The Racism of the Welfare State

Two demographic acids are corroding Continental Europe's welfare states. One is Europe's aging population. The other is the flow of immigrants from soon-to-be new member countries in the European Union and from outside the union.

In our recent book Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference , Edward Glaeser and I discuss why the welfare state is so much more generous in Europe than in the US. One important explanation is the much larger racial heterogeneity to be found in the US relative to the more homogeneous Continental Western Europe.

Consider this: according to the World Value Survey, whereas 60% of Americans believe that the poor are "lazy," only 26% of Europeans hold this belief. Not surprisingly, those who adhere to such beliefs are more averse to redistribution and welfare, and evidence shows that in the US, those who express more "anti-minority" points of view are also more averse to redistribution and more likely to have less sympathy for the poor.

It seems easier for white middle class Americans to consider the poor less worthy of government support if they think of them as different. To put it crudely, but candidly, indifference comes easy if the poor are assumed to be mostly "black." This is more difficult in Norway, where rich and poor are white, often blond and tall.