Europe has begun 2023 with a renewed push to increase extra-European immigration into the continent: “The European Commission is hoping to mitigate regional and industry-specific labour shortages with the launch of a new mechanism to encourage migration from third countries to the European Union.”
In this context of ongoing mass migration, it is worth cutting through polemic and attending to what we know about the impact of increased diversity on society.
In their 2020 “Ethnic Diversity and Social Trust: A Narrative and Meta-Analytical Review,” researchers Peter Thisted Dinesen and Merlin Schaeffer of the University of Copenhagen, and Kim Mannemar Sønderskov of Aaerhus University, compiled findings from a range of relevant studies.
Their conclusions were as follows:
- Social trust is indeed lowest in more ethnically diverse contexts, albeit by a ‘modest’ margin.
- This negative relationship applies to every kind of trust the researchers looked at, but especially to trust between neighbours and general social trust. In other words, neighbourhood cohesion and a broad sense of trust in society at large are among the factors most adversely affected by diversity.
- The negative relationship between diversity and social trust is strongest in those who actually experience it, that is, those who live close to their ‘inter-ethnic other.’ Put differently, living in a diverse setting accentuates, rather than attenuates, the breakdown of social trust.
- Interestingly, the negative relationship between diversity and social trust remains statistically significant even when one is controlling for other variables, like socio-economic status or criminality. This means that identity and culture are not simply neutral factors obfuscating what is really a class issue, for example, but have their own impact.
Crucially: Whereas our political classes routinely invoke economic rationale to make their desire for continuous migration seem neutral and necessary, they simply ignore the evidence that it reduces social trust. We cannot but conclude that, to them, social trust is not a good to be preserved. Indeed, economic determinism is often used to obscure social agendas and pretend non-economic goods like social trust are imprecise or ‘fuzzy’ categories.
The above social-scientific findings correspond to what the Amazon-owned Whole Foods company found when investigating the factors that lead to an increase of worker unionisation (unionisation being a useful proxy for social trust in this context).
After a leak of internal documents, it was revealed that low ethnic diversity was a predictor for higher unionisation: “stores at higher risk of unionizing have lower diversity.”
The importation of workers is not, therefore, a matter of mere economics. Its social consequences benefit the exercise of power, insofar as that exercise would find itself impeded by strong neighbourhood cohesion and worker organisation.
As ever, the insights of Hannah Arendt to the effect that the concentration of power in an elite requires a breakdown of social bonds between people are highly relevant.
Of course, increasing social distrust is not an end-goal in itself. Rather, the inability of people to properly relate on the basis of myriad, inherited cues and assumptions can serve to incentivise them to adopt new, ‘official,’ cultural frameworks. The dynamic here is the same as that which leads us to adopt HR-friendly terms when we’re around co-workers we don’t know, and who, we fear, might write us up for an off-colour joke. Thus, political-correctness becomes more onerous as diversity increases.
And yet, it is dubious whether this sort of social engineering can be brought to term. Wantonly creating social flux always carries the risk that existing political consensus might be made to crumble. But, despite the fact that mass migration generates uncertainty for the political classes, they persevere. Indeed, one gets the impression that they simply don’t have a wide range of policy options to draw on.
The social reaction to all this is inevitable, and a political opposition must be ready to articulate a coherent alternative. In this context, both the local—who does not want social distrust to increase—and the immigrant—who sees the impoverishment of his native country as being of a piece with social engineering schemes elsewhere—should be appealed to.