Friday, March 13, 2015

Does Poverty Make You Less Moral?

Greece is in a worse position re Europe than Germany was after WW2. Germany had invaded and destroyed much of the continent. Greece has simply suffered a financial setback. Why is Greece in a worse position? (The New York Times discusses the Greek situation succinctly here.)

Germany could at least argue that failure to forgive its debts would cause it to invade its neighbors a third time. Would Greece be better off if it was an armed aggressor?

Why do we associate solvency with morality? Why are you more moral when you have more money?

It has to do with the hostages you hold.

Wall Street banks created havoc in the world economy by committing crimes, but they were bailed out. Why? Were they Too Big To Fail or Too Big To Jail or both?

(A judge writes about this in the LATimes. And Rolling Stone did an excellent piece about this in 2013.)

Germany may not have been solely guilty for the First World War, but it did cause and perpetrate the Second. And yet their argument in 1953 was valid. So is Greece’s. Germany of all countries should know this. Having a strong hand doesn’t make you the best moral arbiter.

In Ferguson, Missouri the mostly black citizens were targeted by police and city government as an easy revenue source. That revenue source meant the city could take less in taxes from property owners. If you are rich the system does you favors. If you are poor the system sees you as prey. Greece is the people of Ferguson, and the people of Ferguson are Greece.

Are the systems of government there to serve people? There’s a verb that has two possible meanings. There was a Twilight Zone episode where a book treasured by a ruling class of aliens was titled To Serve Man. It ended up being a cookbook, instructions how to serve humans as food in different and interesting ways.

Economics and justice sometimes turn on this kind of convenient misunderstanding. The powerful find it easier to misunderstand these things and profit from the misunderstanding.

The immorality and viciousness of the city government of Ferguson has been demonstrated and certified by the Justice Department. But it’s happening all over the country. Poverty or alienness makes innocent people easy prey, allowing police and city governments to take their property and extract fines from them with no law broken and no charges placed.

(The New Yorker described this in a riveting piece last year. I didn't believe such things happened legally in this country. They do.)

Being poor or being less than rich is becoming a crime in this country. Who and what have we become?

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