Monday, April 16, 2007

What is "Third-Party Victimhood"?

Third-Party Victimhood was eloquently defined by H.L. Mencken:

"Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of improving or saving X, A is a scoundrel."

And yet, time and again, "A" is viewed as a paragon of moral virtue, altruistically making sacrifices for the benefit of others.

The most obvious example of this behavior is among politicians, who continuously tax productive people for the sake of providing
welfare to others. It is often couched in altruistic terms, such as "helping the...

- Farmers
- Loggers
- Steel makers
- Minorities
- Women
- Single mothers
- Senior citizens
- Children
- Working people
- Unemployed
- Underclass
- Middle class
- Veterans
- Union members
- Disabled
- Consumers
- Immigrants
- Uninsured
- Borrowers
- People who are denied loans
- Descendants of slaves
- College students
- High school dropouts
- Environmentalists
- Family businesses
- Rural families
- Home owners
- Apartment renters
- Spanish-speaking population
- People with Spanish surnames
- Native Americans
- Motorists
- People who use public transportation
- People who fly
- Cancer victims
- AIDS victims
- Air pollution victims
- Obese
- Malnourished
- Museum visitors
- Public television viewers
- Public radio listeners
- Churches
- Wildlife enthusiasts


...and on and on and on...and ironically enough, they even promise to somehow "help the taxpayer".

From the above list, it's pretty clear that almost everyone falls into at least one (and often more) of those categories -- which implies that the money is simply being shuffled from some people to others, and then to others, and then back again to yet others, until the tax-and-welfare web is so complex that it is hard to determine who exactly is harmed the most. But to some extent, all are harmed because of the associated
taxation. All, that is, except for those who propose and administer these schemes, who are given their "cut" along the way.

Now, let's take one of those groups as an example -- say, museum visitors -- and compare the following TV ads:

1. Politician: "For the sake of art, and for the sake of our children, we must continue to increase funding to museums."

2. Typical affluent museum visitor: "For my sake, we must raise your taxes."

Of course, these statements are functionally equivalent; they are demands to take money from B and give it to X. But when A makes the demand, it appears selfless and moral -- and when X makes the demand, it appears selfish and inappropriate. But they are the same -- except that when X asks directly, at least middleman A does not get a cut.

Why is this such an effective tactic? Probably because A appears to be concerned about X (and we like it when someone shows concern) and X has the dignity to not ask (or demand) your money.

It is something to think about the next time...

- A politician makes a speech.
- A "community activist" makes a demand.
- A coworker asks for a "contribution" for someone else's retirement, departure, birthday, etc.
- An "advocate" for a cause asks for money on the street.

...and so forth.

4 comments:

TDK said...

but surely there is a qualitive difference between charity and tax even if used for the same ends.

faQster said...

There sure is a difference, but the motivational technique is the same.

TDK said...

I don't disagree with you but remain conscious that certain people reading this may be about to be about to be "mugged by reality".

The Ayn Rand conception of conservative libertarianism is negative about charity but I and many other conservatives are unconvinced. In the UK the National Health Service and the Universities were both created by nationalising (largely) private charitable institutions. It is beyond living memory that such institutions would work and grow if reliant only on charity with the result that people find it fantastical to imagine such a situation. People who read The Christmas Carol today do not understand neither the size of contribution Scrooge would be expected to give nor the concept of being a "gentleman" with social obligations that he was failing to to live up to.

To pick a more modern example, private charity donations to tsunami victims in the US vastly exceeded the UK but the government donation sizes were reversed.

faQster said...


Even mass-murderers do it:


“I didn’t have to do this. I could have left. I could have fled. But no, I will no longer run. It’s not for me. For my children, for my brothers and sisters that you f---, I did it for them,” Cho says on one of the videos.