Thursday, February 3, 2011

How does big government affect the social fabric?

In a recent post ‘Does big government weaken the social fabric?’ I presented a table showing the percentages of the population in various countries who say that falsely claiming government benefits, cheating on taxes and accepting a bribe are never justifiable. I was using this data as a measure of the strength of the social fabric in different countries.

A commenter (Lorraine) suggested that ‘never’ is a pretty powerful word and that my ‘inner paleoconservative’ was showing. On reflection, I agree that it is difficult to argue that any of these forms of corruption are never justifiable under any circumstances. For example, I would find it difficult to argue that a person living in a society where corruption is the norm has as strong a moral obligation to refrain from corrupt activities as a person living in a society where there is little corruption. That is why corruption is so insidious – the more prevalent it is, the more difficult it becomes for anyone to resist it. (I suppose that kind of reasoning must make me some kind of moral relativist, but I don’t think I will lose too much sleep worrying about that!)

Survey respondents are asked to give a rating from 1 to 10, depending on whether they consider each behaviour is never justifiable (1) or always justifiable (10). In the following tables I have labelled ratings of 1 and 2 as ‘very rarely or never justifiable’ and ratings of from 1 to 3 as ‘rarely or never justifiable’.

The relaxation in degree of opposition to welfare fraud, tax evasion and bribery does make some difference to the rankings. The general picture remains broadly the same, however. There is generally more red at the bottom of the tables than at the top, suggesting greater opposition to corruption among people in the countries with smaller governments.



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