Thursday, September 07, 2017

An American Whitopia would be a dystopia

In a recent essay about the racial politics of the Trump movement, Ta-Nehisi Coates concluded with a warning:
It has long been an axiom among certain black writers and thinkers that while whiteness endangers the bodies of black people in the immediate sense, the larger threat is to white people themselves, the shared country, and even the whole world. There is an impulse to blanch at this sort of grandiosity. When W. E. B. Du Bois claims that slavery was “singularly disastrous for modern civilization” or James Baldwin claims that whites “have brought humanity to the edge of oblivion: because they think they are white,” the instinct is to cry exaggeration. But there really is no other way to read the presidency of Donald Trump.
Yes, at first glance, the notion that Trumpian white racial nationalism is a threat to the whole world, or the downfall of civilization, etc. seems a bit of an exaggeration. Barring global thermonuclear war, Trump and his successors aren't going to bring down human civilization - the U.S. is powerful and important, but it isn't nearly that powerful or important.

But there's an important truth here. An America defined by white racial nationalism - an American Whitopia - would be an economic and cultural disaster movie. It would be a dysfunctional, crappy civilization, sinking into the fetid morass of its own decay. Some people think that an American Whitopia would be bad for people of color but ultimately good for whites, but this is dead wrong. Although nonwhite Americans would certainly suffer greatly, white American suffering under the dystopia of a Trumpist society would be dire and unending. 

Here is a glimpse of that dark future, and an explanation of why it would fail so badly.

Don't think Japan. Think Ukraine.

First, a simple observation: Racial homogeneity is no guarantee of wealth. Don't believe me? Just look at a night photo of North Korea and South Korea:

The red arrow and white outline point to North Korea. It's completely pitch dark at night because it's poor as hell. People starve there. But it's every bit as ethnically pure and homogeneous as its neighbor South Korea - in fact, it's the same race of people. North Korea, in fact, puts a ton of cultural emphasis on racial homogeneity. But that doesn't save their society from being a dysfunctional hellhole.

OK, so North and South Korea are an experiment. They prove that institutions matter - that a homogeneous society can either be rich and happy or poor and hellish, depending on how well it's run.

It's not just East Asia we're talking about, either. It's incredibly easy to find deeply dysfunctional white homogeneous countries. Ukraine, for instance. Ukraine's per capita GDP is around $8,300 at purchasing power parity. That's less than 1/6 of America's. It's also a deeply dysfunctional society, with lots of drug use and suicide and all of that stuff, and has been so since long before the Donbass War started. 

It's worth noting that Ukraine also has an economy largely based on heavy industry and agriculture - just the kind of economy Trump wants to go back to. So being a homogeneous all-white country with plenty of heavy industry and lots of rich farmland hasn't saved Ukraine from being a dysfunctional, decaying civilization. 

Alt-righters explicitly call for America to be a white racial nation-state. Some cite Japan as an example of a successful ethnostate. Japan is great, there's no denying it. But I know Japan, and let me assure you, an American Whitopia would not be able to be Japan. It definitely wouldn't be Sweden or Denmark or Finland. It couldn't even be Hungary or Czech or Poland. It would probably end up more like Ukraine. 

Here's why.

Where are your smart people?

Modern economies have always depended on smart people, but the modern American economy depends on them even more than others and even more than in the past. The shift of industrial production chains to China has made America more dependent on knowledge-based industries - software, pharmaceuticals, advanced manufacturing, research and design, business services, etc. Even the energy industry is a high-tech, knowledge-based industry these days. Take away those industries, and America will be left trying to compete with China in steel part manufacturing. How's that working out for Ukraine?

If you want to understand how important knowledge-based industries are, just read Enrico Moretti's book, "The New Geography of Jobs". Cities and towns with lots of human capital - read, smart folks - are flourishing, while old-line manufacturing towns are decaying and dying. Trump has sold people a fantasy that his own blustering bullshit can reverse that trend, but if you really believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you.

So here's the thing: Smart Americans have no desire to live in a Whitopia. First, let's just look at smart white people. Among white Americans with a postgraduate degree, Clinton beat Trump in 2016 by a 13-point margin, even though Trump won whites overall by a 22 point margin. Overall, education was the strongest predictor of which white people voted for Trump and which went for Clinton. Also note that close to 2/3 of the U.S.' GDP is produced in counties that voted for Clinton. 

