What is progressivism?

by on August 7, 2009 at 6:40 am in Political Science | Permalink

Arnold Kling asks this question, so I thought I'd try a stab at it, but trying to cast progressivism in the best possible light.  Of course my answer is not exclusive to Arnold's, as we might both be right about the elephant.  From an outsider's perspective, here is my take on what progressives believe or perhaps should believe:

1. There exists a better way and that is shown by the very successful polities of northwestern Europe and near-Europe.  We know that way can work, even if it is sometimes hard to implement. 

2. Progressive policies offer more scope for individualism and some kinds of freedom.  Greater security gives people a greater chance to develop themselves as individuals in important spheres of life, not just money-making and risk protection and winning relative status games. 

3. Determinism holds and tales of capitalist meritocracy are an illusion, to be kept only insofar as they are useful.

4. The needs of the neediest ought to be our top priority, as variations in the well-being of other individuals are usually small by comparison, at least in the United States.

5. U.S. policy is not generally controlled by egalitarian interests,  So it is doing "God's work" to push for such an egalitarian emphasis at the margin.  At the very least it will improve the quality of discourse, even if the U.S. never actually arrives in "progressive-land."

6. Limiting inequality will do more to check bad governance than will the quixotic libertarian attempt to limit the size of government.

7. Skepticism about the public sector is by no means altogether unwarranted, yet true redistributive programs are possible and they can work and be politically popular; we even have some here in the United States.

8. We should support free trade, more immigration, and more foreign aid, but the nation-state will remain the fundamental locus for redistribution.  That means helping the poor at home more than abroad; a decision to do otherwise would destroy political equilibrium and make everyone worse off.

9. State and local governments are fundamentally to be mistrusted (recall segregation) and thus we should transfer more power to the federal government, which tends to be bluntly and grossly egalitarian, when it manages to be egalitarian at all.  That is OK.

10. The United States has to struggle mightily to meet the progressive standards of western Europe and we should not equate the two regions in terms of their operation or capabilities.  Yet there is an alternative strand in American history, if not always a dominant one, showing that progressive change is possible.  Think Upton Sinclair and Martin Luther King and the organizers of early labor unions. 

11. The evidence on economic growth is murky and so it is not clear that doing any of this carries much of a penalty in terms of future growth.  In some regards it will enhance the especially beneficial sides of economic growth, even if it does not boost growth overall.

In due time I'll be writing more systematically about why those views are not, on the whole, my own.  But not today!

It would be interesting to see a progressive try to sum up an intelligent version of libertarianism.

C August 7, 2009 at 7:19 am

It would be interesting to see a progressive try to sum up an intelligent version of libertarianism.

Yes please!

jaduncan August 7, 2009 at 7:42 am

Thank you for a contribution based purely on the arguments in a public debate which is often somewhat defined by personal slurs. It’s appreciated.

aretae August 7, 2009 at 7:47 am

I think your ideas are good and basically true, it does seem that you’re answering a different question than Arnold.

He is trying to find (at least in his first two posts in this thread here and here) a fundamental core to the progressive (and libertarian and conservative) position(s). You are describing the (modern) results of the progressive position. I think that from the conclusions you bring, you might be able to backwards-wise arrive at a core, though.

Indeed, I’m wrote an direct answer to Arnold’s question about cores…Casting progressivism in what I (libertarian) think is a fair and good light here. And I believe that it would comport well with your description here.

Finnsense August 7, 2009 at 8:03 am

This is a good effort at understanding some of the views of progressives. What I’m not sure about is the emphasis on the size and power of government. I don’t think there’s an essential optimism about the efficiency of government. It’s really just more that somehow we need to get some of the important resources from the rich to the poor (because we believe in a basic quality of life for all and some kind of stab at equality of opportunity) and we haven’t come up with a better way than government acting as the intermediary. If there is a better way then I don’t think most progressives would be against it.

Filip August 7, 2009 at 8:14 am

Let me rephrase those, from an insider’s perspective (sorry for the allcaps, but your comment section doesn’t allow formatting):

1. There exists a better way, WE DON’T KNOW IF IT WILL WORK AND WE DON’T TAKE THE REALITY OF CERTAIN COUNTRIES AS EQUIVALENT TO OUR IDEALS.

2. Progressive policies offer more scope for individualism and ALL kinds of freedom. Greater security gives people a greater chance to develop themselves as individuals in important spheres of life, not just money-making and risk protection and winning relative status games.

