Thursday, February 19, 2009

Societal Shame - do we need more or less?

Over at the Atlantic, Ross Douthat has an interesting take on the effectiveness of shame in society. I commend it to you, even though he and I are definitely on different ends of the political spectrum.

Once you read it, come back here, and ponder this with me: If there were a strong sense of societal shame that would have stigmatized the actions of those responsible for the current economic crisis, would we be where we are today? You see, I tihnk that when Republicans talk about "voluntary" regulation of markets, they are theoretically calling for the establishment of shame mechanisms in society to keep individual actors in markets from doing things that are, in the long term, detrimental to those actors. If I'm right, Republican policy makers believe this moral imposition will be stronger then any governemental regulatory scheme, since you can't price being stigmatized the way you can price . . . . say air pollution fines vs. installing the latest clean air technology.

Now, the next question to ponder - have we, as a society, made enough use of stigmatization and shame in responding to this crisis? I'm not asking about what we should have to prevent it - I'm asking about what we are doing to respond to it. Clearly, We've seen Congress rake business leaders over the coals, and we've seen a few pudits begin to take these guys to task f or their actions. But if we aim to do more then just endure this crisis, maybe we need a more folks calling our business and elected leaders out on thier behavior. After all, many in congress who watched this mess unfold, and did nothing, are still on Capitol Hill.

H/T to Mike for turning me on to Ross' writing.

1 comment:

Mike at The Big Stick said...

Ross is great. I'm still slowly reading his book in between other stuff.

Megan McArdle (also of the Atlantic) wrote on this same subject yesterday. Interesting concept...