Category Archive 'Progressivism'
18 Mar 2017
Sir Samuel Luke Fildes KCVO RA, The Doctor, 1891, Tate Gallery.
In 1949, Fildes’ painting “The Doctor” (1891) was used by the American Medical Association in a campaign against a proposal for nationalized medical care put forth by President Harry S. Truman. The image was used in posters and brochures along with the slogan, “Keep Politics Out of this Picture.” 65,000 posters of The Doctor were distributed, which helped to raise public skepticism of the nationalized health care campaign. In 2008, the AMA was no longer defending the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship and the independence of the Medical Profession, but was instead supporting Obamacare and the nationalization of health care.
Dr. Publius, at Ricochet, explains how all this happened.
For the medical profession, there is one ethical obligation that surpasses all others. It is the very obligation that defines a classic profession, and once it is abandoned, members of that so-called profession no longer have any claim whatsoever to any of the special regard, respect, perquisites, or considerations that commonly accrue to true professionals in our society.
Physicians have referred to this obligation as the doctor-patient relationship. Like the lawyer-client relationship and the clergy-parishioner relationship, the doctor-patient relationship is supposed to be a sacred, protected, fiduciary one, in which the patient can feel safe in disclosing private information they may not even willingly tell their spouses, and in return the doctor agrees not only to keep that information private, but also to act on that information in such a way that furthers and optimizes the individual patient’s own best medical interests, without regard to which actions or recommendations might be to the doctor’s interests — or to society’s.
The abandonment of this sacred, fiduciary obligation (honored by physicians for over 2000 years) cannot be blamed on Obamacare. It was formally abandoned years before most of us had ever heard of Mr. Obama. The doctor-patient relationship, never as pure in practice as it was in concept, began to significantly erode in the 1990s. This, of course, was the heyday of for-profit HMOs, when the insurers used extreme coercion to make certain that doctors learned who their real customers were. Doctors who did not place the payers first had their reimbursements slashed, and often found themselves excluded from panels, and therefore from access to patients. In a surprisingly short time doctors by the thousands were signing “gag clauses,” in which they agreed to withhold from patients certain information that might be adverse to the interests of the HMOs.
It would be wrong to say that doctors did not mind these things. It troubled many of them deeply. Indeed, by the turn of the millennium many members of the profession were feeling, and occasionally publicly expressing, tremendous guilt for having had to abandon their chief ethical obligation to their patients, in order to continue practicing medicine.
Faced with an ethical dilemma which was increasingly difficult for them to tolerate, an outcry arose from within the medical profession demanding that their leadership take up the problem, and do something about it. Most doctors had in mind some sort of organized action by which the profession would attempt to reclaim its ethical grounding. And so, conferences were convened, debates (of a sort) engaged in, and at last, action taken.
What doctors in the trenches failed to realize was that the physicians who dedicate their careers to leading professional organizations are almost always Progressives, because this is what Progressives do. So the action that was finally taken was the official adoption of a new set of medical ethics, which was published in 2002: “Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium: A Physician Charter. “(Annals of Internal Medicine, February 5, 2002). This document described a new ethical precept which was to be formally adopted by the medical profession. That new precept was, of course, “Social Justice.” Under the precept of social justice, doctors, in making medical decisions at the bedside, suddenly became obligated to take the equitable distribution of healthcare resources into account. Covert rationing at the bedside at the behest of payers (who presumably knew more about equitable distribution of resources than individual physicians did), was not only acceptable, and not only a positive good, but an ethical requirement.
During the intervening years this new charter of medical ethics was indeed formally adopted by virtually every medical professional organization in the world.
Adding social justice to the ethical obligations of physicians or course did nothing to ease the discrepancy between the needs the patient and the needs of the payer. But its addition at least assuaged some of the guilt of some of the doctors who chose not to think too deeply about it.
This modernized, progressive version of medical ethics was not the result of Obamacare, but it has served Obamacare well. It was a matter of mere moments before doctors noticed that it would behoove them to shift their efforts from making the insurers happy to making the government happy.
Today, when a doctor makes a medical recommendation to a patient, that patient can no longer be confident that the recommendation is truly the one the doctor believes is best for him or her. For it may instead simply represent what the doctor has decided the patient deserves, given his/her needs in relation to the needs of all the other patients in the Accountable Care Organization, the state, the country, or the world.
13 Jan 2016
Philo contends that Professor Reynolds’ aperçu ought to be awarded the status of a law.
