So, a mix of in-group fighting and misunderstanding amongst people who receive pensions and welfare assistance — it seems as if education and trust-building to dispel misconceptions on a large-scale is needed.
I think the best evidence suggests that the kind of education you need is indeed more about building trust in the state. For some societies it has been fairly successful — if you look at trusting the government in Sweden or Norway, people basically assume the government has their best interests at heart. I’m always jealous of my colleagues who work in those countries because they can go to the government and request to look at all the tax records for every citizen and immigrant in the country.
Some bureaucrat looks at this and says, ‘You are a government employee. You have a reason to do this. I trust you not to give away the data. Sure, you can have tax records.’ There’s bureaucracy involved, but they get to do research using data that no Canadian would tolerate being shared with me as an academic. There is a lack of trust and people are skeptical that those organizations are going to make the right decisions around their data or how to hand out money, and so they are less likely to trust the government to properly design a welfare state.
So, in terms of building civic trust, we should take some cues from Nordic countries. Some of your research explores the idea of ‘linked fate.’ What does that mean and what are some of the material or tangible applications?
Linked fate is an idea that comes out of literature on African American politics in the United States and is the belief that what happens to other members of your group matters for what happens to you.
This is a sort of miscellany of material arguments that ‘the people around me have jobs so they’re going to help me find a job.’ It involves a more metaphysical set of ideas tied up in Black cultural institutions, particularly the Black church in the United States, which is an institution that has often promoted this soteriological argument that part of the way you get to God is through community.
You can extend this to other groups and I’ve argued this in other contexts, across various cleavages, not just race or ethnicity but also region and class. The argument that I make is that we can’t understand politics and public opinion as purely about rational choice, material interests or about culture and identity. Culture and identity shape how people think about interests and people’s interests shape how they think about their identity, and these things are just linked in a way that pretending we can separate them is unproductive. In fact, these things are deeply, deeply tied.
I’m working with a colleague here at U of T and a colleague at Queen’s University on linked fate among LGBTQ+ Canadians and Americans, looking at why people think that their interests are bound up with other members of that community and about the extent to which they map linked fate with a narrower group. This could be like how a gay man thinks what happens to other gay men might affect him.
Would you say that the idea of linked fake connects in some ways to attitudes on the welfare state?
I think it does — it’s pretty clear that if you think what happens to other people around you matter, you’re going to try to help them. Now, how would this look in terms of linked fate among a relatively wealthy group? Is there opposition to taxation among groups that are very wealthy? If you look at white Americans, their belief in linked fate or other measures of white identity tend to be associated with conservatism, though not as strongly associated with economic conservatism as with other forms. As with, for instance, opposition to immigration, which is another big line of work.
The difficult part is figuring out what really rich people think. Warren Buffett probably is not going to answer my survey if I send it to him. This varies by country, but education pushes you one way, in general to the left which is a combination of what occupation you end up in and what you learn while you’re being educated. Then income pushes you in the other direction and to oppose redistribution. We think if you could get a good measure of the top 1%, they’d be pretty right wing in part because the top 1% have a lot of people who have their bachelor’s, law or medical degrees, but not that many with doctorates or the like.
With your new appointment as the director of programs, you’re overseeing the MGA and MPP portfolio. What is your vision for these programs?
The goal is to train future leaders who will be able to apply what they've learned in the MPP or the MGA to truly change how the world works, to make the world a better place in whatever fashion they think that is.
I'm also really excited to have more international students. Canada is pretty good at public policy design, but there is something to be said about the invaluable knowledge and experience coming from those outside the country. Ultimately, MPP and MGA students will bring to the Munk School new ways of approaching problems that we haven't thought of. This will only make the programs stronger.
I’m excited to integrate new faculty who are going to offer a wealth of ideas about different places in the world and diverse ways of engaging with public policy and global affairs. I’m looking forward to growing the programs. There are so many resources we have brought in recently to build out the programs and I’m optimistic we can give students a complete experience in their two years of study.