Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Feb 22nd 2009 at 9:42am UTC

If I Were a Betting Man

Arnold Kling challenges me to a $50 dollar bet.

For me, this is more of an emotional bet than an economic one. Florida and I both share the premise that Wall Street will not come back. Florida’s economic case is that the New York economy may actually be less dependent on financial services than Columbus, Ohio or Hartford, Connecticut…

I hate the Mets. I find the heavy-handed sensory overload of New York tiring and ultimately unpleasant, in the same way that I find Las Vegas or Disney World unpleasant. Although I can actually enjoy New York in short stretches, and I cannot say the same for Vegas or Disney…

I don’t think that the arts are all that important. To me, creative innovation that matters is somebody in a lab at MIT coming up with a more efficient battery or solar cell. It is somebody at Stanford coming up with a way to make computers smarter or cancer more preventable. I just can’t get excited about some frou-frou fashion designers and the magazines that feature their creations.

Ryan Avent responds:

Kling seems to want us to live in some bleak, technophilic dystopia, where we work to enable ourselves to work. But that would be a poor society indeed. Cultural goods aren’t just a nice by-product of a modern economy. They’re the very justification for it.

I’m not a betting man. But because I think very highly of Kling… and, well, because I’m pretty confident on this one – I’ll take it.

A quick disclaimer: As a boy growing up in New Jersey I was a huge fan of the 1960s Mets – Tom Seaver, Jerry Koozman, Nolan Ryan, Tug McGraw, Tommy Agee, Cleon Jones, Ron Swoboda – I can name more players from that team than the current one. I was also a huge fan of the NY Jets – Namath, Snell, Boozer, and company…

My point is that New York is a diverse open economy with a fast metabolism which will keep it attracting people and generating new businesses, industries, and modes of consumption – that will likely range from management and technology to arts, culture, entertainment, and media, and, yes, even finance – and in many cases capitalizing on the intersection and convergence of these. Can you say Bloomberg?

And while we’re at it: D.C.’s success (which I’d also bet on) is based not just on the fact that it’s a government town with highly educated people and a growing tech sector, it’s in effect become a suburb of New York, as the whole Bos-Wash corridor has become a more integrated economic unit – which can be seen most visibly in the relocation of major chunks of broadcast and print media – due to greater D.C.’s proximity, affordability, and quality of life.

I’ll also take San Francisco (from Napa to the Silicon Valley), Seattle, all of Cascadia, Chicago (which has roiled up many of the management functions of the old Midwest), and my very own Toronto – which to my mind may well have the biggest upside of any city in North America. I could go on…

So, how do you wager?

17 Responses to “If I Were a Betting Man”

  1. Paul Hofheinz Says:

    I’ll take Brussels — or Brusterdam, as I think you call it. On quality of life, you can’t be it. And we’re already one of the few cities in Europe where young people still turn up straight out of college, looking for work — and they find it here. Unemployment is rampant among the young in Europe — even now. Kids don’t go to Paris or Berlin anymore in search of work — they know that it isn’t there for people their age. They go to London or Brussels, instead. And that churn of young people, many of them straight out of college, kipping up and joining the working world, is what gives this city its buzz. It brings a sense of optimism to the place which is missing in many of Europe’s larger cities — particularly among the young. It’s a rich source of human capital for the future as well.

  2. Ashley Says:

    I’ll take Los Angeles-Orange County-San Diego or even San-San. The coast and all places on it will always attract people of all industries to live with the great weather and things to do. There’s always going to need to be a gathering place for Hollywood, lots of great colleges and creative people all over and beautiful nature and buildings in every way.

  3. martin kenney Says:


    I will bet you that five years from now NYC (CT to Northern NJ) will in terms of Gross product adjusted for inflation have dropped more than SF Bay Area. Moreover, NYC recovery will be slower.

    As the rank theft that characterized NYC financial industry gets cleaned out, the City itself will take an incredible shot AND that will dramatically downsize the Madison Ave and culture and arts industries.

    In terms of S&T, NYC is quite weak. That can be seen from the patent literature.

    So NYC will probably get one of the biggest hits of all.

  4. Mike L. Says:

    Quote: “DC is a suburb of New York??”
    Considering the speed with which DC is grabbing money and power, we will soon be saying “NYC is uptown DC”.

  5. Wil Says:

    I can’t imagine anyone going to live in NYC while the depression is worsening. The new platform for recovery can only be in a low density, low cost location. My bet is on the outback areas of California, and Cascadia.

