What explains the formation and decay of clusters of creativity?

by on January 2, 2018 at 12:27 pm in Data Source, Economics, Education, History, Science, The Arts | Permalink

Michel Serafinelli and Guido Tabellini have a new paper on that question, here is the abstract:

Creativity is often highly concentrated in time and space, and across different domains. What explains the formation and decay of clusters of creativity? In this paper we match data on thousands of notable individuals born in Europe between the XIth and the XIXth century with historical data on city institutions and population. After documenting several stylized facts, we show that the formation of creative clusters is not preceded by increases in city size. Instead, the emergence of city institutions protecting economic and political freedoms facilitates the attraction and production of creative talent.

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1 The Anti-Gnostic January 2, 2018 at 12:51 pm

IOW, the opposite of what Dick Florida said.

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2 So Much For Subtlety January 2, 2018 at 7:50 pm

I have just tried to find the exact quote where Florida apologized for what he wrote and I learned one very important thing today. Don’t google for the words “dick” “Florida” and “apology”. Words to live by people.

That aside, and I will be living with the consequences for some time, that is not the opposite of what he said. It is precisely what he said.

we show that the formation of creative clusters is not preceded by increases in city size. Instead, the emergence of city institutions protecting economic and political freedoms facilitates the attraction and production of creative talent.

Freedoms that facilitates the attraction and production of creative talent. The dumbed down version of what Florida said is that cities that are nice to Gays do well. It is not about moving more people into the city, it is about being friendly to Gays and hipsters and the like. Which is just what this study says.

What Florida actually apologized for was not for being right but for not foreseeing how the policies he recommended would impact other minorities. Especially racial minorities. In city after city, the authorities have tried to make the city safe for Gay Art Galleries and Hipster coffee shops by driving out the pre-existing racial minorities. Brooklyn is being gentrified. Exactly as Florida recommended. In parts of San Francisco Hispanics are trying to beat back the tidal wave of Yuppie invaders. He can actually see the impact his book had on what are, after all, quite poor communities.

But that is not the same as being wrong.

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3 The Anti-Gnostic January 3, 2018 at 10:52 am

I believe he goes by ‘Richard’ so that one’s on me.

And yes, the more precise formulation is people who appreciate stable, laissez-faire institutions build the place, then the creatives come on board. And, to Florida’s point, this inevitably results in poorer people being priced out.

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4 Bill January 2, 2018 at 12:57 pm

The connection to McCloskey is remarkable.

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5 Bob January 2, 2018 at 1:08 pm

So we have Sam Altman saying that he is freer to say whatever he wants in China than in the Silicon Valley, and yet, Silicon Valley is the US’s major cluster of creativity.

Maybe some degrees of freedom are more important than others.

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6 Mr. Econotarian January 2, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Sam Altman is wrong. You can talk about the Tianamen Massacre in San Francisco, not in China. San Francisco gay pride parade is not going to happen in Beijing. Etc.

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7 James A. Donald January 2, 2018 at 6:20 pm

> San Francisco gay pride parade

That is like pointing at crowds cheering Kim in North Korea as evidence that North Korea has freedom of speech. Gay pride parades are manifestations of fear, intimidation, state violence, and state sponsored violence against dissent.

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8 Zaphod January 2, 2018 at 6:54 pm

@Mr. Econotarian, some article I read compared Sam Altman’s statement to consumers benefiting from variety— If Altman were a Chinese national, he’d be bursting at the seams with things to say about the Chinese Govt…since he’s an American national, he’s bursting at the seams with things to say about issues that aren’t socially permissible in the US. I like this analogy, and it explains why Altman feels “free” to speak during his visits to China when China actually has many more limitations on speech than the US does.

@James A. Donald, What? How? Our current Republican Govt is essentially anti-gay. Gay people have been hurt and cut down by the US Govt for decades! And it continues today. Our VP believes in “pray the gay away.” I understand that there are social limitations on speech about this topic (whether that’s “good” or “bad” isn’t really the point of my post here) but to say that a gay pride parade is a manifestation of state violence is deeply, utterly absurd and misinformed. I can’t help but wonder whether you know anything about the history of US Govt handling of homosexuality and homosexuals?

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9 James A. Donald January 2, 2018 at 8:54 pm

By “anti gay” you mean it is insufficiently enthusiastic in supporting sodomy and punishing heterosexual males for “toxic” masculinity – the bar for being sufficiently hostile to cis het males and “toxic” masculinity having risen every year until the election of Trump,

Do you ever wonder why fewer and fewer males are attending school?

