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 seem 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?

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