  6. Robert Says:

    I’m plumping for Copenhagen/Malmo. Given that Sweden was top of the Euro Creativity Index in 2004, and Denmark high up there and climbing fast, given Sweden’s resilience, given its projected stable population… London might always be a big pull on people, but the quality of life and jobs there is going to put people off eventually.

    Just look at what happened to Polish immigration to the UK – they turn up in droves expecting to find a high tech, high quality, tolerant society and all they get is casual racism, delapidated accommodation and crippled infrastructure – so they returned home quick smart as soon as they earnt as much as they could.

  7. Swordsman Says:

    Cascadia for me.

  8. Wendy Says:

    Although I may be locationally biased, I’m with Swordsman – Cascadia. The region is attracting the aging babyboomers as well as the younger generations wanting a more relaxed lifestyle with good access to outdoor recreation (ie: beaches, forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, oceans). It also faces Asia, with strong and growing social and economic ties to those more dynamic economies. Sharing a time zone with California doesn’t hurt either.

  9. Buzzcut Says:

    I will bet anyone $50 that the DC ‘burbs in Virginia and Maryland will grow the fastest of anywhere in the WORLD over the next 4 years.

    All that stimulus money, and the Obamaista obsession with government, ensures it.

    Most of the stimulus money will stimulate the DC region. And no, that region is NOT an exurb of NYC, not even close.

    One of Kling’s commenters said that NYC without Wall Street is just Buffalo South. There’s a lot of truth to that. Wall Street has been the engine that has driven NYC since it deindustrialized in the ’60s. If Wall Street isn’t there, NYC has no self-sustaining industry, just like Buffalo.

  10. Nikolai Kondratieff Says:

    In 1964, at the Worlds Fair in Flushing, NY Arthur C. Clarke was asked to ponder the future. He suggested that by 2000 there would be no need for cities as centers of commerce, as global communication superhighways would bring the world down to the size of a point. How right he was. The period of economic catastrophe that is upon us will hasten the decline of cities as our consumerist society reverts back to the mean. Place will continue to be important–as it has ever since we stopped being nomadic hunter gatherers–it’s just that the criteria for what makes a “good place” will dramatically change for the current generation.

  11. Troy Camplin, Ph.D. Says:

    I’m with you on this one. Of course, I may be biased, being an arts person myself. Specifically, I write plays and poetry. I also do scholarly work on the arts and humanities, particular regarding their being and relationships to complex systems. Certainly technology is going to be a big part, as it has been since the advent of technology. But the arts are older (chimpanzees make tools, but non-tool-making gibbons sing). If economic exchange is the exchange of value, and great art is of high value, then how can the arts not become a central part of the economy? Kling buys into the argument that the arts are superfluous. Even otherwise bright people like Steven Pinker think this to be the case. But Denis Dutton, Frederick Turner, et al have shown the deep importance of the arts to humans and to our evolution and even moral development. It is in the latter that we have failed considerably of late — but that does not mean that moral development isn’t part of what the arts are indeed about. Perhaps too the fact of that failure speaks to the arts as currently practiced. Or the failures of such humanities scholars as Stanley Fish, who even go so far as to deny their work has any value at all. It certainly doesn’t help when the people in the field are arguing that what they do has no value. Fortunately, Fish — and Kling — couldn’t be more wrong.

  12. Michael Wells Says:

    I’d bet on Richard’s side of this one, NYC is a lot more than finance.

    But I also have a question on the basic premise of Wall Street’s demise. I assume there will still be a stock market and it will be located somewhere. So what city is better positioned than NYC to be the world headquarters?
    • London? The Brits are ahead of us in nationalizing the Royal Bank of Scotland. How is the City doing?
    • Hong Kong? I think its exchange has been hit as hard as the Dow.

    Were there any other serious contenders? And can a non-US location really serve as the market for American stocks?

    My $50 is on Wall Street being a player and maybe still the dominant player five years from now.

  13. Buzzcut Says:

    Michael, I take your bet. Who get’s to hold the 50 bucks for 5 years? Richard?

    As for NYC being more than finance, well, that’s not what the tax receipts say. Maybe NYC is more than finance, but it is finance that pays for everything else. Like I said, NYC without Wall Street is Buffalo South, a city without any self supporting industry.

