Saturday, October 3, 2015

More morals

The WVS also has questions about whether the following can ever be justified:   "claiming government benefits to which you are not entitled," "avoiding a fare on public transport," "cheating on taxes," and "someone accepting a bribe."  I wasn't going to write about those, but then Roger Cohen had a column in which he said that the Volkswagen emissions scandal reflected something about the German character. Specifically, "there is something peculiarly German about the chasm between professed moral rectitude and reckless wrongdoing."  The WVS data, of course, are about what people say, not what they do, but that led me to wonder where Germans rank in "moral rectitude," which I would interpret as saying that breaking laws like those given above can never be justified.

I combined them into a scale and again plot it against the log of per-capita GDP (for those of you keeping score at home, it's based on the percent saying "never justifed" in each nation with weights from a principal component analysis).  My expectation was that there would be two factors working in different directions.  First, people in countries with higher levels of government corruption would be more likely to say that breaking those laws can be justified on the grounds that sometimes you have to.  Second, more educated people would be less absolutist:  they could imagine scenarios in which violating some rules would be justified.  In general, more affluent countries have less governmental corruption and more educated populations.

Turkey is the biggest outlier, with very high rates of "never justified."  It's the only predominantly Islamic country in the sample, which could be the explanation.  If you put Turkey aside, then there is a tendency for people in more affluent nations to be more "absolutist."  I could look up ratings for corruption, but my impression is that they would't correlate very highly with opinions.  Germany is right in the middle on "professed moral rectitude."  At the top are Turkey and Japan, with Italy (a surprise) in third, followed closely by Switzerland and the Netherlands.

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