Moral Consequences of Economic Collapse


When not marveling at Democratic reluctance to stand up for values of religious freedom that Republicans used to uphold until all the sane ones suddenly went MIA, I’ve been marveling lately at the surge of enthusiasm for repealing the 14th Amendment so as to modify the birthright citizenship proposal. Many countries don’t follow American practice in this regard, so if you want to play make-believe you can simply pretend that right-wing politicians suddenly noticed this fact and are intrigued on the merits by the Norwegian approach to citizenship or something.

Obviously, though, in the real world mainstream politicians were not up in arms about this a few years ago and they didn’t change their minds thanks to a close reading of Gerhard Schröder’s immigration reforms.

But what you’re seeing in both cases is more than mere opportunism. It’s the result of the years of very bad economic performance. One of the most important political books of recent years is Benjamin Friedman’s The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. He details the fact that growth tends to foster liberal sentiments and open societies, whereas periods of growth failure undermine them. And we’re seeing that very dynamic unfold before our eyes in the United States today. The poor performance of the economy is dragging down liberalism as a whole into the ditch and not just because slow growth will impact the midterms. In terms of larger, underlying social dynamics people turn more selfish, more xenophobic, more suspicious, and more illiberal the longer these kind of conditions persist.