Before the Bakken oil-formation significantly raised the average home price in some eastern Canadian prairie towns, I heard about a thoroughly enlightened couple who bought a house adjacent to their own so that their adolescent children would have a “safe” place to party.
Perhaps there were already ten too many holes in their own living-room drywall from past weekend “antics” but, regardless of the rationale, that particular purchase etched itself permanently upon my memory.
This is not just one strange familial problem. It is representative of a larger cultural enabling. Modern life has become so morally inept that it now, routinely, incentivizes foolish things, destructive things— even evil things.
Economists have frequently asked whether the rise of elaborate insurance frameworks, for example, have created a disincentive to guard against poor behavioural choices. This issue has become known as “moral hazard.”
When capitalism creates “credit default swaps,” where investors can even profit off bankruptcy, the system begins to value insolvency just as much as solvency. That is terribly odd. (On the other hand, when socialism values wealth redistribution over wealth creation, it virtually guarantees its own long-term bankruptcy. I hope it buys some “swaps.”)
When tax laws reward common-law relationships while fiscally punishing marriage, they subsidize the absence of commitment rather than rewarding commitment itself.
One of the worst things government policy can do is to punish the greater while rewarding the lesser— and yet we routinely do. We even reward evil itself. By making adoption expensive and abortion cheap, we manage to kill on an industrial scale, with precisely this kind of incentivized “kindness”.
In the recent controversy over Donald Trump’s immigration policies, one group seemed to be conveniently forgotten amidst all the rancour: legal immigrants. Whenever a sovereign State sees no moral difference between its legal and illegal participants, it actually demoralizes its best citizens and immigrants and emboldens the manipulative.
This is extremely poor political policy. Why punish the upright?
When emergency personnel feel disinclined to intervene in crime or emergency situations within immigrant neighbourhoods in Malmo, Sweden, or gang-ridden minority neighbourhoods in Chicago, it isn’t because police or fire departments believe that a healthy dose of “karma” is what these communities have coming.
Rather, admittedly dangerous neighbourhood environments help produce localized forms of political appeasement. Conflict and intervention-avoidance become increasingly politically attractive inside contexts that crackle with charges of "systemic racism" or "xenophobia," all while being spiritually inert as regards the human penchant for willful and violent evil.
The ease with which our society is more worried about moral stigma than immorality is yet another tell-tale sign of the same political disease. We deliberately confine issues like promiscuity and addiction to the realm of “public health” rather than examining the moral questions that are every bit as important.
We’ll spend millions to find the next best antibiotic and anti-viral treatment for STIs, all while investing almost nothing in exploring whether our actions are “right” and “good” or not. What, after all, is more commonly found in high school: a health class — or a class in moral philosophy?
Sometimes, the problem is not just incentivizing evil directly, but pushing resources towards eliminating all moral risks and natural consequence. This, too, goes hand in hand with our culture’s permissive liberalism.
We’ll advocate for safe-injection sites. We’ll organize parents to help facilitate our youth’s drunken “safe-grads” on private property. We’ll buy our kids condoms, and make sure their HPV shots are up-to-date, not recognizing that we are habituating them to care less about their actions than their precautions.
Our collective hedonism is remarkable. We are no different than those adults who buy the house next door so that their kids can party harder— caring little whether the occupants of the house are destroyed along with the structure.
This isn’t love. It is indulgence— the enabling endorsement of moral hazard on a generational scale. And it’s past time that conservatives protest. We should start demanding that our politicians think carefully about what they are incentivizing when they dabble in everything from economic to social policy.