Do you ever wonder why today’s average thirty year old male has testosterone levels that were characteristic of eighty year old males a few decades back?

You sound like Trotsky boasting of Russia’s freedom of speech. He announced that state repression of communism had diminished, implying that communists had been terribly repressed during Lenin’s NEP, but the liquidation of the kulaks had restrained those horrible kulaks from repressing communists.

10 James A. Donald January 2, 2018 at 8:58 pm

Ah yes, “punching down” versus “punching up”. The left always perceive themselves as out of power, so silencing their enemies is “punching up”, while their enemies attempting to speak, is not speech, but violence, the violence, the violence of “punching down”.

When someone gets fined several hundred thousand dollars for disagreeing with the Saint Paul on Marriage, the way a bakery was fined several hundred thousand dollars for disagreeing with gay marriage.

When banks get put out of business for lending to blacks trying to move into white areas, the way they got put out of business for failing to lend money to illegal immigrants with no job, no income, no assets, and no credit rating.

Then you will be punching up.

11 Zzbot January 2, 2018 at 1:34 pm

“So we have Sam Altman saying that he is freer to say whatever he wants in China than in the Silicon Valley, and yet, Silicon Valley is the US’s major cluster of creativity.”

They are both the same. In the Silicon Valley, one can say Trump is a scoundrel. In China, one can say it too (too be fair, one can say it in San Francisco, too).

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12 James A. Donald January 2, 2018 at 8:40 pm

Reading the chinese press, seems obviously more free than the American press.

Hard to say if the same is true of their social media. Obviously people in social media in China are free to say things unsayable in the US, but they cannot mention 六四事件, while in America is is almost mandatory to mention it while discussing China.

But one huge difference, one enormous and important difference, is that in China you can list what is forbidden. In the US we are forbidden to know what we are forbidden to say. That you are allowed to know what is forbidden makes it a whole lot easier to discuss things in a relaxed and comfortable manner. You just avoid those things, whereas in the US everyone is afraid all the time. No one can know what is the latest word that has become a land mine.

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13 P Burgos January 2, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Maybe; but my impression is that the work being done today by artists in China is more vital and innovative than work being done in the West, though I will admit that I am largely ignorant of the art world in general. I also didn’t read the paper, but aren’t economic and political freedoms strongly correlated with wealth in a bi-directional way? So less innovation in someplace like India, China, Indonesia or Malaysia may just be a function of wealth.

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14 Melmoth January 3, 2018 at 10:05 am

Good point on Chinese art. But it appeared in the 80s and 90s, so you can argue it rode on the increased economic and political freedoms relative to the 1970s and earlier.

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15 JWatts January 2, 2018 at 1:56 pm

“So we have Sam Altman saying that he is freer to say whatever he wants in China than in the Silicon Valley”

This seems to be a ridiculously hyperbolic statement. But even if there is a glimmer of truth to it, it ignores the false dichotomy of comparing a country China with an area Silicon Valley. Only a fool and/or ideologue would say that China has more tolerance of free speech than the US.

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16 clockwork_prior January 2, 2018 at 2:08 pm

‘This seems to be a ridiculously hyperbolic statement.’

And yet is actually a fairly reasonable summation of the text, as cited here – ‘Earlier this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me. I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco. I didn’t feel completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more comfortable than at home.

That showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things have changed since I first got started here in 2005.’ http://blog.samaltman.com/e-pur-si-muove

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17 JWatts January 2, 2018 at 2:14 pm

“And yet is actually a fairly reasonable summation of the text, ”

Sometimes you come across as the dumbest poster on this site. I’m not implying that Sam Altman didn’t say it. I’m saying that it’s a ridiculous statement.

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18 clockwork_prior January 2, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Well, now anyone can read the original text, that prompted your comment on what someone wrote which referenced that original text by calling it ‘a ridiculously hyperbolic statement.’

People now have the opportunity to judge your opinion against the original text.

19 TMC January 2, 2018 at 3:38 pm

I think Altman was referring to a private setting rather than a public setting with an official response. Publically, it is a ridiculous statement. Privately, he may be correct. I can imagine a private person or group in Beijing giving a speaker less grief than in San Francisco for thought crime.

20 JWatts January 2, 2018 at 4:25 pm

“I think Altman was referring to a private setting rather than a public setting with an official response”

I would agree if the context were private, it’s a better point.

