The Morals of the Welfare State

Mitt Romney took a lot of grief, much of it deserved, for his infelicitous remark (albeit behind closed doors, supposedly) about the “47 percent” during the 2012 campaign.  But he’s not entirely wrong to raise the issue of whether dependency doesn’t eventually corrupt the recipients.

There’s a fascinating short piece in The Economist this week about how socialism causes higher levels of lying among people who live under socialist rule.  Yes, I know, this is an obvious explanation for the twisted views of Paul Krugman and Elizabeth Warren, who are merely getting a head start on the rest of us with their fondness for socialism. (By the way, Warren put out her “11 Commandment of Progressivism” the other day.  Richard Samuelson points out the obvious—that God only gave 10 to Moses.  Please please we need this woman to run in 2016.)

Anyway, The Economist reports on a very clever social science study out of Europe designed to test out basic honesty:

The game was simple enough. Each participant was asked to throw a die 40 times and record each roll on a piece of paper. A higher overall tally earned a bigger payoff. Before each roll, players had to commit themselves to write down the number that was on either the top or the bottom side of the die. However, they did not have to tell anyone which side they had chosen, which made it easy to cheat by rolling the die first and then pretending that they had selected the side with the highest number. If they picked the top and then rolled a two, for example, they would have an incentive to claim—falsely—that they had chosen the bottom, which would be a five.

Honest participants would be expected to roll ones, twos and threes as often as fours, fives and sixes. But that did not happen: the sheets handed in had a suspiciously large share of high numbers, suggesting many players had cheated.

Guess who cheated in statistically significant numbers?  People from the former East Germany:

The authors found that, on average, those who had East German roots cheated twice as much as those who had grown up in West Germany under capitalism. They also looked at how much time people had spent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The longer the participants had been exposed to socialism, the greater the likelihood that they would claim improbable numbers of high rolls.

The degrading of human morality under socialism is a long-time theme stretching back before Hayek to, arguably, Tocqueville.  Short of complete socialism, mightn’t the welfare state have something of the same effect?  Here’s a good topic for serious, fine-grained social science research.  And my scientific estimate is that the number of academic social scientists who endeavor to investigate this question will asymptotically approach zero.

Welfare State copy