Thursday, March 12, 2009

Geographic Mobility Education

I'm beholden to Richard Florida's research on two counts. First, understanding Spiky World geography is a powerful perspective simply from the standpoint of moving to a place with a substantially higher cost of living than your current location. The migrant is still making a rationale choice and that's critical for appreciating the value of density. Second, Florida is a vocal proponent of geographic mobility. Hence, his call for a new American Dream:

This creeping rigidity in the labor market handcuffs our competitiveness. Economist Andrew Oswald has found that in the U.S. and Europe, places with higher homeownership rates also suffered from higher unemployment. During down times, homeownership can lock people into blighted locations and force them into work, if they can find it, that’s a poor match for their abilities.

Policies that help to create captive labor markets are bad for the national (and global) economy. Trying to keep young adult talent from leaving a region is similarly misguided. So is the current design of the H-1B visa program. We should be promoting geographic mobility instead of trying to stifle it.

Enter the World Bank with a groundbreaking report advocating for increased migration:

The new [World Development Report] challenges the assumption that economic activities must be spread geographically to benefit the world’s most poor and vulnerable. Trying to spread out economic activity can hinder growth and does little to fight poverty. For rapid, shared growth, governments must promote economic integration which, at its core, is about the mobility of people, products, and ideas.

Trying to plug the brain drain is harmful to both individuals and, eventually, the entire community. We should be helping our children, if we really want them to prosper, to become more geographically mobile. The real policy challenge is figuring out how to generate a local return on out-migration. Few politicians seem to grasp this, instead opting for anachronistic workforce development that feeds local enterprise with undervalued talent. The lack of vision is disappointing.


Mark Arsenal said...

Hogwash. Mobility (aside perhaps from pastoral nomadism a la Central Asia/Northern Africa) is an artifact of cheap oil. Historically humans are rooted in their local community and tied to the land they depend on for survival.

Rootless young professionals are what have decimated our civil society and destroyed any potential for creating local integrated communities that people can depend on, and which we need all the more as we revert to a medieval socio-economic model. Florida and his dog and pony show exacerbated this. He should be incarcerated for it.

Jim Russell said...

The "rootless" as a threat to community is an old story and migration predates cheap oil. Are you familiar with persecution of the Roma or Jews? There has long been a tension between the rooted and the rootless. It is an archetype and central to any tradition of storytelling.

Mark Arsenal said...

Yes, but the Roma and Jews (and most nomadic herders as well) took their communities with them when they migrated. Alcoholic metrosexuals go it alone.

There is a reason that glossy new condo developments are wastelands compared to old Italian or German ghettos in turn-of-the-century NYC. It's because young professionals care more about 30-dollar martinis and where the next dose of meth is coming from than putting together a neighborhood watch or starting an emergency-response training group.

Florida is like a pied piper for young people who hate where they're from and need an excuse to live fast and die young.

Jim Russell said...

Reminds me of fin de siècle Paris. I'm sure we could find other similar epochs in every century back to Greek Civilization. Hence ...

Greek kosmos world + politēs citizen

Cosmopolitan. Or, if you like, Epicurean.

Mark Arsenal said...

Hmmm... These are scary times. Not sure I understand why you want me to leave my community and family and secure job I've had for 7 years. I'd rather enjoy my local coffeehouse, CSA and neighborhood parks and familiar friends, and money in the bank (or under the matress).

Why is sacrificing all of this to your ideology so important to you? Why would taking these sort of risks make me any more 'cosmopolitan'? What if it made me homeless instead? What about all the chemical catastrophes I run into that left their hometwons only to come to the big city and throw their lives away? Do you think they're better for it?

I can only assume you own rental or investment property so you profit from the transient? Or maybe you just sell books to them like Florida?

Jim Russell said...

These are scary times. Not sure I understand why you want me to leave my community and family and secure job I've had for 7 years. I'd rather enjoy my local coffeehouse, CSA and neighborhood parks and familiar friends, and money in the bank (or under the matress).

You make a good point about the flip side of geographic mobility. Great blog fodder for tomorrow. Much obliged.

illyrias said...

Those are some fighting words, Mark. Did Jim Russell ever encourage you to jump ship? As I see it, he's hoping people move to where they're happy, can get jobs and overall want to be. Some people don't want to live in the same town as their parents and grandparents, etc, for their entire lives. Some people can't afford to. And in the days of the "world wide web", moving does not have to mean losing connection with your family and friends.

Overall, you seem quite content to be where you are, so please stay. But don't stop other people from finding what makes them happy. A few anecdotal examples of unsuccessful transients does not make a proof.

Let me guess: The record number of Americans who state they have "no religion" are also "decimating our civil society"? And wouldn't life be simpler if women just stayed home and raised the kids? Thankfully, there is no going back.

Mark Arsenal said...

Hey - I always have fighting words for Richard Florida. That's coz all I ever hear from him is "make your city a Gay Mecca, build more bars and bistros", and being a long-time San Franciscan (and card-carrying homosexual), I have seen the damage this mentality does to a city.

How can anyone learn to love their home (or even their adopted) town if they're busy constantly trying to get inebriated and never spending long enough anywhere to care about their neighbors? How can you be a true advocate for your city when you don't consider yourself as having any 'roots' because you're obsessed with mobility?

And ultimately, how can you be 'creative' when you're wasting all your time and money moving from one rental in one city to another rental in another city - being a young professional does not a lifetime of achievement make. At best it's a short fleeting decade. That's why so many of these people are waste cases by middle age - Richard Florida and his ilk are decimating my entire generation.

Richard Florida wants us all to be migratory tenant alcoholics and I want none of that. I want to love my city and be involved in my community. The Creative Class just wants to leech off the social trust built-up from several generations of civic community without contributing anything to it; I know - I work with hundreds of them every day and see the rest at my AA meetings.