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virtue offsets
February 3, 2019, 4:44 pm
Filed under: brave new world, departure lounge | Tags: , , ,

The Good Samaritan

In the age of neoliberalism and market fundamentalism, even virtue is put to work for the marketplace. In the same way that a big polluter can buy carbon offsets to assuage his guilt – and avoid paying for his great big pile of toxic externalities – he can donate to a charity. He can even donate to his own charity!

But there’s an even more effective way of offsetting your financial and environmental sins. Lo a great host of uber virtuous now circles the globe and deigns occasionally to descend among us mortals to hear confession, be the balm, assuage the guilt, and offer redemption for massive sins perpetrated against the earth and her people.

It’s a good deal. It doesn’t cost anything and it results in the preservation of an unsustainable status quo.

Here is an excerpt from Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal:

What I concluded from observing all this is that there is a global commerce in compassion, an international virtue- circuit featuring people of unquestionable moral achievement, like Bono, Malala, Sting, Yunus, Angelina Jolie, and Bishop Tutu; figures who travel the world, collecting and radiating goodness. They come into contact with the other participants in this market: the politicians and billionaires and bankers who warm themselves at the incandescent virtue of the world-traveling moral superstars.

What drives this market are the buyers. Like Wal-Mart and Goldman Sachs “partnering” with the State Department, what these virtue-consumers are doing is purchasing liberalism offsets, an ideological version of the carbon offsets that are sometimes bought by polluters in order to compensate for the smog they churn out.

At the apex of all this idealism stands the Clinton Foundation, a veritable market-maker in the world’s vast, swirling virtue-trade. The former president who stands at its head is “the world’s leading philanthropic dealmaker,” according to a book on the subject. Under his watchful eye all the concerned parties are brought together: the moral superstars, the billionaires, and of course the professionals, who organize, intone, and advise. Virtue changes hands. Good causes are funded. Compassion is radiated and absorbed.

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue-exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-graduated American professionals, their reassuring expertise propped up by bogus social science, while the unfortunate objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

Thomas Frank, Listen Liberal