September 18, 2009


One nation, little trust ... (EDWARD SCHUMACHER-MATOS, September 18, 2009, North County Times)

As Erzo Luttmer, then of the University of Chicago, found using census surveys, Americans of all races support social welfare for members of their own race, especially those who live in close proximity. What many people oppose is giving added social welfare benefits to members of another race. This is due in part to perceptions that it would mean less for your own racial group, according to Harvard economist Alberto Alesina.

Behind this common racial loyalty is what academics call trust. In a massive, groundbreaking study that was released two years ago but is today's benchmark in the field, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam found that as diversity increases ---- and here Latinos and Asians are lumped with blacks ---- trust declines. [...]

And historian Daniel Tichenor of the University of Oregon notes that past immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Eastern Europe were literally considered "black" and faced restraints if suspected of becoming "public charges." The eugenic theories that influenced legislation a century ago even held that a reason to restrict immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe was that they were genetically disposed to going on welfare.

In the half-century after the Civil War, the predecessors of today's white Southerners and Westerners in Congress opposing universal health care used the possibility of blacks getting government benefits to defeat redistribution efforts. That same bloc amended the first version of Social Security and much of the New Deal measures in ways to exclude blacks, and then did the same for government home mortgage programs after World War II, red-lining entire black neighborhoods.

States with high racial diversity, such as in the South, tend to give out less in social welfare than do homogenous states, according to Alesina and another Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser, co-authors of a celebrated book, "Fighting Poverty in the U.S. and Europe: A World of Difference."

As Glaeser noted to me, even the supporters of the president's health care reform package are selling it not as something for the poor, who are mostly black and Hispanic, but as a cost-control program and protection for the middle class. Forget illegal immigrants: Legal ones who have been here less than five years are excluded under the current Democratic proposals.

Which is just another reason--though a huge one--that Democrats should back personal HSAs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2009 6:17 AM
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