Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

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24 February 2010

What is Progressivism?

"progressivism." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (24 Feb. 2010).

1 : the principles or beliefs of progressives
3 usually capitalized : the political and economic doctrines advocated by the Progressives
4 : the theories of progressive education -- contrasted with essentialism

OK, that is not very helpful.  So far we know it is some set or sets of principles or beliefs and the progressives who hold these principles or beliefs would like to think they represent some form of progress.  But, the principles and beliefs are apparently defined by those who are progressives.  Who on earth are they?

5 often capitalized : of, relating to, or constituting a political party advocating or associated with the principles of political progressivism

Whoa!  Is this circular or what?  Apparently Progressives do not want to have any limits placed upon their beliefs by anything we could legitimately call principles, or they do not wish to name their principles.  If they had principles, those could be defined, but there may be reasons why they do not want them to be defined.  Arbitrary beliefs cannot be defined and they have an advantage in being very flexible.  Today Progressives believe in minimum wage laws, but if the labor unions were to decide tomorrow that they do not like minimum wage laws, then the principle of minimum wages is tossed aside with no problem.  Today they want to reward the trial lawyers with many extraordinary awards of punitive damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, but if the trial lawyers fail to deliver enough political contributions, why then the Progressive is free to believe in tort reform, at least if the insurance companies give them more political contributions for the purpose than the trial lawyers do.

How marvelous it is to be assured that you are for progress and you are free to believe in anything you wish to believe in.  How confining it is to actually be a man of principle.  How much more freedom one has by being a woman without principles.  It is so much more practical to have no principles.  It is great to be a pragmatist and an opportunist.  Today, it is good to advocate alternative energy development by government subsidies and mandates and high fossil fuel prices, but if the ground falls out from under the catastrophic man-made global warming alarm story and the People wake up to the foolish economics of alternative energy and balk at the high cost of fossil fuels under Progressive controls, well the Progressives can simply change their beliefs to some other vague and not-yet-understood to be unsound program, which sounds plausibly like progress.

When Obama campaigned to become President, he kept saying over and over that he was for change.  Indeed, he is.  He wants to diminish the role of Capitalism and increase the role of government.  He wants to increase the central planning of government and take away the individual decisions that characterize the free markets of the private sector.  He wants to diminish those few restrictions on government power still recognized as being required by our Constitution and replace them with a more powerful Presidency and Congress.  He wants the President and Congress to have more control over the People.  These are the only changes for which he and the Progressives consistently stand.

There is a remaining program for change, however.  That program has no principles to guide it and it has no defining characteristic, except that it is a constantly changing program of claims which vaguely sound to many people as though the Progressives are trying to improve our society in some collective sense.  In fact, the particular claims are not important.  They are just whatever seems to motivate some people to back the Progressives themselves for a period of time.  The Progressives figure out what increase in government power can be used to buy the votes of a block of voters and they find a rationale for that program.  The rationale can be very flimsy and can be understood to be wrong by those who have expertise in the given area.  For instance, the Progressive is for those minimum wage laws that increase unemployment among the young and the handicapped and in the more remote rural areas of the country, proclaiming that a man must support his wife and children, so minimum wage must allow for that.  Never mind that minimum wage jobs are usually held only by those in training and who are very poorly educated.  These people will simply not be hired at all as the minimum wage is raised.  Keeping them out of jobs is hardly a good change in keeping with progress, but it is a favored program of the Progressives.

Another favored change with the Progressives is union card check.  This program is such a blatant travesty that little rationale is even offered for it.  No one wants this except union leaders and those politicians who expect they will get larger donations from the unions as the unions increase the number of poor workers who have to give union leaders union dues.  The change is to deprive employees of a secret ballot allowing them to determine who will represent them in wage negotiations.  Who on earth would want that, except the party of Progressives who only want it because they want more money to use in elections to gain more government power to gain more control over the People.

It is clear that it is not quite the case that Progressives have no principles.  They do have one principle.  They stand for more government power so the government can have more control over the lives, bodies, property, income, character, and actions of the People.  Some of those Progressives simply want the power of being in control, while others delude themselves with thinking that once they, the college-educated elitists usually, are in control, they will somehow use their power to do good things for the rabble, the trailer trash, the NASCAR fans, those who cling to their guns, religion, and Constitution, and the uneducated.

There are problems with believing this rationale for seeking power to do good.  One problem is all the harm they do to gain the money to gain the power.  Another is the pretense that these elitists know the lives and experiences of the peasants well enough to be able to figure out what is good for them when the Progressive has finally gotten his hands wrapped firmly around the levers of power and no longer has to buy the votes of those who do not care so deeply as the Progressive good souls do.  Another problem is that after decades of fighting to attain the power of government by being an opportunist looking for more power at every turn and dealing with unsavory union leaders and trial lawyers, the well-intended Progressive is very likely to become damaged goods.

Some would claim that the Progressive wants a redistribution of income so that the differences in income and wealth among the People are minimized.  There is usually a claim among the Progressives that they stand for this.  But, when they have exercised power in the U.S., their actions have rarely been consistent with such an idea being taken as a principle.  They have instead been more about picking winners and losers in our society.  Sure, they want high income taxpayers to have high tax rates, but they also want farmers, ethanol refiners, union leaders, trial lawyers, accountants, alternative energy producers, bankers, recyclers, government contractors, and others who are politically connected to have high incomes through subsidies, mandates, and make-work programs.  Meanwhile, they pile on the taxes and while many of these are aimed at the rich or better off, most of those high taxes are passed on to those who need the products and services produced by the more productive people in our society.  These people tend to be those with high incomes and/or great wealth.

In practice, the one single principle of Progressivism is a desire for government to have more power so it will have greater control over the People, while the college educated elite control the government.  Now, our colleges have long been controlled by the Progressives and such jobs as those in publishing are similarly mostly controlled by Progressives.  It is not at all surprising that Merriam-Webster did not name the principle that gives meaning to the words Progressive or Progressivism.  Naming that principle is not helpful to the goals of the Progressives.  It must be kept a bit hidden.  The Progressive is against allowing the individual to choose his own values and to manage his own life in accordance with his freely chosen values.  He is against the Constitution, because that limits the powers of government.  He is against the free market and the freedom of choice that individuals find in the private sector.  But, he is loathe yet to tell us that he is against the individual and his rights.

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