A tale of two nations

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One of the mantras of the new age is that European nations have to deal with diversity, something that’s new to them. This actually ahistorical. Some military units in the Austro-Hungarian Empire actually used English as the lingua franca because of their ethnic diversity (due to those who returned from the United States, see 1848: Year of Revolution), while the French language and identity as dominant within the political unit of France is an artifact of the 19th century (see The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography). But one point which was brought home to me was the diversity of the United Kingdom in 1800. I knew of course that Ireland before the famine was 1/3 of the population of the United Kingdom, but I hadn’t thought through the political ramifications. In The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America Kevin Phillips highlights an important set of facts about the United Kingdom:

1) The constant migration of dissenting Protestants in the 17th to 18th century to America resulted in a firming up of the position of the Anglican mainstream within England.

2) The massive migration (as well as deaths due to famine) of Irish Catholics in the 19th century solidified the Protestant character of the United Kingdom.

Below the fold is a comparison of England and Ireland in terms of population between 1800 and 1910.

Here is the biography of Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather of John F. Kennedy:

By the time Patrick reached adulthood, both his parents were apparently dead and the family homestead was controlled by his older brother John Kennedy, more than a dozen years Patrick’s senior, who was already married and the father of four children. The eldest son normally inherited whatever claims existed to the family’s farm. Because of the life-threatening scarcity of food and resources, the rest of the children, such as third son Patrick Kennedy, usually were expected to leave for the New World. Patrick also had a brother James and a sister Mary.

Patrick’s life as a farmer in Dunganstown consisted mainly of cutting and tying bundles of grain by hand, and planting and tilling potatoes for his family’s consumption. This routine varied only when he ventured into the nearest town, New Ross, with supplies of barley, and when the family attended mass about a mile away.

At the age of 26, Kennedy decided to leave Ireland. It is assumed this was for reasons of starvation related to the Irish Potato Famine, illness, or because he knew that a third-born son had virtually no hope of running his family’s farm. His good friend at Cherry Bros. Brewery in New Ross, Patrick Barron, who taught Kennedy the skills of coopering, had come to that conclusion months earlier and left for America. In October 1848, in love with Barron’s cousin Bridget Murphy and with a plan to wed, Patrick Kennedy decided to follow.

Note: I am aware of the fact that some of the decrease in Ireland’s population and England’s rise is due to emigration from the former to the latter. Removing this would not change the qualitative relation much.



  1. Are there any other countries with a lower population now than in 1840? Not even Paraguay matches that, and they lost two-thirds of their adult population in the 1860s.

  2. North Dakota isn’t a state, but it has lost population since 1920. It peaked in 1930. One of my HS teachers told me that during the Depression hitchhikers were willing to go either way, as long as it was out of the state. 
    A lot of pioneer settlement was driven by totally unrealistic optimism. There was even a slogan “Rain follows the plow”. It turned out not to be true. Today ND ranks 39th in household income, behind MO and NC. 

  3. “Isn’t a country”

  4. Emerson, this Obama-like uncertainty about US States must be corrected. :)

  5. The reason there are four states ND SD MT WY is mostly because the people who controlled Congress (Republicans) expected to get their votes.  
    Big as they are spatially, they are four of the seven least-populated states. (The other bottom ten are VT NH DL RI HI and AK

  6. Despite all of that unrealistic optimism and poor status within the US; it looks like ND has a higher median household income than virtually all European countries (about parity with Switzerland and Canada by PPP). 
    If European countries were annexed as states, they would be among the poorest states in the country.

  7. I’ve seen that argument and I doubt it. From what I know of Mississippi and Arkansas, it’s absurd to say that the Sweden is worse off than they are, but I’ve seen that claim made. Partly this might be because of statistical lumping, where the American mean can be high while a large group is very badly off. The American system seems capable of getting the maximum amount of poverty out of a booming economy, whereas the Europeans seem to do somewhat the opposite. If that’s the case, I favor the European way. 
    Despite its bad economic stats, North Dakota (where I have family) ranks very favorably (usually top ten) on things like life expectancy, HS grad rate, low unemployment, and low crime rate. I call it “The America Conservatives Think They Want”. But when the chips are down conservatives tend to want more bling and poontang than ND can offer.

