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Old 03-31-2008, 05:57 PM   #1
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Race and the Welfare State

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Race and the Social Contract

By EDUARDO PORTER
New York Times (op-ed), March 31


In 1893, Friedrich Engels wrote from London to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, another German Communist then living in New York, lamenting how America’s diversity hindered efforts to establish a workers’ party in the United States. Was it possible to unify Poles, Germans, Irish, “the many small groups, each of which understands only itself”? All the bourgeoisie had to do was wait, “and the dissimilar elements of the working class fall apart again.”

America’s mix of peoples has changed in its 200-plus years. Yet when Barack Obama delivered his bracing speech on race, he was grappling with a similar challenge. “Realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams,” [Obama] said. “Investing in the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.” It is a tall order. Ten years ago, William Julius Wilson wrote that American whites rebelled against welfare because they saw it as using their hard-earned taxes to give blacks “medical and legal services that many of them could not afford for their own families.”

As obviously sensible as Mr. Obama’s proposition might be in a nation of as many hues, tongues and creeds as the United States, it struggles against self-defeating human behavior: racial and ethnic diversity undermine support for public investment in social welfare. For all the appeal of America’s melting pot, the country’s diverse ethnic mix is one main reason for entrenched opposition to public spending on the public good.

Among the 30 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a club of industrial countries, only Mexicans, Koreans and Greeks pay less in taxes than Americans, as a share of the economy. The United States also ranks near the bottom on public spending on social programs: 19% of the nation’s total output in 2003, compared with 29% in Sweden, 23% in Portugal and almost 30% in France.

The Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser correlated public spending in Western Europe and the United States with diversity and concluded that half the social-spending gap was due to the United States’ more varied racial and ethnic mix. The other half was mostly due to the existence of stronger left-wing parties in Europe.

Americans are not less generous than Europeans. When private charities are included, they probably spend more money for social purposes than Europeans do. But philanthropy allows them to target spending on those they personally believe are deserving, instead of allowing the government to choose. Mr. Glaeser’s and Mr. Alesina’s work suggests that white Europeans support a big welfare state because they believe the money will probably go to other white Europeans. In America, the Harvard economist Erzo F. P. Luttmer found that support for social spending among respondents to General Social Survey polls increased in tandem with the share of welfare recipients in the area who were in their own racial group. A study of charity by Daniel Hungerman, a Notre Dame economist, found that all-white congregations become less charitably active as the share of black residents in the local community grows.

This breakdown of solidarity should be unacceptable in a country that is, after all, mainly a nation of immigrants, glued together by a common project and many shared values. The United States has showed an unparalleled capacity to pull together in challenging times. Americans have invested blood and treasure to serve a broad national purpose and to rescue and protect their allies across the Atlantic. Still, racial and ethnic antagonism all too frequently limit generosity at home. In one study, Mr. Alesina, with Reza Baqir of the International Monetary Fund and William Easterly of New York University, found that the share of municipal spending in the United States devoted to social good—roads, sewage, education and trash clearance—was smaller in more racially diverse cities.

While this tension manifests mainly along racial lines, it has broader ethnic, religious and even linguistic dimensions. A 2003 study by Julian Betts of the University of California, San Diego, and Robert Fairlie of the University of California, Santa Cruz, found that for every four immigrants who arrived in public high schools, one native student switched to a private school.

Politicians, from Richard Nixon to Tom Tancredo, have long exploited racial tensions. But there is nothing inevitable about ethnic animosities, as Senator Obama argued in his speech, which came at an important moment. Globalization presents the United States with an enormous challenge. Rising to the test will require big investments in the public good—from infrastructure to education to a safety net protecting those most vulnerable to change. Americans must once again show their ability to transcend group interests for a common national cause.
I think he's overstating the case here, but it's an interesting take.

Thoughts?
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Old 03-31-2008, 06:25 PM   #2
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Re: Race and the Welfare State

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Originally posted by yolland

I think he's overstating the case here, but it's an interesting take.