Richard Florida has been following smart Americans around for a long time, and he has repeatedly noted how they like to live in diverse places. Turn America into an ethnostate, and the smart white people will bolt for Canada, Australia, Japan, or wherever else isn't a racist hellhole.

Now look beyond white people. A huge amount of the talent that sustains America's key industries comes from Asia. An increasing amount also comes from Africa and the Middle East, though Asia is still key. Our best science students are mostly immigrants. Our grad students are mostly immigrants. Our best tech entrepreneurs are about half immigrants You make America into Whitopia, and those people are gone gone gone.

I'm not saying every single smart American would leave an American white ethnostate. But most would, and many of those who remain wouldn't be happy. 

There's a clear precedent for this: Nazi Germany. Hitler's persecution of Jews made Jewish scientists leave. But it also prompted an exodus of non-Jewish scientists who weren't Jewish but who didn't like seeing their Jewish colleagues, friends, and spouses get persecuted - Erwin Schroedinger, for example, and Enrico Fermi. This resulted in a bonanza of talent for America, and it starved Nazi Germany of critical expertise in World War 2. Guess who built the atom bomb? 

How you get there matters

There are just about 197 million non-Hispanic white people in the United States. But the total population of the country is 323 million. That means that around 126 million Americans are nonwhite. Among young Americans, nonwhites make up an even larger percentage. 

To turn America into a white racial nation-state - into Whitopia - would require some combination of four things:

1. Genocide

2. Ethnic cleaning (expulsion of nonwhites)

3. Denial of legal rights to nonwhites

4. Partition of the country

To see how these would go, look to historical examples. 

Genocide is usually done against a group that's a small minority, like Armenians or Jews. Larger-scale genocides are occasionally attempted - for example, Hitler's plan to wipe out the bulk of the Slavs, or the general mass murder of 25% of the population in Pol Pot's Cambodia. These latter attempts at mega-genocide killed a lot of people (Hitler slaughtered 25 million Slavs or so), but eventually they failed, with disastrous consequences for both the people who engineered them and the countries that acquiesced to the policies.

Denial of legal rights to minorities also has a poor record of effectiveness. The Southern slavery regime in the U.S., the apartheid regime in South Africa, and the Jim Crow system in the U.S. all ended up collapsing under the weight of moral condemnation, economic inefficiency, and war. 

Ethnic cleansing and partition have somewhat less disastrous records - see India/Pakistan, or Israel/Palestine, or maybe the Iraqi Civil War that largely separated Sunni and Shia. But "less disastrous" doesn't mean "fine". Yes, India and Pakistan and Israel survived intact. But those bloody campaigns of separation and expulsion left scars that still haven't healed. The cost of Israeli partition was an endless conflict and a garrison state. The cost of Indian partition was a series of wars and an ongoing nuclear standoff, not to mention terrorism in both India and Pakistan. 

In America, a partition would lead to a long bloody war. Remember, 39% of whites voted for Hillary Clinton. And the 29% of Asians and Hispanics who voted for Trump are unlikely to express similar support for a policy that boots them out of their country or town. Furthermore, nonwhite Americans are not confined to a single region that could be spun off into a new country, but concentrated in cities all over the nation. Thus, any partition would involve a rearrangement of population on a scale unprecendented in modern history. That rearrangement would inevitably be violent - a civil war on a titanic scale. 

That war would leave lots of bitterness and social division in its wake. It would leave bad institutions in place for many decades. It would elevate the worst people in the country - the people willing to do the dirty deeds of ethnic cleansing. In an earlier post about homogeneity vs. diversity, I wrote about how a white ethnostate created byan exodus of whites from America or Europe would probably be populated by the most fractious, violent, division-prone subset of white people. A white ethnostate created by a titanic civil war and mass ethnic cleansing would be run by an even worse subset.

This is why a partition or ethnic cleansing of America would lead to lower social trust, bad institutions, a violent society, and a kakistocracy. In other words, a recipe for a country that looks more like Ukraine (or even North Korea) than it does like Japan. 

It's already happening

This isn't just theoretical, and it isn't just based on historical analogies either. There are already the first signs of dysfunction and dystopia in the new America that Trump, Bannon, Sessions, Miller, and others are working to create. 

