This week, the San Jose Mercury News published an opinion piece (Keep the door open to world talent; reject Prop. 8) by Andrew Szeri, the Dean of Graduate Studies at UC Berkeley. Szeri argues that recognition of same-sex marriage plays a prominent, if not deciding, factor in attracting well-educated international talent to the United States. I found this claim to to be an odd, if not surreal, rationale for a “No” vote on Proposition 8.
A vote for Proposition 8, denying the recognition of same-sex marriages, yanks away the welcome mat from talented people who aspire to come to the United States and join one of the most dynamic societies on Earth. They want to move to a place where their talents can be fully exercised, in a society of mutual respect and understanding.
When I think of same-sex marriage, the last thing that weighs on my mind is whether Akshay and Padma from ITT Bombay will refuse to attend graduate school in California because the backwards cretins will not let one man marry another man.
However, as William Wulf, past president of the National Academy of Engineering, noted in testimony before Congress, America’s reputation is changing. “The international image of the United States has been one of a welcoming ‘land of opportunity,’ ” he wrote in 2005 testimony, “The Importance of Foreign-born Scientists and Engineers to the Security of The United States.” “We are in the process, however, of destroying that image and replacing it with one of a xenophobic, hostile nation.”
It may well be that a segment of the international community sees the U.S. as “xenophobic” and “hostile.” But, this is a function of U.S. immigration policy, hostility toward ever-increasing numbers of foreign nationals crossing the border illegally, and an entrenched bureaucracy that makes it difficult to get the appropriate visas. It has no apparent correlation with laws allowing same-sex marriage?
To test the thesis, I took a straw poll among my international colleagues. The question I asked was: Did U.S. policy on same-sex marriage have any influence on your decision to come to the U.S.? They looked at me with blank stares. Not one claimed that same-sex marriage policies factored into their choice of which university or their choice of U.S. state to live in.
What is the connection? When it legalized same-sex marriage, California joined the ranks of other enlightened parts of the world. The legalization of same-sex marriage may be regarded as the ultimate sign of the openness of a society…. Are we willing to send to Canada or to Europe the talent that comes knocking at our door? They will make their inventions in Canada and Europe, not here; start their businesses there, not here; enrich the culture there, not here; and shape opinion there, not here.
Wow, I didn’t realize that I’ve been living in the Dark Ages for the past 40 years. The problem with this statement is that in Europe only Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway allow same-sex couples to formally marry. Most of the other Western European nations recognize only civil unions. If Szeri’s statement is true, California will not be competing with Britain, France, Germany or Ireland for these highly-prized Creative Class® individuals because they are do not allow same-sex marriage.
Just how did Szeri come to the conclusion that a society’s approval of same-sex marriage is a paramount symbol of a tolerant and inviting society? By training and profession, Szeri is a professor of mechanical engineering. He is not an expert on economic competitiveness and or human capital. As it turns out Szeri is an acolyte of Richard Florida–academic, author, consultant, and “creativity” guru.
University of Toronto social theorist Richard Florida argued in the Washington Monthly in 2002 that such values are crucial to attracting and retaining the “creative class” of highly educated scientists and engineers, artists and entrepreneurs. “Talented people seek an environment open to differences,” he wrote. “When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays (and lesbians) in particular is a sign that reads ‘non-standard people welcome here.
Richard Florida has written numerous books and papers discussing the role that physical and social amenities play in attracting human capital to specific regions of the nation. In his paper, Creative Class or Human Capital?, Florida describes how the 3 T’s (talent, technology and tolerance) play a major role in attracting highly-educated, highly-skilled individuals to certain cities and the economic and social impact. One of the indicators of tolerance is what Florida calls the “Gay index” or the “Bohemian-Gay index.” He postulates that gays and bohemians (artists, musicians and other who don’t live traditional lifestyles) are more highly concentrated in cities/regions that are socially “tolerant”. In The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida says that the “Gay Index” of a community as being a “reasonable proxy for an area’s openness to different kinds of people and ideas.” Just why and how this is a reasonable proxy goes unexplained. It is little more than untested conventional wisdom.
