There are a lot of anti-intellectual places in the US. They drive out their smart people, who don't want to hide their intelligence on a daily basis. They have to leave: every time you hear a nonsensical but popular argument, it hurts not to say something. You can only do that for so long. Now some choose to stay, mostly by learning to suppress (or avoid learning/thinking about) intellect in many areas, and then focusing all that in a small area. That way, they can fit in with everyone else at 90%, and fit in other people's ontologies as |normal +x|. Of course, that means living a mostly-lobotamized life.
My concern with Silicon X-type articles are when they're happening in areas that may be anti-intellectual. Are these funding vehicles for the few "closet intellectuals" (if you'll forgive me for using the term) who don't want to leave, combined with a larger population who only see the outputs (jobs, spending, fame, etc.) without understanding or caring about why the original Valley formed?
I hadn't considered the broader effects of this sort of migration, until I recently read "The Big Sort", a brilliant book written in 2009 that describes how like-minded people are "sorting" themselves through migration. One way to quantify this effect is to look at the number of "landslide counties", i.e. the number of counties in the US that preferred a presidential candidate by more than 20%.
You can see a map showing how these landslide counties have sharply increased here (the top map is from 1976, and the bottom map is from 2004): http://www.thebigsort.com/maps.php
What's happening is that voters are moving with their feet to be with more like-minded people. This skews many counties towards a particular direction (either Republican or Democrat). Further, as counties tip one way, the minority viewpoint gets suppressed in just the way you described (e.g. if you're a Democrat, why bother voting for Governor in Texas).
One thing that surprised me in the book is that not every state is homogenous. The author lives in Austin, so he spends a lot of time talking about how all the liberals move to Austin (and conservatives move out). So even in the bastion of Republican Texas, there is a liberal enclave.
Looking at Des Moines, it seems that Des Moines is a similar liberal enclave. For instance, in 2008, Des Moines, Iowa voted for Obama over McCain with a 23% margin: http://www.city-data.com/elec08/DES-MOINES-IOWA.html
So it seems like there are a fair number of liberal enclaves in conservative states. To give another example,"The urban core of Kansas City consistently votes Democratic in Presidential elections": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_City,_Missouri#National_...
So even if it's true that "Silicon X'es can only happen in liberal pro-intellectual areas", there seem to be enough liberal enclaves in conservative states that Silicon X'es could possibly arise.
Caveat: just looking at one characteristic of a given geographic location (voter preference) is definitely limiting though.
Edit: added the caveat.
I think with the pretty good schools, something like the highest per-capita population with college degrees in the country, a very large government, biotech, commercial and publishing market and significant investment in fairly decently priced office space, stable housing prices (relatively) and hopefully improving public transit and being just on the southern end of the NoVA<->Boston corridor, one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse populations in the world it's surprising that it's not more prominent. D.C.'s also a great cultural scene, ridiculous museums, and the ring right outside of the city is a fantastic place for young single folks to live with the city center developing in a great way.
But yeah, once you get too far south or south west you end up in confederate flag waiving anti-intellectual redneck country pretty fast.
Strangely, there's a ton of West Coast companies with fairly large office presences here, but a deeper dive into them and you'll find they are almost exclusively sales offices -- sometimes with a services and integration team, but almost no serious development.
It seems like that's the main reason why where I live in Southern VA has all of about 2 tech companies and zero startups, and Blacksburg (right next door) even being home to the state's largest technical universities has very limited startup activity.
I think this, much more so than "greed" is what is leading to the growing income inequality in America. The intelligent people are living with intelligent people and having intelligent babies, who grow up to have intelligent babies with the intelligent kids down the street.
I'm still not sure if this is a bug or a feature.
I sincerely believe your "anti-intellectual" comment to be misguided and uninformed. For a quick and entertaining rebuttal, I'd direct you to this NPR youtube video titled "Iowa Nice": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLZZ6JD0g9Y
If you'd rather not watch the clip, here are a few things you might not have known about Iowa that may cause you to revise your previous assumption (or not, and they may/may not be extrapolated to other midwest communities):
- Iowa has voted Democratic in 5 out of 6 presidential elections (now 6 out of 7).
