Social Democracy and Multiculturalism

by Roland Dodds

I am backing Bernie Sanders in the forthcoming presidential election. He has his liabilities, but it’s good to hear a full-throated defense of social democracy in an American election. Sanders has made the following argument for years:

“I can hear the Republican attack ad right now: ‘He wants America to look more like Scandinavia,’” [stated] ABC host George Stephanopoulos.

 But Sanders said that’s exactly what he wants. “That’s right. That’s right. And what’s wrong with that?”

 Nothing in my estimation. I do have to ask a problematic question for other socialists to ponder: can an extensive, redistributive welfare state work in multicultural societies? The evidence doesn’t look good.

This topic becomes more apparent when discussing recent events in Baltimore. Just a week following rebellion in the birthplace of The Star Spangled Banner, any meaningful discussion on race has already dissipated from the mainstream press. Rightfully, many commentators on the left connected the problems in Baltimore to the economic state many of its poor, minority citizens find themselves. Building solidarity between white and black Americans, especially if redistributive economic policies are to be enacted, is a necessary requirement to fundamentally changing poor inner-city communities. Yet, this has always been at the heart of race relations in this country. Americans can accept that all people may be American, but we rarely see each other as kin.

This social reality may be unsatisfying (and perhaps debilitating). A multiethnic society with a strong welfare state is unlikely to come to fruition if one examines how social-rights are often at odds with vast capitalist societies. The impediments of multiculturalism on a mass socialist project may be insurmountable.

In 1949 T.H. Marshall published his seminal work, Citizenship and Social Class, examining the welfare state as it developed in England, and its subsequent connection to citizenship. Marshall positioned that being a member of a society was more than simple proximity to others, but a matter of “loyalty to a civilization which is a common possession.” Citizens were not individual agents or consumers, but members of a real, living society. You were bound to your neighbor through a shared culture, and with that came responsibilities for each other’s well being.

In Ethnicity, Trust, and the Welfare State, a number of Canadian academics demonstrate that multicultural societies are less likely to contain the levels of trust required to maintain social welfare and redistributive programs. They wrote:

The redistributive state is rooted in a sense of community and collective responsibility, and that this solidarity becomes more difficult to sustain as a population becomes increasingly diverse.”

They went on to state:

“Mutual trust facilitates solutions to collective action problems inherent in social welfare programmes, where citizens must trust each other to both take part as contributors and not take advantage as beneficiaries. Trust is aided by identification with fellow citizens. Identification with fellow citizens is easiest in ethnically and culturally homogenous societies, however, so it will be more difficult to foster identification with fellow citizens in societies that are ethnically or culturally divided. More diverse societies are consequently more likely to find that support for social welfare programmes is lacking.”

Listening to the conversations surround police violence and the ensuing protests elucidate just how far American ethnic communities are from seeing the other as brethren. Protestors viewed the police (and white America at large) as the cause of their strife. Many whites and conservative pundits placed the blame on the black community. There is no mutual understanding between groups. They live in different spheres, talking past each other. Each group fundamentally sees the problem differently.

I recall reading Andrew Brown’s Fishing Utopia a few years back while studying in Scotland. His account of moving from England to Sweden in the 1960s touched on elements of social culture that often go unaddressed in discussions surrounding the success of the Scandinavian model. As a result of their ethnic homogony, implicit demands on behavior, ethics, and responsibilities result in a shared vision for what citizenship entails. Much as T.H. Marshall noted in his study of England, citizenship was directly tied to a series of norms that are difficult to transmit on a bureaucratic level. Redistributive policies and good governance in Scandinavian states are a result of its relatively homogenous society, not because a strong welfare program exists.

Optimistic liberals and socialists would argue that more work simply must be done to connect the various ethnic groups that make up America into a coherent nation of people. Surely, that’s been a guiding mission of the US since it’s founding. We have come a great distance in race relations, but the next step towards a more inclusive, redistributive state may be a bridge too far.

There is something positive to take away from the aforementioned Canadian paper: they found that Canadians were not less likely to loose faith in their social-welfare system even as immigration increased. (They noted however, that the country had a geographic concentration of minorities in specific areas.) While the Canadian welfare state leaves a lot to be desired for someone looking for a more engaging socialist project, perhaps it is as extensive and redistributive as multiculturalism will allow?

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43 thoughts on “Social Democracy and Multiculturalism

  1. I am one of those “Scandanavian success can’t easily be transferred to the US” people. Ethnic multiculturalism is a part of it, but only a part. We’re also geographically huge nation with a large and dispersed population. We have a degree of regional diversity that seems to be increasing rather than decreasing. For those reasons, as well as our national temperament, we get stuck a lot on who owes who. In a way that I don’t believe is as easily resolved as would be in a Republic of Oregonia or even a Republic of California.


