|December 30, 2015 — Yonathan Amselem
Progressives are often good people with good intentions. However, modern Progressivism has evolved into something so shapeless and amorphous as to amount to little more than a belief in “things that sound nice.” Mainstream Progressives have done an abysmal job of outlining precisely, in their view, the proper role of government and what (if any) limiting principle(s) apply to the state as a whole.
Everything Is Now a Taxpayer-Funded “Right”
Problems with today’s leftism begin with the ideology’s conception of “rights.” In the common laissez-faire view, rights are universal because they do not impose a duty on others to act positively on our behalf. Simply put, the proper view of human rights is that they prohibit us from initiating coercion against others.
Moreover, not only are the rights universal, but they are inherent to being human. To argue that the state confers these rights suggests that the state, through whatever “legitimate” institutions it may possess, can also take them away. This is an unacceptable possibility in a society of free people.
Modern Progressivism, however, has so warped the entire nature of rights as to turn almost any desired good or service into a right.
In this view, private employers refusing to subsidize birth control purchases by employees are violating a woman’s “right” to birth control. Business owners with religious convictions about homosexuality are denying “rights” by refusing to bake cakes for homosexual couples. Offering someone a job that pays wages below some arbitrary federal or state mandated minimum is now an act in violation of a “labor right.”
A service once voluntarily offered to the public is now a duty enforced by the violent arm of the state.
The list of our newfound rights is almost endless, but ten conversations with ten different Progressives will yield ten different sets of absolute rights. Perhaps the only common thread among them all is the demand that the state coerce all members of society into paying for all the goods and services to which we now have a “right.”
A Plea for More Precise Language
Pitching a wish list of other people’s property naturally requires a total deformation of the English language. The left has recently adopted many vague, imprecise, but passionate words into their lexicon.
“Equality,” “social justice,” “appropriation,” “racism,” “climate justice,” “micro-aggressions,” and many other terms referencing broad, nebulous concepts are now battle cries for stuff.
In practice, being “for” something like social justice means to be for just about anything and against just about anything! Do any two people have the same idea about what social justice means?
Groups as diverse as American universities, the Green Party, Italian Fascists, and even the American Nazi party share a commitment to “social justice.” This is not a minor point — expressing a vague set of guiding principles means that almost all government objectives will be legitimate, no matter the destructive means used to achieve those professed ends. Much like Progressive “rights,” terms like “social justice” can be used to justify the overwhelming majority of government action.
The Only Principle Is Faith in the Power of the State
As vague and misty as most modern leftist ideals can be, they do share one solid, bedrock principle: the need for continuous expansion of the government’s role in our lives. The government’s heavy handed regulation of our industries has imposed unbelievable barriers and costs to the supply of goods and services. No matter that this overhead hurts the poorest among us the most, to the Progressive, these costs are necessary in order to ensure we are protected from “greed” or “racism” or sexism” or “wage injustice” or whatever word-clothing that particular government expansion merits. The goal of the policy is vague therefore the government impediment will last indefinitely. The crusade will never end.
Meanwhile, the trillions of dollars spent yearly on welfare programs have done astoundingly little to improve the economic outcomes of the poor since the 1960s. Not even Karl Marx could have imagined a program of wealth extraction and transfer as large (in real terms) as that of the United States government. Yet, poverty rates for African Americans and Native Americans (two groups many of these programs were specifically intended to help) have been stagnant since President Johnson’s War on Poverty began.
The government’s intervention into our financial markets, healthcare system, education establishment and other industries has created structural disorder and price confusion. Bailouts, mandates, licensing laws, arbitrary restrictions, taxes on capital, massive monetary expansions, allotments of unwarranted credit, and other gargantuan government schemes have destroyed the natural channels of capital flows. Costs for even the most basic medical treatments have skyrocketed, another housing and stock bubble is in the horizon, and the federal student loan program has created millions of worthless degrees and a mountain of debt. The Progressive is un-phased by the government’s history of failure because he or she is certain that their vague principals simply require more action by our leaders. If we will only give the state and its army of foot soldiers more tax dollars and more power, the problem will surely go away.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.