The Awful Unintended Consequences of Virtue-Signaling Liberals

Doing good for those less fortunate is a positive thing; however, doing good for the purpose of virtue-signaling can have hugely devastating unintended consequences.  An example of this can be found in the various liberal pure water initiatives, which strive to save lives by providing unfettered access to potable drinking water in isolated African villages and other locations where pure water for all has not been previously available.

Organizations such as the William and Melinda Gates Foundation have become well known for their work in this area, and a common claim by these groups is the number of lives that are – or, if they're in a fundraising mode, can be – saved by universal access to safe drinking water.  People can feel good about themselves by donating to these causes without considering the consequences.

And why not?  On the face of it, who can question the benefits of pure water?  However, this brings us to the issue of unintended consequences, and they can be awful.

Let's take, for example, a single hypothetical village in sub-Saharan Africa.  It has a stable population of about 1,000 people, with live births roughly balancing natural deaths.  Local agriculture produces sufficient food to support this population.  The local education infrastructure is sufficient to train those children who survive the high infant and early childhood mortality rates.  Finally, sufficient medical care exists to maintain a mortality rate equal to the birth rate.  Life in this egalitarian village is hard but stable.

Then along comes a group of outsiders from one of these liberal foundations.  They create the technology to provide sustainable, potable water for the entire population.  This is clearly a good thing.  But it also has grievous unintended consequences stemming from enhanced life expectancy.

Since impure water has a disproportionate impact on infants and young children, the child mortality rate plummets – another good thing.  The vulnerable elderly population also tends to suffer from impure water, so life expectancy increases.  This is also a good thing.  There can be no virtue in the deaths of the youngest, the oldest, and the most vulnerable in society.  However, there are three problems that – if not also addressed at the same time – can shatter the village.

As the population grows dramatically, three critical problems will emerge.  And the population will grow – not only from enhanced mortality rates, but also because – absent a balancing achieved by the parallel implementation of widespread birth control – parents who had previously suffered the loss of young children will be motivated to bring to life children who will survive. 

With that inevitable and seemingly positive population growth comes a fast-growing demand for food, a demand that will quickly outstrip the village's long established ability to provide for its population.  Hunger becomes a problem.  Eventually – and this won't take long – food will become a commodity whose price is determined by the inexorable law of supply and demand. The rich will continue to eat well; the middle class will continue to eat, but not well; and the poor will be forced to make do with the gleanings left by a society with too many mouths to feed.

Education becomes another problem.  Within five years, the need for education exceeds the village's established ability to educate its population.  At first, classes grow in size, while fixed resources are stretched thin.  Within ten years, education, like food, will become a supply-and-demand commodity.  The rich will be better educated.  The middle class will become educated, though not so well, and the poor will be lucky to have any education for their children. This will reinforce a class division that can have short-term divisive impacts and long-term stratification that will make permanent the class differences – with all the potential for strife that exists between have and have-not societies.

Perhaps most painfully, the fixed infrastructure for providing health care services will quickly be stretched to the maximum and beyond.  At first, the opposite will occur.  As the elderly and infants survive in larger numbers because of pure water, the demand for health care services will relax, which may or may not result in a reduced supply.  However, either way, once hunger becomes an increasingly prevalent issue, new diseases – ones that prey on those whose immune systems are compromised by chronic starvation – will become endemic.  Here, too, the law of supply and demand will kick in.  Those who can afford lifesaving health care will have it; those who can't will suffer the inevitable consequences.

Once these three factors begin tearing apart the long established stable and egalitarian structure of the village, second-order problems will arise.  This comes from the rapid transformation of a stable village society into one where there are haves and have-nots, with the difference between the two literally being the difference between life and death.  The turmoil this leads to can be found in South Sudan and other areas where access to limited supplies of food has created powerful warlords and starving masses.

What conclusions can we draw from this?  Clearly, providing potable water to those who don't have it is a desirable goal.  However, providing potable water without addressing the inevitable impact of increased life expectancy on food supplies, medical care, and education is akin to treating the broken arm of a man who broke it while collapsing from a heart attack.  Of course the broken arm should be treated, but so, too, should the potentially deadly heart attack. 

Virtue-signaling do-gooder liberals don't think this way.  They find some unassailable cause, such as pure water; they give their contribution; and they don't think about the unintended consequences of their largesse.  Conservatives – a good example here are Christian missionaries, but there are many others – tend to look at the larger society of the community they serve, striving to balance the consequences of doing good to create a healthier and more viable society.

Ned Barnett, founder of Barnett Marketing Communications, has been a professor at Middle Tennessee State and UNLV in Las Vegas.  He is a widely published author, a consultant, and a political campaign strategist.