Thoughts?


i pretty much think it's dead on.

i remember a discussion with a rather brilliant Danish economist, and he pretty much echoed what the article says. Danes have one of the most robust welfare states in the world, and he said it was because everyone felt like members of the same tribe. you could be way out on the Jutland peninsula, but you cared that the streets of Copenhagen were clean and free of the homeless (the wonderfully weird little thing called Kristania non withstanding) because you were all Danes. it was your city, even if you didn't live there. all blood and soil and whatnot. part of your taxes also went as something of a tithe to the Lutheran Church. which is fine if you're Lutheran, but what if you're Muslim? what if you're a Muslim living in Copenhagen, are modern, sophisticated, speak Danish and English and several other languages, have a great job, travel, and live a totally contemporary European lifestyle and are culturally assimilated? isn't it weird to have to subsidize someone else's place of worship?

the US has never had the blood and soil ethos that Europe has -- though some nativists woudl like to insist otherwise -- and this in many ways works to our advantage. national identity is very much DIY, but then it is often contested, and in some ways ... not dumbed-down, but democratized, which is why some displays of American patriotism, or national identification, tend to be very, very overt and obvious. flag waving, national anthem, baseball, etc. it's both more and less complex.

i wish we could all just sit back and say, "we're all in this together," but it really is a natural human think to want to identify with one's tribe, i think especially in the US -- probably even more so in Canada -- when there are so many competing cultural identities, and often they're in conflict with one another (look at Italians in any Spike Lee movie). but i will totally admit that i'm naturally a bit more sympathetic to other gays, and if i had the money to throw around i'd probably use some of it to support programs that offer health advice and support to gay teens. why? why should i care more about, say, a homeless gay teen who's been kicked out of his house for being gay than i would any other homeless teen? i guess they're both in the situation, but i simply identify more personally with the struggle of the gay teen. i can imagine myself in his situation. i can imagine what he's feeling. and, for better or for worse, race seems to be something of a barrier to this kind of empathy.

so that's my ramblin's.
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Old 03-31-2008, 07:01 PM   #3
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Re: Re: Race and the Welfare State

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Originally posted by Irvine511


part of your taxes also went as something of a tithe to the Lutheran Church. which is fine if you're Lutheran, but what if you're Muslim? what if you're a Muslim living in Copenhagen, are modern, sophisticated, speak Danish and English and several other languages, have a great job, travel, and live a totally contemporary European lifestyle and are culturally assimilated? isn't it weird to have to subsidize someone else's place of worship?
The really interesting thing about countries that have a state-sponsored religion in this way is that secularism is endemic and church attendance is low, almost non-existent. There are very interesting economic theories of why this should be (mostly based on competition).

I do think the article is a little bit overstating the point - maybe not overstating so much as not employing a more subtle argument that I'd prefer.
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Old 03-31-2008, 10:40 PM   #4
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Re: Re: Re: Race and the Welfare State

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Originally posted by anitram

I do think the article is a little bit overstating the point - maybe not overstating so much as not employing a more subtle argument that I'd prefer.


i can agree with that.
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Old 04-01-2008, 01:28 AM   #5
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What about Canada?

It's also quite racially diverse correct?

How does their welfare spending compare?
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Old 04-01-2008, 01:57 AM   #6
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^ That was actually one of the things that left me wanting a little more nuance to the piece--he didn't consider other 'nation-of-immigrants' countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Although, there may simply not be much in the way of data of the sort he was drawing upon (i.e. with the US/Europe comparisons) in the case of those countries.

According to OECD data, Canada's welfare expenditure is 17.8% of its GDP; Australia's is 18%, New Zealand's 18.5%, and ours 14.8%. The average expenditure in Western Europe looks to be about 24%, although the variation by country is considerable.

According to the most recent respective censuses, Canada is 82.85% white, the US 73.9% (rather than counting 'race,' Canada's census uses a category called 'visible minority,' whose figures I combined with those for 'Aboriginals'--not counted as a 'visible minority,' but a protected category under equity laws--then subtracted from 100 to arrive at that 82.85% figure).
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Old 04-01-2008, 02:37 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by yolland
^ That was actually one of the things that left me wanting a little more nuance to the piece--he didn't consider other 'nation-of-immigrants' countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Although, there may simply not be much in the way of data of the sort he was drawing upon (i.e. with the US/Europe comparisons) in the case of those countries.

According to OECD data, Canada's welfare expenditure is 17.8% of its GDP; Australia's is 18%, New Zealand's 18.5%, and ours 14.8%. The average expenditure in Western Europe looks to be about 24%, although the variation by country is considerable.

According to the most recent respective censuses, Canada is 82.85% white, the US 73.9% (rather than counting 'race,' Canada's census uses a category called 'visible minority,' whose figures I combined with those for 'Aboriginals'--not counted as a 'visible minority,' but a protected category under equity laws--then subtracted from 100 to arrive at that 82.85% figure).
So basically Canada is almost 10% more homogenous than the United States?