  8. Just curious — are there any good estimates of what the population of Ireland would most likely be today if there had been no emigration?

  9. The data are pretty clear that even poor American states have higher mean incomes than even wealthy European states like Sweden. Even if those US states have higher inequality (and I think inequality is being driven up by the rich US states), it’s very possible that they have less poverty as measured using an absolute standard because of the difference in means. 
    Plus, poverty is very low among Swedes in America as well. Swedish-Americans make maybe 20% more on average than Swedes-in-Sweden.  
    And Sweden is one of the richest countries in Europe. I imagine absolute poverty is lower even among poor US states than middling or poor European countries like Portugal or Greece.

  10. “I am aware of the fact that some of the decrease in Ireland’s population and England’s rise is due to emigration from the former to the latter. Removing this would not change the qualitative relation much.” 
    No, but that migration has probably had a substantial effect on the religious distribution in Britain. Britain today seems to be as much a Catholic country as it is Anglican. (This of course reflects the near-collapse of the CofE as well as Catholic in-migration.)

  11. The Irish famine reduced the proportion of Catholics in the United Kingdom (as it then was) but greatly increased the proportion of Catholics in England, Scotland and Wales, since about a million Irish Catholics moved there. Catholicism went from being a small unimportant minority to a major political force, especially in Scotland.

  12. Britain today seems to be as much a Catholic country as it is Anglican. (This of course reflects the near-collapse of the CofE as well as Catholic in-migration.) 
    i think this is overdone. the inversion could be said of some south american countries, like brazil, if you compare active protestants to active catholics. but the society as a whole is still indubitably still catholic. similarly, despite the parity of active catholics and active anglicans, british society still operates under anglican presuppositions.

  13. The Irish famine reduced the proportion of Catholics in the United Kingdom (as it then was) but greatly increased the proportion of Catholics in England, Scotland and Wales, since about a million Irish Catholics moved there. Catholicism went from being a small unimportant minority to a major political force, especially in Scotland. 
    yes. but at some point all of irish were going to have suffrage. by the time that happened there were far fewer catholic irish.

  14. On the well-worn Sweden v. Mississippi question, I’ve put the best links below, the most detailed and best last. 
    The counter arguments are: 
    1. As I said above, the Swedes get more welfare out of an economy which is less productive per capita. 
    2. Swedes work shorter hours but are more productive per hour, and as a result earn less. I regard this as good. 
    3. Swedish after tax spendable income is much less, but things like education and medical care are paid for out of taxes. 
    4. Mean or median? You, me, and Bill Gates have a mean net worth of perhaps $10- 15 billion, but a median net worth of whatever your net worth is. 
    5. Contrary to general opinion, for the average American, America is not an opportunity society, though for the most talented Americans and immigrants it is. 
    Against that, one author concedes that Sweden provides less investment capital per capita than the US, and I think that this is the main pro-American argument.  
    This isn’t strictly an international difference. My native area in the US is, per capita, almost as poor as Mississippi, but its poverty level is as low as Massachusetts’ (very low by US standards). There’s no way I’d want to live in Mississippi instead of here. (Or, since this is a HBD site, West Virginia).  

  15. Just to be clear, “welfare” meant “human welfare” (a result) and not “welfare spending” (a government fiscal actegory).