There are several criticisms of Florida’s thesis:
(1) Florida’s methodology and data analysis have been criticized and refuted. In his article Urban Amenities: Lakes, Opera, and Juice Bars Do They Drive Development?, Terry Nichols Clark, of the University of Chicago, discusses additional amenities that draw people to specific geographical areas, and he reminds the reader that “what attracts one person can repel others. There is no ‘silver bullet’ for urban dynamics.” Clark’s research also concluded that “Percent gays…had inconsistent or near zero relations with many factors…. For instance, percent gays is unrelated to high tech patents and growth in college graduates using data for all US counties.” Clark also states “We found weak or zero linkages between gays and tolerance, risk aversion, college towns and amenities using direct tolerance and risk items….”
My straw poll of my international colleagues seems to support this. They listed the following reasons for choosing the Bay Area: mild climate; large local populations of Indians, Asians and Latinos with similar cultures and languages; easy access to the beach (diving, surfing) and the mountains (skiing, snowboarding); and entertainment (symphonies, theaters, etc.). Not one considered that the large gay population meant that the Bay Area or California were more inviting than any other area of nation.
(2) Florida’s Creative Class® theory was developed in the 1990s during the dot-com boom. That boom went bust, and how just how applicable any of its economic, social and cultural factors are in 2008 remain to be seen. Author Karrie Jacobs wrote in 2005 “Maybe Florida bugs me because I lived for a time in 3 T’s central, San Francisco, from the pinnacle of the dot-com boom to the bottom of the bust. I lived in a place that was so perfectly attuned to the needs and desires of a particular creative class that hardly anyone else could stand it (or afford it).”
(3) There is recent evidence that the well-educated and skilled workers that Florida claims are attracted to urban areas with high “Gay indexes” are leaving due to increasing home prices and cost of living (Mayor battles a trend of families leaving city, San Francisco Chronicle; Bright Lights, big city… and few kids, Christian Science Monitor; Where Did All the Children Go? In San Francisco and Other Big U.S. Cities, High Costs Drive Out Middle-Class Families, The Washington Post; Children in exodus; SF has lowest number of families in state, San Francisco Chronicle; Saying Goodbye California Sun, Hello Midwest, The New York Times). San Francisco is also seeing its African-American community disappearing due to gentrification of its less expensive neighborhoods (Black population deserting San Francisco, study says, San Francisco Chronicle; Census: Blacks leaving San Francisco in droves, The Berkeley Daily Planet).
(4) Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is the San Francisco Bay Area attractive to the Creative Class® because there are so many gays and bohemians, or are the gays and bohemians attracted to the Bay Area because of the high quality of life created by the Creative Class®?
There is a certain elitist condescension to the idea that one class, the Creative Class®, is to be preferred and pursued instead of, or at the expense of, other classes of people. It is also presumptious to place the interests of one class or gender over another without considering the extraordinary impact this might have on the rest of society. This type of thinking is a perfect example of the hubris of the human intellect that sees itself as the Master of the Universe, all-knowing and all-powerful, capable of engineering societies and environments in its own conceited image.
Do we really want to undergo social engineering based on the speculations of highly-educated but fallible academics such as Richard Florida and Andrew Szeri? Do we want to abandon over 5,000 years of human civilization, tradition, and culture for theories that are taken to be true but are based on insufficient evidence?
I will end with the wisdom of Russell Kirk, who notes that the intelligent conservative
“… thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise. The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old…. prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.
The California Supremes and Gay Marriage, Thomas Lifson, American Thinker
Inferiority Redefined, William C. Duncan, American Spectator
Redefining Marriage Away, DL Tubbs and RP George, City Journal
Why We Need a Marriage Amendment, DL Tubbs and RP George, City Journal
Gay Men Support Prop 8, California Conservative
Going Beyond Same-Sex Marriage, Mark Tooley, American Spectator