The Truthiness about the Cupcake Class

If satire has an edge, it gets lost in the explanation. But I'll have to explain, because the Tribune Review has called me out.

Once upon a time, a man named Richard Florida lived in Pittsburgh and taught at Carnegie Mellon University and published a book called "The Rise of the Creative Class." Professor Florida argued that the future of cities like Pittsburgh lies in their ability to attract and retain members of the Creative Class -- relatively young professionals engaged in "creative" industries, who have money and taste and dynamic interests. They are, to use a more pointed phrase, David Brooks's BoBo aristocrats. Professor Florida built a lucrative consulting business and then forsook CMU and Pittsburgh for the more humid pastures of Northern Virginia. He still has a lucrative consulting business and now teaches at George Mason University.

The Creative Class hypothesis is controversial, and I'm a skeptic. My old political science professor Doug Rae, who has both worked in city government and studied urban history, calls the hypothesis "astonishingly uninformed."

What happened? Cupcakes came to Pittsburgh, and not just any cupcakes, but the kind of upscale, high-priced, elite cupcakes that appeal to BoBo Creatives. And with a prompt from Chris Briem, I christened consumers of these things "the Cupcake Class."

That's all well and good, and it's supposed to be a Floridian satire, because it should be obvious to thinking people that cupcakes and the local economy really have nothing to do with one another.

Unfortunately, the Tribune Review didn't get the joke. From today's paper:
Getting a cupcake shop can say a lot about your city, according to law professor Mike Madison and economist Chris Briem, who write about the local economy at "Pittsblog." They've speculated, semi-seriously, about "the rise of The Cupcake Class."

[quoting from this blog] "Cities that want to compete economically in the 21st century need to attract and retain The Cupcake Class: People with the time, money, and taste to consume small portions of upscale baked goods."

For the record: Actually, no. Getting a cupcake shop says little about your city, just as [here's the explanation] attracting and retaining "the Creative Class" says much, much less about urban futures than Richard Florida believes. Eventually, the cupcake fad will pass, and then losing a cupcake shop will say little about your city. Except that there were cupcake lovers once who were willing to pay $3 per cupcake, and now there are not.

The interesting economic question will be what happens to the cupcake entrepreneurs and their employees. Do they start a new business here, or do they head back to Chicago, convinced that there is no future in Pittsburgh? That would tell us something about your city.


4 Responses to "The Truthiness about the Cupcake Class"

Anonymous said... 12/20/2006 6:14 PM

A cupcake economy can be viable. But we have to be net exporters of cupcakes, cupcake technology, cupcake software, or be able to franchise cupcake businesses -- not just consumers of cupcakes. Perhaps I'm wrong, maybe there's an elan, a mystique, to holding a cupcake, somewhat like holding a Treo and a cup of Starbucks.

Anonymous said... 12/20/2006 6:58 PM

It is worth noting, I think, that the number of people at CMU who have missed Rich Florida and his "research" since his departure is not much greater than the number of holes in a cupcake tin. What we have lost in media hits and shameless self-promotion, we have at least gained in dignity.

Coincidence? You decide.

C. Briem said... 12/21/2006 1:18 PM

I like that.. a cupcake exporting industry.

all this hullabaloo and people overlook the true cupcake cataclysm in town.. The Jenny Lee fire has shut the downtown JL bakery.

Anonymous said... 12/21/2006 2:09 PM

How about a cupcake with a french fry baked in it? Now there is something Pittsburgh could be proud of.

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About Pittsblog

Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

Chris Briem of Null Space drops by Pittsblog from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.


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