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Ethnic nepotism as heuristic: risky transactions and public altruism

Abstract and Keywords

Kin selection, the popular name given to William Hamilton's theory of inclusive fitness, has been successful in predicting variation in human altruism shown towards kin of different proximity. Kin-selection theory interprets the behavioural universal of nepotism to be a product of evolutionary history. In that theory, the rigors of natural selection meant that altruism — including the unreciprocated giving of resources to another individual — was only viable when practiced between close kin. The theory of evolution underlying ethnic nepotism is not well developed. There are two main approaches. The first is to portray ethnic nepotism as a literal extension of the family variety, with shared homologies in emotions, psychological mechanisms, and releasers (such as perceived attacks on the group). The second approach is to allow for ethnic and kin motivation to be different.

Keywords: kin selection, William Hamilton, inclusive fitness, altruism, nepotism, natural selection, evolution, ethnic nepotism, family, motivation

37.1. Introduction: ethnic-nepotism theory

Kin selection, the popular name given to Hamilton's (1964) theory of inclusive fitness, has been successful in predicting variation in human altruism shown towards kin of different proximity (e.g. Silk, 1980; Dunbar, 1995; Daly and Wilson, 1999; Case et al., 2001; Burnstein et al., 2002). By the early 1970s, Hamilton had reworked his theory to make it applicable to interactions between random members of whole populations (1971, p. 89). Hamilton argued that altruism could be adaptive between genetically similar non-kin, such as co-ethnics, when fitness costs and benefits obeyed Hamilton's Rule for adaptive altruism. Hamilton suggested, and Harpending (2002) confirmed, that ethnic kinship is equivalent to the genetic variation between populations, allowing ethnic kinship to be quantified and compared to family kinships. Ethnic kinship is small when the comparison is between closely related ethnic groups, but can be surprisingly high when comparing ethnic groups that evolved on different continents. This can be illustrated by considering different hypothetical societies formed by drawing borders around various combinations of populations. In a society consisting solely of Danes, two randomly chosen individuals have zero kinship. In a society consisting of the Danish and English populations, two randomly chosen Danes have a slight kinship. But in a society consisting of Danes and, say, Chinese, two randomly chosen Danes have kinship equivalent to that between grandparent and grandchild (as do two randomly chosen Chinese). Co-ethnics can be as closely related as full siblings. In global comparison, ethnic kinship is typically equivalent to that between grandparent and grandchild (Salter, 2002a). This quantification of ethnic kinship adds plausibility to the theory of ethnic nepotism, developed by I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, P. van den Berghe, J. P. Rushton and others.

Kin-selection theory interprets the behavioural universal of nepotism to be a product of evolutionary history. In that theory, the rigors of natural selection meant that altruism—including the (p. 542) unreciprocated giving of resources to another individual—was only viable when practised between close kin (Hamilton, 1964).

According to Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1982, 1998) and van den Berghe (1978, 1981), ethnic groups develop some degree of solidarity because their members think of themselves as extended kin groups. Indeed, among the definitions of ethnicity, the common denominator is putative common descent (Connor, 1994). This makes sense from van den Berghe's kin-selection perspective, but also fits with classical ethological theory as expounded by Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1972, first published 1970), who observed that national solidarity is based on family feeling. A similar point is made by Horowitz (1985) in his major treatment of ethnic conflict. Horowitz concurs with van den Berghe and Eibl-Eibesfeldt (though without referencing them) that ethnicity is based on ‘family resemblance’, that kinship is crucial to understanding the central role of family structure in determining ethnic identity and in explaining the intensity of ethnic conflict.

Of course the genetic relatedness of co-ethnics is less than that within families. Nevertheless, two randomly chosen members of the same ethnic group usually share, on average, more genes than they do with members of other groups. Depending on circumstances, it might be adaptive for an individual to make sacrifices for a number of co-ethnics, if the result is an increase in the altruist's genetic representation in the meta-population (Hamilton, 1971, p. 89; Harpending, 1979, 2002). Ethnic kinship is too weak to justify (in terms of pay-off in genetic fitness) significant altruism between individuals. However, contributing to public goods such as big-game hunting, group defence, and the assertion of group status allows an individual to benefit a large population (Goetze, 1998). Under these conditions, even small average relatedness between an actor and the population benefited can result in a fitness pay-off (Salter, 2002a).