3. Determinism IS BONKERS YET tales of capitalist meritocracy are an illusion TO BE TURNED INTO REALITY. EGALITARIAN IDEALS AREN’T BY DEINITION INCOMPATIBLE WITH MERITOCRACY.

4. The needs of the neediest ought to be our top priority, EVEN IF variations in the well-being of other individuals are NOT small by comparison.

5. U.S. policy is not generally controlled by egalitarian interests. To push for such an egalitarian emphasis at the margin HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH “GOD’S WORK”. At the very least it will improve the quality of discourse, even if the U.S. never actually arrives in “progressive-land.”

6. Limiting inequality IS NOT, BY DEFINITION, INCOMPATIBLE WITH AN attempt to limit the size of government. JUST AS CONSERVATIVE POLCIIES DO NOT, BY DEFINITION, PRODUCE A LIMITED GOVERNMENT (GO BACK IN MEMORY A FEW YEARS/MONTHS).

7. Skepticism about the public sector is by no means altogether unwarranted, yet true redistributive programs are possible and they can work and be politically popular; we even have some here in the United States.

8. We should support free trade, more immigration, and more foreign aid, but the nation-state will remain the fundamental locus for redistribution. That means helping the poor at home more than abroad; a decision to do otherwise would destroy political equilibrium and make everyone worse off. AND WOULD BE PATERNALISTIC.

9. State and local governments are FUNDAMENTAL FOR TRUE DEMOCRACY BUT SHOULD BE CONSTRAINED BY THE power OF the federal government TO ENFORCE CIVIL LIBERTIES AND REDISTRIBUTION.

10. The United States has to struggle mightily to meet the progressive standards of western Europe and we should not equate the two regions in terms of their operation or capabilities. Yet there is an alternative strand in American history, if not always a dominant one, showing that progressive change is possible. Think Upton Sinclair and Martin Luther King and the organizers of early labor unions.

11. The evidence on economic growth MAY BE murky BUT THE INTUITIVE STARTING POINT IS THE FOLLOWING: WHEREAS EXTREMELY EGALITARIAN POLICIES DO UNDERMINE GROWTH THROUGH DISINCENTIVES FOR WEALTH CREATION, MODERATE EGALITARIAN POLICIES NOT ONLY CREATE AUTOMATIC STABILIZERS DURING PERIODS OF ECONOMIC DECLINE, BUT ALSO BOOST ECONOMIC GROWTH THROUGH ENHANCED EDUCATION.

capitalistimperialistpig August 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

Libertarianism:

(1)Doctrinaire faith that government is the only important threat to liberty.

(2)Ideology trumps science, fact and logic.

(3)Taxes are the greatest evil, except for;

(4)Collective ownership or control of anything.

(5)Subject to the above limitations, individual liberty is desireable.

(6)A tendency to attribute entirely bogus notions (e.g., 1,3, 9, and 10 of your list) to opponents.

Stan August 7, 2009 at 9:11 am

I’m a progressive, but I don’t feel envious of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and the young Henry Ford. They accomplished great things, and they deserve their wealth. I don’t think many progressives disagree. But I definitely feel that the CEO’s of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are overpaid relative to their Japanese counterparts, and the same is true to even a greater degree of the heads of many of our financial institutions. To my mind, Gramsci was right about the ability of the power elite to define the conventional wisdom. To me there is no valid economic reason for the present degree of American inequality.

When it comes to libertarians, I agree with points 1, 3, and 4 of the 8:41:24 post. I would also add a striking inability of libertarians to imagine themselves in the shoes of the other fellow, to which I attribute the kind of thinking that leads one to call people too poor to pay income tax as “lucky duckies”.

Andrew August 7, 2009 at 9:22 am

Thanks ‘pig, good effort. You especially nail #6.

Phil August 7, 2009 at 9:24 am

Progressivism is a fantasy, like Marxism it was promulgated by “deep thinkers”
who lacked the ability to see how their ideology would be appropriated by
those afflicted with powerlust

Libertarianism:

(1)Doctrinaire faith that government, especially insular administrators
is the way to secure order, prosperity and progress.

(2)Ideology trumps science, fact and logic.

(3)Taxes are the greatest good,

(4)Collective or administrative control of everything.

(5)Individual liberty is undesireable, and contrary to the collective good.

