You’ve probably heard conservative and religious leaders — including most of the Republican president candidates — lament the recent “moral decline” of the United States.

Yet is America truly in moral decline, or is the country just shifting away from traditional, religious morality? That’s the question taken up in a new article in the Economist, which finds little evidence to support the former position.

In summary:

[The aforementioned issues lead] to a debate over what “moral” really means. If “immoral” means “causing avoidable harm to other people” then gay marriage, pornography, sex, reality TV, soft-drug use and euthanasia are hardly immoral, even if distasteful to some.  

But as we grind through the Republican primary process, it seems like the debate over morality in America has less to do with moral outcomes and more to do with a vision of how society should look based on idealistic remembrances of how things were. So people like Mr Munro and the Republican candidates believe America is in a moral slump. The odd thing is, people on the left might actually agree, though for very different reasons. They are upset by the perceived greed of the 1%, and the broad acceptance of torture and war as foreign-policy tools. In the end, the debate over morality more closely resembles two distinct monologues.

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