The Morality of the Eurozone

Despite many advances in the relevant technologies over the past decade, it turns out that driverless cars are a lot further away than we may imagine. Yes, Google will be testing their self-driving vehicle this summer on the roads around Silicon Valley, and yes, Uber have recently decimated the Robotics Department of Carnegie-Mellon by sweeping away their brightest researchers, but what you don’t read about too often is that developers at the forefront of the technology have hit an unforeseen problem: they have to encode their machines with a way to judge the value of life. I am not being abstract, I mean literally that driverless cars must actually be able to weigh the value of one life against another, and make decisions based on this, in real time. The most straightforward example I can give you is the case of a driverless car containing a single passenger that is about to hit a (n also driverless) schoolbus full of children. The car of the single passenger, ie his/her personal property, would have to make the decision to protect the many over the life of its single owner, and possibly swerve that car over a cliff, or any other alternative action to save the most lives. Therefore if you have a driverless car, there will be certain situations where it will decide that the logical decision is to kill you.

As I said, this fact has many of the best minds in robotics technology absolutely baffled, so much so that companies like BMW and Mercedez Benz have actually hired philosophers and ethicists as permanent staff members of their driverless car projects.  How to weigh a life is one of the most important questions in this next phase of technological advancement, and is one that we will see again and again as this century progresses. I can imagine a time not so far away when robotics engineers are convicted of murder for a glitch in a shoddy ethics algorithm. Weighing intangible assets against each other is new territory in quantitative analysis, however the ethicists and roboticists at these research departments could simply look to Europe for answers, and reason quite clearly that the best solution is simply to drive the weakest individual off the cliff, at any cost.


The case of Greece and the Eurozone is an important moment in the history of democracy in that what is actually happening right now is a weighing of the value of one democracy versus the value of another democracy. The Eurozone is a democratic institution, comprising of elected finance ministers and heads of state from all its member nations. Within that democratic institution is Greece, a sovereign democratic nation in itself that is being forced to do things it doesn’t want to do, by the more powerful democracy, to the detriment of itself and its people. The sovereignty of Greece is irrelevant (and questionable) in the situation, it is more important that the views of the majority in the higher democracy are served, whatever the cost to the smaller nation. Such an event has never happened in history between a sovereign nation and another actor, in any political system, except from times of war.  I want to state clearly here that I don’t feel very sorry for Greece, or feel that the actions of the Eurozone are justified. The two are different sides of the same coin, a problem that Europe has tried to ignore for almost 20 years: monetary union is absolutely unsustainable without further fiscal, political, and ultimately total, union.

The Euro, while long a dream in Brussels circles since the 1970s, was a product of the post-Cold War era of the mid-1990s, a time where anything was possible and the belief that the objective power of capitalist market dynamics was enough to stabilise the financial system. I had just started studying economics in high school in the mid-90s and was taught that the watermark for a safe financial system was an independent central bank and the limiting of government intervention in this financial system. This was trumpeted mostly by Alan Greenspan, a man who probably should not be allowed to walk down the streets unmolested by abuse. This, a booming worldwide economy, and the prototype successful reunion of West and East Germany was enough to convince decision makers in the European Union that the time was ripe for further union. And what better union to make than monetary union, based in the financial system, which was a completely objective and self-correcting entity that would basically take care of itself? The Eurozone was thus conceived as a harmless, subjective almost robotic entity that ran itself automatically, and had the steely gaze of the independent European Central Bank to make decisions should something go wrong. In effect, Eurozone members traded in their monetary sovereignty for the chances of deeper trade ties with their major European trading partners, and would save millions on transaction costs (exchange rates etc) while pooling their financial might to create one of the strongest currencies in the world. It was going reasonably OK until 2008.

You can really tell who your friends are during a crisis, and the House of Europe was not a happy one towards the end of the first decade this century. Suddenly there was a witch hunt going on in European media about the frugal, sensible Northern Europeans versus the lazy, tax-dodging Mediterraneans (and Ireland, a little bit). In truth, if everyone acted like the Germans claim to do, and save every penny while treasuring security above all, there would not be so much economic activity in that country. Yet it was fine, because the media and politicians who could say this sort of thing about Greece, Portugal and Ireland were completely unaccountable to the electorate of those countries. The important thing however was that those politicians could influence the monetary policy and bailout conditions on those countries due to their status as Eurozone members. The Eurozone, in a time of financial crises, was plucked from the realms of supposedly objective invisible-handed guidance, and plunged into the centuries old bickering of European petty politics.