(6)A tendency to attribute malevolence or ignorance to the opponents of
your schemes, even if you are malevolent or ignorantfabricated: hence Frau Pelosi’s
comments about “swastikas” when in fact, she’s the facist.

eccdogg August 7, 2009 at 9:31 am

Very good post Tyler. I think it is always helpfult to try to paint someone you disagree with in the most charitable light. Most people Libertarians, Conservatives, and Progressives are well meaning and have something to add to the coversation.

By the way I am glad Liberals decided to switch to Progressive. I know they did it because they viewed Liberal as a tainted or bad word, but Progressive much better describes their views and doesn’t distort the classical meaning of Liberal.

“capitalistimperialistpig,

I don’t think you read the instructions. It said sum up an intelligent version. All you did was pee on an otherwise civil thread.”

And Stan chimes in to add his scent to the spot.

Paul August 7, 2009 at 9:33 am

Progressivism can work (depending on how you define “work”, I suppose) in small homogeneous nations that have more or less reached a progressive consensus. I don’t think it can work at all in the U.S. and I’m not sure it works all that well even in homogeneous countries. If your definition of “work” is that those progressive states plod along without deteriorating into economic and political basket cases then I guess I agree.

I also really have to quibble with this sentiment, “Greater security gives people a greater chance to develop themselves as individuals in important spheres of life, not just money-making and risk protection and winning relative status games.”

Up to a point, greater security promotes individual development. Too much security promotes laziness and hedonism, which seems to be what a lot the European countries you cite have descended into. It just seems to me that the progressive welfare state is far more soul-crushing than the U.S. system. I much prefer fending for myself than being taken care of and dictated to by nanny state bureaucrats.

Sean Cooksey August 7, 2009 at 9:37 am

@Nick

If equality of opportunity were the goal, affirmative action as it exists today would be opposed by progressives. I don’t believe that to be the reality.

E. Barandiaran August 7, 2009 at 9:47 am

Tyler,
Looking for progressives that have honestly attempted to provide new ideas or at least a modern restatement of old ideas, and after reading the appreciation of Jerry Cohen on Crooked Timber (yesterday you linked to it), I found that Cohen’s latest book –“Why Not Socialism?– will be released on August 23. On Amazon’s web page for this book I read the following:

Review
Why Not Socialism? very elegantly advances philosophical arguments that Cohen has famously developed over the past twenty years, and it does so in a manner that is completely accessible to nonphilosophers. The book brilliantly captures the essence of the socialist ethical complaint against market society. Why Not Socialism? is a very timely book.
(Hillel Steiner, University of Manchester )

Product Description
Is socialism desirable? Is it even possible? In this concise book, one of the world’s leading political philosophers presents with clarity and wit a compelling moral case for socialism and argues that the obstacles in its way are exaggerated.

There are times, G. A. Cohen notes, when we all behave like socialists. On a camping trip, for example, campers wouldn’t dream of charging each other to use a soccer ball or for fish that they happened to catch. Campers do not give merely to get, but relate to each other in a spirit of equality and community. Would such socialist norms be desirable across society as a whole? Why not? Whole societies may differ from camping trips, but it is still attractive when people treat each other with the equal regard that such trips exhibit.

But, however desirable it may be, many claim that socialism is impossible. Cohen writes that the biggest obstacle to socialism isn’t, as often argued, intractable human selfishness–it’s rather the lack of obvious means to harness the human generosity that is there. Lacking those means, we rely on the market. But there are many ways of confining the sway of the market: there are desirable changes that can move us toward a socialist society in which, to quote Albert Einstein, humanity has “overcome and advanced beyond the predatory stage of human development.”

End of quotation.

I’d appreciate it greatly if you can answer these two questions. First, to what extent Cohen’s ideas are relevant to what you think progressives should believe? Second, do you think that progressives can still sell their work because of their pointed criticism of market economies or because the alternative they propose makes people think that perfection is around the corner?

Ethan O. Waters August 7, 2009 at 9:54 am

The view of one reared in the Progressive Era:

“The Progressive is one who is in favor of more taxes instead of less, more bureaus and jobholders, more paternalism and meddling, more regulation of private affairs and less liberty.†

H.L. Mencken, 1926

Stephen August 7, 2009 at 10:06 am

Not discussed so far is what progressives believe about the use of police power domestically and military power internationally. As a non-progressive, I too am guessing at their beliefs:

1) Police and military powers are inherently “bad”. Threats can always be over-imagined, so we should starve these budget-busting beasts at a much lower level than they are funded now and take our chances.

