Monday :: Apr 28, 2008

Open Thread

by Mary

Defining Deviancy Down: the Bush years will be infamous for how many ways they created public acceptance of immorality and criminality as normal operating procedures.

Exhibit one: Torture is okay.
Exhibit two: Lying and cheating are too.

But consider the position of borrowers in markets where close to half the people taking out mortgage loans were lying. Keep in mind that in some places (for instance, San Diego), half the people in the market were taking out stated income loans and so bidding up prices to points where almost any house became impossible to finance for someone who did not lie.

Then try to imagine the broker hovering over your shoulder, like the scientist in some mortgage-world version of the Milgram Experiment. In ordinary circumstances, the people and institutions you deal with reinforce social norms. They say it's not OK to lie. But what happens when the structures and institutions break down and start telling you the opposite?

In that case, the honor system that we take for granted goes out the door. You wind up with the situation in many countries—Russia, India, Italy—where, say, not paying taxes is not aberration; it's normal. What might be most worrisome is that once you get to that point, it's hard to get back. You don't just have to restore the structures. You need to restore the norms, too.

We will have a great many norms to restore after surviving the Bush years.

Your turn now.

Mary :: 12:00 AM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!