Friday, December 2, 2011

Morality: The Ecological Inference Problem

One further word on the hazards of assessing the moral position of a country:

The moral culpability of a population is not evenly distributed among its members. This is true in issues of war and peace as well as debt service. If one talks of “punishing” miscreants, as Merkel has done, some attention should be given to whether those being punished are the ones who misbehaved.

Unfortunately, the entire point of the bailout process is to cushion the losses of financial institutions, many of which (and many of whose high-level officers) profited by assuming excessive risk: they got the returns in the boom and now the taxpayers are stuck with the losses in the bust. Moreover, the taxpayers are disproportionately those who did not prosper in the bubble economy; ordinary working people have their taxes withheld from their paychecks and skimmed off through the VAT. The fast-and-loose crowd are shielded by unreported income, legal and illegal tax dodges and the like. True, the line can be fuzzy – low income people pay under the table too – but the balance of the burden does not correspond to the balance of the benefit.

This unfairness is a moral issue. To ignore it à la Merkel is a moral problem.

It reminds me of a saying: When the budget cuts come, we hear that it is the fat that will be cut, not the bone. Unfortunately, it’s the fat that makes the cuts.

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