New research into benefit fraud, designed to accompany the existing literature on tax evasion, perhaps throws a little additional light on the whole weary "stealing music isn't wrong" debate. From the paper
"Our results suggest that moral values evolve endogenously and are determined by prices (i.e. the cost of acting morally). Citizens who have comparably more opportunities and low cost to commit a certain offense, develop the attitude that it is a minor offense. This suggests that citizens excuse or rationalize their own deviant behavior. Put differently, they self-servingly adjust their moral values." (HT Tim Harford)
One thing is reminds me of, of course, is Scott Adams's old experiment to produce cognitive dissonance in people who habitually ignore copyright laws but refuse to think of themselves as doing anything wrong. Snippet:
"The fascinating thing about cognitive dissonance is that it’s immune to intelligence. No matter how smart you are, you can’t think your way out of it. Once your actions and your self image get out of sync, the result is an absurd rationalization."
But the thing it most reminds me of is Alexander Pope's "Essay on Man":
Safe in the hand of one disposing Pow'r,
Or in the natal, or the moral hour.
All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see
All discord, harmony not understood,
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
If there are low costs and easy opportunities to do commit an offence, we're more likely to commit it; and once we've committed it, so long as we think of ourselves as good people (the sort of people who don't commit offences) we'll find a way of rationalising it. It regularly amuses me how furious it's possible to make people by pointing out that copyright violations could be considered in any way (legally, morally) wrong. But the music industry are just parasites (sure); but some artists are doing pretty well distributing their work copyright-free (true); but we need to develop new models that are relevant to the digital age (of course we do).
Or in other words...whatever is, is right - because once we do a thing, we find a way to make it right, at least to ourselves.