• 73°

Actually, diversity is a great strength

Iowa Congressman Steve King, who revels in controversy, made some more when he tweeted “Diversity is not our strength.” Is this the case?

To answer this, I research some of the best studies in political science, ironically cited by supporters and opponents of diversity.

One of the best analysts on civic engagement, Robert Putnam (whose book I assign in my classes) made a finding that seems to challenge the notion that diversity is a positive force in America.

“Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam — famous for ‘Bowling Alone,’ his 2000 book on declining civic engagement — has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.”

In fact, conservatives have been citing Putnam’s findings for quite some time. John Hawkins with Townhall.com does as much, adding the movie “World War Z” and Israel building a wall as a good idea, to keep the zombies out.

“So instead of laughing off the idea that Israel might face a zombie invasion, Israelis realized there was merit to it and were prepared in time to protect the country,” Hawkins writes. Anyone watching the film knows that Israel’s wall completely fails to save the country. A diverse team of scientists, by the way, have better results in stopping the zombies.

For those that think that Putnam’s findings are about racial fighting, you would be wrong. “Putnam’s findings reject both theories. In more diverse communities, he says, there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise. And in perhaps the most surprising result of all, levels of trust were not only lower between groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group. ‘Diversity, at least in the short-term,’ he writes, ‘seems to bring out the turtle in all of us.”

Critics of diversity only tend to see one type of variety — race and ethnicity. What they ignore is that there is a multiplicity of sources of diversity.

Economists Matthew Kahn (UCLA) and Dora Costa (MIT) “documented higher desertion rates in the Civil War among Union Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers varied more by age, occupation, and birthplace,” writes Michael Jonas, Acting Editor of CommonWealth Magazine.

Ironically, conservatives like Hawkins also cite University of Michigan political scientist Scott Page.

Again, reading his work provides a different perspective. Jonas writes “If ethnic diversity, at least in the short run, is a liability for social connectedness, a parallel line of emerging research suggests it can be a big asset when it comes to driving productivity and innovation. In high-skill workplace settings, says Scott Page, the University of Michigan political scientist, the different ways of thinking among people from different cultures can be a boon. Because they see the world and think about the world differently than you, that’s challenging, says Page, author of ‘The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies,’ Jonas writes. ‘But by hanging out with people different than you, you’re likely to get more insights. Diverse teams tend to be more productive.’”

That’s why America’s financial economy is headquartered in New York, not North Dakota, and Los Angeles is a finalist for the Olympics instead of South Dakota, and why the population of these homogeneous communities like Montana is either shrinking or increasing at a decreasing rate.

BBC Home Editor Mark Eaton cites the latest research on the subject, with detailed population maps.

“It turns out that the positive effect of diversity is strongest among younger people and weakest among the oldest people – actually becoming negative for people over 85. Segregation works the other way around – the impact of a more segregated community is most negative for young people while, for those over 65, segregation is a positive… What this paper suggests is that where you have non-segregated and relatively prosperous communities, diversity is likely to improve community life, not damage it,” Eaton writes.

It is worth noting that Representative King had in mind citing a different source. He referenced Hungarian Dictator Viktor Orban, who has not only spoken out against “mixing cultures” but has also criticized and dismantled democracy in his country (and received support from David Duke on that stand). It’s worth noting that those seeking an alternative to diversity, like Professor James Q. Wilson, support “authoritative leaders and discipline” instead of attempting to generate some degree of tolerance.

That’s because the antithesis of diversity is conformity.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.