“More recently, I’ve seen credible people working on ideas like pharmaceuticals for intelligence augmentation, genetic engineering, and radical life extension leave San Francisco because they found the reaction to their work to be so toxic. “If people live a lot longer it will be disastrous for the environment, so people working on this must be really unethical” was a memorable quote I heard this year.”

http://blog.samaltman.com/e-pur-si-muove

However, it still a case of a false dichotomy. It’s unlikely that these people would leave San Francisco for somewhere in China, and far more likely they would relocate to another American city. Furthermore his argument seems based upon cherry picking. You aren’t going to have support for Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, or a Right to bear arms in China.

Now all that being said, Altman does make a very good point that San Francisco is becoming more illiberal and less tolerant of freedom of speech. I just think he undermines his argument when he frames it the way he has.

21 Alt-Altman January 2, 2018 at 5:09 pm

“It’s unlikely that these people would leave San Francisco for somewhere in China”

They are stoically enduring Maoism in America instead of immigrating to the land of the free and home of the brave in China.

22 James A. Donald January 2, 2018 at 9:39 pm

It is perfectly obvious that China is freer than we are, that Chinese are freer than we are.

If you want to argue that we are free in the US, don’t argue gay pride and criticism of Trump. That is like arguing that the cheers for Kim in North Korea are evidence for freedom and democracy in North Korea.

And to the sarcastic response “Well, why are you not fleeing the people’s Republic of California”, our best are fleeing the peoples republic of California. There has been a substantial decline in taxpayers, and the best and brightest are not giving up their American citizenship, but they are spending increasing amounts of time in China, Singapore, Korea, and such places.

California, like East Germany before they put up the wall between East and West Germany, is facing a rapid and critical loss of its best citizens. It is having a major economic impact this year, and will in time have a bigger impact.

23 albatross January 3, 2018 at 11:05 am

Unacceptable speech is more likely to get you shunned and called mean names on Twitter in SF, but it’s a lot less likely to get you sent to prison.

24 James A. Donald January 4, 2018 at 12:59 am

Unacceptable speech is not only going to get you called mean names on twitter.

It is going to get the business of anyone who employs you destroyed as a “hostile environment”, or an unsafe space.

It is going to get you physically attacked by antifa.

It is going to result in people coming after your mother and your children.

25 James A. Donald January 4, 2018 at 1:57 pm

JWatts January 2, 2018 at 4:25 pm
> “It’s unlikely that these people would leave San Francisco for somewhere in China, and far more likely they would relocate to another American city.”

That is certainly true in the great majority of cases. But in my travels I have encountered some cases of very smart people from Silicon Valley bringing their work to East Asia and spending a whole lot of time in East Asia.

Silicon Valley is suffering East German scale loss of smart creative people, massive loss of its best people, (my subjective opinion based on anecdote, I don’t have statistics to support this) but America is not. The vast majority of Silicon Valley refugees relocate to somewhere in America, Canada, or Australia, and usually America.

America, however, is suffering a not entirely trivial loss of very smart, very creative people to East Asia.

26 James A. Donald January 3, 2018 at 3:04 am

It is absolutely obvious that in many important ways China has more and better free speech than the US, and anyone who denies this is ignorant or stupid

In other ways, it arguably has less, so that it hard to produce a metric to compare them and say which one has more free speech.

One can argue that Chinese restraints on speech are more severe, in that you can be shot or sent to jail, whereas in the US you lose your job, and anyone who might hire is likely to get billion dollar lawsuits for a hostile environment if he hires you. It is a plausible argument. But in China, one is not afraid.

If certain topics are forbidden, in China one knows what is forbidden, which is never the case in the US, where people, such as Damore, are always being caught by surprise and getting their lives capriciously and unexpectedly destroyed.

Xkcd argues that the distributed and decentralized terror experienced by Americans does not count as repression against free speech. Chinese who experienced the Cultural Revolution laugh at this argument.

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27 James A. Donald January 2, 2018 at 6:16 pm

Silicon valley _was_ the US major center of creativity.

It has ceased to be creative. Google is now in the business of buying startups and rendering them Sarbannes Oxley compliant.

Which worked for a while, but when Google went full social justice, strangely ceased to work.

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28 msgkings January 3, 2018 at 11:43 am

Alphabet market cap = $750B+
Revenue $90B+ (2016)
Profits $19.5B (2016)

I wish I strangely ceased to work just like that.

The culture is changing, as it always does James. You are being left behind.

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29 James A. Donald January 4, 2018 at 2:18 pm

The culture is changing in ways that have the result that any startup purchased by Google recently turns to crap.

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30 James A. Donald January 4, 2018 at 2:22 pm

There is a direct causal connection between the Cultural Revolution that purged Damore, and the failure of Google to make a go out of its recent startup purchases, for I myself have met and socialized with the refugees from Silicon Valley’s tribalism and political repression, refugees from Google, that would have made a success out of those startups.

