Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Beggar, Thy Neighbour

The acceptability of social welfare is linked to racial homogeniety.

That is, we like social welfare unless it benefits minorities.
A Soup Kitchen run by Al Capone
(Al Capone enables freeloaders.)

I refer to a paper recently brought to my attention, Alesina, Glaeser, Sacerdote (2001), quote:
"Racial cleavages seem to serve as a barrier to redistribution throughout the world."
Being both a racial minority and in favour of strong social safety nets, I like the idea of generalising welfare opponents as racist. 😉 I also find novelty in the concept that greater diversity does not in itself erode social cohesion without input from the rest of society.

However, I would not endorse un-diversifying a society, especially through immigration restrictions or (shudder) deportation, to make social welfare more palatable.

Furthermore, there are plenty of homogenous societies - particularly in Asia - which also have negative attitudes towards social welfare. A point to which the paper writes:
"...Americans believe that they live in an open and fair society and that if someone is poor it is his or her own fault..."
The presence of social welfare signalling an unfair society, and the concept of depriving the deserving to enrich an unworthy 'other' are characteristic of zero-sum thinking. The conclusion to that logic is to deprive everyone, or exhort in coded language to "take sugar off the table" and "balance the books" through "austerity".

Moving beyond beggaring thy neighbour requires recognising that societies are not a zero-sum game. Social welfare allows everyone (including members of your 'tribe') to live and express themselves with dignity, uplifting all.

Along with Ricardian comparative advantage though, the production of losers in recent times has cast win-win thinking into disrepute, enhancing the appeal of the alternative: blaming welfare, beggars, and unfortunately, neighbours.

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