      • Canada has the size, but not the people or the diversity (not just racial) on our scale. Their health care system came at a time when things were even less so. And we could, at that time, have probably developed the same health care system. (Would have been segregated as hell, and lumpy and unequal, but it would be in a different if still imperfect place now.)

        I also think we could have made more progress on health care here if it had been less of a national issue. But that takes us back to point one, where we don’t trust each other to do it right.


  2. Here at OT, our emerging conservatives support the Presidential Runs of Jewish, self-described Social Democrats who prove that you can take the boy out of Brooklyn but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the boy. Seriously listen to his accent, I wonder how his accent plays to much of America. Among other things that damned Al Smith was his New Yawk accent (and I say this as a New Yorker). Kennedy is possibly the only person to ever reach the Presidency with a noted urban accent (in his case a mix of Havard Yard and Southie).

    More seriously:

    What did Jay Gould allegedly say? “I can pit one half of the working class against the other half”.

    Social Justice and the Welfare State and Worker’s rights also have long and complicated histories with race in the United States. The Irish and the Chinese were pitted against each other to build the transcontinental railroad. The Irish working-class of San Francisco was also known for taking their ire out on the Chinese population. Samuel Gomper’s kept his union all-white for a reason. The only Union that was willing to take minority-members early on was the far-radical I.W.W. Even Euguen Victor Debs who was no ally of racism famously said he had “nothing special to offer the negro”.

    I love the New Deal and everything it did to help get Americans out of the Great Depression and back to work but many New Deal programs were created in ways to exclude African-Americans and other minorities from their ranks. See Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action was White and Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Making of Our Time.

    Walter Reuther and the United Auto Workers were among the first modern unions to fully support civil rights. Walter Reuther marched alongside A. Philip Randolph on the March on Washington. I think it is important to note that the full name for the event was the March on Washington for Freedom AND JOBS. There was an economic equality angle to the Civil Rights Movement way back in 1963. We can also note that towards the end of his life, Martin Luther King became more and more involved with Union and Economic issues. So the current problems in Baltimore are not the products of jobs disappearing 30-40 years ago. They are the products of 50-100 years (and maybe more) of bad economic opportunity for African-Americans.

    There is probably something to the idea that some Social Democracy programs seem more likely to be created in very homogeneous countries like Sweden, 1945 UK, post-WWII Canada, Norway, Israel, etc. Many of these countries have grown much more diverse but by the time they became more heterogeneous, the social democracy aspects were loved by nearly all and firmly within the fabric of life.


      • He’s definitely taking Debs out of context. The piece from which that quote is taken is an impassioned indictment of white America, and a full-throated call for social equality that ends by saying socialism is color-blind.


  3. First of all, I have nothing against social democracy. I happen to think it’s a good thing, and I wish we had a social democratic party in the US.
    That said, . . .

    This piece strikes me as a bunch of clueless bullsh!t from the American Left.

    I believe that just about covers it.

    But I’ll go on (go figure) . . .

    Freddie Gray wasn’t killed because he was black. He wasn’t killed because he was poor.
    It’s a matter of poverty and racism showing up more in police killings, disproportionately common in minority neighborhoods.
    Yet “disproportionately common” is a very long way from “unique to;” i.e., correlation does not equal causation.
    To pin everything on economics is essentially clueless.
    To pin everything on racism is closer to the mark, but still falls far short.
    Because to say it’s a police issue overlooks the obvious.

    I think that covers the main points.


    • Other than the “clueless bullshit from the American left,” I would challenge your reading of this piece. Nowhere do I argue that black men are being killed in Baltimore because they are poor. Race has everything to do with it. One of the ways race continues to inform this discussion is that multicultural communities, as noted in the piece above, have difficulty building true community, and the economic sharing that comes with that.


        • It’s a matter of how the tribal boundaries are drawn. A hundred and fifty years ago the Irish were excluded. The imagery used was strikingly similar to that used for blacks. Since then, they Irish have been let into the tribe, and therefore are considered fully human. We see a similar process happening with Hispanics. Blacks could in principle be let into the tribe as well. In some places, on a small scale, this has been done. But on the large scale, the combination of our history and the easy visual identification of the individual’s outsider status has prevented this.


    • Well I don’t agree with most of Will’s point here but I will second one sentiment in that I’ve always felt that the liberal economic complaints fit poorly onto the police misbehavior narrative.


      • :
        the liberal economic complaints fit poorly onto the police misbehavior narrative.

        It’s a lot more than police misbehavior.