Ethnic solidarity is most likely to become a strong determinant of interpersonal relationships following indoctrination and manipulation by rituals, symbols and ideologies that generalize familial loyalties to larger populations (Connor, 1993; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1998). Ethnic identification is more stable than is intensity of investment in the ethnic group, or mobilization in sociological terminology. The magnifying role of culture does not alter our species' basic motivational repertoire, and ethnic-nepotism theory proposes that the motivational basis of ethnic loyalty is nepotism, a phylogenetically old adaptation. This is consistent with the role of cultural ‘recognition markers’ such as language, religion, and physiognomic differences in demarcating groups. Due to this group-level nepotism, individuals are more willing to invest resources and emotions in the whole ethnic group. Cultural factors have a major role in defining group boundaries and intensity of solidarity. Thus, evolutionary thinking about ethnic relations and social behaviour is thoroughly interactionist, and might be thought of as a type of constructionism, albeit a non-relativistic and biologically informed version. One name that differentiates it as such is ‘social technology’ (Caton, 1988; Geiger, 1988; Salter, 1995).

Evolutionary theory underlying ethnic nepotism is not well developed. There are two main approaches. The first is to portray ethnic nepotism as a literal extension of the family variety, with shared homologies in emotions, psychological mechanisms, and releasers (such as perceived attacks on the group). This view assumes no special psychological structures beyond those evolved for managing family relationships. This is the thinking behind the use of kinship terms in patriotic speech (Johnson, 1987; Connor, 1993; Holper, 1996). Eibl-Eibesfeldt's (1972) core argument is that ethnic solidarity is an extension of kinship motivation. Although van den Berghe is not explicit about evolutionary mechanisms, his analysis seems to fit into this literalist approach. Rushton's (1989b) theory, based on genetic similarity, also extrapolates from small-group dynamics to the mass-population level, though the family is only one domain in which resemblance operates to allow detection of genetically similar individuals.

The second approach is to allow for ethnic and kin motivation to be different. The emotions and psychological structures they engage are evolved specifically to manage investment in identity groups beyond the family, namely the hunter-gatherer band and the tribe. This approach allows for overlap, for example in releasing conditions, but claims that identity processes go beyond kin, and are the outcome of an (p. 543) evolutionary history different to kin selection. One well-known example is Richerson and Boyd's (2001) dual evolutionary model of the evolution of patriotism. The label ‘ethnic nepotism’ applies somewhat tenuously to this theory because family and nepotistic feeling are not part of it. However, it does deal with altruism directed towards ethnic groups. An earlier, genetically rather naïve, group-selectionist theory was offered by Keith (1968, first published 1947) to explain the cluster of related motivations: patriotism, nationalism, tribalism. But the theory offered no mechanisms for resisting free riders, a fatal flaw in early group-selection theories (Maynard Smith, 1976). Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1982) augments literal ethnic nepotism with a group-selection model that generates a predisposition to ethnocentrism. The model is based on tight familial bonding and, like Richardson and Boyd's model, includes punishment of freeriders. This fully deserves to be called a theory of ‘nepotism’ because it predicts some engagement of kinship motivation, and the continuing importance of kinship symbols.

Social-technology theory can accommodate both evolutionary scenarios, though conceivably some phenomena will be better explained by one or the other. For example, the expectation from literalist theory is that ethnic identities should not readily include more than one racial group, while the dual evolutionary model puts greater weight on cultural similarity. Most studies, however, do not differentiate between these evolutionary mechanisms, instead being directed to testing the efficacy of ethnic nepotism defined as altruism directed at the ethnic group, in contemporary and recent societies. Vanhanen (1991), for example, treated his study of conflict in India as a case study in the politics of ethnic nepotism. More than 90% of violent social conflicts occurred between different ethnic groups. Rushton (1989a) used blood tests to measure the genetic similarity of male friends in England, and found that friends were more similar than a random sample.

In the following sections, I review two sets of recent empirical findings that are generally confirmatory of ethnic-nepotism theory, although there are some disconfirming results. At its present stage of development, the theory is best viewed as a useful heuristic. As the case studies described below indicate, developing the theory as explanation will necessitate incorporating psychological, cultural, economic and political factors.

