Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Geography of Tolerance - Virginia Doesn't Place

Click map to enlarge
I've written before about Richard Florida's studies on the rise of the creative class, the so-called gay index and how states that are more liberal socially are in general pulling ahead of states that are "conservative."  Florida has a new piece in The Atlantic that looks again at this issue and tracts metropolitan areas across America.  He also lays out the top 20 metropolitan areas in therms of how they score on the "Tolerance Index" which is based on "The share of immigrants or foreign-born residents, the Gay Index (the concentration of gays and lesbians), and the Integration Index, which tracks the level of segregation between ethnic and racial groups."  Not surprisingly, no where in Virginia makes the top 20 list.  The map above shows the USA based on the tolerance index.  Here are highlights from the article:

The map above shows how metros across the U.S. score on the Tolerance Index, as updated for The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited. The chart below shows the top 20 metros. Developed by my Martin Prosperity Institute colleague Kevin Stolarick, it ranks U.S. metros according to three key variables—the share of immigrants or foreign-born residents, the Gay Index (the concentration of gays and lesbians), and the Integration Index, which tracks the level of segregation between ethnic and racial groups.

The top 20 is a mix of big diverse metros like San Diego and Miami and smaller ones. Many of these smaller metros are college towns that are home to large concentrations of professional, technical and knowledge workers from diverse backgrounds, which lead to higher levels of ethnic and racial integration than larger metros, where economic differences are often greater.

Even more than its natural resources and native ingenuity, what has stood at the heart and soul of U.S. prosperity historically has been its openness to hard working, ambitious, and talented immigrants of all stripes—doctors, engineers, and uneducated laborers alike. Roughly half of Silicon Valley start-ups have a foreign-born person among their founding team, according to several recent studies. Careful studies by the economist Giovanni Peri of the University of California at Davis have found that immigrants add rather than detract from American prosperity, for the simple reason that "the skill composition of immigrants is complementary to that of natives."  .  .  .  .   A "more multicultural urban environment," Peri concludes, "makes U.S.-born citizens more productive."

Openness to gays and lesbians similarly reflects an ecosystem that is open to new people and new ideas. It’s amazing how consistently people have misconstrued what my colleagues and I have had to say about the connection between gays and economic growth. They miss the point. A strong and vibrant gay community is a solid leading indicator of a place that is open to many different kinds of people. Ronald Inglehart, who has studied the relationship between culture and economic growth for some four decades, has noted that the lack of societal acceptance of gays is the most significant remaining bastion of intolerance and discrimination around the world. Accordingly, communities that have long been more accepting and open to gay people have an underlying ecosystem which is also more likely to be accepting of new ideas and different types of people, including the eggheads and eccentrics who invent new things and start new enterprises. As Bill Bishop put it, "where gay households abound, geeks follow."

Economists frequently note the importance of industries having low entry barriers, so that new firms can easily enter and keep the industry vital. Similarly, a place can benefit from low entry barriers for people—where newcomers from different backgrounds are accepted quickly into all sorts of social and economic arrangements. All else being equal, such communities have an advantage in attracting and retaining the diverse and different types of people who power innovation and growth.

Tolerance - and openness to diversity and inclusiveness - is not an afterthought or something that happens when communities get rich. It is a key element of the new economic development equation.

These basics of good economics and ways to stimulate an improved economy are utterly lost on the Republican Party of Virginia as it prostitutes itself to hate merchants such as those at The Family Foundation and other allied organizations that seek to marginalize and stigmatize gays, immigrants and non-whites.  Of course, most of the states in the Bible Belt act the same way and, not surprisingly, their economies suffer as a consequence.

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