Sunday, September 04, 2005

Florida's Spiky World

In this quarter's new The Atlantic Monthly, Richard Florida [the author of The Flight of the Creative Class and Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University] echoed my critique of Friedman's The World is Flat in his article "The World is Spiky."

In the article, Richard critques Friedman's "flat-world" hypothesis [which claims that globalization has essentially leveled the world's playing field. "'In a flat world,'Friedman writes, 'you can innovate without having to emigrate.'"] by showing through several interesting graphic depictions of the world,

[I]n terms of both sheer economic horse-power and cutting-dge innovation, surprisingly few regions truly matter in today's global economy. What's more, the tallest peaks--the cities and regons that drive the world economy--are growing even higher, while the valleys mostly languish.

He presents four graphs that proxy economic activity to support his argument.

The first is a world map depicting population as hills or spikes becoming increasingly tall and red as population increases. The share of the worlds' population living in urban areas, just three percent in 1800, was nearly 30 percent by 1950. Today it stands at about 50 percent; in advanced countries three out of four people live in urban areas.

His "spiky" map shows the uneven distribution of the world's population.

Five megacities currently have more than 20 million inhabitants each. Twenty-four cities have more than 10 million inhabitants, sixty more than 5 million, and 150 more than 2.5 million.

In terms of actual economic output: New York's economy alone is about the sze of Russa's or Brazil's, and Chicago's is on par with Sweden's. Together New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston have a bigger economy than all of China. If U.S. metropolitan areas were countries, they'd make up forty-seven of the biggest 100 economies in the world.

His second map shows essentially light emissions at night [a widely circulated sort of map but this is presented similarly with red spikes, getting larger with higher energy use. It is a more helpful map in the sense that you get an idea of differences intensity with a relief map.]. This map, like the population map, and similarly incongruous to a 'flat world' argument, shows highly concentrated activity in the U.S., Europe, and somewhat less so in Asia.

He argues that while both population and economic activity are spiky, it is: innovation - the engine of economic growth - that is most concentrated.

His third and fourth maps present a similar 'spiky' depiction of the number of patents produced, and the location of the world's most prolific and influential scientific researchers as measured by number of citations of scientists in leading fields.

So, Florida argues that rather than flat, the world is "spiky". That innovation is the result and cause of concentrations of creative and talented people.

Ideas flow more freely, are honed more sharply, and can be put into practice mroe quickly when large numbers of innovators, implementers, adn financial backers are in constant contact with one another, both in and out of the office. Creative people cluster not simply because they like to be around one another or they prefer cosmopolitan centers with lots of amenities, though both those things count. They and their companies also cluster because of the powerful productivity advantages, economies of scale, adn knowledge spillovers such density brings.

His warning to policy makers is that while continued economic progress depends on the growth of his described peaks, fostering such growth will exacerbate disparities around the world:

fomenting political reactions that could threaten further innovation and economic progress.

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