    And considering how much of New York States budget was paid for by Wall Street, maybe Buffalo won’t come out of this well either!

    Troy Caplin, PhD, on some level, what you say is undeniable. What do we remember about the Greeks and Romans? Their art. Most of what we have left of most past civilizations is art. So on that level, really, what could be MORE important than art?

    But if that is so… I have to side with Fisk. Art today is crap. So much talent is so wasted… on what? Is there anything that will endure? No, it is all trendy, fogetable garbage. Much like the academic fads that Fisk is so critical of. So much of it is morally degrading.

  14. Michael Wells Says:

    Let’s go on the honor system. If one of us remembers this in 5 years we can pay up.

    According to the NY State Comptroller, Wall Street paid as high as 20% of state and 12% of city tax revenues. The Governor’s $121 billion budget showed a reduction of $15.4 billion. Definitely a hit, but in smaller than what California just solved.

    But taxes is a distorted way of looking at this. Wall Street employed 188,000 people and lost about 20,000 as of the end of 2008. Over 8 million people live in the NYC city limits. Even if we count their chauffeurs and housekeepers, the job loss is insignificant in the city’s total.

    Beyond that, most of those 8 million (or 18 million metro) citizens aren’t going anywhere. Its an enormous talent pool — in the arts, in business, in technology, in virtually any field. If even 10% of those Wall Street geniuses go out and find honest work, they’ll contribute something.

    Sure, the Big Apple’s in for a rough few years, but so are we all.

  15. Troy Camplin Says:


    If you read critics and satirists from just about any age,they too tend to lament just how horrible the art of the time is. The truth is, during any particular time, the majority of the works being creates will not pass on to the future. We forget that the cream rises to the top, especially over 2300 years or so. So when we look back on the ancient Greeks, it all naturally looks great. But since we are in the middle of things, we see all the noise and think the scene is nothing but noise. Time will tell us who was truly great during this time. For my money, in poetry it’s Frederick Turner (whose nonfiction work should also be read). Woody Allen can always be counted on for a good film. Tom Stoppard and David Mamet do write some good plays (I’m trying to join their ranks with my own verse plays I’ve been writing of late). And I may be biased, buy my brother, Todd Camplin, is an artist, and he’s doing some pretty interesting work.

  16. Buzzcut Says:

    I don’t know. I’m just down on the whole “conceptual art” thing. I mean, I go to the contemporary art museam in San Fran, and one “installation” is a pile of hard candy in the corner, which they encourage you to take a piece of, and the other is a video monitor of a woman sucking her own toe.

    That’s art?

    One of my friends is an “artist” (or so she says). She was absolutely brilliant in high school, tons of talent. Then she went to Pratt, and then U of Michigan for her MfA.

    Now her “installations” are just completely stupid. In one, she got a room at a gallery, planted sod on the floor, and you were supposed to walk over it. There were watering cans you you to water the sod.

    Another time, she was making plastic molds of her feet. Her “installation” was a floor covered with different colored castings of her feet.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    I hope you’re right that the art that survives is the really good stuff.

  17. Troy Camplin Says:

    Much of what is being sold to a gullible wealthy class as a way for them to remain snobs (since liking bad art is definitely one thing the middle classes and poor won’t emulate them on, as they did with cell phones) is a result of laziness. Why work hard if you can get somebody with a lot of money who wants to appear artistically hip to buy your stuff no matter what you make. MIght as well can your own feces (or theirs) and sell it to them . . . oh, wait, that’s been done.

    A lot of money can be made by selling bad art to gullible rich people, but a lot more money can be made by selling good art to everyone else. Look at the music industry. Sure, one could say that there’s a lot of bad songs out there — but even some of the worst popular songs are better than any of the postmodernist LANGUAGE poems. For every bizarrely bad play, there’s a great film making millions. The key is to make something that is high quality which everyone can enjoy, something that you will find beautiful immediately, but which keeps you coming back, and gains depth and meaning with each experience. All we need are museums and galleries willing to put up works people will actually like and theaters willing to put on plays people will actually like. Just as importantly, we need critics and theorists who will recognize such works’ greatness and reject superficialities for being what they are. We have to get over this notion that art is to be “shocking” — especially since so little so-called shocking art is in fact shocking any more. More often than not it’s boring, and a demonstration of the artists’ intellectual laziness. For the arts to become a vibrant part of the economy, we will have to get beyond postmodernism and return to beauty.