Now here’s some advertising I heartily endorse. Today’s Wall Street Journal has an item on England’s social engineering campaign to encourage people to throw their chewing gum in a trash can rather than spit it out ignorantly on the sidewalk. I know it is merely a nusiance crime, hardly comparable to the atrocities being committed all over the world on a daily basis, but when I some slack-jawed moron spit her masticated wad of gooey gunk out on the ground I grow livid—it literally ruins my day, as I spend hours imagining the hell I want to see them consigned to. If it takes a nanny state to get the gum off the sidewalk and off the soles of my shoes and out of my mind, then let the nannying commence.
The article seems to imply this is trivial and wasteful. But if it truly is a replacement for the banned political TV ads, as it also suggests, then I can only dream that I lived in such a society that replaced lobbyist-funded hate speech and truth denigration with campaigns to stop people from littering. This is precisely the kind of advertising for government that seems needed; rather than the message of political-campaign ads—that government is full of ill-mannered, back-biting politicians who will say anything to get elected and that it makes no difference who you vote for, really—these campaigns send the message that government exists to provide a civilized public sphere where the selfish and indolent behavior of some isn’t allowed to ruin it all for everyone. They posit a government that’s intent only on meddling in the small things, the everyday hassles we’d like addressed—not one that’s spying on us, sending us to die in cryptic wars, legislating our sexual and religious behavior and taxing us unjustly and so on. Even if it merely supplies a smoke-screen, it at least mitigates quotidian misery. Does it make people forget about the larger issues or free them to confront and consider them? An open question.