  16. John,  
    Following up on your links, it looks like the greater mean/variance of America v. Europe balances about equally. The bottom 10% in America earn 39% of the median income; Sweden and Finland are at 38% of the American median. Transfers would probably tip the balance to the Nordics, but note that in America you get Medicaid and EITC; in many European countries you have a regressive VAT.  
    So despite the fact that America cares more about growth than the poor; higher growth has roughly equated the incomes of the poorest, while leaving everyone else better off in the US–and this is in comparison with some of the richest, more pro-growth European countries (look up the Nordics on any measure of economic freedom if you don’t believe me. Barring taxation, they are very free market.). The real losers are S European countries which combine stagnant labor markets and excessive regulations with high taxation. Even their poor aren’t better off than in America.  
    This is despite a radically different population composition. The high income of Swedish-Americans (higher than in Sweden) suggest that America could do better still if it had Nordic demographics.  
    I should add that I would be happy to accept higher Swedish-style taxes and transfers if we could also eliminate the inheritance tax; the minimum wage; put in school vouchers with for-profit schools; and privatize pensions–all of which Sweden has also done.

  17. One of the problems with American politics is that nothing non-American, not even if it’s Canadian, can be compared to America. The liberal message about Sweden or Scandinavia is “Look at that!” but the answer is “Traitor! Don’t you love America. 
    There might be a reasonable defense of America vs. Canada, Scandinavia, France, Britain, et al, but that isn’t the debate we’re having in America. It’s trying to get patriots to accept reality. 
    I don’t know much about the Swedish, French, etc. poor. Maybe they’re as bad off as the American poor, but I doubt it. I’d like to se a rundown of the life of the median Swede at the experienced level (i.e. not statistically.) 
    One thing that doesn’t show up in stats is the consequences of insecurity, both income and medical insecurity. Thirty years later, my life is still negatively impacted by some of the consequences a very rough time I had economically between 1973 and 1975.

  18. Thorfinn’s point seems formidable.  
    One thing about Berlin is that it has 50-100+ times less homeless per capita than Washington DC or Frisco/Berkeley, or even Missoula Montana. This is by my own observations. London seemed to have a lot too, but I only dropped in there for 20 hours. 
    In Berlin I had a month U-bahn pass, and walked and rode all around all day, west and east, suburbs, everywhere, for two weeks — I only saw one homeless or begger, an old lady.  
    I think I have heard that this difference may be due partly to the semi-PC, also rather Szasz-ish “de-institutionalization” which I have heard was done under Reagan. It was not hard to find claims about this on google, including claims that there were 5x more people institutionalized c 1950 then there are now (with near 2x as many adults here in the USA today). But I had a hard time finding people that would point at this as the cause of the difference from Berlin. Also, it seems only a minority of USA homeless are mentally ill, at least officially, which may make it harder for de-institutionalization to explain most of our difference from Berlin.  
    NB, Berlin doesnt seem to have high cost of living, a puacity of rich people that might give away cahs, or other characteristics that might cause homeless to flee it. Far as I can tell.

  19. John Emerson: 
    Never been to ND but I’ll take your word on the “bling and poontang,” though a lack of the former wouldn’t bother me much. But, since you’re a reliable store of information, I think I’ll just move “visit North Dakota” quite a few steps further down on my “things I’d like to do” list. 
    I think I must have seen something along the same line as Thorfinn (and it surprised me, too, for some of the same reasons as you cite with respect to places like Mississippi and Arkansas). To my memory, it said something like “if any European nation were to become a state of the U.S., none would be higher than 35th and most would fall in the 40th to 50th (in GDP, if I remember). I never even looked up any of the figures–just remembered the surprising comparison. 
    But one other anecdotal incident–comparing Sweden and U.S.–has stuck with me for around 30 years. It was a call to a very popular local (Philly) talk show from a man who’d immigrated from Sweden, where he’d been a farmer, to southern New Jersey, where he was, again, a farmer. (This section of NJ is where the Swedes first settled and farmed–5 miles south of me is Swedesboro. In my own town, we have a log cabin continuously occupied at least from 1639–the date of the receipt for bricks for the fireplace in the addition to the house.) 
    He could not quite express how wonderful he felt we had it here in comparison to Sweden. In Sweden, he worked from dawn to dusk at farming for 2-1/2 days and spent even longer hours for 3-1/2 just doing paperwork required by the government. Selling his farm enabled him to buy a much larger farm here, and with the aid of machinery and hired help (and more fertile land), to produce more than 10X the produce, which, even though it brought less than half the prices in Sweden, was making him deservedly wealthy, though living in a much larger, better-equipped house and having several vehicles. Sounded like a slam-dunk to me, though, of course, I’ve no real idea of how typical his situation might have been. 
    Also, insofar as Europe in general is concerned, Sweden is atypical in that it was unravaged by WW II and, as a neutral, was actually able to increase its wealth during the period by trading with both sides; postwar, it was ‘way ahead. My own supposition is that, even though socialism can work a little better in such a place, characterized by relative homogeneity and people known throughout the world for industriousness, frugality, and future-oriented thinking and innovation, eventually the fact of a stultifying, egalitarian disconnect between risk and reward cannot but dampen all but the brightest of lights (and these might very well tend to leave).  
    Sweden is, indeed, a model–just not the one most seemed to have expected of it.