37.2. Ethnic nepotism and risky transactions

One set of studies concerns partner choice for conducting risky transactions (Salter, 2002b). The first type considered was criminal business. Transacting business without the protection of contract law is subject to the risk of defection by one of the parties. Illicit activities are also risky because of police and competition from other criminals. A major risk is that of defectors who inform the police or competitors. This risk makes trust a valuable resource for partners in crime. In economic terminology, trust lowers transaction costs. Evolutionary theories of kin and ethnic nepotism offer some insights into the nature of trust, and hence might help explain and even predict a role for families and ethnically bonded networks in risky enterprises. Clearly families figure prominently in conducting transactions that require mutual trust but are not protected by contract law.

Inquiry can be broadened beyond illicit business to the question of whether evolved kin and ethnic altruism mitigate the risk of other kinds of transactions. Where else is kinship or ethnicity an important organizing principle? Does kin altruism help explain the workings of that principle? Are kin and ethnic relationships favoured when the relationship itself poses a serious risk?

A number of studies have tested the hypothesis that family members and co-ethnics are more trusted, and trustworthy, in situations where contracts are not enforced by the wider social system. These include studies of exchange networks in hunter-gatherer societies such as the !Kung Bushmen of Southern Africa, psychological experiments concerning social cognition of joint risk, of organized crime, of middleman trading networks such as the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia, persecuted minorities, US Supreme Court proceedings, and tourist behaviour, all of which confirmed the hypothesis. However, the hypothesis was disconfirmed in a case study of male homosexual partnering behaviour.

(p. 544) 37.2.1. Risk mitigation in Bushman exchange networks

An empirical test of an evolutionary theory should begin by describing the species in question in its natural condition. No human population remains in its pristine Pleistocene state but approximations are offered by societies that presently live or until recently lived by hunting and gathering, the means of subsistence pursued by Homo sapiens for most of its evolutionary history. This mode of existence forces groups to remain small and mobile, and retain social ties able to mitigate risks from the environment and the predations of other groups.

Wiessner (2002) reports on how the social ties of the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari have fared under the impact of rapid social change occasioned by the Namibian Government's provision of stable water points allowing a sedentary lifestyle. Wiessner has been documenting !Kung exchange networks for more than 20 years. Her original studies confirmed the importance of kin ties in mitigating risk of defection from exchange relationships, allowing the !Kung's ‘social security’ net to extend over large distances. The longitudinal extension of her research traced the development of these ties, whose raison dʼêtre of providing security against famine and conflict was undermined by an era of relative plenty and stability. Exchange ties are valuable and difficult to replicate once lost. In a process analogous to bequeathing land, elderly Bushmen also pass on their exchange ties to children. Thus, low-risk exchange ties are inherited from parents and grandparents.

Wiessner's research also contributes to the debate over ‘fictive’ versus ‘socially constructed’ kinship. The debate hinges on the question of how easy it is to manipulate humans into treating non-kin like real kin. Some theorists such as van den Berghe (1981) argue that ethnic groups have a genealogical component to their identity, and that despite some exceptions people usually direct altruism towards groups with which they are the most closely related. Others argue in the opposite direction, that ethnic groups are social constructs with little or no genetic reality (e.g. Reynolds, 1980). Wiessner shows that in Bushman society, fictive kinship based on shared names has some influence on patterns of exchange, but that delayed reciprocal arrangements—a riskier type of transaction than that yielding immediate returns—are made with closer genetic kin.

37.2.2. Ethnic groups and domain-specific decision-making

Wang (2002) argues for the importance of ‘domain specific’ cognitive mechanisms as the agents responsible for making decisions regarding risks to different kinds of groups. The human brain is not rational in the normative sense of generally giving equivalent answers to equivalent problems. Individuals respond differently to logically identical problems that are put to them in different words—the framing effect. Wang pays special attention to framing effects generated by perceived kinship and non-kinship. Respondents show greater concern for groups of kin than for groups of non-kin. As Wang puts it, his findings suggest that decision making rationality is kinship specific: “[The result] argues against an all-purpose viewpoint and indicates that human choice mechanisms automatically distinguish kinship from pseudo-kinship or quasi-kinship.” Wang also finds cultural differences: compared to American subjects, mainland Chinese subjects treat much larger hypothetical groups as kith and kin.

