Economics Professors’ Favorite Economic Thinkers
Ron Paul and Property Rights

The Perjury Epidemic and American Justice

Jonathan B. Wight

Via David Warsh comes a link to a book by former Wall Street Journal editor, James B. Stewart, Tangled Webs: How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff (2011).

Stewart argues that a surge in high profile lying is reflective of an “epidemic” of perjury that perils our justice system.  The promotional material notes that:

The perjury outbreak is symptomatic of a broader breakdown of ethics in American life. It isn't just the judicial system that relies on an honor code: Academia, business, medicine, and government all depend on it. Tangled Webs explores the age-old tensions between greed and justice, self-interest and public interest, loyalty and duty. At a time when Americans seem hungry for moral leadership and clarity, Tangled Webs reaffirms the importance of truth.

This is the conundrum for economists and others who promote a consequentialist ethic of costs and benefits:  why should anyone ever promote an act unless it is personally beneficial?   Enlightened self interest is a wonderful thing, but it cannot be the only thing that cements society.  Without the strong framework of moral duty or moral virtue, could society hold together?


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