#139 The Economics of Virtue Signaling

the christian economist dave arnott

#139 The Economics of Virtue Signaling

We’re all bad men. Some bad men have good policies, some bad men have bad policies, but the policy of virtue signaling is always “bad” economics.


Virtue signaling became popular during the waning days of Covid, when people would wear a mask as a way of indicating they were better than others.  One definition of virtue signaling is “A public act with very little associated cost that is intended to inform others of one’s socially acceptable behavior.” 


Christians should use ONE virtue signal: We identify as followers of Christ.  

In a recent article in the Epoch Times, Philip Carl Salzman wrote that “Woke’ Ideology Is the Way the Elite Says They’re Superior to You.”  He continued, What do you think “virtue signaling” is about? The point of it is to claim superiority for the speaker, and inferiority for the listener. It means “I am a good person, and, if you do not agree with me enthusiastically, you are a bad person.”  When Hilary Clinton said that half of Trump voters were “a basket of deplorables”: she was saying, “They are bad people, very different from us, who are good people.”

Virtue signaling is a component of status competition. Those who aspire to power and fame will strive to be seen as having more virtue than others, and thus worthy of special esteem and status.  What a silly, junior high concept. 

In supplying demand, marketers rely heavily on virtue signaling. 


Curing Disease

Marketers take advantage of consumers’ “disease.”  Except it’s broken into two words: DIS EASE.  They try to tell consumers, “You have dis-ease, which can be cured by this car, or this dress, or this lipstick or this beer.”  It’s such a simple appeal, I’m surprised people still fall for it. 

Marketers know that consumers buy products to establish their identity.  That’s stupid.  Ginger likes to quote Dave Ramsey saying, “You borrow money to buy a car you can’t afford to impress people you don’t know.”  Meaning, those people you pass on the freeway.  Such is the strength of our fallen need to be better than others.  We want a better house and car, vacations, and education.  But Christians are supposed to find their identity in their relationship with Christ, not from their affiliation with a car or a perfume or wine.  Almost the entire luxury product industry exists as virtue-signaling.  While some luxury products deliver marginal increases in economic utility, most of the extra price is justified by status. 

This is the trick that the Democratic party is trying to foist on us this week, when President Biden claimed that MAGA Republicans are semi-fascist.  He was virtue-signaling the following message: If you want to be a GOOD person, come over to the democrat party.  Really?!  Democrats are good people?

A few words from Lance Morrow.  He authored the book titled God and Mammon, but don’t bother reading it.  There are some interesting details of political intrigue over his 50 years in Washington, but his publisher just slapped the title God and Mammon on the cover for some reason.  But here’s what he wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week: Mr. Biden’s opinions have hardened into absolute faith that any party or political belief system except their own is illegitimate—impermissible, inhuman, monstrous and (a nice touch) a threat to democracy.” And then Mr. Morrow mentions the economic source of this idea, “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Or against the party. (People forget, if they ever knew it, that both Hitler and Mussolini began as socialists).

Donald Trump is a bad man who did good.  Joe Biden is a bad man who’s doing bad.  The whole virtue-signaling idea assumes there are good people and bad people.  If a bad man can’t do good, we’re in trouble, because in the Christian worldview, we’re all bad men.  Except women, who are bad women.  Romans 3:23 read, “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  But bad men CAN do good.  Cyrus in the Old Testament did good.  In the sixth century BC, he ended the Babylonian captivity. In the first year of his reign, he was prompted by God to decree that the Temple in Jerusalem should be rebuilt and that Jews who wished to, could return to their homeland for this purpose.  Another example: In Joshua chapter 2 we find the description of Rahab – a prostitute living in the outer wall of the city of Jericho. She assists two spies sent by Joshua to conduct some advance reconnaissance work prior to an attack on Jericho. 


Common Grace

In maybe his best work, titled Common Grace, Abraham Kuyper explains how God expresses grace even to the unsaved.  Kuyper firmly believed that though many people in the world will remain unconverted, God’s grace is still shown to the world as a whole. 

Common grace falls on all humans, sort of like the adage, “Rain falls equally on the field of the just and the unjust.”  You don’t have to be a Christian to economize from the creative nature of humans who produce economic value for their neighbors.  

So the idea that there are good men and bad men, just is not Biblical.  God uses all men, and women of course.  The idea that there are good men and bad men is such a sophomoric idea.  They state that Donald Trump is a bad man, only to make the point that they are NOT a bad man.  Honestly, it’s such simple virtue-signaling.  I’m surprised when seemingly intelligent people fall for it.  Grow up!  Economic value is not created by who we are, but by what we do.  It’s hard to find ANY policy of President Trump that Christians would disagree with.  The most obvious was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that lowered taxes for almost all Americans.  Did those who criticize President Trump accept his tax reduction?  Ask that of the next person who tells you that President Trump is a bad man.  Simply ask, “Did you accept a tax reduction from this bad man?  Some will claim, “Character matters”: Why?  Did you pay your income tax based on the Obama schedule, or the reduced schedule produced by the “bad man,” Donald Trump?

It’s pretty easy to be disappointed by the current crop of lazy journalists in our country, and this is just one more example.  Why didn’t an energetic reporter go from office to office, visiting members of Congress and the Senate who voted against the bill, and ask for their signature on a document certifying they would NOT accept the tax reduction they voted against?  Bad man, good policy, and everyone agrees with it, by following it. 

Soon after the last Presidential election, I wrote, “Dear Uncle Screwtape: I was able to engender so much hate for the President, that I got the patient to vote for abortion.”  Hate is dangerous, and there are many Biblical warnings against it.  But it wins elections.  



They want to prevent President Trump from running for President again.  Why?  If he’s a “bad man,” doesn’t that make him a desirable opponent?  Don’t they WANT bad electoral opponents?  So, it’s not President Trump they don’t trust.  It’s you!  They think you’re too stupid to make a wise voting decision, so they have to make it for you.  They are clearly signaling that they have more virtue than you.  Okay, let’s follow the logical path of this.  If they don’t trust you to make a wise electoral decision, why would they trust you to make your own religious decision?  People believe in a lot of stupid stuff.  If you support the control of an electoral decision, you certainly support the control of a religious decision, so there goes religious freedom.  How about economics?  Why would they trust you to make your own economic decisions?  People buy bad cars and watch bad TV and buy bad wine.  You should not be trusted to make your own economic decisions.  So there goes economic freedom.  It’s a simple, three-step process: Remove political freedom, then religious freedom, then economic freedom.  

Underlying virtue-signaling is the idea that good people should make decisions for bad people.   You think?  Problem is, in the Christian worldview, we’re all bad people.   All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God as I quoted earlier in Romans 3:23. Even redeemed Christians who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior, still have a religious fallen nature that produces economic self-interest.  So, where are we going to find “good people?”  Because, in the Christian Worldview, none of us are good. 


No Angels

In Federalist #51, James Madison wrote, “If men were angels no government would be necessary.”  Two hundred years later, Milton Friedman asked the Socialist Phil Donahue, “Where are you going to find the angels to run this socialist system of yours?”  Madison and Friedman were right: We’re not angels.  None of us.  You can virtue-signal all you want, but Christians know that there are no angels among us.  There’s more in our book Biblical Economic Policies, but for today, I’ll close with this suggestion: We’re all bad men.  Some bad men have good policies and some bad men have bad policies.   




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