Leftists, in their own wordsby Robert
I am certainly no fan of progressive political theory, but it is instructive to know what, specifically, its proponents advocate. Fortunately, Washington Monthly’s blog, Political Animal (Kevin Drum), features a series of articles called The New Progressivism. The introduction of which reads in part:
Conservatives say they want to use choice (school vouchers, private accounts in Social Security) to shift power from government to individuals. We think that conservatives’ real aim is to shift more risk onto individuals in order to cut government, and that only liberals can deliver a choice revolution in government that people would actually want. But we also believe progressives should go a step further, with policies that shift power from corporations to individuals.
While clever, that type of rhetoric is very misleading. For
as Jefferson explained: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed…” The rights of which he spoke are life, liberty, [property] and the pursuit of happiness. That being the case, individuals posses the bulk of political power; a limited portion of which is merely lent to government, as delineated in the tenth amendment to the Constitution: The powers not delegated
to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.Therefore, it’s not as though political power belongs to government, as is implied by Drum.
The other bit of slippery verbiage in the introductory paragraph is the implication that “to shift more risk onto individuals in order to cut government” is somehow a bad thing. The truth is that with freedom comes risk; the cost of diverting risk from the individual to government is freedom itself, which is priceless. Additionally, there is the stated goal of formulating “policies that shift power from corporations to individuals”. On the surface this seems innocuous, for in a consumer-based market economy, individuals vote with their dollars and corporations ought not to be allowed to defraud the consuming public with impunity. But that’s not exactly what progressives mean by “shifting power from corporations to individuals”. Progressives see corporations (large and small) as a means to an end, i.e. corporations exist for the benefit of “the common good”, rather than to earn profits for investors. Think of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
One of the articles deals with Bush’s “ownership society”. In it, Paul Glastris attempts to show that choice is not as popular as one might think.
Americans love the idea of choice—in the abstract. But when faced with the actual choices conservatives present, they aren’t buying. The reason is that conservatives have constructed choices that fail to take human nature into account. People like to have choices but feel quickly overwhelmed when they lack the information or expertise to decide confidently, and they turn downright negative when the choices themselves seem to put what they already have at risk. Conservatives were bound to make these mistakes because their very aim has been to transfer more risks from government to individuals so that government’s size and expenditures can be cut. That’s not a bargain most Americans will accept. They like choice just fine, but they won’t trade security to get it.
Supposing, for the sake of argument, that human nature is risk averse, and that a majority would trade freedom for security. So what! The Constitution does not delegate to the government any authority to assume the ordinary risk of individuals. Furthermore, Constitutional protections of individual liberty are not (at least not legitimately) subject to popular vote…inherent rights are unalienable. Such rights not only inhere to those that cherish them, but also to those that would sell their freedom for
a type of servitude that masquerades as security.
Choice, then, can be a powerful tool to advance public ends as long as one ironic truth is recognized: People like having choice but often don’t like to choose.
This concept is at the center of a brewing movement within public-policy circles, one that Cass Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler of the University of Chicago have affectionately, if cheekily, dubbed “libertarian paternalism.” The idea is for government to shape the choices people have so that the natural human tendency to avoid making a decision works to the individuals’ and society’s advantage.
The paternalistic disposition of progressives, however well-intentioned, does not justify the immoral use of coercion that is inexorably linked to the implementation of entitlement programs—those that purport to help the helpless. That is, governments don’t run on sweetness and light; governments need funds, which are seized through force and/or the threat of force. And when laws are passed to benefit some at the expense of others, the liberty of all is diminished.
But the cost of progressive policies is not limited to lost liberty and the seizure of property and wealth. There are hidden costs as well, such as: higher unemployment due to the over-regulation of business (e.g. “living wage” laws, Kyoto Protocol, etc.), lessened purchasing power resulting from excessive tax rates and a general lack of motivation that stems from a disincentive to be self-reliant. After all, the government has—so the thinking goes—an endless reservoir of resources with which to supply one’s every need. This, of course, is belied by how the social democracies of Europe are fairing with their grand progressive experiment. And if leftists succeed, America will travel the same miserable path.