at the University of California at San Diego recently told me. The same is true of graduate students, the people who do the legwork of scientific research and are the source of many powerful ideas. The graduate students I have taught at several major universities -- Ohio State, Harvard, MIT, Carnegie Mellon -- have always been among the first to point out the benefits of studying and doing research in the United States. But their impressions have changed dramatically over the past year. They now complain of being hounded by the immigration agencies as potential threats to security, and that America is abandoning its standing as an open society. Many are thinking of leaving for foreign schools, and they tell me that their friends and colleagues back home are no longer interested in coming to the United States for their education but are actively seeking out universities in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere.

You don't have to be a Democrat to recognize that the political polarization of America and GOP dominance of Washington are not necessarily good news for America's economic future. Yet it's clear that Democrats themselves don't quite get it.

All the current Democratic aspirants to the White House have whacked Bush for undermining our alliances and diplomatic capabilities through his unilateralism. A few, including Sen. John Kerry, have criticized the president as "anti-science." But none seems to have understood--or at least articulated--the disastrous economic consequences of these Know-Nothing views. In the post-1990s global economy, America must aggressively compete with other developed countries for the international talent that can spur new industries and new jobs. By thumbing our nose at the world and dismissing the consensus views of the scientific community, we are scaring off that talent and sending it to our competitors.

If there is any candidate who speaks for the creative class right now, it is Howard Dean. His educated, tech-savvy supporters and grass-roots, non-hierarchal campaign structure perfectly represent the creative economy. Yet his economic message has so far focused on luring swing-state unionists--criticizing Bush, for instance, for not extending steel tariffs.

America must not only stop making dumb mistakes, like starting trade wars with Europe and China; it must also put in place new policies that enhance our creative economy. Here, too, neither party quite gets it. Most of the Democratic candidates for president have rightly sounded the alarm about rising college-tuition costs and offered ideas to expand college access. That's well and good, but we need to think far, far bigger. Our research universities are immigrant magnets, the Ellis Islands of the 21st century. And, with the demand among our own citizens for elite education far outstripping the supply, we should embark on a massive university building spree, for which we will be paid back many-fold in future economic growth. Building some of these top-flight universities in struggling red-state regions might give their economies a shot at a better future and help bridge the growing political divide.

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eureka, California, United States
As Popeye once said,"I ams what I am." But then again maybe I'm not