The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we’ll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren’t causes of middle-class status, they’re markers for possessing the kinds of traits — self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. — that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn’t produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.
I dub this Reynolds’ Law: “Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.” It’s easy to see why. If people don’t need to defer gratification, work hard, etc., in order to achieve the status they desire, they’ll be less inclined to do those things. The greater the government subsidy, the greater the effect, and the more net harm produced.
This law is thus a relative to Murray’s third law in Losing Ground, the Law of Net Harm: “The less likely it is that the unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce change will cause net harm.” But Reynolds’ Law rests on a different and more secure foundation. It focuses on character as fundamental.
Since the time of Woodrow Wilson, Democrats—but not only Democrats—have fretted that the middle class is shrinking due to the power of large corporations, and that only government action to “level the playing field” can save the middle class. The “middle class is being more and more squeezed out by the processes which we have been taught to call processes of prosperity.” Obama? Hillary? No, that’s Woodrow Wilson in 1913 (The New Freedom). It’s striking to realize that progressives have been playing the same tune for a century, no matter what’s actually taking place in the economy—indeed, in the midst of the greatest expansion of affluence in the history of the world—with the same set of proffered solutions: greater government power, regulations, higher taxes, and subsidies for the markers of affluence.
Reynolds’ Law thus strikes at the heart of progressivism as a political ideology. Progressivism can’t deliver on its central promise. In fact, it’s guaranteed to make things worse in exactly that respect.
29 Oct 2015
Nick Short quotes Walter Lippmann (of all people) full-throatedly critiquing Progressivism’s enthusiasm for statist coercion.
In his book entitled “An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society“, the once avid progressive Walter Lippmann wrote, “Although the partisans who are now fighting for the mastery of the modern world wear shirts of different colors, their weapons are drawn from the same armory, their doctrines are variations of the same theme, and they go forth to battle singing the same tune with slightly different words. Their weapons are the coercive direction of the life and labor of mankind. Their doctrine is that disorder and misery can be overcome only by more and more compulsory organization. Their promise is that through the power of the state men can be made happy.”
Lippmann continued, “Throughout the world, in the name of progress, men who call themselves communists, socialists, fascists, nationalists, progressives, and even liberals, are unanimous in holding that government with its instruments of coercion must by commanding the people how they shall live, direct the course of civilization and fix the shape of things to come. …the mark of a progressive is that he relies at last upon the increased power of officials to improve the condition of men… the only instrument of progress in which they have faith is the coercive agency of government.”
Though this statement in itself is an extraordinary indictment on the direction in which liberalism would inevitably lead us, Lippmann’s next statement is what truly brings home the notion of what we today would consider the modern idea behind progressivism. Noting how progressives seem to imagine no alternative but to rely on the coercive agency of government, Lippmann writes that they can’t even “remember how much of what they cherish as progressive has come by emancipation from political dominion, by the limitation of power, by the release of personal energy from authority and collective coercion. For virtually all that now passes for progressivism in the United States calls for increasing ascendancy of the state: always the cry is for more officials with more power over more and more of the activities of men.”
I had not been aware of there ever having been a classically liberal Lippmann. When I was young, Lippmann was an aged whited speculchre reliably defending Big Government Progressivism (then called: Liberalism) de haut en bas.
Hat tip to Vanderleun.
30 Jun 2014
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne, 1806, Musée de l’Armée.
My personal nominee in the most-bat-shit-crazy-Progressive-editorial-of-all-times sweepstakes is Christin Scarlett Milloy’s “Don’t Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn” in the current Slate.
Imagine you are in recovery from labor, lying in bed, holding your infant. In your arms you cradle a stunningly beautiful, perfect little being. Completely innocent and totally vulnerable, your baby is entirely dependent on you to make all the choices that will define their life for many years to come. They are wholly unaware (at least, for now) that you would do anything and everything in your power to protect them from harm and keep them safe. You are calm, at peace.
Suddenly, the doctor comes in. He looks at you sternly, gloved hands reaching for your baby insistently. “It’s time for your child’s treatment,” he explains from beneath a white breathing mask, shattering your calm. Clutching your baby protectively, you eye the doctor with suspicion.
You ask him what it’s for.
