I’m guessing you have heard something like the following:
“The US can’t admit people from alien cultures with different religions and languages, because that will flood our democracy with dependents who will balloon the welfare state. This harms freedom. We must have a common culture that embraces limited government. Otherwise we’ll get big government, verging on socialism.”
This is actually a fairly testable proposition. Incredibly, without exception, every study finds the exact opposite to be true. It turns out that homogenous populations tend to create and sustain large welfare states.
The more diverse the population, the less welfare states tend to take hold and stabilize as a permanent part of the political culture.
Once you think about it, it makes sense. The modern welfare state was born in the homogeneous population of Germany in the late 19th century. The cradle-to-grave transfer state fully stabilized in Western democracies among populations that were not diverse (Denmark, Sweden, Finland). Even recent voting patterns, which have everyone freaking out, show that the politics of resentment flourish more in communities of mixed-race populations.
The tendency of cultural diversity to eat away at the welfare state has been long been discussed in the academic literature. Steffen Mau of University of Bremen in 2007, for example, wanted to discover whether heterogenous populations undermine the welfare state’s legitimacy. The result was a literature roundup and 16-nation study called “Sustainable Welfare and Sustainable Growth.”
Speaking from the perspective that welfare states are essential, he wrote that, “the nation state became one of the most important organizational entities for social solidarity...because it provided the fundamentals of a political identity and social morals, which legitimately guaranteed the establishment of social security and transfer systems.”
Is Welfare Sustainable?
According to this way of thinking, the whole point of the nation state is to build up a huge transfer system, without which a nation drifts aimlessly. But such a system presumes a level of homogeneity in the population. The worry, says Mau, is that, “it is possible that conflicts between the Ingroup and the Outgroup may escalate which could then influence the overall support for the welfare state.”
He is very disturbed to find that the more mixed the population, the less you find his sought-after solidarity to support welfare. This is true with regard to immigration in particular: “...welfare spending rates in countries with higher immigration grow significantly smaller than in countries limiting immigration.”
More generally, he finds that the more mixed the population, the more the welfare state comes under popular pressure and its legitimacy is widely doubted. Essentially, if people don’t feel a collective solidarity with fellow citizens, they won’t want their money supporting a collective that includes people radically unlike themselves.
The less the nation looks and feels like a “family,”in other words, the less people are willing for it to function like a household with the state as both father and mother.
The Left Is Sweating
This discovery has worried the academic left for a few years. The worry might have driven the Clinton-era welfare reform: cut it back in order to save it.
The implications of this research are rather uncomfortable for all sides.The implications go beyond the welfare state, touching upon all government spending. Dan Hopkins at Georgetown University, for example, notes that between 1970 and 2000, cities with increasingly diverse demographics, “saw significant declines in city spending on various public goods, including roads, health and sanitation.” In this view, diversity even threatens core state functions, tempting people to go it alone.The state-as-family will yield to actual families and other diverse, voluntary, and localized support networks.
Keith G. Banting of Queen’s University (“The Multicultural Welfare State”) say that collectivism can be saved from counterpressure from mixed populations with enough propaganda. Still he observes that “the durability of a common social model” remains “problematic in several multi-nation countries. Wearying of the struggle between conflicting internal nationalisms, these countries may surrender a common definition of social rights, and devolve the definition of citizen-state relations onto constituent units without the integrative framework and inter-communal transfers essential to preserving equal benefits for all citizens.”
Making this thesis most famous, and presenting the most dire prediction, has been Harvard University's Robert Putnam. He made a splash a decade ago (while dreading to release his research) for arguing that, “The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."
As The Economist sums up his research “Diversity or the Welfare State: Choose One.”
The implications of this research are rather uncomfortable for all sides. It gives supporters of the welfare state reasons to oppose diversity, while offering welfare skeptics a basis for favoring more immigration and mixed populations. The less that “community solidarity” is obvious in demographics, the less people are willing to support political institutions that take from some and give to others.
To put a fine point on it, if you oppose the welfare state for perfectly good reasons, you should also welcome increasingly diverse populations, if only to shatter the communal unity that sustains welfarism. If you are a supporter of the welfare state, you might reconsider your celebration of diversity and immigration -- exactly as Bernie Sanders has done.
The Answer is Liberalism
Now, you can render the implications however you like. A recent HuffPo article chalks the phenomenon up to racism and claims that therefore (no surprise) white people are to blame. Actually, the research doesn’t support that: the unwillingness of diverse populations to celebrate large-scale transfer states pertains across all groups.
Regardless, it is rather pointless to rail against people who doubt the merit of mandatory sharing among people who feel little in common with each other. Coerced transfers are a fundamentally flawed proposition to begin with. Real solidarity extends from human volition and is based on voluntary cooperation.
Still the question remains: in absence of the welfare state, can populations that are heterogeneous with regard to language, race, and religion still build a great society? The answer is yes, and the way to understand why is through the philosophy of liberalism itself. Liberalism includes not only a vibrant and inclusive commercial economy but also a large philanthropic sector, all based on the general principle of voluntarism.
Indeed, the core of the liberal insight that was born into the world some 500 years ago was exactly this: we can be different, we can disagree, we can keep what is ours, we can do without some centralizing and unifying dictator. And yet we can still (and all the better) cooperate toward building a beautiful civilization.
It’s called the free society.
This is a core insight that both the noisy left and the noisy right of today seem to have forgotten.