More on Diversity v. Welfare

In response to Michael‘s comment, let me expand on the ethnic diversity/social welfare spending post, which I think makes an interesting point that you rarely see in mainstream media commentary.

As I read the Glaeser/Alesina study (I haven’t read their entire book), they are making a positive, not a normative argument. Essentially, they assume that racism is simply a part of human nature; that all of us are programmed — quite possibly genetically — to prefer associating with people who share our race or ethnicity. As far as I am aware, this assumption is not controversial among evolutionary biologists:

Racism is a subset of ethnocentrism, the tendency to favor genetically, socially, and culturally similar in-groups over alien out-groups. Edward O. Wilson has argued that selection favored those humans who were the quickest to recognize, fear, hate, and drive away or kill strangers, thereby securing a margin of safety for themselves and their kin. It does appear that ethnocentrism, or at least xenophobia, is in some degree biologically programmed.

[David T. Courtwright, Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City, Harvard Univ. Press, p. 31). Of course, this inborn tendency is often reduced by socialization, just as with other evolutionary drives (another example: about 35% of males are willing to say they would commit rape if they could be guaranteed that they’d never be identified or punished).

Surveys consistently uncover plenty of racial and ethnic prejudice across all societies, and usually disprove the contact hypothesis. That is, increased contact with people of difference races or ethnicities is just as likely to deepen your distrust of them as it is to reduce it. I can’t tell you how many Germans I’ve met who denounce anti-black racism in the United States, but then turn right around and lament the ‘inherent’ laziness and criminality of Turks or Poles. To paraphrase Czeslaw Milosz, it’s always the other country’s Indians who are the innocent victims of oppression — the ones in your own country deserved their fate.

People exist who regard race and ethnicity as irrelevant cultural constructs, but this view is widespread only among elites. (Who, in turn, sometimes have a hard time distinguishing the views of the people they meet everyday from the very different views held by majorities of their fellow citizens.) Outside of these elites, average people regard ethnic differences as very real, and very important. How do you identify who’s racially or ethnically different? Simple: they look different, they go to a different church, they have different customs, and/or they speak a different language. 

You also learn how to identify ‘others’ from the your group’s collective cultural memory. Just ask any resident of a country that was once part of the Ottoman Empire what they think of ‘the Turks’, and you’ll get an earful. I’ve already tried this experiment on Bulgarians, Serbs and Greeks, and gotten very similar results. Many houses in these countries contain secret doors — which their owners will proudly show you — used for centuries to flee from marauding Turkish soldiers.

These are the not-pretty facts of human nature that explain the social welfare / civic cohesion study results. Assuming some degree of widespread ethnocentrism as a given, you would expect it to be easiest to convince people to participate in collective-welfare schemes if almost all the people who would benefit came from their ‘group.’ You would expect it to be especially hard to set up these schemes if the people who stood to gain the most from them or to gain disproportionately from them were ethnic minorities. And that’s pretty much what you see.

Thus, racism doesn’t drive the creation of social-welfare systems; it simply complicates their creation in diverse societies.

5 thoughts on “More on Diversity v. Welfare

  1. I wonder whether ‘racism’ is the entire answer. One thing the US has done throughout it’s history is apply strong pressures to immigrant groups to assimilate into becoming ‘Americans’. I can think of one or perhaps two exceptions, negroes and possibly mexican hispanics.

    Negroes were vicitmized first by slavery and then by Jim Crow laws intended to keep them from being assimilated. I might argue that the affirmative action programs put into palce as a anguished if belated reaction to slavery and Jim Crow may have held some negroes back while helping others.

    A third exception are American Indians but they are a paradox, tending to be either among the most assimilated or the least assimilated of Americans (even less so than “underclass” negroes I believe).

    Europe eems to be growing an underclass of it’s own these days. I think the American experience is that it’s huge mistake to harbor a large group of people without giving them tools and rewards to integrate. Shutting them out in the expecatation that they will ‘go home’ or can be exported doesn’t work…..