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31 dearieme January 2, 2018 at 1:31 pm

” the emergence of city institutions protecting economic and political freedoms facilitates the attraction and production of creative talent.” I’d like to think it’s true. Athens vs Sparta, and all that. But the North American colonies had remarkable freedom both before and after their “Revolution” while producing nobody outstandingly creative until Josiah Willard Gibbs quite late in the 19th century. Oh all right, Mark Twain too. (But spare me all that Founding Fathers baloney.)

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32 Zzbot January 2, 2018 at 1:36 pm

Benjamin Franklin proved one should not fly a kite with metal during a thunderstorm unless one is very lucky.

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33 Roy LC January 2, 2018 at 3:12 pm

Franklin discovered a heck of a lot more than that. He discovered all electricity was the same and was the first to hypothesize the true nature of electric charge and polarity. And that is a very crude summary.

Oliver Evans invented the high pressure steam engine, Henry Shreve made steam navigation on rivers practical throughout the world, especially in maintenance of navigation in high sediment waterways. Interchangable parts, industrial rubber, the working telegraph, etc… were hardly unimportant.

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34 JWatts January 2, 2018 at 4:29 pm

There’s also Samuel Morse, Eli Whitney, Charles Goodyear, Robert Fulton, Samuel Colt, Elias Howe, etc who were all prominent early to mid 19th century creative American minds.

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35 dearieme January 2, 2018 at 6:55 pm

Morse certainly did some nice stuff, but although many Americans believe otherwise, he did not invent the telegraph. Nor did Colt invent the revolver nor Fulton the steam ship.

It seems a pretty poor haul over a couple of centuries for a country with lots of economic and political freedom, and free too from all fear of foreign invasion. As far as I can see the first native-born American to win a Nobel Prize did it after the first Australian and after the first New Zealander. Have you any idea how tiny the population of NZ was?

36 dearieme January 2, 2018 at 6:56 pm

P.S. I’m referring to the three serious Nobel Prizes.

37 msgkings January 3, 2018 at 11:46 am

Scoreboard, dearieme. US crushes the UK on every important metric. Except soccer excellence (barely).

38 ZZbot January 2, 2018 at 5:15 pm

“Franklin discovered a heck of a lot more than that. He discovered all electricity was the same and was the first to hypothesize the true nature of electric charge and polarity. And that is a very crude summary.”

Actually, it was a mouse who did it: https://www.google.com.br/search?num=40&client=tablet-android-samsung&biw=800&bih=500&ei=JQRMWsaAO8fHwATDrqvYBQ&q=ben++ad+me&oq=ben++ad+me&gs_l=mobile-gws-serp.3..0i19k1l5.6024.14784.0.15162.18.15.1.0.0.0.398.3837.0j1j10j3.14.0….0…1.1j4.64.mobile-gws-serp..8.10.2835…0j35i39k1j0i203k1j0i67k1j0i13i70k1j0i13k1j0i13i30k1.445.x8VFknmuJH8#imgrc=hF4uuo-0BZghyM:

What are they teaching children at school these days?

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39 dearieme January 2, 2018 at 6:47 pm

Apparently there’s good reason to suppose he never did it.

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40 clockwork_prior January 2, 2018 at 2:01 pm

Except that Sparta was considered absolutely the opposite of creative by other Greeks – essentially nobody was competing with the Spartans on a cultural level, because in the eyes of other Greeks, Sparta had no culture apart from the martial.

Competition is important, of course – but the Athens/Sparta one did not seem to take place on a level involving creativity.

‘while producing nobody outstandingly creative’

Yeah, who cares about one or two of the greatest political documents in human history, nothing creative in that. Is puling my forelock enough, or do I need to bow, too? Or would merely signalling in Morse code be adequate?

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41 dearieme January 2, 2018 at 6:57 pm

“Except that Sparta was considered absolutely the opposite of creative by other Greeks”: which was my point, you chump.

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42 Matthew Young January 2, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Economic freedom makes frequent transactions allowing commerce to compute curvature to higher precision.

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43 Attila Smith January 2, 2018 at 3:43 pm

This reminds me of Orson Welles-Harry Lime’s notorious speech in the film The Third Man, comparing the creativity of Italy and Switzerland around the end of the 15th century:
“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

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44 JFA January 3, 2018 at 8:10 am

I’d say all of the above discussion misses the mark. The real question is this: Why are they using Roman numerals?!

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