People who Look Like Us

Vox reports on a new study:

White people become significantly less likely to support welfare programs when told that black people might benefit from them.

That’s a crucial conclusion from a newly released study by Berkeley sociologist Rachel Wetts and her Stanford colleague Robb Willer in the journal Social Forces. The authors conducted two different experiments to see how white Americans’ attitudes toward nonwhite people affect their views on welfare spending. Both experiments found that showing white Americans data suggesting that white privilege is diminishing — that the US is becoming majority nonwhite, or that the gap between white and black/Latino incomes is closing — led them to express more opposition to welfare spending.

Wetts and Willer are hardly the first scholars to argue that racial animus is a powerful factor motivating opposition to social spending and redistribution in the US. Jill Quadagno’s The Color of Welfare in 1994 and Martin Gilens’s Why Americans Hate Welfare in 1999 credited racial factors — in particular, stereotypes of black people as lazy and overly dependent on government aid — with substantially reducing support for welfare spending since the war on poverty began in the 1960s.

This study was carried out in the U.S., but studies from other developed countries reach similar conclusions (pdf).

When I point out that increased ethnic diversity saps support for generous welfare provisions, people often respond with an is/ought conflation. They suppose I’m actually saying it’s good that people are less likely to favor welfare if it goes to others who are ethnically distinct from them. Or, on a slightly more sophisticated level, they suggest that only conservatives believe that this effect exists, and they abuse it to construct a “false choice” between ethnic diversity and generous social welfare provisions.

No, this is descriptive, not prescriptive. I think it’s regrettable, in the abstract sense, that many people oppose welfare when you tell them it will help someone who doesn’t look like them. I would now appreciate it if you would congratulate me on my tolerance and open-mindedness.

Bildergebnis für i am a good person

However, in addition to being pure and noble of spirit, I’m a pragmatist, so I think abstract moral judgments about the attitudes of people I’ll never meet are a waste of time. People are the way they are, and policy should be designed to work with people as they are right now, not people as they should be after a beautiful revolution in mass consciousness.

The choice between generous welfare states and increased ethnic diversity is pretty real. There have already been cutbacks in welfare spending in Germany attached to more stringent supervision and work requirements. One reason is likely that the largest group of immigrants to Germany, people of Turkish descent, receive welfare at higher rates than native-born ethnic Germans — and this effect continues into subsequent generations (pdf). Even among Germans, who are quite tolerant in international comparison, people prefer government welfare to go to people who look like them. This is human nature.

I predict the recent spike in migration from 2015 is going to greatly accelerate this trend in Germany. And my predictions have a way of coming true.