Media diversity

In case  you missed it the first time around, today’s Australian runs a version of my paper on trust and diversity. I’ll be talking about it on the Life Matters program this morning at about 9am.

(On an unrelated note, the Oz also has a prequel of a couple of papers that will be featured in Monday’s teacher quality conference.)

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15 Responses to Media diversity

  1. harry clarke says:

    Fair enough Andrew but would you expect an increase in diversity (and in particular an increase in the range of languages spoken) to increase trust. If you can’t speak to your neighbour or he/she has different customs or ethnic characteristics would you expect to trust him or her more.

    I just wonder what you have shown.

  2. I heard the radio bit – didn’t realise it was you. It came across well on radio I thought.

  3. Mind you I’m still waiting for a cheque I did in early December.

    “Yeah no problems mate – I know xmas is coming up – we only have a 3 day turn around after we get your invoice”

  4. Claire says:

    Track-backs seem not to be working from my blog at the moment. Some comments are here:
    Harry, that seems to depend on community size, density and intensity of in-group network links and extent of interaction with the other group.

  5. Paul Frijters says:

    Hi Andrew, congrats on getting this one in. I fear you’ll basically be ignored with this message, but lets hope it keeps running.

    I find the whole article fascinating in terms of the implicit rules of argumentation that one seems to have to stick to with a message like this. Let’s go over the article in the Australian:

    You basically start out in the first paragraph stating various platitudes about the advantages of diversity which I nearly all agree with but for which you seem to feel no need at all to have any evidence. You for instance state how much more diverse our food has become, but is it really the case that we now get more enjoyment out of our food than our ancestors did out of theirs 100 years ago? No ‘evidence’ is giving to that effect and no names of or data sets of people who claim this. Indeed, its easy to think of (unpursuasive) counter arguments. For instance, as a percentage of GDP we now spend less on food than before so you cant argue that we show via our willingness to pay for food that we value it more than we used to. And of course a wilderness of diversity in cuisine has been lost in the meantime (I bet there used to a 100 intricate ways to cook a parsnip in England 100 years ago, whereas today you wouldnt be able to buy one in most shops). The point is that both you and the audience seem to need an intro showing how much you value diversity, for which the level of evidence required is minimal. ts exactly like seeing someone starting their sermon with a sacrifice to a shared cultural norm of saying you value diversity.

    Then you give the impressive array of your own and international findings on diversity, where you painstakingly make sure you mention dozens of names of people, data sets, and are careful in the niceties involved in the findings. This is apparently the way you need to write when you say something outside the prevailing cultural norm, i.e. numbers and names giving the impression of exactness and rigor. The double-standards involved seem aceptable all-round.

    The most fascinating thing though is that the article seems to display no need for a theory tying this all together and leaves the punchline to the readers’ imagination. For how can diversity be so great if all these good things appear to be related with the lack of diversity? Indeed, one has to bear in mind that each supposed homogeneous community used to be highly diverse. You may now for instance only have one box on the census for speaking ‘English’, yet the whole notion of Englishness is a medieval invention and hides the fact that until 300 or 400 years ago several groups had wars with each other (like in the war of the roses) and that even cities had large amounts of internal linguistic and cultural diversity. A ‘Scouse’ wouldnt have understood a ‘Cockney’ not too long ago. That diversity has all but disappeared and the lack of that internal diversity now appears to be related to good outcomes (trust, community participation and the rest of it). Do you then subscribe to the notion that good things happen when former diverse cultures merge into a new one, combining some of the good bits of the previously distinct cultures but in the meantime each subculture losnig most of its idiosyncracies (after all, one person can only hold so much culture)? This is certainly the only explanation I can think of that ties your observations together and I know this thought has occurred to you, but you seem highly reluctant to make that logical connection because of course it raises the notion that a similar process may be going on right now. This omission of a logical conclusion suggests that in our culture, when you say things against the cultural norm, what you do is to stick to the offending observation but abstrain from applying logic to those observations because that would make the piece too offensive. Almost as if a nasty conclusion is only palatable if the reader comes up with it him or herself. Fascinating.

  6. Sinclair Davidson says:

    is it really the case that we now get more enjoyment out of our food than our ancestors did out of theirs 100 years ago?