2) The right of self-defense can only be exercised if the other guy shoots first, i.e., no pre-emption. The response must be proportionate and civilized (for example, they target and kill our civilians but we can’t do the same).

3) Social justice overrides concerns about effectiveness. The armed forces and police should include people who had previously been excluded from service, even at the risk of lowering “standards” many of which are bogus.

Stan August 7, 2009 at 10:09 am

I plead guilty. I really think a) that the high degree of American inequality can’t be explained on purely economic grounds, and b) that libertarians in general do not feel that helping the unfortunate should be a high priority for society. For those of you who think this is pissing on an otherwise intelligent discussion, please explain why. And to add to my sins, I am unaware of any well-known libertarians (with the exception of Andrew Sullivan, who defies classification) who are concerned with political liberty except as it applies to gun rights. For example, if you can think of a libertarian who protested the Bush administration view of habeas corpus and the Sixth Amendment, please name names.

Seward August 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

Stan,

…b) that libertarians in general do not feel that helping the unfortunate should be a high priority for society.

There is to my knowledge a large body of work done by libertarians on mutual aid societies, etc.

For example, if you can think of a libertarian who protested the Bush administration view of habeas corpus and the Sixth Amendment, please name names.

Reason magazine, various publications, podcasts, etc. of the CATO Institute, were chock full of criticisms of the Bush administrations policies regarding civil liberties, habeas corpus, etc. I suggest you consult their archives.

Seward August 7, 2009 at 10:19 am

1. There exists a better way and that is shown by the very successful polities of northwestern Europe and near-Europe. We know that way can work, even if it is sometimes hard to implement.

Yeah, they are very successful if by that one means that one is ok with permanent roughly double-digit unemployment.

derek August 7, 2009 at 10:24 am

Except for #1, I am inclined to subscribe to all of these beliefs, which I suppose would make me a progressive.

Q: Will I ever get to vote for someone who agrees with me, or should I continue to vote for Al Sharpton as a protest?

Noah Yetter August 7, 2009 at 10:48 am

#7 sticks out as being obviously and totally false. The rest seem a fair and even-handed characterization, moreso than most Progressives deserve.

bedmondson August 7, 2009 at 11:00 am

As a (I prefer) Liberal, I would describe Libertarians as simply people who believe in the free market as almost an omnipotent being that can ultimately lead to the greatest amount of prosperity and freedom to all. They believe any interference at all my a government entity causes the markets to not do their work properly is therefore the cause of all of our past and present day ilks from high health care costs to the war in Iraq.

Anonymoose August 7, 2009 at 11:02 am

As a progressive, I have a few disagreements with the notions of progressivism expressed above, most strongly with #’s 3 and 9.

With the former it’s not that we don’t believe capitalist meritocracy can work, there are clearly examples of it working and even in the aggregate a number of those born in the bottom quartile “make it”- it’s that it’s a fundamentally untrustworthy method of developing an egalitarian starting point. We don’t seek to end a capitalist system, we’re hardly communists, we simply seek to ameliorate it’s very real side effects.

With the latter, I think your reasoning might be considered insulting. Progressives as a whole have little brief against many state and local governments. For example, you don’t see us railing against Massachusetts or San Francisco. Inasmuch as we dislike devolving power via federalism, it’s an efficiency argument based upon economies of scale, and an effort to deal with non-optimal systems such as school funding that rely largely on local/municipal tax funding and balanced budget requirements that cause the states to cyclically cut their budgets and lay off state employees in a downturn rather than provide countercyclial supports for those affected by the downturn. Add in issues of parochialism (the reason why we don’t say “help the whole world” in #8) and it doesn’t do as well to work for most people as the admittedly flawed federal system does. From my experience it’s less that we dislike the state/local governments, it’s that we see the federal government as being able to do more simply because of its construction.

I also think that lumping the entirety of Western Europe/social democratic Europe, is probably a mistake. The Swiss are not the Swedes, who are not the Dutch, who are not the Spanish, who are not the Italians, who are not the English, who are not the French. And I doubt many American progressives would see as their end goal a system that looks exactly like one of those in western europe- for one thing you’d have a hard time convincing any of us we want to give up the bill of rights.

rob August 7, 2009 at 11:09 am

at least one view of the elephant is how progressives position themselves against conservatives.

we are not against the free market, but against the extremist view that an absolutely free market is the best of all possible worlds.

we dont position ourselves against libertarians as much as against the flag waving, bible thumping conservatives.

to quote ambrose bierce: “a liberal is someone who wont take his own side in an argument”.