It’s not that the Eurozone was a bad idea, or that it can’t work, it’s that it was never going to be enough by itself to ensure a stable monetary union. States gave away sovereignty, a possession long thought indivisible, and this has been proven right. By reneging on their monetary sovereignty, the only option was to further ties with other members of the union, ultimately leading to a Eurozone Confederacy. Only by coordinating monetary, fiscal and financial policy can a system such as the Eurozone ever work, balancing the growth of its richest members with the protection of and investment in its weakest members. West Germany reintegrated with East Germany knowing that it was an economic risk to take on such an economically backward region, and entered the Eurozone knowing that countries like Greece and Portugal would take generations to reach the same level. Within a country, you would call this the core-periphery model, where a high-growth region ultimately has to fund a weaker region that has nothing going on, with the hope that key investments will help the two converge economically. This is usually done through investment in infrastructure and education in the peripheral region, and rarely through tax extraction and austerity as has been seen in Eurozone bailout countries.

The Eurozone is flawed because it is programmed to throw our peripheral regions off the cliff, at any cost, and the real reason for that is because no one in any position of power really has to care about any other country’s wellbeing but his/her own, and this is fine as long as it goes along with the majority decision of the other members. A real union, of any kind, would probably require some kind of inbuilt morality to guide the final decision, something that in this transitory period where we can’t quite seem to let go of nationalism just yet, means that we would need to belong to the same political union.


No True Godsman: A Simple Model of Morality and Exclusion

Facebook statuses aren’t really known for lingering on in the memory, yet a few days ago I saw one that really stuck with me and has been bouncing around my head ever since. The status was about a friend of mine who was sick of religious people who constantly updated the definition of their own community through a perpetual rejection and exclusion of members who could sully the good name of their group. Or, in simpler terms:

I was unfortunate enough to be a part of a conversation today about sexual assault committed by followers of a religion (not just Catholicism). Somebody threw out the familiar line “Oh, they can’t have been real [insert religion here]”. Regardless of your faith/lack thereof, I ask you all to stop saying this. Don’t push all your shitty people on me and my non-religious friends. Instead, imagine for a second that they ARE [insert religion here], they’re just bad at it and, moreover, are just shitty people. Shitty people exist in every community, yours included.

– My friends Facebook status

Now, I have never heard of this kind of argument from a religious point of view, yet I am very familiar with the thought process behind it, as it is pretty famous in philosophical circles. What my friend had come up against was a classic logical fallacy known as the “No True Scotsman”. The fallacy’s name comes from the prime example used to explain the concept.

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”

Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

– I stole this from Wikipedia

So you can see, this discussion could go on forever, and Person A will always be right, because their argument is based on some subjective opinion of what a Scotsman is, that they can update at will, and exclude from the reference group any counterexamples. Person A is not just moving the goalposts, he won’t even tell Person B where the goalposts are.

If we think about it hard enough you could probably all think of a time when you were frustrated with this type of argument (or more than likely we have all done it ourselves), and there is nothing new about formally explaining something that you probably will now say you have known all your life. Yet my friends experience with religious people using this argument above stuck with me, as it introduced the concept of morality into the equation, and the desire that certain groups define, and indeed pride themselves on comprising solely of universally moral and good people. What I am going to try and (quite literally) prove to you here is that this idea makes things very interesting indeed.

A Simple Model of Morality and Exclusion

Let’s say a group Y exists. The group contains n members, where n is some number above zero. It could be 10, it could be 20, it could be 3 million: it doesn’t matter. Each of the n individuals is represented by {{x}_{i}}, where i=1,2,....,n-1,n. A group is not much more than the sum of the attributes of its members, so we can express the value of this group in the expression below:


That’s the formal mathematical notification, but we can expand this to get rid of the Greek letters and have this, which means exactly the same thing:


So we have an expression for the total value of group Y. Now let’s assume that this group values one thing above all else: moral goodness. They pride themselves on how good they are, and believe that every other person in the group has a similar level of goodness to them, making the group whole. We will represent the goodness of an individual {{x}_{i}} with {{g}_{i}}, where {{g}_{i}} is a value between -1 and 1 (-1\le g\le 1), where the closer the individual {{x}_{i}} is to 1, the better the person that individual is. Conversely, the closer that persons is to -1, the worse a person is.