“Oh, just standard practice. It will help him or her be recognized and get along more easily with others who’ve already received the same treatment. The chance of side effects is extremely small.” This raises the hairs on the back of your neck, and your protective instinct kicks your alarm response up a notch. …
t’s a strange hypothetical scenario to imagine. Pressure to accept a medical treatment, no tangible proof of its necessity, its only benefits conferred by the fact that everyone else already has it, and coming at a terrible expense to those 1 or 2 percent who have a bad reaction. It seems unlikely that doctors, hospitals, parents, or society in general would tolerate a standard practice like this.
Except they already do. The imaginary treatment I described above is real. Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infants every single day, in every single country. In reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents’ consent, making this practice all the more insidious. It’s called infant gender assignment: When the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: It’s a boy or a girl, based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring’s genitals.
We tell our children, “You can be anything you want to be.” We say, “A girl can be a doctor, a boy can be a nurse,” but why in the first place must this person be a boy and that person be a girl? Your infant is an infant. Your baby knows nothing of dresses and ties, of makeup and aftershave, of the contemporary social implications of pink and blue. As a newborn, your child’s potential is limitless. The world is full of possibilities that every person deserves to be able to explore freely, receiving equal respect and human dignity while maximizing happiness through individual expression.
With infant gender assignment, in a single moment your baby’s life is instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes, and any behavioral deviation from that will be severely punished—both intentionally through bigotry, and unintentionally through ignorance. That doctor (and the power structure behind him) plays a pivotal role in imposing those limits on helpless infants, without their consent, and without your informed consent as a parent. This issue deserves serious consideration by every parent, because no matter what gender identity your child ultimately adopts, infant gender assignment has effects that will last through their whole life.
Read the whole thing.
In the post-Christian Left’s topsy-turvy philosophic world of inverted values, the madman-with-a-sob-story, the outcast traditionally looked upon with contempt and consequently filled with ressentiment must be treated as the representative of the worthiest of causes, and his ravings and absurdities taken seriously.
In the above piece, we are told that mere recognition of actual physical reality, identifying an infant as a boy or a girl, is really a species of traditional societal oppression, which assigns identity and limits possibility at “terrible expense” to some percentage of unwilling victims.
“You can be anything you want to be,” Mr. Milloy (who is a male pretending to be a female himself) contends is the way it ought to be. But why limit the human infant’s choices to boy or girl (or LGBTQ)? Isn’t the system also limiting possibility and potentially thwarting the happiness and self-realization of some small percentage by defining the infant as being the offspring of Mr. & Mrs. Jones and a mere ordinary citizen and member of the Jones family. What about the case of the minority individual whose inner being rejects such pedestrian mediocrity and feels, deep down inside, that he is really the Emperor Napoleon?
Can it possibly be fair or just to impose conventional stereotypes and concrete expectations and deny Jones Minor his desired Imperial titles and regiment of Guards Cavalry? If personal whim is sufficient to deny the physical reality of the sexual organs you are born with, if you can reject that kind of unchosen, externally-imposed role and select a different one at will, why shouldn’t you also be entitled to reject every other decree of fate as well?
If a boy is entitled to redefine himself as a girl (and vice versa), shouldn’t short people be able to demand to be treated as tall, and to have access to height-reassignment surgery? Shouldn’t unpleasant and unattractive people be permitted to demand popularity? And why should anyone be forced by the power structure to be born in poverty and obscurity? Surely, if everyone is entitled to be anything he wants to be, we are all going to demand to be made rich and famous, if Nature neglected to arrange our birth appropriately.
Why, one wonders, limit the protean possibilities to gender. If you can reject gender assignment at birth, why not species assignment? Some people would probably prefer to be lions or wolves or dolphins.
12 Jun 2014
Funeral of my great great uncle Frank Petrusky [Lith.: Pranas Petrauskas], killed in the mines, May 3, 1892, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.
If you want to identify the proper American policy, the sensible and correct way of doing things, I commonly observe, all you need to do is go back a bit in history to a point in time before Liberalism, Socialism, Progressivism, Reformism, Statism, and Goo-Goo-ism had hijacked the American Experiment and messed everything up.
What, then, was the real, traditional American policy on Immigration?
Well, boys and girls, before 1875, immigration to the United States was utterly and totally unrestricted. The Page Act of 1875 was the very first US law restricting immigration in any way. The Page Act was aimed at restricting the immigration of cheap Chinese labor and “immoral” Chinese women. This was the first of a series of laws aimed at restricting Oriental Immigration, based on philosophically questionable principles (excluding cheap labor competition, racism) as well as more reasonable practical considerations (the disinclination of Oriental immigrants at that time to assimilate and their continued loyalty to alien cultures, polities, and princes).