Sean August 7, 2009 at 11:17 am

@Anonymoose

A deeper explanation than “you don’t get it” would likely make one take you a bit more seriously. I’m afraid my misunderstanding is not so clear for me to have any idea what you’re talking about.

@Seward

Your point is a legitimate one, but I think it speaks more to the counterproductive force of incumbents in industries who use those licensing tactics under the guise of consumer protection as a way to insulate themselves from potential future competitors. This is why we have barber licenses and why dental hygenists cannot work independently.

Tom August 7, 2009 at 11:17 am

“But I definitely feel that the CEO’s of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler are overpaid relative to their Japanese counterparts, and the same is true to even a greater degree of the heads of many of our financial institutions.”

I agree, but as a conservative/libertarian I recognize that, unless I own stock in these companies, its none of my business.

Anonymoose August 7, 2009 at 11:21 am

Posting before coffee is a bad thing: “most Europeans” in “most Europeans are employed by small business than we Americans” should read “comparatively more Europeans.”

JRW August 7, 2009 at 11:27 am

I agree with Sean regarding affirmative action. The way some progressives use “equal opportunity† is a little Orwellian, seeing as it means that certain people (i.e., white males) are NOT going to be given the same chances as other people. The intent behind such policies is to produce a more equal outcome (i.e., less inequality between people of different races and genders), which is why I think that equality of outcome is at the core of progressivism (whether it be helping poor people or protecting the rights of women and minorities).

I lean progressive on many issues, but I agree with Sean that focusing on SES as opposed to race or gender is a better way—philosophically and in terms of producing better outcomes—of helping out the less well off, including those who may have been affected by past discrimination.

Barkley Rosser August 7, 2009 at 11:39 am

Regarding the Progressivism list, I simply see nothing about a belief in determinism there. That would be Marxism.

Regarding the Libertarianism list, I do not see #2 as a principle of it at all, rather something that Christian Right
fanatics indulge in, some of whom also claim to be “libertarians,” even though they are very eager to have the government
forbid gays from marrying or women from having abortions, among other such things.

forager August 7, 2009 at 11:42 am

“Equal in our misery.” I think my primary disagreement with “Progressives” (what a loaded term) is their insistence that the present is vastly more important than the future. I don’t think there is any disagreement that tomorrow you could take half my salary to distribute among the poor, and they would be better off than in a free market system (and I could still live decently). The problem is that if you take this system and extend it 20 or 30 years, we will all be worse off (see China’s transformation).

I also see economic growth as somewhat separate from life/society. Our economy is like a big machine. Things like computers, medicine, and cars are not just “there” as your right. They are the result of hard work and innovation. It seems only fair that those who contribute the most to the system should receive comparatively more benefits. You rub my back, and I’ll rub yours. If you don’t want to contribute to the system, that is absolutely fine, but you should not expect to be given a handout just because you were born in the US instead of Somalia. Now, with that being said, I think we are wealthy enough that absolutely no one in the US should be starving or dying from a basic infection.

Honestly, whether I live or die from some drug or whether I have enough money to live comfortably makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. People have been starving, working like slaves, and all sorts of terrible things since the beginning of our existence. Only in the past couple hundred years have we begun to seriously address these issues. I get this feeling that “progressives” just want our economic progress to stop here (good enough, right?), but we have so much further to go. Just like it has always been, if you desire something, stand up and do anything you can to get it. In the long run, we’ll all be better off. We may all be dead, but our children won’t be.

Russell L. Carter August 7, 2009 at 12:12 pm

“It would be interesting to see a progressive try to sum up an intelligent version of libertarianism.”

“What I have, I keep.” originally by Dsquared. Or, for the version that Tyler is addicted to: “The status quo maximizes liberty, even for slaves.”

DavidS August 7, 2009 at 12:22 pm

@Nick wrote “Not so much equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity.”

Except that the only way to have equality of opportunity is to have equality of outcome in certain fundamentals such as education, nutrition, shelter, and health.

Michael Cain August 7, 2009 at 12:27 pm

“I think at its core, progressivism privileges equality of outcome over the benefits of the unfettered market. I think at its core, progressivism privileges equality of outcome over the benefits of the unfettered market.”

