Data shows the true productivity GAIN of the city exodus
What is productivity, again?
Researchers have found proof of how much the end of the office will impact productivity, says Wired:
“Around 1996, the community of scientists and inventors working at Kodak’s headquarters in Rochester, New York, dwindled and vanished. But their exodus caused a ripple effect: since then, the inventors in the city who were not associated with Kodak produced around 20 per cent fewer patents, and the ones they did devise were of lesser quality.”
“What was clearly jumping out of the data is that the same people became less productive,” says an economist. “As the cluster around them shrunk, [those OTHER, non-Kodak inventors] started patenting less, and the quality of their patents was lower.”
The Wired piece presents several explanations for this, then goes to the core issue: recent research on this phenomenon “discovered that when a firm with double the revenue of its neighbour moves into a city block, it increases its neighbour’s productivity by about two per cent”.
The obvious problem here, notes Wired, is that if this is true then, in the long run, there will be an [equivalent] loss of innovation and productivity as a result of the pandemic shift to remote work.
I do not question the findings of that research, i.e. the two per cent increase thing. Nor do I question the conclusion that an exodus of inventors, if permanent, may have the opposite effect. I have no data nor skills to do that, even if I wanted, which I do not, because it seems perfectly plausible to me.
I only question the certainty that that specific two per cent variation is a loss of “innovation and productivity”, instead of a gain.
To begin with, the whole current system of “intellectual property” is severely screwed, and counterproductive. I could add tens of links on this, but this an this should be enough. Whatever real, meaningful productivity is, patents are a terrible way to measure it these days. Even if patent quality had not had “a serious problem - arguably a full-blown crisis” already before the pandemic. Anything that turns the current patents system upside down has good probabilities to increase real productivity, eventually.
Second, if innovation depends, as Wired writes, on being physically close to clients in order to “interact with them and ask them exactly what new things they need”…
then maybe some of the inventors who are moving to the backwaters may ask whoever lives there what new things THEY need. And then we may ALL get some real innovation like this, instead of more “Uber-for-X” apps, or dumb chargers or even worst crap like this, or this. If we are lucky, that is.