37.2.3. Blood symbolism and the Sicilian Mafia

Blok's research on the Sicilian Mafia shows how biological kinship and metaphorical ‘shared blood’ serve to bind together members of crime ‘families’ and ‘brotherhoods’: “Given its preeminence in Mafia coalitions, agnatic kinship in Sicily, as in other Indo-European kinship systems, provides for relationships of ‘diffuse, enduring solidarity’ [citation]. If, in the absence of effective state control, trust can be found anywhere, it is primarily in the bonds between agnatic kinsmen (that is, paternal “blood” relatives).” (Blok, 2002, p. 110–111.) While biological kinship forms the core of Mafia families, alliances between intermarried families are also important, with sets of brothers-in-law often forming the core of groups of Mafia families. The bond is cemented with rituals that establish metaphorical brotherhood. The resulting relationships are more trusting than contracts. Kinship, both real and socially defined, is an economic and political (p. 545) asset because it facilitates both the taxing of local businesses and trading in drugs. These practices are risky because of competition from other Mafia clans and because they are illicit and thus vulnerable to police informers.

37.2.4. Ethnically homogeneous middleman groups

One clear example of kinship acting to reduce the risk of transactions is ethnically homogeneous middleman groups. Landa (1981) wrote one of the earliest analyses of this world-wide phenomenon, describing how ethnic-Chinese business people in Malaysia preferentially extend credit to family and ethnic members, rather than to ethnic Malays. Such is the trust that exists between family and ethnic members that credit is extended on the basis of a handshake. Landa (2002) has reformulated the theoretical basis for her analysis. The new theory is grounded in the New Institutional Economics (NIE; see Landa, 1994) and incorporates the cognitive anthropology of Mary Douglas. The NIE has largely ignored the cognitive and classificatory foundations of social institutions. Yet Landa argues convincingly that classification is such a central aspect of human social cognition that our species might be renamed ‘Homo classificus’. Humans are compulsive classifiers, sorting other individuals into demographic and behavioural categories. Prominent among these social categories are kinship and ethnicity, the latter corresponding to the linguistic—tribal identities in the evolutionary milieu. When a person categorizes someone as close kin or fellow-ethnic, that person becomes a candidate recipient of greater altruism and trust, as Landa illustrates with her remarkable ethnographic data on Chinese middleman groups in Malaysia. These successful business men and women categorize their social worlds into seven nested circles of kinship and ethnicity, beginning with the nuclear family. Trust and loyalty then go to more distant kinsmen from the extended family and lineage, then to clansmen, fellow villagers, dialect group from the same province in China, Chinese speaking a different dialect; and finally to non-Chinese. A broader phenomenon in need of Landa's theory is that of the ethnic economic networks which dominate many developing economies (Chua, 2003) and play important roles in even the most developed economies, such as the United States (Light and Karageorgis, 1994).

37.2.5. Strategies for mitigating risk among diaspora Jewish groups

Jews, perhaps more than any other religious or ethnic group, have had to face persecution for maintaining their traditions, including distinctive communal associations and economic roles. Merely belonging to a Jewish community has often constituted a risky transaction, as has Jews’ frequent middleman status. The Jewish diaspora has survived intermittent persecution for two millennia, more than sufficient time to develop cultural patterns adapted to mitigation-associated risks. MacDonald (2002) describes Jewish organizational and cultural responses to anti-Semitism. The resulting analysis is a testament to our species' ability as ‘flexible strategizers’ (Alexander, 1979). Jewish communities have adopted strategies ranging from defensive assimilation to assertive legal and cultural manoeuvres as means for disarming their critics and persecutors in attempting to render their communal transactions less risky.

37.2.6. Supreme Court justices' risky interactions with counsel: dialect and sex effects

Schubert et al. (2002) find ethnic bias in the speech behaviour of Supreme Court justices during oral argument. The bias is not in the Court's judgments but in the justices’ paralinguistic behaviour during the important oral argument phase of proceedings, although the authors do not rule out indirect effects on rulings. When Supreme Court judges hear weighty cases, namely those that require interpretation of the Constitution, a risk is posed to the reputation of the Court as well as to the reputation of individual judges. The hypothesis was that during these higher-risk proceedings judges would show greater anxiety in their questioning of lawyers who exhibited differently accented English, and be more relaxed in questioning lawyers who shared their own accent. Anxiety was operationalized as reduced questioning of lawyers during oral argument. The logic is that judges must concentrate more on lawyer's words when they are spoken in a novel accent. (p. 546) Greater concentration means greater cognitive effort, itself anxiety-producing in the adversarial context of court hearings. All this places a premium on detecting any attempts at deception in evaluating communications. But cues to veracity are more opaque when presented by speakers using an unfamiliar accent or dialect, creating a degree of uncertainty and hence anxiety. For the purposes of their study the authors compared judges' behaviour towards lawyers with standard American idiom and those with a Southern idiom. Eighteen cases of the Southern accent were observed out of 160 randomly sampled cases. They also compared judges' behaviour towards women and men, to control for the possibility that other than linguistic differences were causing the changes in speech behaviour. The results confirmed the hypothesis. Justices spoke less in questioning lawyers who had a Southern accent, but their volubility actually increased when questioning female lawyers, indicating less anxiety with female than with male lawyers.

