'Tolerance' Key To Our Economy | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

'Tolerance' Key To Our Economy

Yes, it's a cliche, but it feels deserved this cycle. No matter who won the recent elections, I feel that Jacksonians in particular (and Mississippians in general) are the losers.

This has been a banner year for baseless rhetoric, xenophobia and champions of the status quo. We're simply not hearing any new ideas this cycle, and perhaps worse, it seems the entire campaign is being played out in morbid sound bites and hope-this-fools-'em falsehoods.

It so happens that during the weeks leading up to this election, I've also been reading the book "The Flight of the Creative Class" by Richard Florida, author of the much-heralded "Rise of the Creative Class." Professor Florida has a message for us in this more recent book: We need to get our act together.

If you're familiar at all with Florida's theories, you should read at least the first 100 pages of "Flight," which begins as a defense and expansion of Florida's "Creative Class" thesis. In it, he fleshes out the notion that the emerging economy for the United States is a "creative" economy, where we think, design and plan more than we push, pull and bend materials to build things. In some ways, globalization and outsourcing make sense in this context. What drives our economy is harnessing the ideas and creativity of our work force, thus securing a competitive advantage over other countries.

Florida points out that the "creative class" of workers—by which he means professionals, knowledge workers, entrepreneurs and others who tend to have their economic fate in their own hands—is extremely mobile. Not only can this group move to where jobs are, but they can—and, empirically, they do—decide to move and live where they want, expecting the jobs to be there. And the jobs most often are, because the places that these workers want to live are the bastions of the creative economy.

There's something else interesting about these places. They rank high on Florida's "Three T's" index for American and international cities—technology, talent and tolerance. In a cultural and political context, tolerance is the most important, because it's what we have the most control over locally. If we learn to lead with tolerance, those other two—technology and talent—will want to hang around and get to know us better.

What does tolerance mean? Appreciation for the "other"—as in, those other than the "natives" in any given area. The more tolerant you are as a city or state, the more likely you are to attract creative-class workers. The more creative-class workers you attract, the more likely your local economy is to thrive in the future.

On the national level, Florida argues that the United States is losing ground in its ability to attract members of the creative class, largely because of the defensive footing we've been on since Sept. 11, 2001. While there's no doubt in any American's mind that a bit more security at the borders, in planes, in ports and in embassies around the world is a good idea, the intolerance that has reared its head over the issue of immigration to this country—both legal and illegal—may hurt our standing with the creative class over the long-term.

The United States has long been thought of as the destination for both highly educated creative professionals and less-educated workers willing to risk everything to build a better life. In the personal histories of many of us reading (or writing) this column, something along those lines is true. Ancestors emigrated to this country seeking freedom and opportunity, found it, and made a better life for their children. For others, the trip to the New World was forced, and the opportunities more scarce, but hard-fought battles have made success and prosperity attainable.

The more xenophobic the rhetoric gets against immigrants, however, the less attractive our country—and our state—are for those immigrants, regardless of their education and skills. But it's not just the immigrants who won't come—the technology companies, the creative workers and the well-educated American inventors and entrepreneurs will second-guess making Mississippi (and the U.S.) home, as well. Why? Because people who have a choice choose tolerant cities in which to live and work. And companies that seek those people locate offices in those same cities.

Consider these truths:

• Undocumented workers, often pay taxes from which they can legally derive no benefits.

• When illegal immigrants work and don't pay taxes, it's their employer who is breaking the law.

• The American birthrate is about 1.7 children per family. Americans marry later (on average) and have fewer children later in life. At this rate, we're not replacing our current work force levels. Immigration is necessary to fill crucial jobs, and Social Security relies on immigrants.

Millions of people come to this country to better their own lives and because they love and respect this country. How many immigrants likely want to cause our country harm? Very few. That's why it's called terrorism—the point is to get us to act in fear.

In Jackson, first and foremost, it's important that our politicians lead us, publicly, toward tolerance. Jackson has a highly educated work force in medicine, law, government, education and creative endeavors such as the arts. Our leaders—Mississippi representatives and senators, city officials, U.S. congressional representatives—need to get on the tolerance bandwagon, and stop the pandering. The rhetoric of hate and fear do not make Jackson (or any part of Mississippi) a more attractive tourist destination or a better place to do business.

It's as simple as this: When we are no longer the "land of opportunity," we lose something that makes us extraordinarily attractive as a nation—and as a state. Maintaining that advantage should be our focus, our determination and our drive.

Closing our doors to "outsiders"—rhetorically or literally—may get cheap votes and rough applause during elections. But it's economic suicide in the long run.