First of all, the places that voted for Trump are not doing so well economically or socially. Not only do Trump counties represent only about a third of the nation's GDP, but they also tend to be suffering disproportionately from the opiate epidemic. States that shifted most strongly toward Trump from 2012 to 2016, like Ohio, tend to be Rust Belt states with low levels of education, low immigration, and low percentages of Asians and Hispanics. Imagine all the things that make Ohio slightly worse off than Texas or California or New York or Illinois, then multiply those things by 1000 - and take away all the good economic stuff in Ohio, like the diverse urban revival in Columbus - to see what a Trumpian Whitopia would look like. 

Second, Trump is already creating a kakistocracy. His administration, of course, is scandal-ridden and corrupt. His allies are the likes of Joe Arpaio, who is reported to have tortured undocumented immigrants. His regime has emboldened murderous Nazi types to march in the street, and his condemnation of those Nazis has been rather equivocal

That episode caused business leaders - some of the smartest, most capable Americans - to abandon the Trump administration. If even business leaders - who are mostly rich white men - abandon an administration with even a whiff of white nationalism, imagine who would be in charge in a Whitopia. It would not be the Tim Cooks and Larry Pages and Elon Musks of the world. It would be far less competent people. 

So already we're seeing the first few glimmerings of a dystopian Whitopia. We're still a long way off, of course - things could get a million times worse. But the Trump movement gives us a glimpse of what that path would look like, and it ain't pretty. 

Whitopia: a self-inflicted disaster of epic proportions

Refashioning America as a white ethnostate would be a self-inflicted catastrophe of epic, unprecedented proportions. It would drive America from the top rank of nations to the middle ranks. It would involve lots of pain and death and violence for everyone, but the white Americans stuck in Whitopia would suffer the longest. Nonwhite Americans would move away and become refugees, or die in the civil wars. But the ones who survived would escape the madness and begin new lives elsewhere, in more sane functional countries. 

Meanwhile, white Americans and their descendants would be trapped in the decaying corpse of a once-great civilization. A manufacturing-based economy making stuff no one else wanted to buy, bereft of the knowledge industries and vibrant diverse cities that had made it rich. A violent society suffering long-lasting PTSD from a terrible time of war and atrocity. A divided society, with simmering resentment underneath the surface, like Spain under Franco. A corrupt, thuggish leadership, with institutions that keep corrupt, thuggish leaders in power. 

This is what it would take to turn America from a diverse, polyracial nation into a white ethnostate. That is the price that white Americans, and their children, and their children's children would pay. 

It's not worth it.


  1. I think something like this was tried some time around 1860...

  2. This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a coworker who is the daughter of Mexican immigrants and grew up in Steve King's district in rural Iowa. She said she faced a lot of harsh racism growing up and used to be very angry at rural, white Iowans. She said that now she just feels sorry for them, because she can live anywhere she wants, but they are trapped in decaying, rural Iowa because of their own small-mindedness. Interestingly, she also spoke about the white people she grew up around in a similar manner to how a racist suburbanite may talk about black people, eg rural whites are lazy and entitled and can't take responsibility for their own problems.

    I also have an Aunt who married a rich farmer and they both were able to retire in their 50s. They want to travel, but vacations keep being cut short because they are too racist to leave rural America (eg, they went to the Mall of American in Minneapolis, and then had to leave the city because they saw some muslim women). Hatred makes people miserable, yet they still can't seem to let it go...

  3. Anonymous12:02 AM

    The model would be Israel, no? We don't need to push out all the PoC all at once. Just restrict immigration from certain countries, while prioritizing immigration from others, and also cutting down on movement within the country. Nothing too sudden, just a gradual shift in priorities.

    1. Well, that hasn't gone too well for them, has it?

    2. Why would north-western Europeans (aka "desired" immigrants") migrate to the USA when their countries already enjoy some of the highest levels of wealth and stability on earth?

      Also, you do realize we have a constitution that allows freedom of movement, yes?

  4. by saying ukraine is homogeneous you basically cede ground to the framework of american alt-right white nationalists that race is what ultimately matters. but as you surely know ukraine is culturally bifurcated between a west and an east which have different histories and orientations (western vs. russophile). though i do grant that the west-east distinction is a bit overdone since the soviet period made russian the de facto lingua franca.

