Sunday, July 27, 2014

Just how culturally/ethnically homogeneous is Scandinavia?

Image: Cars ablaze during racially motivated rioting outside of Stockholm in 2013. Sweden is more diverse than most European countries, including the UK, France, and Germany. (source)



The first post on this issue dealt with the idea that social democracy can only occur in a society that is already harmonious and prosperous. As we saw, this view is made untenable by the experiences of Finland. The Social Democrats in Finland were first voted into power following a bitter civil war in which 1% of the population perished and a significant number died from mistreatment in prison camps; this followed nearly 700 years of occupation by foreign powers, two incredible famines, and various gruesome wars between Sweden and Russia that used Finland as a convenient battlefield. Social democracy succeeded through two wars with the Soviet Union in which a significant percent of the population died and over 10% of the population was permanently displaced from their homes. And it succeeded in spite of an economic depression in the 1990's.

This post deals with the question of race/cultural/ethnic/religious homogeneity. That a social democracy can only occur in a place that is homogeneous is a widespread view--both in popular imagination and in otherwise reputable sources. As an example of this idea in a mainstream publication, Ivy League professor of higher education Marybeth Gasman writes:
One of the speakers, Cecile Hoareau of the University of Maastricht, presented a paper pertaining to equity across Europe and as expected, according to her research, those countries with the greatest level of equity in higher education were Finland, Sweden, and Norway. These same countries have been the subjects of quite a few essays written in the United States as of late. All of these essays hail the Northern European countries as role models in both K-12 and higher education. And they are. In all of these countries, education is public, free, and high levels of equity have been achieved. These countries are proud of their success and should be. Their success leads to one central question: How can this success be replicated? While I think this is an important and admirable question and I also think that there are important lessons to learn, people tend to forget that Finland, Sweden and Norway are homogenous [sic] countries...One of the secrets of success in homogenous [sic] countries is that they are homogenous [sic].
Unlike the ignorant Internet comments that unwittingly sparked these posts, she tries to make a slightly more subtle, yet no less racist point. Scandinavian education is indeed very equitable--that is, the worst performing students don't do that much worst than the best performing students. Education inequity is a massive problem in the United States.

But the problems of Gasman's piece are many, and we'll take each of them in turn.

How far can the strength of homogeneity really advance a society?
Gasman greatly exaggerates the power of ethnic, cultural, or racial homogeneity:
Reflecting on Delpit's ideas, people are more comfortable taking care of and educating people who are similar to them in terms of race and culture. One of the secrets of success in homogenous [sic] countries is that they are homogenous [sic]. People feel comfortable with the government providing resources to the general public because the general public looks like them. Unlike these Scandinavian countries, the United States is hugely diverse and we often think that people of our race and class work harder and know best.
As discussed in the previous post on this issue, if homogeneity is so important, what do we make of homogeneous states like West Virginia? West Virginia has a population over 90% non-Hispanic white; their education system is the envy of no one. If cultural homogeneity is such a strength, why are the many US states that are over 90% non-Hispanic white not beacons of educational equity? Many African countries are well over 90% African; many Asian countries are well over 90% Asian. Clearly, homogeneity is--at best--a small part of the story.

In a similar vein, I wrote previously about the large minority groups in Kerala, a thriving social democratic state of India, and do not need to repeat those arguments here. If minorities are so toxic to welfare states, why can Kerala thrive despite having such large minority groups?

Sweden is one of the most diverse countries in Europe
For this section, we'll focus on Sweden, which is the most ethnically diverse of the Scandinavian nations. Gasman writes:

Unlike these Scandinavian countries, the United States is hugely diverse and we often think that people of our race and class work harder and know best. Many of us differentiate based on race and judge the quality of individuals by their race -- even if we do not want to admit that we do. We also often feel that if one group of people gains access and resources that we lose something. Our diversity makes us stronger, but it also makes our system deeply complicated in comparison to homogenous [sic] Scandinavian countries. These complications are exemplified in European countries such as England and France, which are experiencing more and more diversity and the challenges of inequity that surface in racially and ethnically diverse nations.
Got it? Problems can be expected in the United States, England, and France, due to their diversity; Scandinavia can avoid these issues entirely due to their homogeneity. What is homogeneity? Let's review Gasman's definition of homogeneity:
However, the percentages of non-white immigrants to Finland, Sweden and Norway are tiny. For example, people from underdeveloped nations make up less than 1 percent of the Finish population. In Norway, 3 percent of the population is made up of immigrants from non-Western countries such as Morocco, Somalia, Iran, and Turkey. And in Sweden less than half percent of the population is Somali, which is the only critical mass of people from underdeveloped nations.
To repeat--Gasman defines diversity as non-white immigration. That's a fine definition, and we'll use in the rest of this section.