Close. Progressives believe that there should be a floor on the range of individual outcomes, and that unfettered markets are not capable of developing such constraints endogenously. Note that Hayek said essentially the same thing — that no one in a country as rich as the US should go without shelter or food or good health, and that the state had a role to play in delivering that. Progressives can (and do) disagree wildly on what the level of that floor should be and how to implement it.

Seward August 7, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Anonymoose,

You slander people, individuals that is, not abstractions like “the European model.”

As for corporate taxes, they are merely passed onto the rest of the population in some fashion or another; less investment, higher prices, less hiring, etc. I would also note that the U.S., unlike any other OECD country that I know of, actually favors small businesses by having a graduated corporate tax rate.

As for a .2% growth difference, that is actually pretty dramatic, particularly over the medium and long term. You do understand that GDP growth compounds, right?

Peter August 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm

The actual policies and positions of conservatives, libertarians, and progressives seem to drift over time. What I see as more fundamental is their moral philosophies. As I see it, libertarians see protecting people from being harmed by other people as the most important moral goal, and besides that people should be free to do whatever they want. Progressives believe that protecting people from being harmed by others is important, but not quite as important as fairness. Conservatives value protecting people from other people and fairness, but they also put a high value on keeping society morally pure, patriotism, and respect for existing institutions; their positions reflect tradeoffs among all of those.

The positions change, but the values driving the three groups stay the same.

Punditus Maximus August 7, 2009 at 1:06 pm

This is such a fundamentally decent summary of a reasonable strand of progressivism, one wonders how one can remain a libertarian if one grasps it.

You are right, however, that most progressives are incapable of articulating a positive version of libertarianism. I am certainly among that number. As always, the problem is that they laughed at Einstein, but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

Rob August 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm

The problem with my trying to sum up libertarianism is that I would cheat and quote a libertarian website.

@DG:

“Since it depends entirely on the assumption that taking from the rich to give to the poor reduces inequality, it would be utterly demolished by the opposite-most conclusion, that it didn’t reduce but increased inequality.”

True, but we don’t have to worry about agreement on the opposite-most conclusion. Thousands of civilizations will come and go before intelligent people agree on whether progressive taxes achieve their goals or not. The interpretation of economic data is an ideological Rorchach test: your interpretation is determined by your personality type. Take Krugman. Sure, someone can step up Gore-like and declare the science is clear and the debate is over…

Punditus Maximus August 7, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Stephen: re: police powers: Cities in Democratic-leaning states spend more on police per resident than cities in Republican-leaning states, controlling for crime rates. It is not the Progressive opinion that police should be deprived of funding; it is the conservative position.

Punditus Maximus August 7, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Joe Teicher — the concern is the power dynamic the disparate salaries reveal, not that people are making money. Progressives don’t care when A-Rod makes a quarter billion dollars, except in a vague sense.

It’s the combination of so many working people finding it so hard to get by with the extreme salaries of the highest ranking corporate officials. The implication is that the system is damaged.

josh August 7, 2009 at 1:47 pm

“the fact that progressive ideas have been repeatedly tested in multiple places and regularly found to be successful on every level.”

Crime in England has risen by a factor of 40 in the past century. Nearly 3/4 of African American children are born out of wedlock (only around 20% in 1960) and a staggering total will go on to be some combination of criminals or wards of the state. The same effect has been working its magic on Latin immigrants. All over the world nations built by the state dept. have evolved into brutal thugtatorships or sclerotic messes like Mexico. The only places “progressivism” seems to have decent outcomes are those countries which maintain substantial memes left over from feudal society. Every level? Please visit Baltimore, Cleaveland, or Detroit now.

Leigh Caldwell August 7, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Seward, FYI the UK also has a graduated tax rate though it has become a little less graduated recently).

eccdogg: I did try! (click the link on my name to see the list)

Josh: where does that 40-fold rise in crime stat come from? I can’t believe it.

Seward August 7, 2009 at 2:18 pm

The shorthand explanation for libertarianism can be found in the title of Leonard Read’s Anything That Is Peaceful. Of course, that leaves a lot for debate, but I think it is a good starting point.

Punditus Maximus,

…one wonders how one can remain a libertarian if one grasps it.

Pretty easily actually. It is a fairy tale.

…the fact that progressive ideas have been repeatedly tested in multiple places and regularly found to be successful on every level.

Such as the abysmal failure of public schools? What progressive ideas do not account for is actual, you know, competition; nor do they account for individual utility. They believe (quite wrongly) that utility can somehow be rationalized, added up, etc. by the state and then handed out by a bureaucrat via some process which determines your utility.