Doing good for those less fortunate is a positive thing; however, doing good for the purpose of virtue-signaling can have hugely devastating unintended consequences.  An example of this can be found in the various liberal pure water initiatives, which strive to save lives by providing unfettered access to potable drinking water in isolated African villages and other locations where pure water for all has not been previously available.

Organizations such as the William and Melinda Gates Foundation have become well known for their work in this area, and a common claim by these groups is the number of lives that are – or, if they're in a fundraising mode, can be – saved by universal access to safe drinking water.  People can feel good about themselves by donating to these causes without considering the consequences.

And why not?  On the face of it, who can question the benefits of pure water?  However, this brings us to the issue of unintended consequences, and they can be awful.

Let's take, for example, a single hypothetical village in sub-Saharan Africa.  It has a stable population of about 1,000 people, with live births roughly balancing natural deaths.  Local agriculture produces sufficient food to support this population.  The local education infrastructure is sufficient to train those children who survive the high infant and early childhood mortality rates.  Finally, sufficient medical care exists to maintain a mortality rate equal to the birth rate.  Life in this egalitarian village is hard but stable.

Then along comes a group of outsiders from one of these liberal foundations.  They create the technology to provide sustainable, potable water for the entire population.  This is clearly a good thing.  But it also has grievous unintended consequences stemming from enhanced life expectancy.

Since impure water has a disproportionate impact on infants and young children, the child mortality rate plummets – another good thing.  The vulnerable elderly population also tends to suffer from impure water, so life expectancy increases.  This is also a good thing.  There can be no virtue in the deaths of the youngest, the oldest, and the most vulnerable in society.  However, there are three problems that – if not also addressed at the same time – can shatter the village.

As the population grows dramatically, three critical problems will emerge.  And the population will grow – not only from enhanced mortality rates, but also because – absent a balancing achieved by the parallel implementation of widespread birth control – parents who had previously suffered the loss of young children will be motivated to bring to life children who will survive. 

With that inevitable and seemingly positive population growth comes a fast-growing demand for food, a demand that will quickly outstrip the village's long established ability to provide for its population.  Hunger becomes a problem.  Eventually – and this won't take long – food will become a commodity whose price is determined by the inexorable law of supply and demand. The rich will continue to eat well; the middle class will continue to eat, but not well; and the poor will be forced to make do with the gleanings left by a society with too many mouths to feed.

Education becomes another problem.  Within five years, the need for education exceeds the village's established ability to educate its population.  At first, classes grow in size, while fixed resources are stretched thin.  Within ten years, education, like food, will become a supply-and-demand commodity.  The rich will be better educated.  The middle class will become educated, though not so well, and the poor will be lucky to have any education for their children. This will reinforce a class division that can have short-term divisive impacts and long-term stratification that will make permanent the class differences – with all the potential for strife that exists between have and have-not societies.

Perhaps most painfully, the fixed infrastructure for providing health care services will quickly be stretched to the maximum and beyond.  At first, the opposite will occur.  As the elderly and infants survive in larger numbers because of pure water, the demand for health care services will relax, which may or may not result in a reduced supply.  However, either way, once hunger becomes an increasingly prevalent issue, new diseases – ones that prey on those whose immune systems are compromised by chronic starvation – will become endemic.  Here, too, the law of supply and demand will kick in.  Those who can afford lifesaving health care will have it; those who can't will suffer the inevitable consequences.

Once these three factors begin tearing apart the long established stable and egalitarian structure of the village, second-order problems will arise.  This comes from the rapid transformation of a stable village society into one where there are haves and have-nots, with the difference between the two literally being the difference between life and death.  The turmoil this leads to can be found in South Sudan and other areas where access to limited supplies of food has created powerful warlords and starving masses.

What conclusions can we draw from this?  Clearly, providing potable water to those who don't have it is a desirable goal.  However, providing potable water without addressing the inevitable impact of increased life expectancy on food supplies, medical care, and education is akin to treating the broken arm of a man who broke it while collapsing from a heart attack.  Of course the broken arm should be treated, but so, too, should the potentially deadly heart attack. 

Virtue-signaling do-gooder liberals don't think this way.  They find some unassailable cause, such as pure water; they give their contribution; and they don't think about the unintended consequences of their largesse.  Conservatives – a good example here are Christian missionaries, but there are many others – tend to look at the larger society of the community they serve, striving to balance the consequences of doing good to create a healthier and more viable society.

Ned Barnett, founder of Barnett Marketing Communications, has been a professor at Middle Tennessee State and UNLV in Las Vegas.  He is a widely published author, a consultant, and a political campaign strategist.