37.2.7. Ethnicity and tourists' risky transactions

Van den Berghe (2002) studied the role of ethnicity in the real and imagined risks of tourism. Tourism in strange cultural settings is a microcosm of the global village, in which jumbo jets bring people together across contents in unprecedented numbers. The quest for foreign looks, tastes and smells is countered by the feelings of security that come from the company of co-ethnics and familiar environments. Most tourists prefer to sample foreign experiences rather than undergo prolonged immersion. Sallying forth for several hours at a time from the ethnic redoubt of a five-star hotel or vetted hostel is more the rule than is ‘going native’. And expeditions are usually conducted with kith and kin from the home country.

37.2.8. Disconfirmation: homosexual partner choices in the face of AIDS

Schubert and Curran (2002) tested the hypothesis that people show preference for physiognomic similarity in choosing a partner with whom to conduct risky relationships, specifically that there was reduced cross-ethnic homosexual partnering in the face of the AIDS epidemic. Schubert and Curran focused on the incidence of HIV infection between the time that information about ‘gay-related immunodeficiency disease’ was publicized and the time that the HIV virus and its modes of transmission and prevention were discovered. They examined time-series data on AIDS incidence rates in the USA for Whites, Blacks and Hispanics, broken down by geographic region. It is well established that the AIDS epidemic initially took off within the White population. On this basis, Schubert and Curran operationalize the hypothesis as a slow down in the spread of HIV to minority populations. But no such effect was found. The disconfirmation provided by Schubert and Curran stands as an exception to the pattern of ethnic trust that began with the observation of ethnic mafias. Schubert and Curran also report an intriguing and tragic difference between White and minority incidents of AIDS. White homosexuals appear to have reduced multiple partnering behaviour prior to knowledge about HIV transmission, while Black and Hispanic homosexuals evidently did not for approximately a 2 year period. Instead of a lag in the spread of the disease, this resulted in a 2 year rapid spread of the disease in these minority groups, probably due to less access to information about risk. This delayed risk-avoiding behaviour might have obviated the perceived need for ethnic trust.

Taken together, these case studies point to a hierarchy of tie strengths, stronger and more focused between close kin, weaker and more diffuse between co-ethnics, and weakest or nonexistent between different ethnic groups. In situations where transactions are not protected by contract law, interpersonal trust reduces transaction costs, and kin and fellow ethnics are favoured as partners. However, kin and ethnic bonds vary in strength, and cultural and ritual enhancements are typically used to increase those bonds and the resulting trust.

37.3. Ethnic nepotism and public altruism

The second set of studies concerns the interaction of ethnicity and public altruism. According to ethnic-nepotism theory, altruism should be stronger within ethnic groups than between them. The hypothesis, extrapolated from ethnic-nepotism (p. 547) theory, that more public altruism will be shown towards strangers who appear to be of similar ethnicity than towards strangers who have a different ethnic appearance, was confirmed by an observational study of street begging in Moscow, two separate studies of the world's welfare states, a study of regional differences in collections by a large US charity, and a study of Canadian welfare arrangements concerning the province of Quebec. Another study found that foreign-aid-giving by relatively homogeneous countries is substantially more generous than that by more heterogeneous societies. However, a study of the provision of US local council infrastructure dis-confirmed the hypothesis in a comparison of White and Hispanic neighbourhoods, while confirming it in the case of Black neighbourhoods.

37.3.1. Moscow beggars

A field study of street beggars in Moscow conducted by Butovskaya et al. (2004) found that passers-by, mostly ethnic Russians, give more to beggars from their own ethnic group. The effect is strong enough that Gypsies, a recognizable outgroup, resort to more extreme and less dignified methods of begging than are typically employed by ethnic Russians. Nevertheless, they receive less charity.