Previous Comments

ID
75533
Comment

Big bump. This is a must-read by my significant other...

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-11-07T22:23:11-06:00
ID
75534
Comment

The more xenophobic the rhetoric gets against immigrants, however, the less attractive our country—and our state—are for those immigrants, regardless of their education and skills. But it’s not just the immigrants who won’t come—the technology companies, the creative workers and the well-educated American inventors and entrepreneurs will second-guess making Mississippi (and the U.S.) home, as well. Why? Because people who have a choice choose tolerant cities in which to live and work. And companies that seek those people locate offices in those same cities. A point that gets lost in all the anti-immigrant rhetoric is that younger, and more educated and creative, people *want* to live in areas that are diverse. And not just black and white—Hispanic, Asian and others. Their expectations are evolving. As I'm putting together diversity information for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (I'm not the diversity chair), I'm running into all the research that is warning businesses that not only are society's demographics changing (many consumers are increasingly non-white), but new consumers (even the white ones) are expecting more diverse communities, workplaces, entertainment options and media. So the business world is responding to this change—and communities have to do the same in order to attrack their business and employees. It's kinda basic. This is why all the "stealing our jobs!" rhetoric is extremely ignorant and shortsighted—not just from a moral decency standpoint, but from a business perspective. We must work toward incorporating more diversity into our communities, not less. That is, if we want to have strong economies—and, yes, good jobs—in the future.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-11-08T11:09:45-06:00
ID
75535
Comment

It is interesting to note that you hear younger people complaining about immigrants a whole lot less than older people who are still stuck in past mentalities. They just don't get it, and aren't even bothering to check out the research that proves their conventional "stealing our jobs!" wisdom flat-out wrong. Hell, even Bush is smarter than this. Eek.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-11-08T11:12:32-06:00
ID
75536
Comment

Most younger people (okay, 25-40 may not be young, but it can be younger, right?) I've talked to about the immigration issue have three things on their mind: 1. We can't possibly think to deport 12 million people. Let's find a way to legally integrate the people who would be deported into this country. 2. If people are so upset about "illegal immigration," then why don't they put their money where their collective mouth is: require proof of legal residency before a job is offered. You CANNOT assume everyone who appears Latino is an illegal immigrant. Without proof to the opposite, let's assume everyone is here legally and get on with our lives. 3. Are my taxes paying for services that are provided to people who don't ever pay taxes? As Todd points out, though, unless the employer is breaking the law, taxes are paid on all employees' wages -- whether the employee has legal residency or not. So then the onus falls back on the employers -- same as in #2: if you hire someone, pay the required taxes. So let's stop blaming the people who came to this country -- in whatever method -- looking for a better life. We must find a way to welcome those who are already here. The next step is to decide: either we continue to welcome more people looking to America for a better life or we stop making that better life available to persons who are not here legally. To ask people seeking that better life to stop trying is asking people to go against nature. As my grandfather used to say, if you want to stop the horse from eating the corn in the next field, you don't get the horse to stop liking corn -- you take the corn away by moving the horse. Great note Todd -- lots of food for thought. Newt

Author
Newt
Date
2007-11-13T16:41:57-06:00
ID
75537
Comment

Nice, Newt. I agree with you: For the most part, being anti-immigration is for coots. ... And for candidates looking for a sorry, cheap wedge issue.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-11-13T17:33:18-06:00
ID
75538
Comment

We can't possibly think to deport 12 million people. I've heard the 12 million figure before. Has that number ever been verified? But for the sake of argument, I'll go along with that number The thought of deporting 12 million people reminds me of the Trail of Tears, in which the federal government forced thousands of Cherokees from their lands to the western United States in 1838. The only difference here is that not only would there be much more people, but it would also be televised. We couldn't bare seeing images of people being rounded up and forced out. I don't support illegal immigration in the purest sense of the term. No one should come here without the necessary documentation, regardless of where they come from. But they are here and we can't ignore them. They are, after all, helping in keeping our economy rolling along. Wrap the number 12 million around your brain. That's about the population of Pennsylvania. Imagine what would happen to our economy if Pennsylvania was kicked out of the United States. Maybe it wouldn't come to a screeching halt, but there would be serious repercussions. We hear about them "taking our jobs!" What jobs are they talking about? CEOs? Computer techs? Doctors? Lawyers? For the most part (or from what I've been able to observe), they're working manual labor jobs at menial wages, something most native-born Americans wouldn't do. How many of us are willing to go to the Delta to pick and chop cotton? Or go to Washington state to pick apples? To Florida and pick oranges?

Author
golden eagle
Date
2007-11-13T21:00:32-06:00

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