Monday, November 15, 2010

Pittsburgh Past. Pittsburgh Future?

Required reading in itself is Harvard's Ed Glaeser latest in City Journal: Start-Up City Entrepreneurs are the heroes of New York’s past and the key to its future.

What I caught first was the reference to former Pitt Economist, the late Ben Chinitz, and his thoughts direct from his seminal work. Contrasts in Agglomeration: New York and Pittsburgh, American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 51, 1961, pp. 279-289.   Read Glaeser on the crux of Chinitz's argument desribing where Pittsburgh was 50 years ago:
Fifty years ago, the economist Benjamin Chinitz used the apparel industry to compare New York City, which then seemed like a model of small-scale entrepreneurship, with Pittsburgh, a city of massive steel companies. “My feeling is that you do not breed as many entrepreneurs per capita in families allied with steel as you do in families allied with apparel,” Chinitz wrote. “The son of a salaried executive is less likely to be sensitive to opportunities wholly unrelated to his father’s field than the son of an independent entrepreneur.” Few economists would use the word “breed” today, but Chinitz’s hypothesis remains legitimate: a vast industry of small-scale entrepreneurs leads to the development of entrepreneurial skills, which are used in other industries and also passed along to children.
Measuring entrepreneurship is one of those nearly mythical metrics we talk about far far more than we can really generate meaningful numbers for.  When it comes to Pittsburgh people seeem to talk as if the entrepreneurial climate in Pittsburgh has improved in the half century since Chinitz wrote the article referenced above. Yet most measurements of entrepreneurial activity in Pittsburgh have never shown much improvement at any time since when Chinitz wrote. If you accept that observation as a premise it begs a big question?  Are our perceptions correct?


Blogger Burgher Jon said...


I have a question for you. WHERE do you find articles like "Start-Up City"? I read about 50 blogs daily and yours is pretty much the only one that I ever feel compelled to click on the links, but I end up clicking on yours two or three times per week. Perhaps you could do a null space post on the sources of news that you follow (RSS feeds, blogs and the like) and your method for sorting them out?



Monday, November 15, 2010 2:18:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I'm not sure I can answer that. The roll on the right was intended to be that to a degree, but honestly I have not updated any of that except at the margin since I set up the blog in the first place. That and I understand most reading via RSS feeds are never seeing those any more anyway.

At this point.. things I miss of note in this little world people send me, so I have some crowdsourcing going on.

But in general I dunno? I read a lot. A few news filters that I suspect nobody else would dream of. I think I caught that piece with a 'Ben Chinitz' filter. If anyone is talking Chinitz I suspect I want to hear about it. We actually have been bantering here about doing a 50 year retrospective on some of his work and that of his colleagues at the time.. unfortunately he passed away not too long ago so if/when we do it.

So even if I could document all that I read... which may have too much brownian motion to actually do, I probably wouldnt... consider that most probably consider me a bit neurotic now; imagine what they would think then.

Monday, November 15, 2010 2:56:00 PM  
Blogger Burgher Jon said...

Well so much for my hope that you had an interesting search or feed I've never heard of. I've seen similar things with other bloggers who have been around a while (myself included). It becomes a bit of crowdourcing. With that in mind, I thought I'd pass this along:

Monday, November 15, 2010 5:15:00 PM  
Anonymous n'at said...

I'm sure there are many factors required to manufacture an environment which yields small business entrepreneurs, but what sets that environment apart from the Pittsburgh example is ability for exceptionally successful companies to change the environment and significantly affect the entrepreneurial-friendly climate: you stake a claim in a particular market; you work just as hard to inhibit others to infringe upon your market share as you do to promote your own product/business.

In emerging markets no one has the capacity to shut out all others, but when one has significant capital to invest as they see fit then one has the gravitational pull to skew market forces towards your betterment: governments, laws, financing, labor, patents, etc.

re: Briem. Sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause what's a hero? But sometimes, there's a man – and I'm talkin' about Briem here – sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place.

Monday, November 15, 2010 6:44:00 PM  

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