The problems with this are many, and we'll take them in turn.

First, Gasman's surprising factoid about Somali being the "only critical mass of people from underdeveloped nations" is simply wrong. Sweden is home to 129,000 Iraqi-born immigrants--amounting to 8% of Sweden's total immigrant population and more than 1% of the total population of Sweden. The Swedish city of Sodertalje alone has more Iraqi immigrants than the United States and Canada combined.

Second, Gasman cites England and France as countries that are experiencing challenges as diversifying nations. According to Gasman, this increase in diversity necessarily results in some degree of racial discord and public backlash against the welfare state. But wait--if our definition of diversity is the presence of non-white immigrants--and that is indeed how Gasman defined it--then Sweden is more diverse than both the United Kingdom and France, as well as Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, and several other EU countries:


9.2% of Sweden's total population was born in a non-European country--a higher percentage than in most other European countries. Overall, 15.4% of Sweden's total population was born in a different country. 20% of the Swedish population is foreign-born or Swedish-born to foreign-born parents; in some neighborhoods, over 80% of the population is foreign-born or Swedish-born to foreign-born parents. Compare these numbers to those of the United States--the land of immigrants, and, in Gasman's words, a "hugely diverse" nation: just 12.9% of the population is foreign born from any country of origin.

What of her contention of Sweden having many immigrants from other European countries? This factoid is correct--(9.2% / 15.4% = 59.7%) about 40% of Sweden's immigrants are from some other European country--but this is nothing unusual. About half of all immigrants to France, for example, arrive from a different European country (Wikipedia's table of data from here):


Any way the numbers are parsed, Sweden is actually more diverse than the typical European country, at least by Gasman's definition. If we tally all immigrants in all European Union countries, 63.4% of all immigrants have emigrated from a country classified as "highly developed." Thus, immigration from underdeveloped countries is actually overrepresented in Sweden, not underrepresented.

Clearly, by Gasman's own idea of diversity, Sweden is actually more diverse than the typical European country, including countries such as France or the UK, which are typically seen as hubs of both immigration and the growing pains that necessarily result from increasing immigration and a diversifying society. If Scandinavia appears homogeneous to us, it's because of American racism; we see Sweden and Finland's high PISA scores and assume there can't be anyone there who isn't white.

Just because they're white doesn't mean they're not seen as a problem
Recall Gasman's definition of diversity:
Reflecting on Delpit's ideas, people are more comfortable taking care of and educating people who are similar to them in terms of race and culture. One of the secrets of success in homogenous [sic] countries is that they are homogenous [sic]. People feel comfortable with the government providing resources to the general public because the general public looks like them...the percentages of non-white immigrants to Finland, Sweden and Norway are tiny.
According to Gasman, then, any white immigrants are immediately integrated into society. Language or cultural barriers don't mean anything. As long as they're white, they're not seen as a problem.

While these views are typical for the United States (but haven't always been), Gasman's views on race are overly simplified and not shared by the Europeans she writes about. Appallingly high numbers of western Europeans have outright racist views against Jews and Roma--despite those groups having white skin. While these would be fringe views in the United States, they aren't fringe views in Europe; in some western European countries a majority of citizens hold negative attitudes towards Jews and Roma. Large minorities of western Europeans express anti-immigration views, no matter what the country of origin. Despite Americans considering the Polish to be white, anti-Polish immigration has been a consistent problem in many western European nations, mirroring anti-Mexican immigration in the United States: fears that Polish immigrants will take jobs by offering cheap labor, as well as exploit social welfare programs. Many of Sweden's European immigrants hail from Poland.

Anti-immigration sentiment exists in western Europe specifically against immigration of white people from other European countries:
In a speech marking the State Opening of the British Parliament on Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II announced an immigration bill on behalf of David Cameron's government. Among other reforms, the bill will seek to limit the access of foreigners to the British National Health Service, something that could potentially go against EU legislation. Earlier this year, Cameron announced that Britain is currently analyzing ways of limiting the arrival of workers from Romania and Bulgaria, who will be legally allowed to work in the U.K. beginning next year...criticism of immigration is often linked to criticism of the European Union, as the citizens of the 27 members of the bloc are legally allowed to live and work anywhere in the EU. As the economic crisis deepens, so does the rejection of the free movement of people within Europe[.]
European racism isn't the same as American racism. Just because Americans consider immigrants from Poland or other European countries to be harmless doesn't mean that western Europeans do. Immigration from one European country to another cannot be dismissed as unimportant; Europeans don't see it that way and we distort reality if we assume American and European racism are the same. Shocking numbers of Europeans are racist against people Americans perceive as being white (like the Polish, Jews, and Roma).