There was no federal role in naturalizing immigrants at all before 1906. Prior to the Naturalization Act of that year, naturalizing people was entirely up to the individual states. The 1906 Law federalized, and standardized, the naturalization process (and, for the first time, insisted on recording the names of wives and children of immigrant men becoming naturalized as citizens). Things were a lot more informal before 1906.
Additional legislation followed, in 1907 and 1908, and in 1917 and 1918, banning the entry of the disabled and diseased, requiring literacy on the part of non-elderly immigrants over 14 years of age, and placing more barriers to immigration from Asian countries. But, there remained no quotas at all on non-Asian immigration until 1921. In 1921, a national negative reaction to the recent arrival of people like my Lithuanian grandparents, all the Italians, the Poles and Slovaks, and the Eastern European Jews produced the Emergency Quota Act, which restricted the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 3% of the number of residents from that same country living in the United States as of the U.S. Census of 1910. This was, we need to recall, the great era of the second creation of the Ku Klux Klan, not to be confused with the original Reconstruction era Klan which was dissolved in the 1870s, whose membership peaked in the mid-1920s at 4-5 million men (roughly 15% of the eligible, non-Negro, non-Jewish, non-Catholic population). The quota system of the 1921 Act remained in place until 1965.
Restricting immigration is a Progressive Era policy constituting a radical break with earlier American practices and, I would argue, with the philosophy the country was founded upon.
The 13 colonies which united to become the United States were not culturally or ethnically uniform. The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay and the Cavaliers of Virginia both originated from England, but they had been cultural opponents, blood enemies, and opposing parties in a Civil War in their home country. Rhode Island was founded by religious radicals who would not live under Massachusetts law. Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers; Maryland by Roman Catholics. New York had originally been a Dutch colony. The Swedes first settled Delaware Bay. The original colonies, before the Revolution, contained significant populations as well of Scots Irish, German religious dissenters, French Huguenots, Scots Highlanders, and various other European groups.
Benjamin Franklin famously complained about Germans with “swarthy complexions” coming over, settling in Pennsylvania, refusing to learn English and not assimilating.
Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it… I remember when they modestly declined intermeddling in our Elections, but now they come in droves, and carry all before them, except in one or two Counties…In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so out number us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.
Those rascally Germans, in some well-known cases, have never assimilated and it isn’t hard, even today, to find in Pennsylvania Amish, Mennonites, Dunkards, Schwenkfelders, and so on who still speak German. But Franklin was obviously wrong. They never did take over culturally or politically. Most of their descendants did assimilate, and the ones who didn’t we look upon today as quaint and think that they make an excellent tourist attraction.
Attempting to restrict the free movement of people, proposing to restrict the supply of labor in order to prevent competition, undertaking to have government favor a particular culture, and attempts to exclude hopelessly inferior people are all classic Progressive policies.
Hispanic immigrants come here because Americans need affordable low-skilled labor not otherwise available and we hire them. I would contend that the federal government has no business trying to come between me and Jose the Mexican, if I want to hire Jose to mow my lawn and Jose wants to take the job.
I’ve gotten around a good deal in the last decade, and my own experience persuades me that, in much of the country, all the low skill manual labor these days is being done by illegal Hispanic immigrants.
People who think that the government can stop illegal immigration (when Americans need and want to hire affordable low skill labor) are just as crazy as the people who think the government could successfully ban private gun ownership or who suppose that the government can win the War on Drugs.
In the first year of law school, they teach students the difference between things which are malum in se, things like theft and murder, which are wrong in themselves, and things which are malum prohibitum, things which are wrong only because the government says so.
It’s pretty easy to enforce laws against things which are malum in se. Even the criminals who break those kinds of laws know they are in the wrong. But malum prohibitum matters are different. Normal people just perform a mental calculus about how likely they actually are to get caught, and when they recognize that the state is in no position to catch them, they commonly just ignore those kinds of laws and do as they like.
People who get bent out of shape because somebody crossed the border illegally to come here to do honest work are crazy. They suffer from an excess of law worship.
Wake up and smell the coffee. There are something like 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country. This is exactly like guns. We are never going to go from door to door, searching through every innocent, law-abiding person’s house to confiscate all the guns. And we are never going to go door to door and round up 12 million, mostly honest and hard working people, then march them off, with women and children crying, at bayonet point to the cattle cars to be deported. Germany in the 1930s, the Soviet Union under Stalin, could pull off that kind of thing, but it is not in the American character.
