Vox Explains Liberals

• July 28, 2015 3:31 pm


Vox has written an insightful explainer on why buying a certain brand of shoe doesn't necessarily make you a good person. The piece also, perhaps unintentionally, explains a lot about the young liberal hipsters who read Vox.

The gist of the explainer is as follows: The shoe company TOMS is popular among a certain crowd of enlightened trendsetters (Vox readers, Daily Show watchers, Obama voters, etc). One reason is because TOMS offers more than just a trendy pair of shoes, it also, critically, provides customers with wearable proof that they care about poor people. That's because whenever someone buys a pair of TOMS shoes, the company donates a pair of shoes to a child in a poor country. Vox‘s Amanda Taub explains that, yes, wanting to help poor people is a good thing, but buying TOMS shoes is one of the worst ways do it. Not only is TOMS exploiting its customers' charitable impulse to persuade them to buy its products, which is problematic to begin with, but there is also research to suggest that "buy one, donate one" programs aren't a terrible efficient or effective way to improve the lives of poor people. At worst, they're counterproductive.

I want to be very clear here: A desire to help people in need is a good thing. Paying a little more for a pair of shoes or a messenger bag because you want your purchase to help people is commendable. If that’s you, well done!

But TOMS and the many other companies like it are the charitable equivalents of yes men. They’re telling you what they think you want to hear in order to get what they want (for you to purchase trendy, pricey accessories), not what you need to hear in order to do what you want (to have your purchase to do as much good in the world as it can).

TOMS tells you that you that making the world a better place is all about you: that you know best how to help poor people, and that you are so powerful that it will take barely any effort on your part to make a huge difference in the world.

First of all, this assumes that what TOMS customers really want is "to do as much good in the world as [they] can," rather than to simply signal their support for doing good in the world in a way that requires "barely any effort." This may be true in some cases, but anyone who has ever given any thought to the question of how best to help poor people already knows that there are better and less superficial ways to do it than by purchasing a pair of trendy shoes. The lack of effort involved is a chief selling point, as TOMS is certainly aware.

The paragraphs quoted also explain a great deal about the allure of liberalism. Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 in part by telling people what they wanted to hear—"Hope and Change"—and by giving voters, especially young voters, an opportunity to do good in the world by doing something (voting for Obama) that required barely any effort. Obama convinced the people who voted for him was all about them. "This is your victory," he said in his victory speech in Chicago. And it was. By simply casting their vote, Obama supporters (myself included) proclaimed their support for good things and, more importantly, their opposition to bad things, such as racism and George W. Bush.

But beyond that, many of these voters weren't willing to devote much effort to the cause. They couldn't even be bothered to vote in midterm elections, when Obama wasn't on the ballot. As Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein explained, too many young liberal voters bought into the "damaging myth" that meaningful change can be achieved simply by "picking the right charismatic leader, going to the most exciting rallies, and marking a ballot." It can't. But doing all of that feels really good, as does imagining a poor child running happily through his village in the brand new shoes you bought for him, as does tweeting out an awesome hashtag like #BringBackOurGirls (and then completely losing interest once the fad has run its course). Plus, you've got other, equally important things to do with your time, like watch John Oliver DESTROY some clueless county health official or laugh at an Amy Schumer joke. Spending a couple hours on a Sunday volunteering at a homeless shelter is fine and all, but driving around town in a Prius with a "Coexist" bumper sticker is (probably) a more efficient way to "get the message out."

This, at least in part, explains the research showing that liberals, though well-meaning, are less likely than conservatives to do things like donate to charity, volunteer, and give blood. One study found that 19 out of the 20 most charitable states voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. For many liberals, voting for the Democratic candidate, or even vaguely supporting that candidate and nodding your head when Jon Stewart makes a funny face after playing a soundbite from a Republican, is basically as good as helping the poor, because everyone knows that Republicans hate poor people, and have probably never even heard of TOMS.

It also explains how corporations much larger (and more maligned) than TOMS have managed to mute their critics on the left who may occasionally complain about "corporate greed," but will happily line up to vote for Hillary Clinton, whose corporate ties run deeper than any candidate in the race, even Donald Trump, and would be the first Corporation-American to win the White House. Some large companies, such as Uber, accomplish this by providing a service that appeals to wealthy white liberals living in urban areas. Others have figured out how to signal their support for "good" things in a way that requires barely any effort, as little as slapping a "green" label on a product or changing their Twitter avatars to rainbow flags in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, for example, and getting a mention in BuzzFeed‘s write-up of "46 Beautiful Rainbow Brand Logos Celebrating Marriage Equality."

That's literally everything you need to know.