The Corner

Another You Heard It Here First

David Goodhart has an interesting piece on the challenge ethnic diversity poses to welfare state socialism (Nod to Andrew Sullivan). Goodhart (what an awesome name for a liberal) writes:

It was the Conservative politician David Willetts who drew my attention to the “progressive dilemma”. Speaking at a roundtable on welfare reform, he said: “The basis on which you can extract large sums of money in tax and pay it out in benefits is that most people think the recipients are people like themselves, facing difficulties that they themselves could face. If values become more diverse, if lifestyles become more differentiated, then it becomes more difficult to sustain the legitimacy of a universal risk-pooling welfare state. People ask: ‘Why should I pay for them when they are doing things that I wouldn’t do?’ This is America versus Sweden. You can have a Swedish welfare state provided that you are a homogeneous society with intensely shared values. In the United States you have a very diverse, individualistic society where people feel fewer obligations to fellow citizens. Progressives want diversity, but they thereby undermine part of the moral consensus on which a large welfare state rests.”

I made a very similar argumen back in 2001:

… One of the reasons this has been politically feasible in Europe is that Europeans are a bunch of boneheads when it comes to economics. But another reason — according to my theory — is that race hasn’t been much of an issue. Politically, it’s a lot easier to support a safety net when the safety net only helps people just like you. In fact, I bet you anything one of the reasons why “welfare reform” is gaining ground in Europe is because Europe is filling up with Asian and African immigrants and all of a sudden the “enlightened” Euro weenies don’t see the benefit in writing checks to poor brown and yellow people when they were just delighted to keep white folks on the dole for generations.

Meanwhile, let’s face it, one of the main reasons European-style welfare never caught on in the United States is that it seemed to go disproportionately to black folks. Actually, “seemed” is diplomatic cover for the fact that welfare did disproportionately go to black folks — and still does. In fact in the 1960s the National Welfare Rights Organization, worked on the explicit assumption that welfare was a form of reparations for slavery. George Wiley, the head of NWRO, used the mantra “Welfare is a Right, not a Privilege.”

In a sense skin color served as a dye-marker for the failures of the well-intentioned but disastrous policies of New Deal and Great Society liberalism. We spent trillions on the poor, who were disproportionately black, and there was very little to show for it. I’m not even sure people would have noticed if it weren’t for the fact that it was apparent that the black underclass was actually getting worse because of, rather than in spite of, the erosion of the family and work ethics caused by welfare.

It now appears that the same process is taking place in European nations as they deal with the consequences of immigration.

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