Markets make people better. Not many people seem to think so these days, but the idea got a boost from a recent piece of research by Dan Ariely and others, which compared moral behaviour in Germans brought up in East and West Germany.
The team found that those with an East German background cheated twice as much as those raised in the capitalist West. The East Germans regularly lied about their success on a task throwing dice. Older subjects, with more experience of life under socialism, cheated the most. Those who had lived for 20 years or more under socialism were 65 per cent more likely to cheat than West Germans. This supported earlier work showing East Germans approved far more of cheating on taxes, although that criminal propensity appeared to be eliminated after seven years of reunification.
As the authors note, there could be other causes for the effect, such as the impact of greater poverty. But they finger socialism as the likely culprit. That makes sense. Life behind the iron curtain was, after all, marked by total surveillance and state-imposed scarcity: powerful incentives for the cultivation of theft and deceit.