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Michael Bloomberg’s Zero-Sum Worldview

• June 20, 2013 • 1:24 PM

View of the Brooklyn Bridge and Downtown Brooklyn. (PHOTO: POSTDLF/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

If the mayor of New York City actually believes in brain drain—and that “being cool counts”—then he should be more concerned about the 1.3 million people that left his metro area between 2000 and 2010.

If people develop instead of places, then migration isn’t a zero-sum game. Those who move, win. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg disagrees. Places develop, not people:

Recent college graduates are flocking to Brooklyn not merely because of employment opportunities, but because it is where some of the most exciting things in the world are happening – in music, art, design, food, shops, technology and green industry. Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts. When people can find inspiration in a community that also offers great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit, they vote with their feet.

If people do indeed vote with their feet, then New York City is losing the zero-sum game of talent. Using IRS data for 2000-2010, NYC lost over 1.3 million people to other U.S. metros. The net migration over that decade with Allentown, Pennsylvania, is -71,784. Allentown is cooler than Brooklyn. Suck it, Bloomberg.

The Big Apple is the brain drain capital of the United States. Long Island didn’t get the memo:

Creating a place that people are passionate about is one of the main goals of Destination Long Island, said Neil Takemoto, managing partner of the CSPM Group, based in Washington, D.C., which specializes in using social media to spur urban revitalization. His group, which stands for “crowd-sourced place making,” is working with Renaissance Downtowns.

“Long Island is No. 1 in the country with brain drain,” he said during his Power Point presentation. “We need brain gain!”

Being cool counts. Long Island is not cool. The CSPM Group can deliver cool. Say hello to brain gain!

Neither Neil Takemoto nor Mayor Bloomberg understands what attracts talent. Being cool doesn’t count. Ask Madison, Wisconsin. People move for economic development opportunities, not food trucks. However, those who do move for food trucks, won’t do much for the competitiveness of the city.

Returning to the IRS data for 2000-2010, over 1.5 million people moved to New York City. Why? NYC doesn’t attract talent. It develops talent, better than anywhere else in the world. People put up with an awful lot of misery, including a high cost of living, to be there. To put a bird on it, now using American Community Survey data for the same time period, New York gained over 900,000 college graduates. That bump is greater than the number of bachelor’s degrees residing in all of Seattle in 2010. Suck it, Seattle.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

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