I agree that we should not be providing welfare to illegal aliens, but straightening out our domestic politics and policies is our responsibility, not theirs.
Ever see my traditional memorial day posting? This country let my grandparents in. My grandparents were Roman Catholics (shudder!). They were Lithuanian, representatives of a people with a lot fewer ties (Thaddeus Kosciusko built West Point!) to American history and culture than the Mexicans, whose ancestors owned, settled, and explored what? 8 or 9 states before the first Anglo-Saxon ever set foot in them. What did the US get in return? They got labor in the coal mines, dangerous work that most Americans didn’t want to do, which labor played a key role in building industrial America and keeping the offices and homes in American cities lighted and heated for generations. America also got from my paternal grandparents three sons and one daughter who served in uniform during WWII.
If this country ever has another serious war, it will be damned glad it failed to deport all those illegal alien Hispanics, whose children will probably actually serve (unlike our privileged elite intelligentsia).
08 May 2013
Tolkien wrote Philomythus to Misomythus as a rejoinder to one [C.S. Lewis] who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though ‘breathed through silver’.
I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
Read the whole thing.
Hat tip to Vanderleun.
20 Jan 2013
Obama uses children as stage props as he signs his silly and pointless executive orders.
Dan Greenfield, in another of his intelligent essays, describes the national dynamic operating behind the current gun control debate.
The designated victim, like the ancient saint, is a martyr to a cause. And with the left, the cause is invariably really big government. The suffering of the saintly victims is monetized by the cause as unquestionable moral authority. The victims are designated, made famous and milked for their victimhood, and then the victimhood is bottled into white jars and shipped to Washington D.C.
Americans are suckers for a sob story. But a lot of them are also suckers for personal freedom. Whenever a bullseye is put on freedom for the greater good, two narratives battle it out for the soul of the country. “We have to fix this” and “Leave me alone.”
Think of We have to fix this” and “Leave me alone” as the devil and angel on the shoulders of every cartoon character for the last hundred years. “We have to fix this,” wears an earnest expression and her appearance is calculated to suggest nurse, teacher or PTA member, when in reality she’s usually an Ivy League grad with a lot of time spent in government and political advocacy and whose kids are raised by Elena from Guatemala, whose immigration status is that of Undocumented Democrat. …
The other figure on the shoulder is a familiar one. You can see him on the news talk shows where he shows up as the designated target. Usually he wears his best suit, combs his hair and comes prepared to explain why we shouldn’t give up our freedoms just because a California Senator has decided that this is her chance to create a lasting legacy over the bodies of dead children. …
But there’s still a great deal of visceral sympathy for “Leave it alone” from millions of Americans who have their privacy violated and their rights abridged by government officials every day. They like the thought of a little rebellion, even symbolic, and every time a gun ban is put on the table, they begin buying up the stock of sporting goods stores.
The ordinary Americans may have to account to the government for how he heats his home, mows his yard, feeds his hogs, fuels his car, teaches his kids, sells his crops and fixes his roof, but the 2nd allows him to hang on to the illusion that he is his own master and that at any moment an uprising can sweep away the petty bureaucrats who have their Vibrams on his neck. And maybe one day it can.
25 Feb 2012
Conservatives (really more accurately referred to as “liberals”) argue that the free market produces superior allocations of resources because of its natural access to superior information on supply and demand provided by the voluntary input of enormously large numbers of individual human beings. The free market consequently inevitably operates on the basis of better information than any possible small group of political leaders or experts can ever hope to possess. Beyond mere utility, the free market additionally has morality on its side. Human beings are morally entitled to exchange what is their own, whether goods, services, or currency, as they desire and think best. The alternative to freedom is always coercive force, and freedom is intrinsically morally better than coercion.
Progressives reject the free market, noting that it fails to make the idle prosperous, the incompetent and the unlucky successful, and the improvident and intoxicated equal in security and material success to the responsible and provident.
Since the free market never actually seems able to deliver heaven on earth, progressives proposed that government should intervene to establish a safety net to assure that no one, no matter how unlucky or ill-behaved, should be left without the necessities of human existence.
Progressives demand that we should all surrender some significant portion of our economic liberty and deliver control over the free market to government specifically because they believe that the rule of credentialed experts will deliver superior results.
The Progressive experiment, which has gone on for many decades now, has survived this long because of the capacity of capitalist enterprise to deliver prosperity and economic growth despite being shackled by ever-increasing levels of regulation and despite the diversion of substantial percentages of economic output to entitlements.
