Central Planning Is Just Ye Olde Aristocracy Protecting Its Interests

Rhode Islanders might remember central planning icon Richard Florida as the guy who inspired former Governor Lincoln Chafee’s failed “three T” strategy of economic development.  As you’ll recall, the fact that one of the Ts was “tolerance” gave our elites an excuse to treat their social preferences as economic development.

Florida’s name is out there again, because he’s followed his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, with the predictable sequel, The New Urban Crisis.  It turns out that using government policy to cater to a narrow, elite class of people drives out other people and (get this) makes those others bitter about the unfairness.  Quick!  Find a federal grant to explore this mysterious dynamic!

The interesting thing about Florida’s recent interview with Timothy Lee on Vox is the continued myopia of the elites.  Lee refers to a theory promulgated by Frederick Jackson Turner that the American frontier gave space for “the economy’s losers” to build new opportunities.  Still intent on centrally planning, Florida responds by musing about how we might fabricate a sort of artificial frontier in particular cities or even within broader urban areas.  Maybe we can call them “economic loser zones.”

Note that the bottom line of all this central planning is to protect his own social group’s values and standing.  Implicit in the idea that a frontier can be a pressure release in which “the economy’s losers” can find opportunity is that those people aren’t “losing” because they can’t do anything, but because they can’t compete with others.  The government-heavy system that progressives have fostered in the United States ensures that the key skill in that competition isn’t creation or innovation, but an ability to game the bureaucracy.

Florida may be right that the frontier allowed “cheap growth,” but the people who benefited the most from that ease were the elites who didn’t have to compete as hard or to address the social consequences of their activities.  Now consider this, from Florida:

Urban clusters consist of two things: cognitive knowledge work and entrepreneurial team building. Manual skills are the least concentrated. Cognitive and knowledge skills are second most concentrated. The thing that concentrates most are managerial mobilization skills, entrepreneurial skills, team-building skills, networking skills. Those things are what concentrate in the big cities.

So I think what’s happened is that as our economy has migrated from a manufacturing economy to a more cognitive, knowledge-based, entrepreneurial economy, those things have migrated much more to bigger cities, superstar cities, and knowledge hubs. And there’s been lock-in effects. And it’s just magnified itself.

In other words, people whose main skills are managerial and networking-related are thriving, and they’re using that skill base to “lock in” their own advantage against anybody who actually builds or creates.  The rise of President Trump, in that light, is partly a result of others’ wanting to upend that system.

I’d go a step farther and suggest that people who are really interested in figuring out how to organize society for the good of all (rather than figuring out how to centrally plan society to be more like what they want, themselves) should join in.  If a democratic, representative government ought to be tasked with anything, it’s ensuring that the system doesn’t favor some at the expense of others.  Folks like Florida should admit that they were wrong not only in some minor miscalculations, but in broad philosophy.

You can’t empower a small group of elites — even if they sincerely strive to include all variety of “stakeholders” — to decide what a city, urban area, state, or country is going to look like in the future.  The error is built into the starting point, and it ultimately leaves only the choice between abandoning the plan or exiling or suppressing those who object.

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