    1. I don't cede even the tiniest scrap of ground...Ukraine is homogeneous by the definition they would use.

      Alternatively, we can look at any conflict, characterize the two sides, and say "That place is heterogeneous", then look at any peaceful place and assert that any racial, religious, or linguistic differences there are non-salient and immaterial.

      But surely you realize how this latter approach would constitute the most vulgar, childish sort of conclusion-assuming...

    2. The fact that Ukraine has substantial internal divisions despite being almost 100% white actually strengthens the points made in the post. Part of it is based on the fact that the US white population, despite being racially homogenous (like Ukraine) also has important internal divisions, notably educated vs. less-educated. The more educated and capable white people (scientists, business leaders, and other examples given) wouldn't want to stay in a white ethnostate.

      A US white ethnostate in practice wouldn't be a state of all white Americans -- it would be a state of that subset of white Americans who want or could tolerate an ethnostate. That's probably a lot less than half the total US population, and is certainly a subgroup hardly capable of running a successful state.

  5. Anonymous10:59 PM

    The arguments in this post are so weird and hyperbolic...I feel like Noah really hates people who are white nationalists, so there's some motivated reasoning at work here where nationalists can't just be wrong about things the way Noah thinks some SJWs are wrong about things, they have to be so stupendously wrong that their ideas would completely destroy America in a Biblical hemoclysm or something. Just a bunch of random stuff that stuck out to me:

    >white nationalist America would be an impoverished, backward hellhole

    Noah, would you consider America circa 1924-1970---the America that won two World Wars and successfully launched manned lunar landings---to be a “dysfunctional, crappy civilization, sinking into the fetid morass of its own decay”? Because you surely realize that many white nationalists would cite this period, which ended within living memory, when America seemed to be a super-majority (~85%) white nation in perpetuity, as a primary inspiration for their vision of the future?

    Or is your argument that for some reason that, while white Americans in the 1950s were capable of building what one might with some understatement call a non-dystopian society, there was some huge change in 1965 that meant that white Americans could no longer build a functional society. And thus, white Americans now need endless waves of non-white immigration (e..g from Mexico) to not collapse into anarchy and poverty (as afflicts e.g. Mexico)?

    >electricity map

    Very cute. There’s one country in Northeast Asia that’s as poorly lit at night as almost every country in Africa below the Sahara, so checkmate HBD bigots!

    Obviously, institutions matter. But why are/were some groups of people more capable at designing/copying/maintaining good institutions than others? The (or, a) problem with the Acemoglu, Fukuyama, etc. school of reducing everything to Institutions™ is that it fails to explain why stationary-bandit leaders in regions like SSA and ME/NA don’t just copy what Western countries are doing the way e.g. Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew did. A perspective that incorporates the insights from those scholars as well as from ones like Richard Lynn and Garrett Jones is a much more satisfying guide to the world. (Acemoglu on why almost all of Africa is poor: “it’s...uh...a crazy random happenstance of history. Don’t worry, any day now it’ll change.”)

    >Nazis and science

    While obviously the Third Reich’s persecution of Jewish physicists did it no favors, it seems bizarre to cite Nazi Germany as an example of how ethnic nationalism retards scientific progress. Nazi Germany’s scientific achievements include the world’s first jet fighter, massive advances in rocketry that would prove crucial to the Apollo Program, significant production of synthetic fuels, groundbreaking cancer prevention research, etc. National Socialist ideology was generally really big on industrial production and scientific research. I don’t think one has to credit Nazism, as opposed to the skill of German scientists, for these advances or excuse its crimes to any degree because of them, but it makes the claim “Nazi Germany shows what happens to scientific research when you push for an ethno-state!” seem odd.

    1. Wow, you spent some time on this one! :-)

      Noah, would you consider America circa 1924-1970---the America that won two World Wars and successfully launched manned lunar landings---to be a “dysfunctional, crappy civilization, sinking into the fetid morass of its own decay”? Because you surely realize that many white nationalists would cite this period, which ended within living memory, when America seemed to be a super-majority (~85%) white nation in perpetuity, as a primary inspiration for their vision of the future?

      No, not at all. It had tons of problems, but for its time it was a very well-functioning civilization.

