June 22, 2014

Diversity of views a key to progress

Charles Tiebout produced a thoughtful concept for urban economists. His Tiebout Hypothesis states that localities each produce a unique combination of services, amenities, attractions, taxes and opportunities. Then, people vote with their feet by moving to those regions that are most closely aligned with their needs and philosophies.

I’ve belabored the need for our region to first develop and then tout its best assets. If we do both well, people will come.

There is a more profound interpretation of Tiebout’s hypothesis. Not only do we move to places that cater to us, but we also find groups that think like us.

Our ability to move, even to choose among myriad cable channels, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Not too long ago, perhaps even within your youth, the barriers to move, in expense and in damaging those ties that bind us here, were much more formidable.

We’ve become a footloose nation, within a footloose world. Our sense of permanence has perhaps never been so fragile. We have the freedom to seek places of like nature and people of like mind, and we exercise that freedom like never before.

I’m not sure whether this freedom has improved all aspects of our society, though.

Our increased freedom has created increased divisions. For the first time, we now can choose to align ourselves, our neighbors and neighborhood, our news media, and our networks not by happenstance, but by politics, income, ideology and personal philosophy. Sometimes we are the worst for it.

At one time, we had to live with our neighbors and their peculiarities. We graciously listened to their rants, on the left or the right, and we actually learned from that diversity, whether or not we knew it.

Now, disagreement has become tedious. We surround ourselves with like minds and we preach to the converted. We’ve become incredibly good at backslapping, but we may have lost grace, tolerance, diversity and innovation in the process.

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