Our expert rulers, in reality, merely exchanged an ever-increasing slice of the entire economy for more political support. Their calculations were fraudulent and completely risible, burying information unfavorable to their ends, achieving balanced budgets by phony bookkeeping, and invariably relying on wildly optimistic projections to cause their plans’ mathematics to add up.
In good times, progressive experts have always spent more, added new programs, and constructed new bureaucratic empires, piling the promises for the future up to the stars. When the budget didn’t really add up, they simply placed their trust in the ability of the capitalist system to deliver enough growth, soon enough, to save them, and simply kicked the can of fiscal responsibility down the road to be dealt with later.
Now, of course, in both Europe and America, the music has finally stopped, the game is over. There is no more road to kick the can down. America and Europe have hit the point where the costs of government are dramatically impairing the free market’s ability to deliver prosperity and growth. The capitalist goose has been shaken and squeezed and strangled, but there is no increase in egg production occurring.
It seems perfectly evident to me that, if what the progressives believe, that the rule of scientifically trained experts can improve upon the results of the free market, those experts would have, in the course of all their training and elite education, encountered Chapter 41 of the Book of Genesis in which Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dream to mean that seven fat years will be followed in turn by seven lean years, and counsels Pharaoh to set aside a portion of his government’s revenues to cover future shortfalls during the seven lean year recession.
The current international economic crisis demonstrates vividly that contemporary progressive economic planning is not only inferior to free market results, it is decidedly inferior to Bronze Age Middle Eastern economic administration.
Essentially what has happened is that progressive establishment elites, those who claim the right to rule over all the rest of us on the basis of their superior wisdom, training, and credentials, have flown the Entitlement State airplane right into the ground. They wrecked the economies of a large number of nations by creating a crisis through market interference and mismanagement. They have issued too many promises and threaten to bankrupt their nation’s economies far into the future.
The current recession proves, once and for all, that the wise men of progressivism were never very wise at all, and that their claim of a right to overrule liberty and the free market on the basis of superior wisdom and morality is not well-founded.
When you steer the cart off the road, you don’t get to take the wheel again and continue driving. It is time for a change of driver.
30 Jan 2012
John Gast, American Progress (and other titles), 1872, most frequently seen in chromolithograph form inside cigar boxes.
Walter Russell Mead starts a new insightful essay which argues that the Progressive, Blue State-politics ideas revolving around suburbia, a manufacturing economy, a constantly-expanding regulatory regime and welfare state pertain to rapidly vanishing world, destined to follow the Indians and the buffalo, and the family farm and homestead into America’s past.
The frustration and bitterness that fills American politics these days reflects the failure of our current social, political and economic institutions and practices to deliver the results that Americans want and expect. It’s comparable to the frustration and fear that swept through the country in the late 19th and early 20th century as the first American dream – that every family could prosper on its own farm – gradually died….
Our political battles today reflect the same kinds of frustrations we saw in the old populist era. Many cannot fathom another and “higher” form of the American Dream beyond the old crabgrass utopia. They want to turn back the clock and restore the old system because they don’t know of anything else that will work. …
It is, of course, a very similar situation today. The forces ripping up our old social model are too powerful to beat. That is not because the rich bankers or global multinationals are engaged in a conscious conspiracy of rip-offs and oppression (though, frankly speaking, big business does sometimes engage in exactly that). It is because the forces ripping up the social model are deeply implanted in the nature of the economic system — and that system is a reflection of the propensities in human nature which we cannot and perhaps should not overcome.
There is another important similarity, one often overlooked in the pessimism, anger and anxiety provoked by the inexorable decline of the “blue social model” that shaped America in the 20th century — just as it was overlooked 100 years ago.
Read the whole thing.
05 Dec 2011
President Roosevelt with lion
President Obama’s hopes for reelection next November look pretty dim, as the latest poll shows hypothetical Republican nominee Newt Gingrich winning 45% to 43% over the incumbent months before the campaign has actually started.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Barack Obama had been planning to emulate Harry S. Truman and run a populist campaign, coming from behind by running against a “do nothing Congress.” But the Truman strategy has not been working. Democrat advisors are urging the president to adopt a different predecessor as his model.
