Thursday, September 22, 2005

Race and Welfare

Paul Krugman's recent column on race and Katrina makes the point that part of the reason why we have a less generous welfare state (at least for the poor) than many European countries is because of our racial diversity. Specifically, large numbers of America's poor are black, and the white majority is less willing to help them with welfare than they would be if most of the poor were whites like themselves. Of course, Krugman sees this as inexcusable racism.

I'll admit that what Krugman says is certainly true to an extent; after all if races are simply partially-inbred extended families, then people, who are usually more willing to help relatives, and more willing to help in direct proportion to how close a relative the recipient is, would usually be more willing to help people from their own race.

On the other hand, though, what Krugman ignores is the fact that the welfare state has had a very different effect on blacks than it did on European whites (at least in the case of Scandinavians, Scotsmen are apparently reacting rather badly to it); or at least the effect occurred more quickly in blacks.

Of course, this may not be due to any particular attribute of blacks, but rather to the effects of racial diversity per se on welfare. If people's willing ness to help the poor is influenced by whether or not the poor is "one of them" (i.e. the same race), then why isn;t the attitude of the welfare recipient to his benefactors subject to the same influence? That is, the attitude of one on welfare may be affected by whether or not he sees "his own kind" as the ones paying for it. If a person sees himself as living as a minority amongst an alien people, he may be more likely to put his interests ahead of those of society's than he would if society were composed of his own kin. In other words, he would have les qualms about taking every advantage of the system, because "the other" is paying for it.

Of course, from a libertarian perspective this is a great advantage of having a diverse society; it makes the welfare state unworkable enough that it expands much more slowly than in other places. And it possible that blacks served as a "canary in the coalmine" waking the US up to problems of the welfare state before it could get entrenched as it has in, for example, the UK, where the problems took long enough to become apparent that no one could muster the outrage to solve it.

Of course, if I were black somehow I don't think it would give me much comfort to hear that the devastation of much of my community helped the whites to avoid corrupting their own working class.

That is all. For now.

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