International aid requires virtuous actions, not virtue signalling

Virtue is a wonderful thing. Helping those most in need is what we should strive to do as a society. That is why we must ensure that genuine virtue does not get confused with virtue signalling.

Virtue signalling is the conspicuous expression of moral values, and in the age of social media and soundbites, it appears to be growing across the entire political spectrum. To preserve true virtue, we must overcome this self-righteous practice.

Human beings generally prefer to go down the easier route. It is in our nature to do so. And that is what makes virtue signalling so appealing – it gives one moral satisfaction for doing fairly little.

While this is great for the individual that has conducted the virtue signalling, it seriously hurts those they are allegedly helping, because nothing is done. This demonstrates that virtue signalling lacks the very quality it tries to portray: virtue.

Real virtue, on the other hand, requires effort and thought, yet the results are rewarding as the poorest in society truly feel the benefits.

So those who argue against virtue signalling must ensure they separate it from genuine virtue, which must be praised and advocated. However, even genuine virtue will always appear to be virtue signalling when it’s portrayed in the media. But if there is real virtue present behind a policy, tweet or press release, it would be misleading to call it virtue signalling.

The United Kingdom’s commitment of 0.7 per cent of GDP on international development best exemplifies this problem. Within this budget, there are many noble projects that help the poorest people in the world. Projects such as those aiming to fight diseases, build shelter, provide education, and ensure access to clean water. That is why the British people should be proud of such projects.

Yet this has not stopped the UK government of being accused of virtue signalling. While much of our international aid budget has gone to people and communities in need, spending has been criticised for funding foreign space exploration and creating the “Ethiopian Spice Girls”.

To ensure that virtue signalling does not hinder the efforts of those initiatives showing genuine virtue, the Government must become more transparent about its spending on international development. It must seek to heavily scrutinise the schemes it wants to fund and choose to put money in the pockets of efficient and virtuous charitable organisations, rather than corrupt governments.

Virtue signalling is also present in domestic politics. When it comes to economics, this is usually dominated by those on the left. The Labour Party constantly calls for an increase in corporation tax, arguing that this would be a tax on the rich to help the poor. This is despite evidence which shows that the reduction in corporation tax in the UK under Conservative governments has actually increased tax revenue.

Labour has also argued that tax cuts benefit the richest in society, despite inequality reaching a 30-year low by the end of the final Cameron government. On first sight, rises in corporation tax and income tax on the rich sound like they would help the poor. However, in reality, increasing tax is a counterproductive policy when aiming to eradicate poverty. It is the epitome of virtue signalling: prioritising the desire to appear virtuous rather than being virtuous in reality.

Yet, when it comes to taxation, the Conservatives have avoided the lure of virtue signalling to increase their popularity. By bringing inequality to a 30-year low, their policies have resulted in truly virtuous outcomes.

Indeed, the Tory party takes pride in spending taxpayers’ money efficiently on domestic matters, allowing the limited resources we have at our disposal to be prioritised to help those most in need. The Government should, therefore, apply the same logic to international development and scrap the virtue-signalling target of 0.7 per cent in favour of a transparent and selective system that makes sure money goes to those most in need. That is true virtue.

Written by James Bundy

James Bundy is Chairman of Conservative Future Scotland.