    This is a good question. I know Paul is raising a rhetorical point, but the answer is interesting. Consider his next point

    as a percentage of GDP we now spend less on food than before so you cant argue that we show via our willingness to pay for food that we value it more than we used to

    No, you can’t. But relative prices have also changed. food is a lot less expensive than it used to be, and preparation times are even less. So this is a poor test anyway. The real difference is in the substitution effects. Note what Paul also says

    I bet there used to a 100 intricate ways to cook a parsnip in England 100 years ago, whereas today you wouldnt be able to buy one in most shops

    I reckon (I’m not betting because I have no evidence) that pasnips were a large part of the diet 100 years ago. But they are so cheap/unwanted that you can’t even buy them now (well you probably can, but I don’t). So the Anglo diet has changed away from a typical Anglo diet of 100 years ago. But has the average Japanese diet changed in substance? I reckon that Japanese are getting more protein in their diet now than 100 years ago, but the basic meal would be very similar.

    So consider a thought experiment. If a time machine were to bring a Japanese forward 100 years and an Englishman (or Dutchman, etc.) forward 100 years, what would they say about the food? I suspect the Japanese would say, “we’re rich, eating like the emperor”. The Englishman might say “where’s the parsnips”.

    So I think we can say diversity adds value to our diet. In less diverse environments we would observe an increase in quality of food, whereas in more diverse environments we would observe an improvement in quality, and a substitution away from traditional foods.

  7. Surely the huge change in what we eat – even since my childhood in the 1970s – is a sign that we think the wider variety of foods is a good thing? Yes, we probably largely adapt to our new diet and don’t get significantly more pleasure than from the previous diet, but we would also suffer if forced to go back to the old ways.

  8. Patrick says:

    Have none of you actually tasted hot buttered parsnips? Or parsnips in soup? Or crisp-roasted parsnip? Or parsnip chips?

    I mean, do any of you actually cook???

  9. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I have had parsnips, but have chosen to consume a 21 century diet 🙂

  10. Lynn Arnold says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I was very interested to read your article in this weeks HES of the Australian.

    The issue of Trust and Diversity is interesting, but it may also be that there is a whole lot more to the story. Reflecting on your article, I recalled an episode related in Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs & Steel” [from Chapter 14, pages 265-266]. Here is an extract:

    “It turned out that the Fayu (an ethnic group in New Guinea) normally lived as single families, scattered through the swamp and coming together once or twice each year to negotiate exchanges of brides. (Our) visit coincided with such a gathering, of a few dozen Fayu. To us, a few dozen people constitute a small, ordinary gathering, but to the Fayu it was a rare, frightening event. Murderers suddenly found themselves face-to-face with their victim’s relatives. For example, one Fayu man spotted the man who had killed his father. The son raised his ax and rushed at the murderer but was wrestled to the ground by his friends; then the murderer came at the prostrate son with an ax and was also wrestled down. Both men were held, screaming in rage, until they seemed sufficiently exhausted to be released. Other men periodically shouted insults at each other, shook with anger and frustration, and pounded the ground with their axes. That tension continued for the several days of the gathering, while Doug prayed that the visit would not end in violence …

    “The Fayu consist of about 400 hunter-gatherers, divided into four clans and wandering over a few hundred square miles. According to their own account, they had formerly numbered about 2,000, but their population had been greatly reduced as a result of Fayu killing Fayu. They lacked political and social mechanisms, which we take for granted, to achieve peaceful resolution of serious disputes. Eventually, as a result of Doug’s visit, one group of Fayu invited a courageous husband-and-wife missionary couple to live with them. The couple has now resided there for a dozen years and gradually persuaded the Fayu to renounce violence, where they face an uncertain future.”

    My point here is that the Fayu all speak the same language … so their level of trust (or lack of it) was not linguistically determined … it may even have been (though there is nothing said about this in the book), that they may have feared less their non-Fayu speaking neighbours than their Fayu-speaking ones. Which brings us to the issue of clans as a ‘hunkering down’ turtle-like mechanism followed in so many different parts of the world now and in the past – the Scots, the Scots-Irish in the Ozarks in the US, the Albanians or Iraqi Arabs of today … in all cases, all of these groups speak (spoke) the same language within their group yet had high levels of distrust of each other. Now a key point probably is that they don’t have to worry about not trusting other groups from other languages, as they generally either ethnically cleansed them out of the neighbourhood, or themselves chose to live away from such other polyglots; however, it does mean that the issue of Trust goes much further than your article suggests.

