What Moral Decline?

Newt & Rick & Mitt see moral decay, but where’s the evidence? The Economist:

When considering America’s moral decline, my first instinct was to look at the crime rate. If Satan is at work in America, he’s probably nicking wallets and assaulting old ladies. But over the past several decades the crime rate has fallen dramatically, despite what you may think. The homicide rate has been cut in half since 1991; violent crime and property crime are also way down. Even those pesky kids are committing less crime. There are some caveats to these statistics, as my colleague points out, but I think we can conclude that crime is not the cause of America’s moral decline.

So let’s look elsewhere. Abortion has returned as a hot-button issue, perhaps it is eating away at our moral fiber. Hmm, the abortion rate declined by 8% between 2000 and 2008. Increases in divorce and infidelity could be considered indicators of our moral decay. There’s just one problem: according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the divorce rate is the lowest it has been since the early 1970s. This is in part due to the recession, but infidelity is down too.

Other areas that might indicate declining virtue are also going against the perceived trend. For example, charitable giving is up after a decline during the recession. The teenage pregnancy rate is at its lowest level in 40 years. And according to Education Week, “the nation’s graduation rate stands at 72 percent, the highest level of high school completion in more than two decades.” So where is the evidence of this moral decline?

A couple weeks ago David Brooks also claimed a half century of deterioration in our moral fabric. Kevin Drum did a nice job of refuting him then.

9 Comments

  1. http://www.amazon.com/Better-A.....0670022950

    Relevant reading. If we’re being honest we all know the answer to this question. Crime is one of the few true universal wedge issues. Unlike gay marriage or abortion, everyone from anywhere is concerned and frightened by crime. 24/7 media exposure has provided complete saturation of world-wide violent events, skewing the average individual’s perception of frequency and location.

  2. Moral decline is in the eye of the beholder. Rick Santorums’s Opus Dei 16th century mind sees moral decline where others see enlightenment. Moral decline is when your idea of morals is declining. Not really rocket science.

  3. Good post Joe. I think the areas where moral deline has had the most dangerous impact are at the highest levels, corporate and political, not as much at ground level. Moral decay at the top is easier to disguise though. Maybe people are finally starting to wake up to this. If they get smart enough and courageous enough to demand accountability, then maybe our great country has a chance to be the strong and free democracy it was intended to be – meaning for everybody not just those who were born into privilege.

  4. I disagree with zephyr on the claim that it is easier to disguise moral decay at the top. Given the internet, 24/7 ‘news’ shows and lots of people with free time on their hands, it is hard as hell to disguise moral decay at the top. When an actress can not exit a vehicle without somebody taking a crotch shot, moral decay at the top becomes news three seconds after it happens.

    Obama could not bring prostitutes into the White House (like JFK did) without an instant–and probably career-ending–backlash. I am not suggesting that this is bad. I am only pointing out that those at the top can be held accountable (and discovered) much faster and easier than any other time in history.

  5. Rc, I’m not talking about garden variety decay, I’m talking about the sort of decay that can be ushered in with the help of lawyers and accountants.

  6. “the degree of a nation’s civilization can be seen in the way it treats its prisoners”
    Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

    Moral Decline: this is country that use to condemn torture, and if for some reason it actually did commit torture, it would deny it and be ashamed, now it glories in it…

    If that’s not moral decline, I don’t know what is…

  7. “Moral decline” is a phrase used to place the blame on some vague “others” instead of looking in the mirror – conservatives favorite pastime.

  8. Well, now that we’ve trudged through a few typical liberal myths and gripes, what about the truth?

    I’ll just leave this for you: Isn’t it ironic you deny moral decline, not just after years of concern being made about it, not how Baby Boomers have been raised in ways worse than earlier, not about how society is getting less civil, more vulgar (as with “rap” music), not limited to everyday things like “road rage” or “air rage,” and people routinely engaging in poor behavior in public, but isn’t it really ironic there would be a posturing against moral decline when the death of James Q. Wilson is in the news?

    https://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/wilson/paper.html

    Would he have done as he did 50 years ago?

  9. That there is moral decline at the “top” of the economic heap is obvious, but it is hyped by too many, and the decline isn’t limited to just those at that top, only.

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