“Let us reply to ambition that it is she herself that gives us a taste for solitude.” – Montaigne
VERY LATE INTRO: bjkeefe suggested I explain the Putnam study. Robert Putnam is best known for writing “Bowling Alone”, about the decline in “social capital”, especially as manifested in civic organizations. More recently he has found that ethnic diversity in communities is correlated with lower trust and pro-social attitudes/behaviors both between and within ethnic groups.
Most people were dismayed by the results of Robert Putnam’s study on diversity. Putnam himself was to such an extent that he delayed releasing anything for some time until he could find a way to soften the blow and has criticized reports on the study because the reporters couldn’t find a way to spin the story that he himself was unable to. You’d have to be a rather unpleasant person to give a high-five when hearing this news. Perhaps you give a cheer because you don’t like diversity and think this proves we can chuck it. There are such people, although considering we’ve already got diversity and it seems unlikely to go away or even stay relatively constant this shouldn’t be much of a consolation to you (unless what makes you unhappy isn’t diversity per se but people who like diversity being happy). One response would be Alan Crowe’s (not in this specific example but in general), that a social reductio ad absurdum can also be viewed as a proof of necessity. We’ll have to put up with that loss of trust due to diversity. What I want to focus on is another variety of unpleasant person: those who cheer a reduction in trust.
So why might someone do so? Are they a misanthrope? Are they a curmudgeonly H. L. Mencken type figure who enjoys espousing (or “performing” as Hopefully Anonymous would put it) cynicism? Well, perhaps you should start re-examining your assumptions. Maybe you should start disliking trust. Maybe you should be an unpleasant person. Or perhaps trust actually has negative effects and it is Robert Putnam trying to stop us from Bowling Alone who is the real public menace. We can be free to cheer his study while remaining perfectly admirable (although you can do so and be knave if you want to).
I can’t take credit for this idea, because I got it from this post by UNC Government and Economics professor Karl Smith. That gives this odd thought more credibility than it would have merely coming from an anonymous blogger competing for the Aspergers Cup. Plus, I dare you to look at that happy guy’s picture without being in the mood to look for the bright side of everything. Now, he hasn’t actually published a paper on it (which means I’m breaking my promise to dismiss such things) and he doesn’t actually say you should start badmouthing trust, but this is an anonymous blog where we are free to irresponsibly run wild with ideas.
Karl’s idea for how the decrease in social capital resulting from diversity increases creativity and economic growth is that in a homogeneous community people will seek to gain status by producing local social goods that they all can agree on, whereas in a diverse community there are fewer goals agreed upon and if you want to gain status you have to produce something that is nigh-universally valued. Mathematics is said to be the universal language, but the word that begins with an “m” I’m thinking of here is “money”.
Urban areas are money producing areas and they also tend to be diverse. They draw people in who want to make a lot of money and exclude (at least in nice neighborhoods) those who can’t compete with big money-makers when it comes to paying rent. I thought I recalled seeing a post at Marginal Revolution saying cities have more women than men because the latter are the lucky few skilled workers who can obtain high-paying jobs and the former are competing with each other to obtain those high-earners as spouses (and you don’t need to go through an interview to try, but it helps to live nearby). If anyone can find the link I’d be grateful. At any rate, this brings me to one of Steve Sailer’s most important ideas: ease of family formation. Families are the smallest of Burke’s “little platoons” of society, family reunification is one of the major sources for (legal) immigration in the United States today and Sailer invokes the rising costs for families as the reason many are moving away from California, which is where he lives. Families can also drag people down, which is why Tyler Cowen says “The welfare state is the Randian’s secret dream“. James Watson credits his discovery of DNA to his lack of a family early in life. A more extreme example than that commonly found in America but may have been the norm throughout human history can be found in this from Theodore Dalrymple.
Keeping in mind Sailer’s idea that an ethnic/racial group can be thought of as a large-extended family (whose bonds of trust enable both jewelers and the mafia to get by) , breaking down homogeneity reduces the influence of informal institutions like families that rely on personal relationships in favor of impersonal institutions like markets/businesses (a huzzah resounds from the libertarians) and governments (now the boos), which also tend to scale better. People have a choice in whether they should invest in their ties in the neighborhood or in aspects of human capital that are valued everywhere. Keeping hip to the local slang is an example of the former, and unfortunately while hitting the books can help get you into college or a good job, it’s likely to cost you some friends in the short run. A transitory neighborhood where nobody knows anybody for long takes away that first option.
A major concern of many immigration-restrictionists today is that immigrants are not assimilating because they are forming geographically dense communities overwhelmingly of one language (as opposed to the many European ones of the past), reducing the necessity of adapting to their host country. One way of flipping this concern around would be to say that the problem is that there is not enough diversity! That is not “multiculturalism” but “biculturalism”. Canada is proud of the good job it has done at achieving the former, so I will link to my favorite (foreign-born) Canadian on the difference. A piece of counter-evidence toward these ideas is that “In Los Angeles, home to more Mexicans than any other city in the U.S., there is not one ethnic Mexican hospital, college, cemetery, or broad-based charity”, which is a bit surprising considering that there should be enough of a critical mass to start investing in local social goods. Sailer does give a good example from his days in Uptown Chicago of genuine multiculturalism impeding the creation of local social goods here though. The heartless economist in me (I’m not actually an economist, but if I was that’s the kind I’d be) says good! Like the unskilled laborer displaced by automation, there are better things he could have been doing than repairing the park, like maximizing the probability that Hopefully Anonymous will live forever (why that should be your goal I’ll leave to him to explain). His very (immortal) life may depend on social anomie and isolation.
Note: The contents of this blog post do not necessarily reflect the opinion of its author, in part because I haven’t really decided. It was mostly an exercise in taking some interesting ideas from others and running with them. For those wondering why I didn’t reference Fukuyama on trust, it’s because I haven’t read his books.