Firstly it was bonus payments for bankers seen as largely responsible for the ‘credit crunch’, and then excessive expenses claims by members of parliament (MPs).
Although these activities were not necessarily illegal, the British public has been enthusiastically encouraged by the press to denounce them as immoral.
This common view that dubious morality is endemic amongst those in positions of power has been highlighted recently by the ironic election success of a Croatian politician with a campaign slogan of ‘All for me, nothing for you’.
From a psychological perspective, such beliefs illustrate the ultimate attribution error, where negative behaviours of individual members are seen as typical of an entire out-group.
On closer inspection, however, this simple moral dichotomy is more complex than it may first appear. For example, MP’s expenses have been likened to so-called ‘Spanish practices’, a derogatory British term that continues to be surprisingly widely-used despite its racist implications. Such practices are questionable non-contractual working arrangements that benefit the employee and have become accepted as normal over time. These typically occur within heavily unionised industries, and have previously been the subject of industrial disputes.
Rather ironically then, many of those claiming the moral high-ground in terms of MP’s expenses commonly take advantage of exactly the same kind of ‘unofficial benefits’, suggesting that morality is a somewhat flexible concept.
Interestingly, the very term (mis-)used to describe these practices is a further example of the ultimate attribution error, being one of a number of historic British slurs attributing negative behaviours to foreign nationality out-groups.
‘Spanish practices’ of MPs from the Mail Online
Sunar, D. (2009). Suggestions for a New Integration in the Psychology of Morality
Giles, D. & Shaw, R. L. (2009). The Psychology of News Influence and the Development of Media Framing Analysis