      Here's the thing, though. History is path-dependent. You can't get back there from here. If America had blocked all nonwhite immigration from WW2 to now, we'd still be in OK shape...not quite as good shape as we're in now, but not bad.

      BUT, now, since a bunch of nonwhite people ARE here, they can't be kicked out without turning the country into a nightmare country. (Of course, kicking them out would be evil, but my point is that even if you're a total racist who only cares about the well-being of white Americans, you STILL don't want to try this bullshit).

      Path dependence, man.

      Very cute. There’s one country in Northeast Asia that’s as poorly lit at night as almost every country in Africa below the Sahara, so checkmate HBD bigots!

      Keep in mind that for most of the 20th century, China and most of Southeast Asia was also just as poor as Africa, and if anything more hellishly dysfunctional. Tens of millions starved to death in Mao's famines, the Killing Fields slaughtered 25% of Cambodia's was a madhouse.

      Now the region is doing great.

      Europe, too, was a poor backwater compared to China or Iran during much of the Middle Ages; a few centuries later, it was rich and advanced and dominating the world.

      So, shit changes.

      it makes the claim “Nazi Germany shows what happens to scientific research when you push for an ethno-state!” seem odd

      Nazis did have a few impressive achievements, but overall they underperformed. Smart people don't like living in dystopias. The USSR and the Eastern Bloc were even worse.

  6. Your argument seems to deliberately conflate ethnic homogeneity with maintaining a mere ethnic majority, whose values define civil society and cultural norms. Outside of fringe extremists like Richard Spenser, who seriously envisions a homogeneous white nation in North America? It smacks of a strawman argument, used to delegitimize skeptics of current immigration policy, including those opposed to normalizing the status of unauthorized migrants.

    Coates is emblematic of a visceral hostility towards a European ethnic majority in any form (anti-majoritarianism) that raises questions that white liberals, such as yourself, do not seem keen to address. Ultimately what evidence do you have that a country can maintain a liberal democracy without a majoritarian ethnic group to hold in place certain values?

    The corruption, wealth disparities, illiberal restrictions on personal freedom, especially expression, and general dysfunction in South Asian, African, and Latin American democracies has been poorly engaged by proponents of your worldview in my opinion. The positive examples usually cited are Canada and Switzerland. Those nations have ethnic groups that live in sub-state geographic regions, not widely intermingled multicultural polities. Canada has of course considered splitting apart within my lifetime. Canada's need to appease Quebecois by choosing a disproportionate number of PMs from that province, yspeaks to the sort of 'ethnicy-balancing' necessary to maintain cohesion.

    Further, ethnic differences between Western Europeans, visibly indistinguishable, are finite compared to the cultural and racial differences now at issue. Belgium is like those two exemplar nations, yet highly dysfunctional on a federal level. Among non-European democracies that at least approach the qualifier 'liberal,' they are all homogenous (Japan, ROC, ROK) or have a dominant majority ethnic group (Botswana -- and I'm being generous in including it).

    I think non-whites broadly assimilated to Western Enlightenment values, like myself, could in theory do this, but I have no empirical evidence of that, nor am I sanguine about its prospects, given trends in ethnic and religious tribalism among many non-Christians and non-whites, as well as abetment of anti-assimilationism and a generalized hostility to theEnlightenment among many whites on the left.

    1. Outside of fringe extremists like Richard Spenser, who seriously envisions a homogeneous white nation in North America? It smacks of a strawman argument

      Meh. I think a lot of Trump's backers want to take us toward this goal, and it's important to realize that the goal is a bad one.

      Ultimately what evidence do you have that a country can maintain a liberal democracy without a majoritarian ethnic group to hold in place certain values?

      Ultimately, what evidence do you white supremacists have that it can't? What are some multiethnic democracies that failed? Can you find any examples at all? I doubt it. It's just bullshit racist theorizing.

      You can find examples where nations have split apart over language, or religion. But race?

      I think non-whites broadly assimilated to Western Enlightenment values, like myself

      Hahaha, good joke, white boy. :-)

    2. MaxUtil4:17 PM

      "Coates is emblematic of a visceral hostility towards a European ethnic majority in any form"

      That is fundamentally incorrect and I think the fact that you take that away from his writing to almost prove his point frankly.

