||Issue No. 307||19 May 2006|
Open for Business?
Interview: Out of the Bedroom
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Legal: The Fantasy of Choice
Politics: Labor Pains
Economics: Economics and the Public Purpose
Corporate: House of Horrors
History: Clash Of Cultures
International: Childs Play
Culture: Folk You Mate!
Review: Last Holeproof Hero
The Locker Room
Pleased with Beazley
What is Working Class
National Day of Protest
Higher Profile for Labor
What is Working Class
Dear Marcus Strom,
Having read some of your articles in Labor Tribune and Bob Gould's response, I would like to add my two-bobs worth.
It would seem that some intellectuals‚ of the left haven't read anything since Marx and Marcuse. Older ideas of class analysis are all well and good, but over time what constitutes the classes‚ of society might well change.
This issue between Bob and yourself is well exemplified in your analysis of the Greens, where you dismissed them as "middle-class", claiming both that the bulk of the Greens' voters and activists are tertiary educated, and are therefore not working class. Bob regards this analysis as quite unscientific, as do I and many other social commentators.
As Bob notes, viewed in a serious sociological way, the Greens' constituency is working class, mainly from the new social layers of the working class. This view also fits in well with the analysis of Professor Richard Florida, whose book, The Rise of the Creative Class (Pluto Press, North Melbourne, 2003), has taken a new look at some aspects of socio-economic change in contemporary western societies (although the focus is mainly on the USA).
In doing so, he touches on issues relating to class and post-industrial society, largely by reconceptualizing workers in the arts‚ and some other groups as part of what he calls the creative classes, and by suggesting that these creative classes constitute a new and dynamic sector in any economy.
In this, Florida seems to be taking on board ideas that were prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s, about investment in human capital and its important role in economic development. Part of the problem then which largely led to the abandonment of the concept was the difficulty in actually measuring both such investment in human capital and the returns from that investment. More sophisticated tools and more elegant theories mean that such ideas may again have relevance today.
Florida's definition of the creative class is very wide, with him suggesting that if you are a scientist or engineer, an architect or designer, a writer, artist or musician, or if you use your creativity as a key factor in your work in business, education, health care, law or some other professions‚ then you are a member of the creative class‚. Such a broad-ranging definition covers a disparate group of activities, not all of which would necessarily be seen as middle class (some are actually more white-collar working class). Florida further suggests that the creative class‚ has shaped and will continue to shape deep and profound shifts in the way we work, in our values and desires, and in the very fabric of our everyday life.
As Florida summarizes: the Creative Class has the power, talent and numbers to play a big role in reshaping our world. He goes on: As with other classes, the defining basis of this new class is economic.
Some of Florida's discoveries‚ are thought-provoking. Researching the question of how people came to choose where they lived and worked, Florida found that people did not slavishly follow jobs to places; rather their location choices were based to a large degree on their lifestyle interests. He developed various measures (like his "Bohemian Index" a measure of the density of artists, writers and performers in a region) to quantify‚ the location decisions of various high-tech industries and talented people. When he compared some of his indexes with those of other researchers, he found some unexpected correlations (for example, Gary Gates‚ research on the location patterns of gay people yielded high correlations with Florida's). As a result, Florida's conclusion was that, rather than being driven exclusively by companies implementing high-level technological change (leading to increasing productivity), economic growth was occurring in places that were tolerant, diverse, and open to creativity because these were places where creative people of all types wanted to live.
Florida goes on to note that research and development spending by both government and industry an investment in creativity - is the highest-returning investment of any. Since it is, as he sees it, the most important source of economic growth, he suggests that the best route to continued prosperity is by investing in our stock of creativity in all its forms rather than just pumping up R&D spending or improving education, though both are important. It requires increasing investments in the multidimensional and varied forms of creativity arts, music, culture, design and related fields because all are linked and flourish together. It also means investing in related infrastructures and communities that attract creative people and that broadly foment creativity.
Florida is realist enough to note that just triggering creativity in great salvos won't automatically solve our problems. The ends to which creativity is to be directed are of critical importance. According to Florida, the most crucial policy decision is where we choose to invest. In the past, firms as well as governments tended to make large-scale investments in physical capital new machines, factories, canals, roads, airports and other forms of physical infrastructure. These investments paid off in terms of increased efficiency and also generated demand and pervasive multiplier effects. But now, according to Florida, we need to shift both public and private funds away from investments in physical capital towards investment in creative capital.
One should be wary of attempting to apply this research direct to Australia. One major reason is the very different demographies in the two countries, as well as their very different social and labour histories. And while not buying into Florida's main purpose to encourage the Creative Classes to start thinking of themselves as a coherent group, and acting accordingly to influence debate and development - it does seem possible that several lines of his argument are worth talking up, in particular those relating to how the working class‚ is conceptualized in Australia, and how this might affect perceptions of their relevance and perhaps, most importantly, who can claim the political allegiance of the 'creative classes'. Otherwise, all we will get will be a lot of "Strom und drang!".
Garry Wotherspoon, NSW
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online