There is a common conservative argument that I continue to hear in polite society. It is used in many areas, but it seems especially to be prevalent when discussing education. If you note that Finland has an excellent educational system without focusing on “job skills” and testing, you will often hear the refrain, “But Finland is such a homogeneous country!” I’m frankly shocked that people say this. They would never say, “Of course that works in Finland — they’re all white. We have all these black and brown students!” Yet that is what I hear whenever people make these arguments about homogeneity.
Matt Bruenig noted another aspect of this, An Actually Meaningful Homogeneity Argument. He pointed out that this is used as a common excuse for why some countries manage to grow and innovate just as fast (Or faster!) than the US even while having “higher tax levels, lower poverty, and lower inequality.” The causality here is mystifying on an economic level. Bruenig writes at too high a level to discuss this, but it’s clearly just racism: “Of course that works in Finland — they’re all white. We have all these black and brown people who are just lazy!” That is undeniably the argument, right?
But Bruenig pointed out that there is one case where having a homogeneous population would help in relieving poverty. It is where direct assistance is given. So rather than cash aid or even food stamps, think: food banks. An argument against this is that not everyone wants or needs the same food. So it is better just to give them money to buy the food that they want and need. But if the society is homogeneous, it is much easier to give out food because, for example, all white people like Swish cheese!
It’s important to note that Bruenig’s idea here is not real. It is a purely hypothetical situation. No group of people is that homogeneous. People always have different tastes and different needs. But it is no doubt a lot easier to fulfill the needs of the 5.5 million relatively homogeneous Fins than it is to fulfill the needs of 320 million quite diverse Americans. But Bruenig is giving the conservative argument the absolute maximize chance he can. And of course, it falls apart.
Here’s the problem: it is liberals who want to make aid to the poor as free as possible. Conservatives are the ones who are concerned that the poor are not going to spend their assistance on exactly what the conservatives think is right for the poor. Remember how angry conservatives were recently that a surfer kid was buying lobster with his EBT card? At one time the complaint was that poor people shouldn’t be buying drugs. Then it was that they shouldn’t be buying junk food. Now it is that they shouldn’t be buying perfectly healthy food that conservatives is too good for the poor. I don’t think anything has changed: it was always about spite, but it is crystal clear now.
But what all this means is that conservatives want to make policy that acts in direct opposition to the one argument they are most likely to use against having welfare. But it really does come back to the fact that conservatives are disingenuous. They don’t actually think that we have to screw over (or at least forget) the poor so that our economy works properly. They just hate the poor. And there is a big — even overwhelming — racist aspect to this. Still, I don’t think their opinions would change if we really did have a homogeneous (white) country. It’s only that they would have a much harder time convincing the rest of the country.