Monday, March 13, 2017

The Welfare State and the Anti-Immigrant Vote

Leftists of the Bernie Sanders sort tend to believe that working class voters abandoned  the Democrats because they did not stand up wholeheartedly enough for the economic interests of the non-rich. But there is no evidence that this is so, and some that cuts directly against it. In Europe, ethnic nationalism is strongest in the places with the strongest welfare states. Zack Beauchamp:
This creates a puzzle: Why did voters who by and large benefit from social democracy turn against the parties that most strongly support it?

It’s a hard question to answer if you believe people cast their ballots principally on the basis of their perceived economic interests. European social democrats have been proposing ideas that more objectively speak to the material interests of voters, particularly in the working class, for decades. In virtually every country in Western Europe, however, it hasn’t been enough to help the parties maintain their historic levels of public support.

Ironically, that could be because the European left is the victim of its own success. Ronald Inglehart, an eminent political scientist at the University of Michigan, argues that the combination of rapid economic growth and a robust welfare state have provided voters with enough economic security that they could start prioritizing issues beyond the distribution of wealth — issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and, most crucially, immigration.

So it’s not that European social democrats failed to sell their economic message, or that economic redistribution became unpopular. It’s that economic issues receded in importance at the same time as Europe was experiencing a massive, unprecedented wave of nonwhite, non-Christian immigration.

That, in turn, brought some of the most politically potent nonmaterial issues — race, identity, and nationalism — to the forefront of Western voters’ mind. How comfortable were they, really, with multicultural, multifaith societies?
There is a myth  on the left, going all the way back to Marx, that issues of culture, nationality and race are not real. They are "superstructure" erected on economic foundations, or "false consciousness" spread by elite spies to divide the workers. I think the Trump/Brexit phenomenon shows exactly the opposite. To millions of working class and poor people, group solidarity (race, nation, religion) is just more important than economics, and they will vote against their economic interests to express support for their kind of people. They don't seem to be a majority, but there are enough of them to matter a great deal.


G. Verloren said...


"To millions of working class and poor people, group solidarity (race, nation, religion) is just more important than economics, and they will vote against their economic interests to express support for their kind of people."

But the question you fail to ask is: why?

You say it's a myth that race and nationality are not real. But it isn't a myth. They're absolutely artificial constructs.

Ask your self WHY do millions of working class and poor people prefer racism, nationalism, and zealotry to their own economic interests?

It's not an innate behavior. They aren't born with some magic little switch in their brain set to "Nationalist" or "White Supremacist" or "Zealot". God didn't reach down from on high and press his finger to their foreheads a la The Sistine Chapel and endow them with these behaviors.

No, these are learned behaviors. This is culture. They are taught to act this way by certain portions of our society, and throughout their lives that teaching is reinforced.

Poor, working class people tend to be two things - unhappy, and poorly educated.

Miserable people tend to behave in self protective ways, psychologically trying to minimize their distress, typically at the expense of others. When you're unhappy, you tend to cope with your situation by placing your own needs or desires above those of others, and by lashing out at others who pose a potential threat to your limited resources. You become suspicious, distrustful, on edge, and neurotic.

Now, these are natural, instinctual animal behaviors. Take the example of two dogs, the first well fed and well cared for, the second starving and abused.

The former is happy and content, and has no need to display aggression or distrust toward others, because even if something bad were to happen to it at the hands of others, it has a buffer of good health (both physical and mental) and it can weather the blow with little lasting effect. It is therefor inclined to be curious and friendly, open and accepting.

The latter is desperate and miserable, and has an accute need to protect itself from any perceived threat, real or imagined, because it constantly lives in crisis. Being never far from the edge of catastrophe, where even a relatively minor blow could send it hurtling over the brink to death or madness, the animal instinctually reacts with suspicion and violence to everything, dangerous or not, because it simply cannot risk being mistaken, and must protect itself at all costs.

When dogs become unhappy, and consequently self protective and paranoid, they are reliant on human beings intervening on their behalf. People have to come along and rescue the animal from the desperate situation it is in - feed it, shelter it, doctor it, comfort it, and rebuild trust and happiness.

But when humans become unhappy, they don't often have someone else to come along and intervene on their behalf. They overwhelmingly have to fend for themselves - and even if offered help, their paranoia and their distrust of others often leads them to reject potential avenues of assistance, because they can't afford to risk being scammed or exploited.

G. Verloren said...


This is where education comes into the picture. A well educated person has far more resources available to them to cope with hardship - not only on an economic scale, but also on a mental one.

A better educated person is better able to make plans for their future; to weigh their options and to make sound judgements; to find ways to mitigate risks; to discover alternative options that aren't immediately obvious.

They're also better equipped to recognize their own faults; to realize when they're being irrational or self destructive; to determine which perceived threats are real and which are imagined; to understand the true causes of their unhappiness; to empathize with others even when they are superficially different.

An unhappy but well educated person can recognize that angrily blaming someone like "The Jews" for their own misfortune is absurd. But a miserable and uneducated person often can't make that distinction, and clings to the first comfortable and reassuring fable they are offered by others.

When a steel mill worker gets laid off and can't find work, they want to know why this terrible misfortune befell them. Is society telling them, "You are the victim of the capitalist greed of your corporate masters"?

Goodness, no. They switch on the TV, or listen to the radio, or browse Facebook or Yahoo News, and they're being bombarded with a constant stream of sound bites and "alternative facts" about job-stealing Mexican rapists that are ruining the country and destroying the lives of honest, hard working, salt of the earth Americans just like them.

Why? Because outrage sells. Because their corporate masters have figured out how to monetize their suffering by selling them scapegoats and keeping them distracted.

It's cynically brilliant. They tell people it isn't the absurd avarice and cancerous influence of the country's wealthy elite that's hurting the working class - it's actually the poorest, most vulnerable, most exploited members of society who are somehow making things tough for steel mill workers. Unions are bad! Corporations are good! Immigrants are bad! The Gentry and Old Money are good!

Well educated people are better able to withstand the media barrage of bullshit, but the uneducated more frequently fall prey to it. If you don't know any better, and don't know how to figure out the truth for yourself, you're most likely to believe whatever argument you hear repeated most often, with the most ferocity.

And when you have a society of about 325 million people, if even just 10 percent of people are tricked into believing this nonsense, that gets you a potential pool of 32.5 million people who are willing to support your agenda and to passionately repeat your message to others. So long as you properly manipulate these people, you stand to profit monstrously off their misery and ignorance.

pithom said...

"In Europe, ethnic nationalism is strongest in the places with the strongest welfare states."

-That's obviously false. Just compare Sweden and Russia.

Verloren, could you please do without the word salad?

Trump voters generally understood themselves to be voting for their economic interests, not against them. You have to go back to the New Deal era (and before) to find when Democrats did the best in the poorest regions.

G. Verloren said...

"Verloren, could you please do without the word salad?"

Your lack of an attention span does not equate to my lack of coherence.

But hey - it's easier to be insulting and dismissive of others for no reason if you don't bother to read what you're complaining about, right? Saves time too!

Speaking of which, I've taken up too much of your time already. I should let you get back to performing mental gymnastics, ignoring cited, demonstrable facts in favor of your own preconceived notions. I wouldn't want to distract you from your desperate stuggle to fend off cognitive disonance at every turn - particularly when it results in you writing such thoughtful, insightful, constructive, and inoffensive contributions to the larger discussions!

Give my love to Vladimir.