Economic Development News & Insight


New discourse on economic policy and politics

/ October 22, 2012

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New discourse on economic policy and politics

I’ve travelled across Canada and some European countries teaching the history of modern economic development. My lecture starts with Jacobs in the 1960s, moving to Porter and Glaeser through the late 70’s, into 2000s with Florida and his creative cities model, finally arriving at Snookes and economic gardening.  I look at how the dominant political and economic model has shaped local economies.  In many cases I advocate for a new way of approaching urban economic development. 

A new model has recently been brought to my attending and I think it warrants a conversation: Sister Giant, a political and economic movement advocating for a new perspective on economic and political health.

Historically, economic developers have used fairly standard metrics to determine the success or wealth of cities: new investment, new jobs created, new tax assessment added, building permits and finally industrial and commercial square-footage added.  Richard Florida shifted this conversation by arguing that “creativity” should also be a metric – that economic developers should add metrics like culture, diversity and tolerance to their list in order to determine the economic health of their cities.

Florida was the first economist since Jacobs to bring people and values back into the equation of economic growth.  He argued that economies flourish when they are based not only on quantitative metrics, but also on the qualities’ and values that resonate with people.  In particular, economic and political policy should be based on qualities that resonate with the “creative class” who build both our economies and communities.

Sister Giants takes this a step further.  Rather than focus on a “class” of persons, Sister Giants ask, “what would economics and politics look like if we had gender parity?  What would economics and politics look like if we put the needs of citizens ahead of pure economic principles?”

The movement began with Marianne Williamson, a well-known advocate for humanitarian rights in the U.S.  With their recent economic crisis, the Occupy movement and the impending election, Americans, argues Williamson, need to start a new conversation of values and gender parity in their Congress and look to form an economy and political system that embraces humanitarian values and “taking care of our neighbors and our future generations”.

Williamson is hosting experts from the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University and senior Republican and Democratic leaders at  “Sister Giant: New Consciousness. New Politics” to start the conversation around a burgeoning new American political system.

As cities and economies across North America struggle to define their strategic direction, their policies and plans, perhaps we should engage in conversations that move beyond traditional metrics and call upon values.  Flordia’s model was mocked, but it worked. Sister Giants will no doubt face opposition as it asks tough, untraditional questions. But in a shifting economy, the tough questions can lead to exciting new forms of governance and healthy growth.


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