  2. > I can’t tell you how many Germans I’ve met who denounce anti-black racism in the United States,
    > but then turn right around and lament the ‘inherent’ laziness and criminality of Turks or Poles

    While I concur with the rest of the article, and even that sentence, I’ll have to pick the usual nit: While laziness and criminality are attributed to Poles indeed, laziness isn’t something that the Stammtisch shoves up Turkish butts, it’s a penchant for violence and criminality, that is. The devious likes of me don’t stop lamenting, they cite reliable stats:

    … Only 2.9% of the young Germans belong to said group of habitual offenders, while with more that 6% it is twice as much with the Aussiedler [ethnic Germans from abroad]. Teenagers from Yugoslavia (8,3%) and from Turkey (10,3%) are at the top.

    Christian Pfeiffer, director of the Kriminologisches Forschungsinstitut Niedersachsen and former federal attorney general for that Land, concedes unfavourable social conditions to be part of the problem, he stresses, however, that domestic violence and “Gewalt legitimierende Männlichkeitsnormen” (norms that centre on masculinity and legitimise violence) are the main factors. Insidious me has no trouble pointing to the–horibile dictu– ‘inherent’ causes for that. Again, please read what Messrs Bilsky and Toker have to say on Namus, the cultural enrichment agrarian Oriental societies bestow on us. Seems like a cooking recipe for what Adorno postulated to be the authoritarian personality, ensuring highest marks on the F-scale. On us? No, on the proles, so who cares – for now.

    Though Andrew, again, tries his very best to divest some not-pretty facts of human nature, he can’t refrain from prettifying things according to specific, um, needs: Europe’s recent problems, which of late he deigns to acknowledge–last but not least some unworthy folks being insistent on that subject–, boil down on the proles being racist, he feels – poor (and ugly) sods. What else can the blogging elite do than shrug their shoulders? Of course, this idea, which he will let go as well, eventually, when reality and the course of time makes it indefensible, is not completely wrong: proles are racist, the elite is too, arguably to a lesser degree – but that is not the problem. Mixing some truth into the crud is always a good idea.

    > Just ask any resident of a country that was once part of the Ottoman Empire what they think
    > of ‘the Turks’, and you’ll get an earful

    Some more nit to be picked, for what it is worth: most subjects of the the Ottoman Empire by far where Arabs – ask them and you won’t get that earful. Up to today, the Ottoman’s descendants form part of, say, Egypts elite. Having be oppressed by religious think-alikes seemingly made things go down better. Even today, the feelings for the Turks, past and present, resemble European love-hatred towards the US.


  3. The discussion on this site regarding welfare, race and the differences between U.S. and European countries is an extraordinary contribution amidst the widening pools of blogging drivel.

    My main complaint with the presentation here is the acceptance of sociobiological explanations for social institutions and practices. At this level sociobiology still explains nothing. Maybe it will, just as quantum physics may some day provide useful explanations for, say, neurological events.

    Ignoring sociobiology when dealing with politics and sociology does not mean viewing everything as a social construct. As rightly argued on this post, race and racial differences are not. People reliably distinguish Caucasian from African-Americans from Asian Americans, for example, by sight. However, racism, loosely, the way people of one racial group are discriminated against by another group – conduct facilitate by the ability to distinguish on the basis of genetic caused differences in appearance – is, pace, E.O. Wilson, due to socialization.

    In trying to explain what has retarded socialism and social welfare in the United States it racism, not race, that is important. A socialist society will pursue different goals. Instead, of facilitating accumulation of private wealth, a socialist society will pursue a set of common goods. What’s in the set is not written in stone, but determined by struggle and democratic census that racism inhibits. As Milton Fisk has pointed out in Toward a Healthy Society – still, by far, the best analysis of health care in the U.S. – a central feature of common goods is that individuals want them, not just for their own benefit, but for the sake of others. For example, a motive for maintaining a system of national health is a healthy society, which requires wanting others, not just oneself, to have access to health care on terms that do not create unbearable burdens. Racism is an obstacle to developing interests in the well being of others. Instead of wanting others to have benefits that oneself has, racism leads to abandonment, justified in the U.S., and increasingly so in Europe, by the arrogant ideology of “personal responsibility.”


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