Economists talk about the moral hazard – the notion that people should not be free to violate principles of good faith and fair play, but instead should be held accountable for their mistakes and transgressions. As Wikepedia tells us (at least as of 9/25/08):

Moral hazard is the prospect that a party insulated from risk may behave differently from the way [he, she or] it would behave if . . . fully exposed to the risk. Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not bear the full consequences of [his, her or] its actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than [he, she or] it otherwise would, leaving another party to bear some responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

In other words, moral hazard connotes irresponsible, perhaps lawless, risk-taking behavior that ultimately mistreats or unfairly disadvantages others. Economists, ethicists and many members of the public have decried the wholesale disregard of moral hazard in the bipartisan effort within Congress and the Bush Administration to bail out Wall Street. As a pragmatic matter, to promote the general welfare and avoid the seizing up of our economy for lack of liquidity, politicians are rising “above politics” and doing what they think is the right thing to save the economy and the American people.

Pragmatism and doing the right thing, despite moral hazard, is much less popular, however, when it comes to immigration – a word uttered only twice during the logorrheic speeches at the Democratic and Republican party conventions. Bailout amnesty for promoters and borrowers of “liar’s loans” is fine, I suppose, if it promotes the general welfare. On the other hand, according to our morally nimble politicians, legal status for crossing the border to work and feed one’s family, performing jobs that we need done but disdain for ourselves, would “reward law violators,” and that would be wrong.

The French, I guess, are better at the practice of countenancing ethical hairsplitting. As François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld, sagely observed: “Hypocrisy is an homage that vice renders to virtue.”