Based on the numbers you've posted it seems the article's theory still has traction, at least as I understand it.
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Old 04-01-2008, 02:50 AM   #8
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That might depend somewhat on how you define homogeneity (for example, does variety of 'minorities' present matter) but basically, yes, I'd agree those stats seem to fit well enough with the article's theory. Although I'd also be interested to see in more detail what percentage of citizens (/residents?) in the various European OECD countries are 'minorities' and how those figures seem to correlate (or not) to welfare expenditure trends.
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Old 04-01-2008, 03:05 AM   #9
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^Wow, somebody is burning the midnight oil!

It's five in the evening here, so it must be like 3 A.M. for you!

Minorities as in people who would be identified as "white" but aren't part of the predominant culture?
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Old 04-01-2008, 08:24 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean
So basically Canada is almost 10% more homogenous than the United States?

Based on the numbers you've posted it seems the article's theory still has traction, at least as I understand it.
Maybe. On one hand, rural Canada can be very homogeneous and white. In fact, there are certain towns in Ontario I've visited that remind me of the closest thing of being to Scotland, short of actually being there (and you can probably drum up similar examples elsewhere in the country--i.e., Icelandic Gimli in Manitoba).

On the other, urban Canada can be extremely diverse. Toronto, in particular, is known for its diversity, and people seem to get along just fine. I'd be interested in seeing a poll there as to whether people feel that their welfare state goes to people like them or "the Other."

To throw things further into the mix, my father has run into a few Canadian citizens living and working in Detroit, and a few of them seem to be racist as all hell when it comes to talking about Toronto's diversity.

So I guess my answer is that I don't know!
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Old 04-01-2008, 04:09 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean
^Wow, somebody is burning the midnight oil!
Yeah, I was grading some exams, which I'd put off doing for too long.
Quote:
Minorities as in people who would be identified as "white" but aren't part of the predominant culture?
No, I meant in the sense that "diversity" is sometimes used in a way that has more to do with the variety of nationalities/ethnicities/racial groups etc. present than with their relative proportions to each other in the population. For example, here in the US few would perceive a town that's 82% white, 17.5% black and 0.5% 'other' as "diverse," but a town that's 82% white and then 1-3% each of a dozen other (nonwhite) ethnoracial groups probably would be perceived as "diverse" by many. (Not saying that's necessarily more typical of Canada in particular, it was just one possible qualification that occurred to me as I typed.)

I'm not sure to what degree "minorities" in the sense you described it above might be a factor in any of the countries in question. In the US, as a generalization, the historical trend has been for "white" arrivals to gain acceptance more quickly, though some groups (e.g. the Irish) certainly had a longer climb than others. I remember as a grad student attending a conference in DC in the mid-90s and overhearing on a street corner an elderly white man, presumably a longtime local, go off on a rant about "these damn Serbs" who were "taking over" the neighborhood (there did indeed seem to be a sizeable and recently arrived former-Yugoslav-refugee population in the area, though I didn't myself get the impression they were by any means all "Serbs"). And his list of grievances with them so predictably ran to the usual stock gripes with "foreigners" that it was almost comical--They're loud! Lazy! Rude! Ya go for a cuppa coffee and the whole damn waitstaff are Serbs, they talk at each other in Serbian right over your head like you're not even there! etc. etc. But I'd be willing to bet those kinds of attitudes faded away pretty quickly.

Another thing that *might* be hard to compare here is what the article's author touched on in quoting William Julius Wilson--i.e., the role of antiblack racism specifically in negative attitudes towards welfare spending. As you've commented before in other threads, antiblack racism in the US is quite different from the "fear of the foreign Other" familiar throughout the world, and has little or nothing to do with perceptions that African-Americans are "foreign" or "un-American" as such.
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Originally posted by melon
Maybe. On one hand, rural Canada can be very homogeneous and white. In fact, there are certain towns in Ontario I've visited that remind me of the closest thing of being to Scotland, short of actually being there (and you can probably drum up similar examples elsewhere in the country--i.e., Icelandic Gimli in Manitoba).

On the other, urban Canada can be extremely diverse. Toronto, in particular, is known for its diversity, and people seem to get along just fine.
I haven't spent nearly as much time in Ontario as you have, but we do go camping there every few summers, often with an excursion to Toronto or Montreal thrown in, and this has been my impression too (though I've never personally seen one of those "closest-things-to-Scotland"-type towns...just a bunch of places that look for all the world like standard Midwest-American white redneck havens--I mean "redneck" in the broadest sense of the term there). But then almost any country is less diverse in its rural areas, and there are some small towns in the US that are famous for having a markedly 'Swedish' or 'Dutch' or 'Polish' feel to them, too.
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