Seward August 7, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Zxcv,

Apparently they are sophisticated enough for you to comment on.

Sam Penrose August 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm

(I self-identify as progressive not Libertarian)

P: Contingent facts generally outweigh theory and models. If you want to make public policy in which the South matters, you must study its history and don’t need to sweat poli-sci too much. If you want to craft a health care policy (per Klein contra McArdle), read works of journalism and fact-centric studies, not general textbooks. “Individual” refers to a specific person with a name and a history.

L: Theory and models, especially economic models, have sweeping explanatory scope and ought to be your default intellectual tools. Of course you should read history and journalism, but they are furniture (even decoration), not foundation. “Individual” refers to any member of the class of humans in question.

P: Go deeper into this case. Bonus points for seeming superfluity of detail — you are turning an object into a subject, helping them be “heard.”

L: Extract structural features in common with other cases. Bonus points for counter-intuitive (but compelling) analytical leaps — you are turning messy contigency into an intellectual tool potentially useful to others.

P: Get published in a magazine.
L: Get published in a journal.

P: Talk to people involved.
L: Think.

P: Bottom-up.
L: Top-down.

(The MR crowd self-selects for people who may identify as P or (especially) L, but who have a diverse set of mental habits. In other words, don’t flame me ’cause you’re an L who is more sophisticated than portrayed by these L-points. I know that already.)

eccdogg August 7, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Sam I don’t think some of your points are too bad, but…

Do you really believe that McCardle does not read fact centric studies? Maybe I was just imagining all those links she provides.

It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which each side thinks they have the “facts” or empiricism on thier side. Each side chooses the facts they look at and how to interpret them. The truth is much more cloudy IMO (and probably unknowable).

Joe S. August 7, 2009 at 4:19 pm

As a card-carrying pinko, I’ll buy into your description. Except #9. Progressives are split here on subsidiarity, as am I. Remember, the basic progressive notion of consumer protection is that the Feds set the floor; the states set the ceilings.

Sam Penrose August 7, 2009 at 4:23 pm

@eccdogg: please reread the disclaimer at the end of my post — of course I don’t believe she doesn’t read fact-centric studies. I do think that Ezra’s take here:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/08/in_defense_of_experts.html

“There’s a strain of commentary that’s deeply hostile to subject-specific expertise. In my experience, this opinion is voiced with the most confidence by economists, who tend to believe that they have a theoretical framework for understanding most any issue.”

does get at something central to Libertarianism as I experience it here and elsewhere. Klein is making his point in the context of a dispute with McArdle, but it comes up in other places. An example would be the recent MR post defining overrated composers as those more listened to than written about.

Seward August 7, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Paul J. Reber,

Well, there is also advice like “no government.”

Jinchi August 7, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Wow. As a progressive I have to say I don’t agree with a single point on your list. Most of it reads as though you cribbed it from comments overheard at a Palin rally (Point number 1 is that we need to be like just like Europe? Seriously?)

Punditus Maximus August 7, 2009 at 6:14 pm

I do think that one major constraining factor with progressives discussing libertarianism is that I’ve never seen a definition of libertarianism put forward by a libertarian that another faction of libertarians did not denounce vociferously and in the most unequivocal terms.

Josh — thank you for posting your source. You may be interested to learn that the laws in England have changed between 1900 and 1997, as has the enforcement philosophy. Homicides per million, which don’t actually change in definition, show a much more reasonable variation, from 9.6 to 14.1. You also have to wonder how much of that rise is due to improved investigation and record-keeping in general. Anyone who has worked in vital statistics is well aware of how incomplete they are, even after WWII.

Doc Merlin August 7, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Here is my view on what progressivism means, warning I am a libertarian:

1) Educated experts are better at planning than market forces.
2) One purpose of a government is to ensure equality (the definition of this varies)
3) The other purpose is to ensure appropriate outcomes as defined by the experts.
4) Democracy must be maintained as it is the best to government’s behavior.
5) The right to own stuff needs to be carefully controlled by the state both for egalitarian purposes and so no one is harmed.

Ok, now modern Libertarianism:
1) The freedom is more important than the exact method for legislation
2) All rights are negative.
3) Initiation of coercion or fraud is bad, but defensive use is ok. (What exactly defense means varies a lot)
4) Government involvement in economic matters is inherently dangerous.
5) The right to own stuff is a right.

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