Ethnic Diversity and the Size of Government

In recent posts I formulated the Sanandaji Principe, which stipulates that due to the left-leaning voting patterns of unskilled immigrants, we can at most have two out of three of Open Borders, Libertarianism and Democracy.

Open Borders and Democracy will inevitably lead to a welfare state, as non-libertarian immigrants sooner or later become the majority of the voters and vote themselves benefits.

One objection that people such as Swedish libertarian Economist Niclas Berggren made is that mass migration causes native voters to turn against redistribution. The reason is that economists believe that solidarity is diminished in ethnically heterogeneous societies. According to this theory voters care more about people with the same race and ethnicity as themselves, and are less willing to help the unfortunate if they have a different skin color. This theory is most prominently suggested by Harvard professors Alesina and Glaeser.

Some libertarians want to rely on this mechanism to tear down the welfare state through open borders and the ethnic tensions they believe that migration will cause.

My first reaction if that is the price of limiting the welfare state, is that I would oppose it. Milton Friedman famously stated that he would oppose reducing the welfare state unless the public was convinced in a democratic fashion that this was in their best interests. I understand that some free-marketers have turned against the very notion of “solidarity”, because the left has exploited the term so much. However this should not let us lose sight of the fact that solidarity and national cohesiveness are social goods, not something that we should want to destroy through an immigration shock doctrine.

Leaving my preferences aside, I also believe that Berggren and other libertarians and liberals who rely on the Alesina-Glaeser theory are substantively wrong. Ethnic diversity overall tends to expand the welfare state, not reduce it. While the research only focuses on one effect of unskilled immigration (reduced fellowship), there are at least three effects that go the other way. Here are the main effects of increasing the share of low income minorities:

1. Solidarity is diminished and social ties are wakened, so that the majority population becomes less willing to pay taxes to help “the other”. This limits the size of government. The ethnic-diversity-and-redistribution-literature has almost entirely focused on this sole effect.

2. Increasing the share of low income individuals increases the welfare state through a mechanic effect. This means even if you don’t vote for any changes to the welfare state, the use of preexisting welfare programs such as unemployment insurance and public health care increases.

For instance, 71% of Hispanic immigrant households in the U.S use at least one form of public welfare, compared to 39% of native households. In Sweden, according to the latest figures around 40% of all unemployed individuals are immigrants.

Even if you don’t make unemployment insurance more generous, having groups with a higher unemployed rate automatically expands the size of government.

3. More disadvantaged citizens increases the need for a welfare state. To the extent that the welfare state reflects a desire to reduce social problems, having more deprived individuals increases the demand for more government to solve problems. The welfare state exists largely because the middle classes and the rich feel sorry for the poor. The left is not stupid or irrational, they rarely demand government intervention where there are few problems.

As immigration increases poverty and social problem, demands for government intervention grow. Note that this is consistent with lower solidarity across ethnic lines, as long as solidarity is not zero (If the new poor immigrants were your co-ethnics, voters would be even more inclined to help them).

To give you a recent example, the majority of the long term uninsured in the United States are ethnic minorities. (Long term uninsurance is a better measure, since many uninsured are just between jobs.)

According to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Hispanics “represented 42.8 percent of the long-term uninsured for the period 2005-2008”

The media does not understand and will not tell you this, but the long-term uninsurance rate of non-Hispanics whites’ above 25 in the United States is merely 3%. This is incidentally one explanation why the white Tea Party activists don’t like President Obama’s health care reform, they and their families already have health insurance.

The American uninsurance ”crisis” would likely never had arisen without a high percentage of minorities with extremely high long term uninsurance rates.

Similar, in Sweden the social problem currently most emphasized by the Social Democrats is child poverty. As I explained, 65% of poor children in Sweden are immigrant children (interestingly about two thirds of poor children in the United States are minority children).

Without immigration, there would be no child poverty “crisis” in Sweden for the left to mobilize politically against.

4. Though ignored by proponents of the ethnic-diversity-and-redistribution, minorities also get to vote, and they vote overwhelmingly for the left. This effect is dominant when we are discussing free migration, because with open borders in a world where 700 million people have told Gallup they would like to migrate right now, sooner or later the immigrants will become the majority of voters and make the political preferences of the natives irrelevant.

Pew recently conducted a large survey with lots of questions on economic and social issues. It shows as all other polls that African Americans and Hispanics minorities are far to the left of whites. While 12% of Non-Hispanic whites in America have views that Pew classifies as Libertarian, only 3% of American minorities are libertarian. As America becomes increasingly minority, it will become less libertarian.

The proponents of the Alesina-Glaeser theory tend to focus entirely on point one and ignore points 2, 3 and 4.

It is difficult to test the theory empirically. I will however give you two pieces of suggestive evidence. I am not going to claim that this is definitive proof, just that it is consistent with my view that the net overall effect of diversity is bigger government.

Libertarians like the Alesina-Glaeser theory, because it tells them with more immigration they can reduce willingness to pay for the welfare state. Liberals similarly love the theory because it quite explicitly states that the main reason Americans deny themselves the benefits of a European style Social Democratic system is the racism of Republican voters.

First, I plot the vote share of Obama among non-Hispanic whites with the share of non-hispanic whites in each state. The Alesina-Glaeser theory would predict that whites in states with lots of minorities should vote less Democrat, because of racially motivated lack of support for leftist policies.


In fact, there is no such overall trend. The correlation is not statistically significant, and if anything goes in the opposite direction as their theory would predict.

Sure, there are states with high share of minorities in the South – such as Georgia and Alabama – where whites came out strongly against Obama. Similarly, some very white states in New England went solidly for Obama.

On the other hand, other lily-white states such as Wyoming, Kentucky, West Virginia, Utah and Idaho voted against Obama. Similarly whites in minority states such as Maryland, New York, Nevada, New Mexico and California strongly supported Obama.
A more parsimonious explanation which corresponds better with the observed pattern than the ethnic-diversity-and-redistribution literature is that whites in conservative states voted against Obama, and whites in liberal states voted for him, with little connection to the racial makeup of the state.

A second graph plots per capita spending State and Local spending in 2007, from U.S Census State and Local Government Finances, with the share of state population that are non-Hispanic whites.


Contrary to the prediction of Alesina-Glaser, the overall effect appears to be that states with more minorities spend more per capita.

Thus minority states such as D.C, California, Maryland, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and even Louisiana and Mississippi stand out as spenders, whereas white states such as New Hampshire, South Dakota and Idaho spend the least.

While this is not definitive evidence, I believe points 2-4 tend to dominate point 1, so that the net effect of more diversity is bigger government and less solidarity. At the very least, points 2-4 should be taken into account in the ethnic-diversity-and-redistribution-literature.

P.S

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