      The argument is not that a society with a large majority of a single ethnic group can't be successful, but that relative homogeneity does not guarantee any higher level of success and that the attempt to bring about a return to large majority status for "whites" in the US would in and of itself likely bring about serious cultural and economic disasters.

    3. Anonymous2:45 PM

      Would Russia count as a multi-ethnic democracy that failed? Also, Afghanistan is multi-ethnic, has regular elections, and also appears to be a failed state. Does India count as multi-ethnic, and does it count as a success? Pakistan seems less democratic, but it does hold consequential and contested elections from time to time, and I believe that it is also multi-ethnic. The Philippines are potentially another example. I am totally uncertain as to whether or not these examples support the thesis of the OP or not, but did think it might contribute to the thread to list some potential examples of multi-ethnic states with some democratic features that don't function very well. It does seem like common sense that it is very difficult to maintain a democracy without a majoritarian group to hold in place democratic values, and it is certainly possible that ethnic tension might make it more difficult to consistently assemble a majority that supports democratic values. However, that might just be a chicken and egg problem, where multi-ethnic democracies that have broad support for democracy tend not to have a lot of ethnic conflict, and multi-ethnic democracies that don't have broad support for democratic values tend to have more ethnic strife.


    4. When countries fail, we tend to emphasize the ethnic divisions among them. We say that Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians are different ethnicities, etc., even though Americans would call them both "white". But when countries succeed, we paper over the differences - for example, white-nationalists count Norway as a homogenous mono-ethnic success even though it has a bunch of Swedes living in it, so objectively it's really just as "multi-ethnic" as Ukraine.

    5. Anonymous10:25 AM

      Does everyone emphasize ethnic divisions in countries that don't function well and paper over them in countries that do function well? This is a genuine question, as I am curious if there is a scholarly literature on this question with more precise definitions of what constitutes a multi-ethnic state. It would seem to me that any state where people identify themselves consistently as members of different ethnicities would count as multi-ethnic, and so the Nordic countries should count as multi-ethnic if they have a bunch of people who speak different languages and identify as part of a different ethnic group. Anyway, the point of learning more about the literature would be to figure out what it is that makes functional multi-ethnic states work, and see if there is anything that could be applied to the U.S.

  7. "Or is your argument that for some reason that, while white Americans in the 1950s were capable of building what one might with some understatement call a non-dystopian society, there was some huge change in 1965 that meant that white Americans could no longer build a functional society"

    Wow, what a racist statement. Nobody built anything but whites? And what happened in 1965? Civil rights, voting rights? Finally, black Americans were legally allowed to have a role in America and this ends "functional society"?

  8. Anonymous10:14 AM

    I am not sure that the Ukrainian example is the best demonstration of the potential pitfalls of homogenous etho-state. First of all Ukraine is not an ethnically homogenous state, Crimean tartars are also Ukrainians (and pro-European Ukrainians recognize them as such, even the so called far right organizations such as Praviy Sector).

    On top of that, many Ukrainians are actually ethnically Russians (I know that most people can't tell the difference between Ukrainians and Russians, but if you are from that area you can till the difference with decent accuracy just by looking at a person). Furthermore, ethnic differentiation between Russians and Ukrainians isn't a universal predictor of political affiliation (i.e. many ethnic Russians from Eastern Ukraine actually oppose Russia and support Ukraine in the current conflict).

    Dysfunction in Urkaine is a product of the soviet legacy mindset and domination from Russia ("Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire." etc), not an outcome of a superficial view of Ukraine as homogenous ethno-state.

    I also have issues with the casual statement implying that is Ukraine a drug den. Ukraine has a lot of extreme problems and I think there are legitimate reasons to call Ukraine a basket case, but let's not pretend as if pre-Trump USA was some sort of heaven. I would argue that in areas such as public safety (e.g. tolerance of warzane style ghettos) or median educational attainment (and social expectations around the value of education), pre-2014 Ukraine outperformed the US.

    P.S. I am Ukrainian, so of course I am biased.

  9. It's amazing to me that there are still intelligent people out there that take Ta-Nehisi Coates seriously. Every time I read him I quickly feel like I've been tricked into reading The Onion's version of black advancement in America.

  10. Anonymous1:30 PM

    I thought we already had a Whitopia in America and its name is Portland.