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July 16 2014

Has Political Virtue Become a Fashion Statement?

Charlotte Hays

Do you believe that, if you can just make people aware that—say—hiking the minimum wage doesn’t really help the poor, you can encourage the public to have a more realistic conversation about the pros and cons of this issue?

Well, don’t count on it. In a piece headlined  “Political Virtue as a Fashion Accessory,” Jamie Whyte, a New Zealand politician, proposes in today’s Wall Street Journal that the public cares more about appearing to care than the actual results of any policy.

For example, the Green Party in Mr. Whyte’s New Zealand is in favor of passing greenhouse emission laws that would actually increase the dread greenhouse gases. The proposed tax would push dairy interests to go elsewhere, where they would be more likely to raise rather than lowering the level of greenhouse gases. But no matter:

Reducing emissions isn't the real point of the policy. The real point is to be seen to care about the environment. Increasing emissions is a price worth paying to show that you want to reduce emissions.

Whyte goes on to observe:

Environmentalism is not the only area where moral exhibitionism trumps morality. All around the world, politicians who want to be seen to care for the poor pursue policies that harm the poor. For example, most legislate minimum wages, despite minimum wages being well-known to increase youth and long-term unemployment.

We see this quest for moral superiority over actual policy played out in every issue today in Washington, where the idea is not so much to enact policies that enable the middle class to thrive or the poor to rise but to be seen as being champions of the middle class and poor. The unprecedented crisis at our southern border will be debated not as a matter of what is required to do the best by ourselves and the children but as a competition by progressives to assure us of their superior compassion.

Whyte compares this moral preening to what would happen if airlines urged parents to put oxygen masks on their children first in the event of an emergency, even though we understand that it is essential for parents to put on their masks first:  

Imagine that, having understood this logic, an airline nevertheless recommended that adults make sure children had their masks on first—not because it would do any good but because it would be a nice gesture of concern for children. Looking after children first is the morally correct thing to do.

You could only conclude that the airline had confused morality with moral exhibitionism.

Of course, moral exhibitionism is heartless. If you don’t believe this, ask somebody who has been out of work because of a lousy economy built on regulations that allow progressives to believe that they have a monopoly on compassion. I urge you to read the entire article. It shows what we are up against: progressive vanity.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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