Diversifying New Hampshire


New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine are so white that if a map of the United States were colored according to the skin pigmentation of its residents, Northern New England would look like a snow-covered peak. We could go as a ghost for Halloween without even dressing up. And that’s a potential problem.

Some New Hampshire business and civic leaders recently held a conference to discuss ways to make the state more diverse. This drew nationwide media coverage, including a story in The New York Times. And a lot of shouting. When it comes to anything that touches on race, people really like to shout.

Some of the hostile reactions were knee-jerk racism. Others were labeled racist unfairly. (NHPR summarizes many of the responses here.)

We suspect that had the forum been purely a community or business effort, it would have been little noticed. But once the state gets involved in a cultural initiative, residents have a sense of ownership over it. Government involvement instantly politicizes anything.

People hear that the state is pursuing a diversity initiative, and they read into that all kinds of things. First, they hear the word “race” instead of “diversity.” That’s because the left has conditioned people to think of the latter as a code word for the former.

And because “diversity” has become a political buzzword of the left, it would be easy to assume that the end result, if not the goal, of a diversity initiative would be to make New Hampshire more politically liberal by recruiting people who have a tendency to vote for liberal politicians.

Diversity also implies cultural changes, and that always generates concern that community values will be shifted.

But the message from the forum that generated all the yelling and name calling was decidedly uncontroversial. It’s a message New Hampshire has to take seriously because the state’s future depends on dealing with diversity, broadly defined.

New Hampshire’s economic growth is probably at a turning point. Our tax policy has given us the foundation for having a great economy, but our workforce shortage is threatening our economic future. Simply put, we don’t have enough people.

(People bring not just bodies, but ideas.)

As this newsletter has pointed out before, New Hampshire’s economic growth has for decades been driven not just by low taxes, but by in-migration fueled by those low taxes. That in-migration has slowed, and that’s a huge problem.

Our population is older, our young people prefer to spend early adulthood in more urban areas with higher concentrations of young adults. This is a universal human tendency.

To grow, we need new immigrants. As the nation’s population becomes less white, New Hampshire’s whiteness becomes a potential economic problem. If the state is seen as unwelcoming to non-white Americans, a shrinking percentage of the U.S. population will be interested in moving here.

New Hampshire is not “too white” in any abstract sense. There is no perfect racial or ethnic ratio by which government can judge a state’s population. But the fact that our state is remote, rural, and largely ethnically homogeneous does pose economic challenges.

The term “diversity” has been used for so long as a political weapon that many of us lose sight of its broader meaning. The historical truth is that places that are more open to people from different cultural backgrounds are places that enjoy greater prosperity and create more complex and vibrant cultures of their own.

Great civilizations grow from trade. But it’s not just the economic aspect of trade that benefits a city, state or nation. The exchange of ideas and cultures that comes from a mixing of diverse peoples stimulates new ideas and enterprises. It essentially incubates entrepreneurship and innovation.

This is why remote, mountainous regions of the world are generally less economically prosperous than port cities and communities built at the intersections of trade routes. It’s not just that it’s harder for wagons or ships or trucks to reach those places. It’s that they don’t get to drink from the cultural stew created in the melting pot coastal cities and crossroad communities.

It turns out that diversity itself is a driver of prosperity and growth.

Granite Staters can and should discuss (or shout about) the proper role of the state in pursuing “diversity,” however we choose to define that word. There’s a case to be made that the state shouldn’t try to manage the racial or ethnic makeup of its people in any way because even taking a few small steps down that path is dangerous.

But that doesn’t mean that Granite Staters shouldn’t be concerned about the perception other people have of our great state, and their willingness to move here. Just as New Hampshire’s economy depends on tourism, its economic future depends on the intellectual, cultural and economic exchanges that will or will not take place here in the years to come. Generally speaking, our economic future will be stronger if the people who participate in those exchanges come from a broadly diverse set of backgrounds.