        It is the “cover charges” brought by prosecutors to silence police misconduct.
        It is the tampering with public records by employees of the court clerks office (but rarely, if ever, the clerks themselves– they know how to keep it clean).
        It is the campaigning of elected judges on the number of maximum sentences handed down.
        It is the numerous departures from established law to enable dismissal of civil rights complaints.
        It is the failure of law enforcement to take seriously felony crimes committed by public servants, except when politically motivated, e.g., Patrick Fitzgerald.
        It is the kinsmanship of alumni that permeates the bar, separating the in-group from the out-group.
        It is the continual underhanded pitching to prosecutors to enable the state to win convictions, when such former prosecutors often show how inept and incompetent they truly are after entering into private practice.
        It is the completely unfounded expectation by the general public, apart from all reality, that their law enforcement personnel are “the good guys” and that courts generally follow the law, fed by countless TV dramas absorbed into the mindless masses, unable to differentiate fact from fiction, accepting NYPD Blue and yet rejecting Serpico.
        It is the tut-tutting over the riots in Baltimore and St. Louis County in defiance of natural law– which in fact, were acknowledged as demanded over 400 years ago from the fountainhead of our common law– specifically, “in instances of effective denial of access to the courts, justice will be rendered by any means whatever with the exception of a court,” words written from the pen of Lord Edward Coke, the very judicial reasoning which established that rights under the Magna Carta extend beyond the nobility— and yet we persist in denying access to the courts, even knowing what that entails.

        It is demanded that rioting occur.
        It is demanded that twenty-eight shootings should occur in Chicago in one weekend.
        It is demanded that America shall burn.

        We will have it no other way.
        We knew quite well what the price to pay would be, as that price tag was marked over four hundred years ago.
        And as a collective, we chose that price rather than to extend rule of law to those we deemed lesser.
        As a collective, we prefer to be plowed under rather than to permit another to arise.

        We will have that which we have wished for.
        Our desire will be answered accordingly.

        Meanwhile, the Left jacks off Krugman, proclaiming they have an answer.


  4. Putnam’s work is already outdated, and it’s clear he failed to account for important factors like economic inequality and unemployment that are often highly correlated with marginalized minority groups. If you can tease these apart a bit, the results get a lot messier (e.g.).


    • Unfortunately for our test of the diversity hypothesis, those communities that are
      highly diverse in Norway also tend to have higher levels of unemployment and
      lower levels of social trust, all else equal. The truthful, if somewhat unsatisfactory,
      conclusion of our study is therefore that we do not yet know if diversity would
      have a negative effect on social trust in communities independent of unemployment,
      because the Norwegian context offers no empirical examples to help answer a question
      like that.

      Has anyone studied Silicon Valley?


  5. America’s size and scope pretty much assures that the American welfare state would be organized in an impersonal and bureaucratic manner. In a diverse and large population, it’s the best way to ensure impartiality.


    • :
      I’m afraid that isn’t so.
      From the very earliest beginnings of the welfare system, it was all about class.
      In many ways, the focus on race is a mechanism serving to effectively foreclose all dialogue on class.
      Yet the working poor blacks have more in common with the working poor whites than with middle class blacks. It’s fact.

      The differences in class are even more striking when reviewing the literature concerning attitudes of women.
      Women generally exhibit greater class cohesiveness than men.


        • white trash against poor blacks
          This statement is rife with classism.

          The term “white trash” originated as a means of distinguishing white families with mulatto children one from another.
          Some families claimed these mulattoes as part of their families, while others refused to accept them into the family.
          The ones that accepted the mulattoes into their families were “white trash.”

          Re-check that Southern (?!?) tradition.

          Maybe you never knew that the name of the town of Anna, Ill. is an acronym for “Ain’t No N!ggers Allowed,” or have never heard the stories of repeated arson when mixed couples move into small Illinois towns.

          The whole concept that racism was a matter confined to the South is without foundation.


          • The classism is intentional, I assure you. The richadillies never needed to be again’ anyone, after all. Most of ’em are against us.

            Prejudice exists everywhere, of course, but the Cavaliers down south had the whole thing down to a science. Propaganda was the only thing they were good at after all.

            Not saying that such ills don’t spread (though up North the bugabear was often Jews or Irish…), or that the South’s been the only place that’s been racist.

            Frankly, the South wasn’t where we’ve had “rape preserves” within living memory.


            • Kim:
              Propaganda was the only thing they were good at after all.

              They were better than the average bear at military tactics and operational planning (but not so much at grand strategy)


              • Who is they? Do you mean the Lord of Missouri?
                Thought not.
                When you’re willing to talk about the people that I’m talking about, we can resume the discussion. Old War Horse wasn’t part of the leadership.


