If you are one of the poor, unfortunate souls who pays attention to public policy or politics and spends any time on the Internet, you have surely heard the term "virtue signaling."
Coined by British journalist James Bartholomew, virtue signaling, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is the "action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue."
More pithily, it's a cheap and easy way of showing off your own righteousness. Think of it as a kind of conspicuous consumption for the politically correct.
What set Bartholomew off was a poster in Whole Foods touting the company as "part of a growing consciousness that is bigger than food — one that champions what's good," virtue signaling is most virulent on social media. Remember when all your heterosexual friends on Facebook added a rainbow filter to their profile picture after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision was delivered, or when everyone changed to the tricolor filter after the Charlie Hebdo massacre? That's virtue signaling.
A more topical example of virtue signaling — and one not exclusively confined to social media — is the recent decision made by a group of mayors on behalf of their cities to sign the "We Are Still In" pledge, a commitment to meet the Paris climate accord's carbon-dioxide emissions reduction guidelines despite President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel tweeted out a picture of the city skyline lit up in green "in honor" of the Paris accord and signed an executive order to formalize the pledge.
Under Emanuel's watch, Chicago has shrunk faster than any city in the country, with its millionaires leading the exodus. The city's pension systems have been so woefully underfunded they're now $40 billion in the hole; its bond rating is literally junk, while Chicago Public Schools' rating is even junkier; and each resident household is on the hook for more than $63,000 in local-government debt. All this despite a record property tax increase passed in 2015 and another looming around the corner.
To top it all off, everyone within city limits is being murdered. (All right, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but when the satirical newspaper The Onion can write headlines like "City Of Chicago Working Around Clock to Clear 18 Inches of Bullet Casings from Streets," you know you have a problem.)
So, yeah, Chicago is basically the municipal equivalent of that widely used dumpster fire GIF, but Emanuel has more important things to worry about than Chicago's long descent into becoming an insolvent killing zone: He has to let the climate mandarins know that he's with them.
Emanuel's office announced Chicago is going to play host to a climate summit in conjunction with the "Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy." The summit's planners say it will "bring together Mayors from across the United States, Canada, and Mexico to outline each city's respective commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change via new programs and initiatives."
Whatever these "programs and initiatives" turn out to be, something tells me they won't amount to substantial emissions decreases. Chicago already made one futile and stupid emissions pledge under the previous mayor, Richard M. Daley, saying the city would reduce its emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. That pledge has gone so smoothly that Chicago is on pace to be 62 percent above that emissions target by 2020.
Amusingly, Emanuel's targets are actually weaker than the ones Daley had pledged. But meeting the emissions targets is not the point. The point is to pretend you're going to meet a target, bask in the accolades, and then ignore the pledge entirely. In other words, virtue signaling.
Emanuel, like Daley before him, will end up getting exactly what he wants: to take a victory lap and be feted for being an enlightened, progressive environmental steward, and to have no one notice when it all turns out to be a sham.
Timothy Benson (email@example.com) is a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan free-market think tank headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
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