If only we were all Norwegians, we'd have the high taxes we need and all the welfare we want. But because America is diverse, we selfishly worry that members of other ethnic groups might benefit from our tax dollars. As a result, our taxes aren't high enough and our welfare spending too low.
That in a nutshell is Eduardo Porter's thesis in his NY Times column of today, Race and the Social Contract
. Porter, a graduate of Mexico's UNAM who began his journalism career with the Mexican news agency Notimex, is now a member of the NYT's editorial board.
Porter believes that the US needs to make "big investments in the public good" to deal with the "enormous challenge" of "globalization." But that goal is thwarted by our selfishness that in turn is prompted by our diversity.
The columnist begins by noting that, when it comes to taxes and public spending, we rank toward the bottom among developed countries. Now, you might cheer that fact, but Porter sees it as a bad thing. And he cites a number of studies suggesting that in ethnically homogeneous countries, citizens support higher taxes and public spending levels because they're confident their cohorts will be the beneficiaries. But in the more diverse USA, "racial and ethnic antagonism all too frequently limit" public spending.