Monday, March 31, 2008

Race and the Social Contract

A very interesting contribution to the discussion on race spawned by Senator Obama's speech on race here by the NYT. The editorial makes the argument that diversity itself, erodes support for public goods, whether it be roads, schools, parks, whatever.

This is not a new argument. Some of Robert Putnam's recent work (I think this attribution is correct) has suggested that people's sense of community and commnity engagement declines as diversity increases.

As a sociologist I am both interested in such a phenomenon and "sympathetic" to such an argument.

However, I do not think it goes far enough. Diversity is one thing. Inequality is quite another. And what I do not see is whether it is the more privileged status groups who are bailing on public goods and community or if the effect is the same across all racial, ethnic, and class groups

The NYT editorial for instance cites evidence:

While this tension manifests mainly along racial lines, it has broader
ethnic, religious and even linguistic dimensions. A 2003 study by Julian Betts
of the University of California, San Diego, and Robert Fairlie of the University
of California, Santa Cruz, found that for every four immigrants who arrived in
public high schools, one native student switched to a private school.

Now, I'd want to know what is the breakdown of those native students who go private? Are those overwhelmingly white students? Are they equal, across the board, of all groups represented in the local community?

The suggestive evidence that it is not just diversity but old fashions racism is found here:

Mr. Glaeser’s and Mr. Alesina’s work suggests that white Europeans support
a big welfare state because they believe the money will probably go to other
white Europeans. In America, the Harvard economist Erzo F. P. Luttmer found that
support for social spending among respondents to General Social Survey polls
increased in tandem with the share of welfare recipients in the area who were in
their own racial group. A study of charity by Daniel Hungerman, a Notre Dame
economist, found that all-white congregations become less charitably active as
the share of black residents in the local community grows.

I applaud the writer, Mr. Porter, for his willingness to bring such patterns to light, but, are blacks less likely to support "welfare" because they sense that most of their money is going to white recipients, while that seems indeed to be the case for whites? How about other groups? And what role does the flavor of religion play? Are catholics the same as methodists, the same as southern baptists?

I'd love to see some data on how democrats and republicans play out on views of the social good.

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