Commentary: The end of the creative classes is in sight

Tom Campbell, The Guardian's Culture Professionals Network blog, 3/4/13

To put it bluntly, high-skill occupations can be mechanised and outsourced in much the same way as car manufacturing and personal finance. In recent decades, we have become accustomed to the notion that manual labour in the UK has been rendered obsolete, uncompetitive or poorly paid. But are we now prepared for the same thing to happen to skilled labour, to white-collar workers, to the creative classes? Much is made of the 'creative process' -- but it is just that, a process, and as such it can also be an algorithm. And while politicians have spent the last 15 years celebrating creativity, and economists have tried to measure it, computer scientists have been getting on with understanding and replicating it. It may still be some time before robots are writing novels or painting pictures, but it is striking how many of the UK's most high-profile creative industries have already been automated. In music, for instance, it is disquieting how easy it now is to produce a record of commercial quality. Similarly, film and television can be considered a branch of the IT rather than the entertainment industry. With every passing year, the machines are getting more powerful, the software more intelligent and the skills to use them less demanding. Even the performers are no longer indispensable in the way they once were: in the era of George Lucas and James Cameron, they are no more than images to be scanned into a computer and manipulated with software packages. It is increasingly the digital tools themselves, rather than the people who use them, where the power, intelligence and creativity now resides. This is best shown by the way in which creative businesses actually treat, rather than talk about, their employees. Although the creative workforce is highly educated, it actually has the characteristics of the unskilled service sector: uncertain career progression, low levels of investment in training, precarious working conditions, eroding wages, and the endemic use of unpaid interns and casual labour.


Related: 20somethings find few traditional entry-level jobs

Teddy Wayne, The New York Times, 3/1/13

"The notion of the traditional entry-level job is disappearing," said Ross Perlin, 29, the author of Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. Internships have replaced them, he said, "but also fellowships and nebulous titles that sound prestigious and pay a stipend, which means you're only coming out with $15,000 a year." Once a short-term commitment at most, internships have become an obligatory rite of passage that often drags on for years. "Particularly in some rock-star professions -- film and TV and publishing and media -- companies are pushing the envelope to see how much they can get out of young people for how low a stipend or salary," Mr. Perlin said. "And people are desperate enough to break in to do it."


Commentary: Can unions save the creative class?

Scott Timberg,, 3/18/13

Union membership, and ensuing muscle, has been in steep decline in both the public and private sectors. Also in decline: America's creative class -- faced with an unstable landscape marked by technological shifts, a corporate culture of downsizing, and high unemployment. So is it time for artists to strap on a hard hat? Maybe unions or artists' guilds can serve and protect an embattled creative class. In the right circumstances, guilds could be a force for stability for artists during unstable times. But between unions and creative types sits a long-standing cultural barrier. "A lot of white-collar employees don't see themselves as workers," says Scott Martelle, who now belongs to the Authors Guild. "They see themselves as 'partners' or some other euphemism." It's nearly as true for many musicians, says Kristin Thomson of the Future of Music Coalition. "For musicians it just doesn't align with how they see themselves. 'I don't have a salaried job, how can I go on strike if it's just me and my band?'" It may be that unions can't operate the way they used to. Technological shifts, in some ways, are making things harder. Freelancers in the decentered age of the Internet are scattered geographically in a way that's very different than the way legions of workers [used to] get together under one roof. Some of the creative fields may figure a way out of the current mess; some won't. It may have less to do with ingenuity and more to do with how fast the respective pies are shrinking. Hollywood studios continue to make enormous profits. Newspapers, book publishers and record labels, by and large, don't. Rich Yeselson, a writer who worked in the labor movement for two decades, considers unions the institutions that can best cut against income inequality and protect workers. "But a union can't compensate for an industry whose business model is in crisis."


Commentary: Did the creative class really save your city? Probably not.

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, Fast Company Design blog, 2/20/13

If you live in a large American city, odds are you reside within a few minutes of a gentrifying neighborhood, and odds are you have a strong opinion about it. The idea that gentrification ultimately benefits all wage-earners has long been a mainstay of popular thinking on urban planning, perpetuated by figures like Richard Florida, whose 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class argues that gentrification leads to all-around gains for city dwellers. But a growing body of writing -- both scientific and ethnographic -- is chipping away at that assumption. In January, a pair of Crown Heights journalists published a compelling investigation of efforts by new and old residents to sustain a sense of community in the face of rapid gentrification. And last week, Grist published a strong rebuttal of Florida's ideas told through the lens of Oakland, where rising housing prices and upscale amenities have done little to alleviate poverty and crime. Even Florida himself has published new research refuting the simplistic notion that gentrification "trickles down" to benefit lower classes. In January, Florida and his team unveiled a study that reveals a deafening truth: While creative class workers clustered in cities enjoy increased income despite increased housing costs, service and blue-collar workers in the same neighborhoods experience the inverse, a "rising tide" of rent increases without the raises that come with it for most creative economy workers. Florida also made mention of the "well-being inequality," which describes what happens when creative class workers are willing to pay more to live in neighborhoods with better food, entertainment, and jobs. Lower-wage workers can't shell out to live near those amenities and are relegated to lower-quality neighborhoods farther from the city.


FROM TC: Related to this topic, you might also be interested in reading this blog post by Lester K. Spence, an Associate Professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University, about a new documentary called "Brooklyn Boheme" which addresses the effects of gentrification on the black creative class in New York City.

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