37.3.2. Two studies of welfare and ethnic diversity

There are two cross-national studies of welfare and heterogeneity. Sanderson's (2004) cross-national study of redistributive welfare and ethnic heterogeneity covers 42 countries distributed across all continents. He finds that ethnic diversity is a major correlate of low redistributive welfare. Only organized labour, democracy, and national wealth explain more or comparable between-country variance. Vanhanen's (2004) multi-national study looks at all welfare taken together, including redistributive and non-redistributive. He finds a low but statistically significant negative effect of diversity on welfare payment. By combining their measures of diversity and welfare expenditure to produce four analyses, Sanderson and Vanhanen (2004) were able to explain how differences arose between their independent earlier studies. In three analyses, ethnic diversity was a good (negative) predictor of welfare spending, and in one it was a weak predictor. The correlations are set out in Table 37.1.

37.3.3. US charity and ethnic diversity

Schubert and Tweed (2004) found a low correlation between ethnic diversity and donations to the large US charity, the United Way. Community size was a much larger factor, smaller towns donating more. Interestingly, donations did not decline in linear manner as diversity increased. There was a threshold of about 10% minority representation below which diversity had no effect. Above that level donations slowly declined. Interpreting their results, they suggested that the fall-off in charity would have been much larger if rising minority donations had not compensated for falling majority donations. In this interpretation, ethnic nepotism suppressed White charity as diversity increased, because it is generally known that charity goes disproportionately to poor minority ethnic groups. But ethnic nepotism boosted minority-giving for the same (p. 548) reason, since minorities realize that their charity goes differentially to their own communities. Schubert and Tweed concluded that their study concurred with the study by Alesina et al. (1999) that more racially diverse cities spend a smaller proportion of their budgets and less per capita on public goods than do more homogeneous cities.

Table 37.1 Sanderson and Vanhanen's (2004) reconciled correlations between ethnic diversity and welfare expenditure in the world's welfare states

Welfare measures



Variance explained

















(1) WD-93 Central government expenditure an social security and welfare, 1993.

(2) HD-95 Percentage of central government expenditure on social security & welfare, 1980, 1992–5.

(3) SS-TGE Social Security spending as percentage of total government expenditure, 1996.

(4) PE-GDP Public expenditure on social security as percentage of GDP 1980–85. 1989–1994.

37.3.4. Canadian welfare for Quebec

A study by James (2004) documents higher welfare payments sent to the province of Quebec than to other Canadian provinces. This appears to disconfirm ethnic nepotism, since Quebec has a large French-speaking minority while most of Canada is English-speaking. However, James points out that a minority's geographical concentration creates a special condition because such minorities are better able to seek and secure independence. Schiff (1998) makes the same point regarding the Ivory Coast, which pays special benefits to an independence-minded province. Both James and Schiff argue that the special payments to secessionist minorities amount to an attempt by the majority group, or its elites, to buy territorial unity. Minority leaders can be aware of the terms of this arrangement and exploit it to maximize revenues for their people. As Parizeau, the Quebec leader in 1998, declared: “As long as we're in Canada, we'll go get our booty … And sovereigntist premiers have better success than federalist premiers in grabbing money from Ottawa.” (Ottawa Citizen, November 26, 1998, p. A1.)

37.3.5. Council infrastructure for US neighbourhoods

Masters' (2004) paper is important because it offers the only empirical disconfirmation of the ethnic-nepotism hypothesis with regard to public goods of which I am aware. Masters compared the provision of some public goods at the county level in the USA with the proportion of the local population comprised of Blacks and Hispanics. He found that the number of public sewers per capita is not negatively correlated with the proportion of Hispanics, and takes this as disconfirmation of the ethnic-nepotism hypothesis. However, he did find a negative correlation with the proportion of Blacks, supposedly in agreement with the hypothesis. More importantly, however, the proportion of both Blacks and Hispanics in counties did correlate with lower per caput welfare payments, which offers some confirmation to the hypothesis.

