Category Archive 'Progressivism'
25 Feb 2012

Seven Fat Years and Seven Lean Years

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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

The Progressive Era Recedes Into the Past

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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

Obama Finds a New Reelection Model

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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.

Politico:

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

Progressivism and Urban Opportunity

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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

Al Capone’s Vault

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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

Progressivism Jumping the Shark

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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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