Magazine article The American Conservative

In the Valley of the Geeks

Magazine article The American Conservative

In the Valley of the Geeks

Article excerpt

IF YOU ARE A NONFICTION writer whose name isn't Barack Obama, you probably aren't going to get rich off serious books. Instead, the two likeliest ways to cash in are by speaking at corporate and government gatherings or by penning a self-help book.

Richard Florida, a professor of something called "Business and Creativity" at the University of Toronto, has made a pile on the lecture circuit flogging to death his one big idea--that cities and companies must put "creative" people first--as detailed in his books The Rise of the Creative Class, Cities and the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class. Notice a pattern here?

As a self-promoter, it doesn't hurt that Florida is a handsome, strapping fellow who looks like Hollywood leading man Aaron Eckhart, the smarmy tobacco lobbyist in "Thank You for Smoking," without the dimple. Florida might not be in New Yorker savant Malcolm Gladwell's price range as a convention keynote speaker, but he is said to command a $35,000 fee.

He is now leveraging his brand by expanding into the self-help genre with Who's Your City? How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life. If you can't decide whether to move to Portland or Austin, Florida has the book for you. (As you've no doubt noticed by now, it's hard to write lucidly about Florida's theories because he shares his last name with an important location, which snarls everything up. I will henceforth call him Dr. Vibrant, in honor of one of his favorite words.)

Who's Your City begins, sensibly enough, by debunking the "Death of Distance" theory promoted by New York Times sage Thomas Friedman in The World Is Flat. Where you live can have a huge influence on your career. You can't, say, write sitcoms unless you live in Los Angeles. They just won't hire you. And while you can write opinion journalism without living in New York or Washington, you'd be ill advised to try.

Instead, Dr. Vibrant emphasizes how a critical mass of creative talents sparks itself to new heights. Although that is sometimes true--it can also just result in groupthink--a more cynical explanation for the economic advantage of living near your customers is that human beings tend to be nicer to people they meet frequently.

Dr. Vibrant is less willing to explore the main reason that real estate is so seldom brought up in American public discourse: intellectuals fear that if they mention in public what everybody is concerned about in private when looking for a place to live--the relationship between race, crime, and school quality--they'll wind up out of a job, like legendary biologist James Watson. Dr. V. is so avid for his honorariums that he only gingerly tiptoes to the edge of any topic that might get him Watsoned out of his speaking career. As a result, his book is infected with professionally cautious "advice" like this: "The quality and range of schools is certainly critical for parents of school-age children.... You'll need to dig this information out yourself." Well, that was $26.95 well spent.

When he's not intentionally unhelpful, he's obtuse. For example, in Who's Your City, he reprints a popular map of America he put up on his blog in 2007, showing that the largest surpluses of extra single men are in Southwestern cities, near the Mexican border. Having had a year to think it over, Dr Vibrant asserts, "The best ratio for heterosexual women was in greater Los Angeles, where single men outnumber single women by 40,000."

So if a bachelorette doesn't quite have the looks to land a husband in, say, Cincinnati, she should hightail it to L.A., where there's much less competition from attractive women. Yeah, right.

The obvious reason there are so many more single men than single women in the Southwest is that there are so many illegal alien males there. The kind of single women who buy hardcover advice books probably aren't that interested in a Mixtec-speaking drywaller, but Dr. …

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