The White House: “On Tuesday, … President Obama will travel to Osawatomie, Kansas where he will deliver remarks on the economy. The President will talk about how he sees this as a make-or-break moment for the middle class and all those working to join it. He’ll lay out the choice we face between a country in which too few do well while too many struggle to get by, and one where we’re all in it together – where everyone engages in fair play, everyone does their fair share, and everyone gets a fair shot. Just over one hundred years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt came to Osawatomie, Kansas and called for a New Nationalism, where everyone gets a fair chance, a square deal, and an equal opportunity to succeed.”
BACKSTORY FROM ALEX BURNS: “Last Sunday on ‘Meet the Press,’ historian Doris Kearns Goodwin urged President Obama to emulate Teddy Roosevelt in organizing his campaign around the theme of ‘a square deal, fundamental fairness” in America.
Apart from the spectacular incongruity of the wimp Obama trying to channel the Rough Riding, rifle-toting, lion-shooting presidential champion of the vigorous life, all this fantasy overlooks the fact that when Teddy finally slipped a cog and went all Progressive and Bolshie on us, he was rejected by his own party and wound up playing only the destructive role of Third Party candidate and spoiler, delivering the election of 1912 to his own enemy, Woodrow Wilson.
“The New Nationalism” went down to defeat a century ago, just as its recrudescence is going to be defeated come next November.
The real mystery is why reactionaries clinging to 19th century visions of collectivist statism and welfare state utopias built upon the rule of scientific experts are allowed in the 21st Century to refer to themselves as “Progressives.” They are about as progressive as the contraptions described in the novels of Jules Verne. Their political philosophy is as advanced as gas domestic lighting, horse-drawn cabs, and parlor pump organs.
And everything they advocate has been tried already, in Soviet Russia and in Hitler’s Germany, in Fascist Italy and Peronist Argentina, in post-war Britain (where food rationing continued until 1954), and by a succession of socialist governments in Britain and on the Continent. Socialism, centralized planning, the corporate state, cradle-to-the-grave welfare safety nets have all been tried and they have always failed.
The real question ought to be: when will “progressives” catch up intellectually to the liberal political ideas of the US framers?
08 Jul 2011
Walter Russell Mead discusses the failure of the political program of the Progressive haute bourgeois elite to leave room in its urban paradises for the unskilled poor to make a living (except by bussing tables).
The bien-pensant gentry politics that dominates political discussion in respectable circles has lost touch with the realities of American life and no longer really comprehends the issues at stake. To some degree this impoverished policy conversation reflects the declining financial and intellectual firepower of the private sector labor movement — itself a consequence of the automation driven transformation of American and world manufacturing. The “clean” wing of progressive politics has almost entirely driven the “smokestack” wing out of business, so that liberal policy discussions tend to revolve around quality of life issues primarily of interest to the upper middle class. …
“Progressive” policy now increasingly means policy that benefits genteel upper middle class liberals and public sector government workers; the resulting mix of complex and poorly applied regulations, high costs and high taxes throttles the only kind of job creation that could offer most inner city residents a feasible step up.
Read the whole thing.
06 Jul 2011
Ed Feulner says our current situation reminds him of one of the great moments of television history.
Twenty-five years ago, Geraldo Rivera hosted a greatly hyped TV special called “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.” It still stands as one of the highest-rated programs in television history.
On the ballyhooed night, cameras crept through the tunnel to the vault. There, on live TV, workers pulled down the concrete wall. The dust settled, and the cameras peered inside. And what did spellbound viewers behold? A pile of dirt, a few empty gin bottles and a discarded stop sign. Such were the treasures in Al Capone’s vault.
A quarter-century later, this serves as a wonderful metaphor for the grand project of progressivism. Since the dawn of the 20th century, progressives have foretold the blessings they would deliver. Ordinary citizens lack the wits to govern themselves, they said, so let’s put an elite cadre of progressive managers on the case. Give them power, and they soon would have things humming – a chicken in every pot, a Chevy in every garage.
When progressives gained power, they served us the New Deal and Social Security, followed by helpings of the Great Society and Medicare/Medicaid. Now they’re jamming the Obama smorgasbord down our throats – Obamacare, bailouts, stimulus packages, Government Motors and “quantitative easing,” a.k.a. printing money.
That isn’t all. Far from it. For decades, public-sector labor unions harnessed progressivism’s spread-the-wealth creed to extract lavish contracts from government. Workers won guarantees of lifetime health care and generous pensions, often without having to contribute a penny from their own above-market wages.
But instead of simmering in their progressive pots, the chickens are flocking home to roost. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke and, if not reformed, will soon devour the entire federal budget, chickens and all.