                • I’m talking about the literal cavalier tradition that inhabited the Piedmont and lowlands of everything from the Potomac to the Pee Dees (and a bit beyond). The one that gave us Washington, both famous Lees, A.P. Hill, J.E.B. Stuart (him more than anyone else), and everyone else educated at The Citadel and VMI (despite being tucked away at the edge of Appalachia, Lexington is on Atlantic side of the eastern Continental divide and is culturally Piedmont)

                  ftr, both Albion’s seed and General Lee are way overrated.


                  • There were cavaliers, and then there were Cavaliers. Lee certainly wasn’t the bloke running Virginia, nor was he anywhere near the top of the leadership.

                    General Lee isn’t terribly overrated by professionals, you know. They only bother teaching him at West Point as an example of what Not To Do. (Longstreet, on the other hand, was quite competent and we still use a lot of his tactics and strategy, because they worked and still work just fine).

                    The General Lee Mythos and the Lost Cause (last seen beating a dead horse — oh, my puns) are a deliberate propaganda campaign that’s due to run out in less than fifty years. Because the Cavaliers planned ahead…

                    Albion’s Seed was good research, but I’ve seen better from those researchers (the point about the South hoarding food and being too fractitious to actually manage to be a solid Confederacy is a much more interesting argument, but you have to do loads more digging…).


          • Anna, IL is on the same latitude as Richmond, VA. Southern IL should never be considered as part of the North.

            I will agree that pitting one group of poor people against another is hardly confined to the South. It’s working like a well-oiled machine all over this great land of ours.


  6. Sadly liberals talk out of both sides of their mouths. One side says community and the other side espouses identity politics and soaking the rich. You cant have it both ways.


    • Community is the simple idea that the rich folks ought to live in the same community as the rest of us. If you give them too much unearned money, they start thinking things like “veterans benefits are the new welfare” (yes, that is a direct quote), and being very entitled.

      I don’t think conservatives like entitlement very much, but reactionaries like the Kochs are just full of it.


  7. Broadly speaking, I think the idea that multicultural societies have a more difficult time establishing social welfare is a pretty strong point. It IS difficult, wickedly so, since tribalism and ethnic mistrust is pretty deeply woven into human behavior.

    But having said that, I don’t see any alternative other than trying to power through it, and making multicultural integration a top priority.

    What will drive this more than wooly headed liberal piety, is the global marketplace. As I mentioned once before I already live in the multicultural global world. I just left a job where my coworkers were mostly Asian and Middle Eastern, where our client was a woman in Shanghai. I just started a new job working for a family business of Persian Jews, where most of my coworkers are Filipino.

    So I live in a world where white Christian men of European heritage are a shrinking minority, and the whip hand of power is already being transferred to others.

    Right now the debate circles around how much of “Our” tax revenue should be spent on mythical black welfare mothers. But soon the new holders of power- the Chinese, Indian, Russian; the females, gays- will have their own set of budget priorities divergent from the status quo.

    One thing which is being grasped now by the majority white Christian demographic is that we are merely one tribe, out of many. That our culture is not going to be the default setting, the normal background where exotic others decorate the fringes. I think this understanding is what gives rise to so much of the inchoate fear in the “war on Christmas” stuff.

    I remember last Christmas when our client was busy in her Shanghai office on Dec. 25 but was out for a few days during Tet. This year, she was gracious enough not to expect us to work on our religious holiday.

    That may change someday.


      • In China, homosexuality was considered a mental illness until the early aughts. The current state of LGBT rights in China is still not great. Part of this is because China is still a very conservative and Confucian place socially but a lot of it has to do with politics. The CCP doesn’t really like social organizations outside its control and supervision whether this be a church or an LGBT social group. Permissible politics in China are too limited to allow for LGBT advocacy.

        The other complication is China’s family planning policy. In order to keep everything in line, strict controls are placed on heterosexual cohabitation in China if the couple isn’t married. It’s illegal. Homosexuals can not get each other pregnant but giving homosexual couples more freedom would piss off heterosexual couples so things are clamped down on.


        • Well, I’m sure that once China is ascendant and the United States is descendant, they’ll catch up to the social justice policies that we’ll need them to catch up to.

          I hope they have a liberal immigration policy!


      • This raises a point I made once before, that the ascending nations don’t necessarily share the history of the Enlightenment, or our American negotiated history of labor, immigrants, and race.

        The dialogue we are currently having over SSM and race is new for a lot of people outside the secular European/North American world, and they have a different perspective on it that we do. They don’t always view issues with the same Republican/Democrat, liberal/ conservative framing that we do.

        This isn’t necessarily good, bad, or indifferent, but their rise to political and cultural power is something we have to accept and deal with.

        Also as I mentioned, the liberal desire for multicultural acceptance and liberal respect for individual liberty can collide at times.


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