This represents the goodness of individual i. So we can now rewrite the value of Y based on the moral goodness of its members


For the sake of simplicity let’s say that all members of this group are assumed to have the same level of g, {{g}^{*}}>0 which might be the goodness level achieved just by living life according to their prescribed rules etc. If we assume this, then we can simplify further.



The value of {{Y}^{*}} simplifies to two expressions: the number of its members multiplied by their theoretical constant level of moral goodness.

The funny thing about moral goodness is that it cannot actually be observed directly. We cannot for certain say that the individual {{x}_{i}} is a good person, all we can say is that all the information we have about him up to that point indicates that this is the case. Therefore we can assume that {{x}_{i}} is a good member of the group and should continue as a member. There can only be a theoretical level of moral goodness {{Y}^{*}}, and faith must be maintained within the group about the true nature of each other member, that {{g}_{i}}={{g}^{*}} .

Bad behaviour, on the other hand, is completely observable, particularly when an individual, which we will designate as {{x}_{b}} performs some despicable act such that he can no longer be referred to as a morally good person. Once this act is committed, the individual has revealed himself to be a false {{g}^{*}}, as his actual value of {g} is not more than zero, and has in fact a negative value of {g}, where g<0. We will designate this negative value of g as {{g}_{\psi }}.

Because of this revelation, our group goodness value has changed:

Y=(n-1){{g}^{*}}+{{g}_{\psi }}

Everyone else still has their constant level of goodness {{g}^{*}}>0, while our bad person {{x}_{b}} has been separated out because he is of a different moral integrity  {{g}_{\psi }}. I’ll remind you here that  {{g}_{\psi }} is negative and will therefore drag the groups goodness down. Obviously in a group that values moral goodness above all else, the individual {{x}_{b}} must be removed and excluded from the group, as he is No True Godsman. Therefore our updated value for the groups morality is



Let’s now compare the different values for Y we have had so far.


Y=(n-1){{g}^{*}}+{{g}_{\psi }}


It’s clear that {{Y}^{*}} is the highest value of all our Y’s, and that after all the revelations of wickedness, we are left with a group goodness level that is below our originally perceived theoretical level


We must not forget however that the individual who was removed from the group was always a bad person, we just did not realise it at the time, and Y* never actually existed, and all we had before the unpleasantness was Y, the second of our three Y values given above. Think about this and compare it to our new value {\tilde{Y}}. Since {{g}_{\psi }} is negative, this means that \tilde{Y}  will always be greater than Y.


The groups goodness has actually increased as a result of the expulsion of a member who revealed himself to be bad. Further, this will always be the case, as any further hidden non-{{g}^{*}}’s who are revealed as such will be removed and therefore increase the moral goodness of the group as a whole. This might sound like quite an obvious and innocent statement, but think about how someone can actually reveal themselves to be a bad person. They will never reveal it voluntarily, but only through bad behavior and acts. If a group values the unobservable moral integrity of it’s members above all else, it will always be good for the group if it’s secretly bad members perform an act so depraved that it reveals them as what they are: a non-{{g}^{*}}. It is only through horrible acts that the group can actually edge closer to what they truly want: maximising their Y, and therefore their moral goodness.


So, to use these stylised facts on the situation that offended my friend and prompted his Facebook status, he could have argued that this ‘[insert religion here]’ who performed a sexual assault actually did [insert religion here] a favour by telling all the ‘true’ [insert religion here] that the assaulter was no [insert religion here] at all, and that this was good for the [insert religion here] community as a whole. That sexual deviant was living amongst the [insert religion here], passing as a [insert religion here], and now because he revealed his true nature, [insert religion here] is all the better for it. Therefore anyone in that religion should be happy that it occurred. The application of logic to a logical fallacy will always reveal its true nature, and what I hope anyone who read this far gets from this is that it can lead to interesting results, and will more than likely end up backing the offender into a tight, (hopefully) logically sound corner.