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Putnam and the death of the diversity ideology

Daniel Henninger has some thoughts on the Robert Putnam study. Henninger says this is the short version:

"People in ethnically diverse settings don’t want to have much of anything to do with each other. ’Social capital’ erodes. Diversity has a downside.

Prof. Putnam isn’t exactly hiding these volatile conclusions, though he did introduce them in a journal called Scandinavian Political Studies. A great believer in the efficacy of what social scientists call ’reciprocity,’ he wasn’t happy with what he found but didn’t mince words describing the results:

’Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.’ The diversity nightmare gets worse: They have little confidence in the ’local news media.’ This after all we’ve done for them.

Colleagues and diversity advocates, disturbed at what was emerging from the study, suggested alternative explanations. Prof. Putnam and his team re-ran the data every which way from Sunday and the result was always the same: Diverse communities may be yeasty and even creative, but trust, altruism and community cooperation fall. He calls it ’hunkering down.’"

The whole article, "E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture", is available here.

Discussions - 14 Comments

That is because it is all well and good to say that all beliefs are equally rational(or at least have some basis)...but it is quite another to actually deceive yourself or otherwise order your practical affairs and actions as if this was/is the case. To inject Rawls I would say that people can only work together provided the diversity is not so great that overlapping consensus becomes impossible. But even when it is possible, Overlapping consensus has a cost. In communities that are less diverse in thought/valuations/priorities there is a stronger foundation. Where there is diversity the cost of overlapping consensus higher. If the cost is higher Ceterus Paribus we expect less of the good.

Diversity is good for business because business is hireing people to come up with solutions...the diversity is targeted towards an end. In the non-profit world no one is paying the neighbor who believes that abortion is murder to get along and socialize with the planned parenthood counselor.

Business structures the ends of diversity. With a common goal in mind diversity allows for brainstorming over possible means of achieving that end. Diversity in Social life is a diversity of ends, therefore there is absolutely no guarantee that means aren't running counter to each other. In fact I could see economic efficiency being reached between two people with conflicting means, only if they both forgo an activity that would otherwise simply cancel out. For example the Democrat and Republican might get together and in a spirit of co-operation elect not to vote. Both the republican and the democrat are better off if they both agree not to vote, because they have more time to spend on other activities. Hey Ted, if you promise not to give $50 to the NRA I won't volunteer time for candidate X who supports a stricter version of the Brady Bill.

This is sort of my tongue in cheek way of saying that hunkering down may be the outcome of mutual understanding between diverse parties, who understand that they would otherwise both be working at cross currents.

I think what this study shows is that diversity is not just a diversity of means and approaches, but a diversity of valuations. When there is a real diversity of valuations "hunkering down" is the rational result.

Sometimes the best co-operation between diverse interests can lead to is mutual inaction on both sides. Of course rather inconveniently for any attempts to measure such things Empirically, all real cooperation between diverse interest would give a false reading of less cooperation. Think of it as a sort of mutually assured destruction/futility the Micro-economic version of the cold war...The United States isn't going to become Communist, the Communists aren't going to embrace capitalism...lets move to economic efficiency by doing an arms reduction.

This is Prof. Putman's website. which has more information and links to other commentaries and research on the subject.

I have only been poking through these articles, but the essential idea seems to be that people are uncomfortable with other people until they get to know them. No big surprise there, do you think, John? Do you think that diversity is targeted towards an end or does it just happen? The way our society constructs seems random, except for those who can "afford" in one way or another, social homogeneity in a true neighborhood. From what I can see in this study, people avoid diversity for very good reasons in the short run. They either avoid it by finding neighborhoods where they are comfortable, or more usually, by avoiding their neighbors. But I think the point is that, Ceteris Paribus, no one has to pay the neighbor who is pro-life to get along with the Planned Parenthood counselor, they just do get along because of those other things.

"People in ethnically diverse settings don’t want to have much of anything to do with each other. ’Social capital’ erodes. Diversity has a downside."



Hello! Paleos have been saying this for years and being called racists, nativists and xenophobes for it.



We await our apology. (This is not directed at anyone at NLT, BTW, but Frum and D'Souza do come to mind.)

I think you are right Kate, but even then some people are "liberal" enough that they are comfortable with some people until they do get to know them. Prejudices are both erased and created with experience, and I think people in high density areas have more tangled prejudices than Economists or social scientists would sometimes think. When you say that the way our society constructs seems random...I would agree in that there are probably more variables than are possible to quantify...(Hayek and his law of unintended consequences may fit in here) but to the Urban Economists and probably to Putnam there are a hell of a lot of models with pretty good predictive power that explain a lot of different situations/developments.

I think you are right in saying that no one has to pay neighbors to get along...they will get along provided they share some interests, and provided the situation arises for them to discover what they have in common. This is what Putnam calls a Honeycomb structure and he praises Mega-Churches for discovering it as a means to growth...you have people in these churches that may have completly different views on theology, or come from different traditions on praise and worship...but they can form together as one because they are united behind a love of cycling, or mountain climbing, skiing, computergames/programming, reading/writting, day care.

I think a very interesting example of this is Zenos Christian fellowship in Columbus Ohio.

