“Diversity” and the Welfare State

John’s post yesterday about how Denmark’s left-leaning social democrats are turning against immigration—not just any immigration but specifically from you-know-where—has prompted me to writing about a broader dilemma that, sooner or later, America’s liberals will need to confront.

Milton Friedman and other libertarians long argued that you can have high rates of unskilled immigration, or a generous welfare state, but not both. The basic thought is that high rates of unskilled immigrants will eventually bankrupt the welfare state, and while this may yet prove true, the deeper reason is not fiscal, but cultural and social. This is what the Danes have figured out.

It turns out there is a lot of academic literature about the link between ethnic homogeneity and the generosity of the welfare state. This inquiry should begin with the work of Harvard’s Robert Putnam—a smart liberal—who disrupted the ideology of diversity over a decade ago with the finding that “diversity” (defined as ethnically mixed geographical areas) reduces social trust. Some key excerpts from his 2007 study “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty‐First Century” (which I understand he delayed publishing because he didn’t like where the data led him):

In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. . .

Inter-racial trust is relatively high in homogeneous South Dakota and relatively low in heterogeneous San Francisco or Los Angeles. The more ethnically diverse the people we live around, the less we trust them. This pattern may be distressing normatively, but it seems to be consistent with conflict theory.

Even worse, empirical studies relating to local regions of the US, Australia, Sweden, Canada and Britain show that rising ethnic diversity is accompanied by falling social trust and sometimes even falling investment in public goods . . .

This is not just an American or even European phenomenon:

Even in the Third World, diversity brings deleterious effects. Studies show that in Pakistan, with rising clan or religious differences, this diversity is connected with the failure of the maintenance of collective infrastructure (see Karlan 2002; Miguel and Gugerty 2005; Khwaja 2006).

Putnam’s findings, well known to social scientists who study questions of social trust and social capital, are devastating for the identity-politics/multicultural left, which may be one reason why you never hear this subject much discussed in the mainstream media.

But one implication is clear, and buttressed by other social science research: when social trust declines, voter support for the welfare state declines along with it. For European social democrats, moderating immigration is necessary to preserve their welfare states.

For example, see “Sustainable Welfare and Sustainable Growth: The Future of the Welfare State Consensus,” a 2007 study of 16 European nations that found, among other things:

Welfare spending rates in countries with higher immigration grow significantly smaller than in countries limiting immigration. . . [G]rowing social diversity will eventually force European welfare states to reduce social spending on account of the pressure caused by growing social diversity, and adopt a system more similar to the US model.

It was around that time that The Economist magazine, in one of its periodic fits of sense amidst its long-running schizophrenia, offered up an article entitled “Diversity or the Welfare State: Choose One.” I wonder when Democrats in this country will confront this question honestly? Instead, we have Kamala Harris saying over the weekend that illegal immigrants should be eligible for “Medicare for All.” Oh please, please Democrats: do run on this.

Is popcorn affected by Trump’s China tariffs? Could run up my household tab a lot.


Books to read from Power Line