Read the whole thing.
13 Jun 2011
Walter Russell Mead mixes his Animal kingdom metaphors, but nonetheless delivers another important essay, arguing (from a position sympathetic to Progressivism) that the Progressive political movement has passed through a natural life cycle into the final stage in which it has become sclerotic and destructive.
..Fannie Mae represents a special problem for the Democratic Party and Democratic ideas. It is not just a vitally important institution led by prominent Democratic figures and part of a broader Democratic patronage network; Fannie Mae is one of the original New Deal institutions and the vision it was intended to serve stands at the heart of the concerns of the Democratic Party of the 20th century.
The fall of Fannie Mae is bigger than just another politicos run wild scandal. It stands as one of several signs that our current way of life is reaching its limits and that big changes are on the horizon. The Fanniegate debacle tells us that the progressive ideal is in the process of jumping the shark.
Jumping the shark, as many readers know, is an expression from the wonderful world of TV. When the original premise of a show has gone stale, producers try to recapture audience interest by putting familiar characters in outlandish settings where strange things happen to them — notoriously, when Fonzie literally jumped over a shark as Happy Days moved into its sunset years. When something jumps the shark, the death spiral has become irretrievable; the show has nowhere to go but down.
The progressive ideal of the last 100 years is reaching that point. In its day the progressive ideal was a revolutionary and even a noble one. A bureaucratic and professional elite would mediate social conflict between rich and poor, improving the lives of the poor while engineering the best possible administrative solutions to pressing social problems. Keynesian macroeconomic management would ensure lasting prosperity; progressive taxation would spread the benefits of prosperity as widely as possible. Levels of education would rise as more and more Americans spent more and more years in school.
Progressivism held out the hope that capitalism, democracy and history itself could all be tamed by competent professional management. Victorian capitalism had been brutal, disruptive, competitive. Society became more unequal even as living standards gradually rose. Democracy was irresistible, but the masses were uneducated. The modern progressive era was born at times of great violence and upheaval. World War One, the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, World War Two, the invention of nuclear weapons and the start of the Cold War: it was against this background that progressives sought to turn modern life into something safe and tame.
I cannot blame four generations of progressive intellectuals for trying to make life a little less brutal and unpredictable, nor should we overlook the successes they had. Nevertheless, the Fonz has left the building; the progressive paradigm today can no longer serve as the basis for sound national policy. …
The problem today is that we are looking not just at one or two government programs that have succumbed to elephantiasis or turned into sharks; the progressive complex of social and economic policy as a whole has reached this point. Today many of our New Deal and Great Society programs are either elephants or sharks. They either lead us to misallocate scarce resources in ineffective ways or they threaten us with ruin by becoming politically untouchable budget busters.
Progressivism itself, and not simply the individual government programs it spawns, is moving through the same cycle of life. The most urgent social problems that progressivism set out to solve have been dealt with. Child labor and lynch mobs are no longer common in the United States. The greatest natural and scenic treasures of the country are protected by the National Park system. Food is much less dangerous, buildings are better built, cars are safer, the air and water is in better shape and the charismatic megafauna (big interesting animals) have been saved from extinction. Many more people have much more access to education today than was true 100 years ago; ditto for lifesaving medical treatment.
The progressive vision morphed from Great White Hope and Great White Father into Great White Elephant over the years. Early progressives picked the low-hanging fruit; they addressed the most important problems that were most susceptible to progressive interventions. Increasingly they are left with more expensive, less effective approaches to big problems (like Obamacare) or the agenda moves from issues of great moral and political significance like equal rights for African-Americans to less consequential issues like wider social acceptance of the transgendered. To raise the percentage of young Americans attending college from 2 percent to 20 percent is a significant achievement; to extend it from 40 percent to 60 percent will likely cost much more and accomplish much less in terms of raising social productivity.
We now see the progressive agenda dealing with issues like high speed rail, where the gains are so small and the rationale are so weak from the beginning that the program is a white elephant before it is fully set up.
The fierce commitment of progressive lobbies today to dysfunctional institutions and programs has brought matters to a crisis stage; the progressive legacy is morphing from white elephant to shark. Fierce attacks on anyone seeking to reform dysfunctional institutions combine with unreasoning devotion to unsustainable entitlements. “Progressives” today are too often grimly determined to achieve two incompatible ends: an indefinite expansion of entitlements and benefits on the one hand — and the preservation and even the extension of inefficient organizations and methods on the other.
Read the whole thing.
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