Also according to Economists there is nothing people can do in the short run to avoid diversity...(nor do all people desire this) packing up and moving to a neighborhood that is more homogeneous takes time energy and money, and is only accomplished in the long run, and only if what was once seen as a short run deficiency to be copped with doesn't come to be viewed as an asset.

Basically for Economists in all short run situations, people or firms operate provided they are not bellow the shutdown point on Average Variable Costs, this is because fixed costs can only be changed at intervals of time...Basically you remind yourself of the Serinity prayer and move on..until you can relocate or change your fixed costs.

And I haven't even started talking about Tipping points... oh well.

One other thing: can you flesh out this question for me? You ask:"Do you think that diversity is targeted towards an end or does it just happen?" What do you mean?

Diversity is good for business because business is hireing people to come up with solutions...the diversity is targeted towards an end.

This makes no sense. There is no evidence that "diversity" is good for business, or that "diverse" workforces are better at coming up with solutions for unspecified problems.

Businesses have taken over the governments role in pushing for "diversity", but there is no discernable economic reason for them to do so. It is remarkable to observe how disinterested businessmen are in the fundamentals of making money, and how committed they are to the whole panoply of left-wing social issues.

If Two Cheers For Capitalsim is still in print it offers some still relevant insight into what is going on here.

John Lewis, that bit that John quotes from you was what I was questioning as well. He is more direct in his question.


However, I think John is wrong about most businesses on the diversity issue. Businesses must hire "diversely" because they are subject to prosecution by the EEOC if they do not. If you are of a protected minority and are not hired, you can sue that business and getting a settlement is better than getting the job. Proving discrimination is a little harder under the Bush administration than it was under Clinton's, but not much.

Businesses are looking for a good workforce, but that does not always mean creative people with solutions. (Not that "diversity" has anything to do with that, either.) In offices or anywhere where teamwork is important (a factory floor might be pretty diverse without adverse effect) you need a group of people who can work well together. Again, that issue of social homogeneity comes into play, especially in small businesses. Big business might be able to afford to side-line an awkward hire, but small businesses cannot.

Many of the evangelical churches are diverse, yes, especially the larger ones, but the common denominator is something other than the variety of programs.

My statement is the conclusion of orthodox economics. I don't think Putnam disagrees with me. Within the Economic study of diversity Kate's objections are given reign. Diversity is better for different types of businesses. Diversity is often times directly corrolated with innovation. If you think of diversity only in terms of race then you are only seeing what you want to see...

but John has some points... I happen to like the book he refers to.

But we have to be carefull we are speaking the same language...

Kate

Businesses must hire "diversely" because they are subject to prosecution by the EEOC if they do not.

Whenever affirative action comes up before the courts, big business files briefs urging the court to find that "diversity" is a compelling state interest. They are not reluctant participants in the diversity charade.

John Lewis

Diversity is often times directly corrolated with innovation. If you think of diversity only in terms of race then you are only seeing what you want to see...

Diversity, in the parlance of both business and the government, means racial and ethnic diversity, nothing else.

This is never corrolated with innovation. Putting a white American, a black American, a Chinese immigrant, and an Indian immigrant into the same room is less likely to result in innovation than in a lawsuit.

"Prof. Putnam and his team re-ran the data every which way from Sunday and the result was always the same: "Diverse communities may be yeasty and even creative"...but trust, altruism and community cooperation fall.

If you ask Putnam he will say the same thing I say. I also wouldn't be so sure about what diversity means... you say it can only mean race... but Putnam says: "Creativity in general seems to be enhanced by immigration and diversity (Simonton 1999). Throughout history, for example, immigrants have accounted for three to four times as many of America's Nobel Laureates, National Academy of Science members, Academy Award film directors and winners of Kennedy Center awards in the performing arts as native-born Americans (Lerner & Roy 1984; Simonton 1999, Chapter 6; Smith & Edmonston 1997, 384–5). If we were to include second-generation immigrants (i.e. the children of immigrants), the contribution of immigrants would be even greater. Many (though not all) of the scores of studies of collective creativity in work groups (in business, education and so on) find that diversity fosters creativity (Webber & Donahue 2001; O’Reilly et al. 1997; Williams & O’Reilly 1998). Scott Page (2007) has powerfully summarized evidence that diversity (especially intellectual diversity) produces much better, faster problem-solving."

So Economists like Putnam are also interested in intellectual diversity...

If you are going to use Putnam to justify one position then you should understand his position in the larger context.

Diversity is not just ethnic or racial but is more along the lines of "internal heterogeneity (in terms of age, professional background, ethnicity, tenure and other factors)." In other words Diversity equals the "other" or those who think, feel, value, praise and worship, are from different generations or are otherwise different from "us".

So if Diversity only means race to you substitute your understanding of it to internal heterogeneity, and I think you will be closer to understanding the spirit of what Putnam is driving at.

Putnam says: "Diversity itself can only be conceived in terms of socially constructed identities."

Diversity, in the parlance of both business and the government, means racial and ethnic diversity, nothing else.

Putnam's conception of what diversity is makes no difference to these bodies.

In any case your cites fail to indicate that he takes the novel definition of diversity which you propose. It would be odd if he did so, since he is an advocate of increased immigration and of increased ethnic diversity. His study is noteworthy because somebody with that basic outlook has acknowledged that diversity has considerable social and civic costs.

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