There is a good reason to treat the welfare correlations as more telling for the hypothesis than the number of sewers per caput. Sanderson (2004) found that redistributive welfare, such as cash payments to single mothers, is more sensitive to ethnic diversity than are genuine public goods such as sewers and water supply, which are difficult to subdivide and which prevent disease, thus benefiting all taxpayers. Provision of police, which Masters also analysed, is especially problematic in this respect, because police are simultaneously a public good for one part of society—those with property, for example—and a means of social control against other segments—such as the poor, especially those who supplement income with illegal activity. Hama's (1998) comparison of 77 US cities found that expenditure on police increases with an increasing proportion of Black population, contradicting Masters’ finding. This is unlikely to be an expression of growing public altruism. Rather, it is probably a response to relatively high Black crime rates. Police expenditures can be seen as pure public goods within multiethnic societies where all groups have approximately the same levels of wealth and criminality and police do not discriminate. Otherwise, care should be taken to distinguish this motive from that of social control by one group over another. The hypothesis would be disconfirmed if ethnic diversity was found not to depress contributions to a public good that redistributed net resources between ethnic groups. Such a disconfirmation is yet to be presented.

37.3.6. Foreign aid

Masters and McMillan (2004) offered a fascinating cross-national analysis of foreign aid payments for the period 1962–1992, finding that ethnic diversity has a depressing effect. One measure of ethnic diversity alone accounts for 80% of the between-country variance in foreign aid during that period, controlling for income and government size. Ethnic diversity may impede cooperation for all national goals requiring broad consensus.

These findings are confirmed by recent research in economics, political science and sociology. (p. 549) Already mentioned is the study by Alesina et al. (1999) on the depressing effect of ethnic diversity on US city spending on public goods. In addition, Gilens (1999) has found that in the US, cross-racial transfers are a major point of resistance to taxation to support means-tested welfare payments. Gilen's survey-based analysis confirms the thesis advanced by political theorists that racial divisions in the USA have distorted and subverted attempts to construct a European-style welfare state (Skocpol, 1988; Quadagno, 1994). Extensive welfare rights emerged from political struggles and decisions made within ethnically homogeneous states such as France, Germany and Sweden. Given the shifting ethnic and racial balance in Western societies, a relevant question now is whether the decline of homogeneity will spell the curtailment of those rights. Emerging research findings indicate this to be a likely outcome. A comparison by Faist (1995) of US and German welfare politics found that nationalist-populist reaction to large-scale immigration was leading to the polarization of views towards welfare along ethnic and racial lines, and had contributed to the decline of welfare expenditure in both countries. Ethnic and racial diversity present opportunities for nationalist—populist politicians who advocate reserving welfare rights for the native population. The same diversity appears to be an obstacle for cosmopolitan—liberal politicians who seek a more inclusive welfare system, Faist argues. This analysis was foreshadowed by Freeman (1986), who interpreted the process as the ‘Americanization of European welfare’ due to large-scale immigration. Further evidence in this direction comes from economic research. Poterba (1997) found that public spending on education is particularly low in districts where the elderly residents are from a different racial group to the school age population. Similarly, Alesina et al. (1999) found that the more ethnically or racially diverse cities spent a smaller proportion of their budgets, as well as less per caput, on public goods than did the more homogeneous cities. These results parallel the findings of Brown (1995) and Hero and Tolbert (1996) that states' per caput expenditure on Medicaid generally declines as racial diversity increases. Hero and Tolbert also analysed voting patterns by race and ethnicity in the 1994 referendum in which Californians voted on Proposition 187 (that social services to illegal immigrants be restricted). They found that minority diversity accounted for about 40% of the between-county variation in support for the proposition, such that support increased in tandem with the degree of racial diversity.

The negative relation between racial diversity and public contributions to public goods with a redistributive component might be a more tenacious version of the problem faced by emerging polities, that of inducing families and clans to extend their loyalty to the civic sphere. Indeed, Easterly and Levine (1997) found that, in Africa, ethnic diversity is a major predictor of low public investment in such public goods as schooling and infrastructure.

These results and others (Salter, 2004a,b,c) contribute to knowledge of how ethnicity affects modern mass society in the political and economic realms. It is important to know that persistent ethnic diversity generates costs as well as the benefit of increasing cultural variety. Those costs are considerable. They include a tendency to lower redistributive welfare and charity, increased collective violence, lower economic growth in economies most in need of it, and lower foreign aid. Ethnic diversity also tends to reduce the efficiency of government and the fairness of policing, damages social capital in the form of public trust and commitment to the community, and raises levels of inequality and corruption.

37.4. Conclusion

While broadly confirmatory, the studies reviewed above also show that ethnic-nepotism theory alone is an incomplete explanation of fluctuations in ethnic investment or mobilization. A complete theory will need to incorporate psychological, cultural, economic, and political factors. The incorporation of evolutionary theory should thus be seen as an augmentation of previous approaches to ethnicity, rather than a break with them.


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