September 15, 2009


Uninsured like me: Diversity is healthcare reform's worst enemy. White America has never liked social insurance for people of color (Michael Lind, Sep. 15, 2009, Salon)

Is it a coincidence that following the Civil Rights Act white Americans stopped expanding the traditional welfare state and instead started building a private, income-based welfare state for themselves? Could it be pure coincidence that the most generous welfare states in the world have been those of ethnically homogeneous Nordic countries where, until recent immigration, nearly everyone was related to everyone else? Is the classic welfare state really a form of ethnic nepotism most likely to be adopted by a homogeneous, indeed tribal, nation-state?

Recent scholarship supports the hypothesis that ethnic diversity tends to be inversely correlated with generous, universal social insurance. In a 2001 paper titled "Why Doesn't the US Have a European-Style Welfare State?" Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote wrote that "race is critically important to understanding the US-Europe differences" and that "hostility to welfare comes in part from the fact that welfare spending in the US goes disproportionately to minorities."

Social Security and Medicare, the two major examples of universal social insurance in the U.S., were enacted during a half-century between World War I and the 1970s when the foreign-born percentage of the U.S. population was at an all-time low and ethnic differences were fading rapidly in a white majority that made up a secure nine-tenths of the population. Arguably a sense of post-ethnic, pan-white nationalism, combined with a small nonwhite majority consisting almost entirely of African-Americans, is one of the reasons, if not the major reason, that the U.S. came closer to European social democracy between 1932 and 1968 than in the periods of greater immigration and cultural heterogeneity that came before and afterward.

The tension between diversity and solidarity is a problem for both wings of the Democratic Party in the United States. In an increasingly diverse society with population growth driven by immigration, it will be even harder for the social democrats on the left wing of the Democratic Party to persuade the dwindling number of native white voters of the merits of universal policies that could benefit both them and the newcomers. But if immigration-driven diversity dooms ambitious plans for social democracy in America, it may be an even greater obstacle to the less expensive, targeted, means-tested programs favored by centrist Democratic neoliberals. After all, means-tested programs by design would exclude most of the white working and middle class, and benefit the nonwhite, increasingly foreign-born working poor even more visibly than universal programs, at even greater cost in their political viability.

...that the immigrants the Right despises keep us from being socialist. Part of the genius of privatizing the social welfare net is the illusion that everyone would be funding themself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 15, 2009 7:19 AM
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