  20. John Emerson, could you elaborate on conservative lack of love for North Dakota? Are you referring to the fact that they aren’t moving there en masse? 
    Personally, I don’t have any real hatred of western europe or Canada. If europeans like it, good for them. If American liberals prefer it, I recommend they try to immigrate there rather than requiring those of us who don’t like it to live under european policies as well.

  21. I didn’t accuse anyone of hating Europe of Canada, I accused them of being small-minded bigots who were not willing even to think about anything that weren’t originated in the US. For example, most of what is said in American politics about Canadian medicine is false, but it will continue to be said nonetheless. (My brother did go to Canada and is now a citizen there, and like most Canadians is happy with his medical insurance. I don’t want to offend you by talking too much about a foreigner, so I’ll leave it at that.)

  22. I’m not offended and I agree that we can learn from other polities (both in their mistakes and their successes).

  23. “the semi-PC, also rather Szasz-ish “de-institutionalization” which I have heard was done under Reagan”: the war against “lunatic asylums” started (I have read) in the late 60s and early 70s.

  24. I’m British. From my experience of both Mississippi and Sweden, if I had a job I know I’d much rather be living in the former, where everything is so much cheaper and easier.  
    In the US there is the fear of being sick or injured, and the crushing medical system. In Sweden everything feels constrained and oppressive, making their “This is the freedom of Sweden!” claims a bad joke.

  25. > Swedes work shorter hours but are more productive per hour, and as a result earn less. I regard this as good. 
    Not in these data, at least, which I happened to be looking at last week. From wikipedia — however these data are poorly sourced, there, from what I can tell. They are expressed at purchasing power parity.  
    Note that Norway is a semi oil state. Remove it and the USA beats the next-best, France, by ~5%.  
    Rank ? Country ? GDP (PPP) per hour 2008 ? 
    1 United States 36.88 
    2 Norway 36.38 
    3 France 35.01 
    4 Luxembourg 34.84 
    5 Belgium 34.22 
    6 Netherlands 33.69 
    7 Trinidad and Tobago 32.43 
    8 United Kingdom 32.10 
    9 Austria 31.78 
    10 Ireland 30.28 
    11 Sweden 30.13 
    12 Germany 29.74 
    13 Finland 29.27 
    14 Denmark 29.25 
    15 Italy 29.14 
    16 Australia 28.55 
    17 Canada 27.85 
    18 Switzerland 27.13 
    19 Hong Kong 25.63 
    20 Japan 25.56 
    21 Iceland 25.29 
    22 Spain 23.24 
    23 Estonia 21.70 
    24 Taiwan 21.53 
    25 New Zealand 20.77 
    26 Singapore 19.85 
    27 Greece 19.69 
    28 Slovenia 19.31 
    29 Cyprus 18.52 
    30 South Korea 18.50