- Iowa was the second (or third) state to legalize gay marriage.
- First woman lawyer in the US emanated from Iowa.
- 4 out 5 Iowans live in cities.
- Des Moines was ranked 1st richest metropolitan area and 2nd happiest in the country (not sure by what metric or source here, my apologies)
I feel pretty good about the intellectual capacity of my neighbors.
Disclaimer: I've lived outside the state for 4 years now, primarily in Chicago and now South Florida. If the weather was nicer, I'd consider making it my permanent home.
While I am an ardent Democrat, I long for a day when we can have two parties that run on solid policy proposals, rather than the current "that party is batsh*t crazy, so I am voting for the other guy".
I am not American but I find it surprising that almost all the things you mentioned seem to have nothing to do with intellectualism (at best, they are weakly correlated).
I see your point. I assumed Iowa was similar to what I saw about Southern VA. My apologies. I don't know anything about Iowa.
I still maintain that many anti-intellectual areas exist, and that they have the effects I mentioned earlier. If Iowa isn't one of them, then I'm happy for them.
So we leave. We seek out the company of others in our particular in-group and revel in not having to be untruthful about ourselves. I'm reasonably sure this holds true about things besides intellectualism, but my readings in sociology are not close to deep enough to recite citations.
You migrate to a place like Omaha or Des Moines from rural places like you said, but then after an education people traditionally left those places for the even bigger cities like the Twin Cities, etc. That said, effort by various colleges and city governments has gone into the brain drain problem for years so the drain has been declining. You can see marketing campaigns like http://lifeisright.com/ for various cities to try to promote staying put.
Seems to be based on whoever has a good PR firm at the time.
While pg has written many amazing essays, my favourite is still ``The Submarine'' which describes this dynamic: http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html
This doesn't negate the argument: whether the conclusion follows from the premises is not contingent on who presents the premises, but it does mean we have to evaluate these kind of articles critically.
For the first few employees, you can weight compensation heavily on equity, so taxes don't matter, and high wages mean people have enough savings (often) to cover cost of living -- people will accept lower quality of life and lower relative cost of living for a few years at a startup, anyway. And of course if the 0-10 person company fails, it becomes easy to sell the business as an acquihire or whatever; hedging the downside is important.
For a new 1000 person company, it would be really hard to compete in tbe Bay Area -- the non-crappy parts have a shortage of real estate, and
The best plan seems to be to startup wherever you are now, but maybe in the Bay Area if you can easily relocate, and then set up a presence in a lower-cost (lower costs overall; taxes are a part, but probably not even the major part) part of the country, or international. International also allows you to avoid some stupid US immigration rules.
Less competition, so people will remain at your company longer.
I personally would love to eventually set up a second office in Seattle, Las Vegas, somewhere in Texas (Austin? Dallas?), and then a third in Vancouver (BC), Cambridge (UK), Berlin, Eastern Europe, Israel, Hong Kong, or maybe AU/NZ.
Wow, I had no idea that fiber would have such an effect.
Now, I'm surprised that all of the cities/countries that are spending millions and want to establish their own silicon x don't do do this simple move.
1) The midwest/mountain states have lots of great CS programs in their universities. UIUC, Boulder, UT, GA Tech, UW-Madison and plenty of others, as well as a lot of small universities that don't get the attention of Google and Amazon. My alma mater only produces a dozen CS grads a year but some of them have gone on to start insanely successful companies (Rackspace, for one).
2) Lots of great software engineers don't want to live in California, New York or Boston. I grew up in the Bay Area and I have 0 desire to move back. I hated it there and I know I'm not alone in that.
There has yet to be a Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft, or even a Github or Heroku started here yet. A lot of the companies that do tech in the midwest are tied more to traditional enterprise software like banking software, insurance, etc. That's not a bad thing, but the idea of "Silicon Prarie" is as much spin as it is substance. Perhaps it will end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy where eventually the midwest becomes a bigger startup hub, but I don't see that yet.
That being said, I love the midwest and living and working in Lincoln.
The "alley" refers specifically to the original thin corridor, not any literal alleys.