    Another point that I reflected upon is that it seems difficult to explain the negative correlation you propose between diversity and economic growth in the case of the economic boom in the US of the late C19. The ‘huddled masses’ who crossed the Atlantic in the great waves of migration were enormously diverse and yet were the fuel of an economic take-off the like of which has seldom been seen anywhere – true the ‘melting pot’ had a huge assimilating impact … but that was later (and in any event has been overstated) … in the early C20, ethnic pride was very strong in many different parts of the US – from the boroughs of New York (with its fervent Irish, Jewish and other communities) to the prairies of Wisconsin and Minnesota (with its Scandinavians settlers).

    Finally linguistic diversity need not only be a potential cause of mistrust, it can also be part of the ‘hunkering down’ mechanism. I don’t have my copy to hand, so can’t quote a page reference, but in “Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness in Martha’s Vineyard”, Nora Ellen Groce noted at one point that non-hearing impaired islanders were often observed to communicate with each other in Sign in the presence of off-islanders – the point being that the ‘different’ language was not a cause of mistrust, it was an expression of it.

    I am going to get hold of a copy of Dialogue so I can read your whole article as it is, as I say, very interesting and thought-provoking. I also want to get hold of a copy of the Edith Cowan/NCIS study.


    Lynn Arnold

  11. Paul Frijters says:

    I’m with Andrew Norton on this one: my current diet of fat, sugar and salt (for which it doesnt seem to matter if it comes in the shape of a curry, pizza, or bbq) seems so much better than my childhood memory of spuds and vegetables. Is it really better though from a nutritional standpoint? Probably not. And dont we just adapt to whatever we eat? Adrew’s probably right. Furthermore, there are such things as ‘acquired tastes’, i.e. foods you have to have consumed often to start to appreciate. Coffee, beer, wine and vegemite come to mind. Who knows what acquired tastes we have lost in the last 100 years? Patrick’s parsnip soup perhaps ?

  12. Thinking in old ways says:

    I would have thought that there is sufficient proof of our valuing diversity in food in the fact that we consume it.

    There are no restrictions on anyone buying lamb chops(a), potatoes and peas and eating this every night (except when you alternate with meat loaf and fish on fridays). If you want to buy a 100 year old cookbook to find out how to cook turnips or parsnips – you can do so – but most of us don’t.

    Revealed preference is not a bad proof.

    (a) I accept it is most probably a little bit harder to find mutton chops – however I am sure there are some speciality butchers who will supply.

  13. Andrew Leigh says:

    Paul, as to your point about which points are referenced, and which aren’t, this is mainly an issue of audience. In my Economic Record paper, I referenced all the studies on the positive association between trust and good stuff. But I find that a generalist audience needs little persuading that trust is good. On the other hand, while an economist like Harry Clarke thinks that it’s obvious that linguistic diversity is bad for trust, my experience has been that most people need persuading on this point, so I cited more studies.

    As to the policy conclusion, mine is simple. Immigration is on balance a good thing. But not all its consequences are good, so we should try to minimise its costs.

  14. Paul Frijters says:

    🙂 really Andrew, talk about a non-sequitur! I point out that you state ‘various platitudes about the advantages of diversity’ and you respond by saying that in an Economic Record paper you “referenced all the studies on the positive association between trust and good stuff. But I find that a generalist audience needs little persuading that trust is good.” My observation and your response dont seem to have much in common.
    And your supposed policy conclusion that one should minimise costs is not a policy conclusion at all. Its more like stating an aspect of the outcome you want. You dont say how one should minimise costs.

  15. Andrew Leigh says:

    Paul, I apologise for misreading your comment. I mistakenly thought you were accusing me of lowering the evidentiary bar on trust, not on diversity. You’re right – I had in mind the work of Cobb-Clark, Miller et al, who generally find small labour market impacts of immigration. But as you correctly point out, there’s a paucity of economic studies on immigration and food. Perhaps the two of us can address this at some point?

    As to the policy conclusion, I wrote that “When it comes to interpersonal trust, one useful strategy would be to focus more attention on the problem itself: building local trust in immigrant communities. Since the benefits of programs to build social capital are probably greatest in places where community ties are weakest, such programs should be targeted towards communities that are poorer and more diverse.” What I had in mind was programs like the billion-dollar “Stronger Families and Communities”, which are ostensibly aimed at social capital building, but are basically untargeted.

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