Thus, it makes no sense for Gasman to dismiss immigration to Scandinavia from other European countries as irrelevant.

Like the United States, Scandinavia is both diverse and homogeneous
The previous section focused on Sweden because, according to Gasman's definition of diversity, Sweden is more diverse than the typical European nation--including countries seen as very diverse, such as France or the UK. To me, this post can end here, because we have a proof of principle. If someone can sustain a social democracy in a diverse nation full of immigrants, then it can be pulled off anywhere. Homogeneity cannot possibly be indispensable if one country is able to sustain a social democracy in a very diverse society. (As mentioned above, Kerala, India remains an excellent example of a functioning social democracy in a very diverse region as well.)

But the diversity of other social democracies cannot be written off, either. For this section, the state of Wisconsin is an instructive example. The state sounds very homogeneous; it is 83% non-Hispanic white. But Wisconsin's biggest city, Milwaukee, is just 37% non-Hispanic white. Milwaukee is 40% black and 20% Latino; 10% of the residents of the city were born in a different country.

Clearly, looking at state demographics can mask local differences. Most states are like this--large metropolitan areas are very diverse, while suburban and rural areas are very white (with exceptions like California). In this way, there is thus no such thing as a "diverse" state. A "diverse" state is simply a state with an urban population much larger than its suburban and rural populations. A state that is not "diverse" simply has more rural and suburban residents than urban ones.

So it is in Scandinavian cities. Helsinki's foreign born population is over 10% and even more speak a non-Finnish, non-Swedish language as their first language. 31% of the residents of Oslo are foreign born or Norwegian-born to foreign-born parents. In 2013, 40% of elementary students in Oslo spoke a first language other than Norway's two native languages. 22% of the residents of Copenhagen are foreign-born or Danish-born to foreign-born parents. Reykjavik has 11.1% foreign-born population. While some Scandinavian countries may have small minority populations, their largest cities do not. The welfare states don't collapse in Scandinavian cities;* schools are required to provide second language classes to any student who does not speak their new country's language. Despite these obstacles, Scandinavian cities retain a very high level of education effectiveness and equity--certainly more so than metropolitan areas in other European countries or the United States.

Sweden isn't homogeneous, and it isn't even harmonious
In May 2013, Swedish suburbs experienced tremendous rioting of dissatisfied immigrant groups. This is an extremely strong argument in favor of social democracy--unrest that has some basis in race can boil over, but the social welfare state doesn't care. Taxes are collected from all, no matter where they were born, and benefits are given out irrespective of country of origin, color of skin, etc. Universal social welfare programs are not easily designed to be racist. Again, Sweden still turns in some of the best PISA scores in the entire world. Despite some degree of racial unrest, they are still able to effectively and equitably educate immigrant children.

Closing thoughts
To repeat one of Gasman's arguments I've already blockquoted:
One of the secrets of success in homogenous [sic] countries is that they are homogenous [sic]. People feel comfortable with the government providing resources to the general public because the general public looks like them. Unlike these Scandinavian countries, the United States is hugely diverse and we often think that people of our race and class work harder and know best.
This would seem to have no basis in reality. People in the United States only want those of their own race to collect Social Security when they retire? People in the United States can't even look past their own racism when it comes to pre-kindergarteners? This is utter nonsense.

According to Gasman's argument, enmity cannot exist between two white people. According to this view, the Finnish social democrats had no resentment extending universal social welfare services to the Whites whom they had just fought a civil war against--a war the Whites had won with widespread political terror; a war in which 1% of the population died; a war in which the Whites rounded the Social Democrats up in prison camps for mere suspicion of their political views, killing thousands through mistreatment. According to Gasman, these divisions obviously faded instantly simply because everyone was white.

Clearly, racial, ethnic, or cultural homogeneity cannot explain even part of the success of social democracy. In particular, the diversity of Sweden and Kerala make this argument obviously absurd. The belief that racial, ethnic, or cultural homogeneity can account for a country's success reflects the racism of the person who holds those views: they see a successful country and assume there can't be anyone there who isn't white.



Other posts in this series:
Part 1
Part 2 (this page)
Part 3
Part 4




*As in any country, cities are net tax donors, rural areas net tax acceptors--that is, cities pay more taxes than they receive in government spending; rural areas receive more in government spending than they pay in taxes.

1 comment:

  1. There is no question that successful societies can include those which are racially diverse. But as diversity increases a point is reached where, eventually, mistrust increases not only between races but between members of the same race in the same country.
    Pretending substantial differences do not exist between diverse peoples is to deny what we know to be true. We are distinct biological entities with different levels of intelligence, morality, work ethic, traditions, religions and value systems. Yes, you can build "successful societies" on this, but it is far easier to accomplish in homogeneous societies

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