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Right about in the middle of Professor Wilfred McClay’s three-week Hillsdale course on his recently released book, The Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, he gives a two-part overview of early 20th-century progressivism. It struck me how current events reveal that the progressive mindset hasn’t changed much, and a slew of authors writing about the economic and social impacts of the Wuhan Flu are bolstering the case.
Progressives then and now view the life of society as systematized — or systematize-able. Just listen to a few minutes of New York Governor Cuomo’s recent press conference and count the number of times he says, “system.”
The private “system” has to work with the public “system,” hospitals within the public “system” coordinate, but private “system” hospitals (which he even calls “voluntary” unironically) work independently, and “we have to change that mentality.”
Who’s this “we” he’s talking about? Why, he means the government of course, and he’s not thinking it will be a “voluntary” change in mentality. He’s threatening to send out the NY National Guard to confiscate ventilators from Buffalo’s private “system” hospitals for use in New York City’s public hospital “system.”
@petergothgen). And he’s consulting with the best “experts” who only give him the best advice on how to systematically deal with the flu crisis. Here, we might want to note that during the miners’ strike of 1902, Theodore Roosevelt (our first progressive president) threatened to seize the coal mines and said, “To hell with the Constitution when the people want coal.”
Professor McClay says the early progressives were not socialists, but there seems to be little daylight between the progressive aim to turn currently private means of production and services into public utilities through consolidation and heavy regulation (making government the “senior partner” in every corporation), if not outright force, and the socialist ownership of same. It’s a smiley-faced socialism, at best.
And speaking of “consolidation,” Curtis Ellis gives a chilling account of the situation with ventilator production and sales in the U.S. in an article titled, The Chinese Communist Party and Its Discontents. The subtitle to his piece is, Unfortunately, the pandemic-inspired shutdown of the economy only threatens to further corporate consolidation in our economy. The short version on ventilators is that a small California company (Newport Medical Devices) had a government contract to produce its innovative, low-cost ventilators, but was bought out twice (first by Covidien (irony alert) and then by Medtronic) in a successful effort by the larger companies to protect their prices (3x to nearly 7x higher than Newport’s), avoid paying U.S. taxes, and “manage” their supply chain relationships. Result? Fewer ventilators at greater expense. Sounds like the typical government scheme, doesn’t it?
Why is corporate consolidation favored by progressives? Well, first, government doesn’t “do” competition. Progressives believe that people are basically good, and that “disinterested” (an early progressive concept) parties like the glorified “non-profit” government will just do the right thing, because — experts. And, basically good. That the centralization of such power in unelected regulators of monopolistic, consolidated producers is antithetical to the founding notion of harnessing the natural competitiveness of men and institutions through separated, enumerated powers doesn’t trouble them. TR called this the “Stewardship Theory” of government, and believed the government could do whatever was necessary “for the good of the people.” God help us.
Ellis further shows that small businesses are being decimated by the lockdown orders because the big “essential” chains are still selling products the little guys who are shutdown can’t. He says,
Book stores, toy stores, and other retailers deemed “nonessential” are complaining that Dollar General—a low-cost chain offering food among many other items—remains open and is still selling toys, books, and other items they are barred from selling.
In response to the complaints, county officials ordered Dollar General to rope off the aisles where “non-essential” merchandise is displayed.
Question: Have officials elsewhere barred Dollar General—one of the largest vendors of Chinese imports—from trafficking in prohibited merchandise?
And how about Amazon? Amazon still sells clothes, toys and everything else, much of it from China. None of the money spent on Amazon finds its way into the pockets of American owners and employees of brick-and-mortar shops now closed.
While small businesses are ordered to shut down, their giant corporate competitors remain open.
This is how the multi-trillion dollar economic relief package is also a stimulus bill for Jeff Bezos, Walmart, and China.
By now, you’ve heard Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said the crisis is “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” How has this manifested in the progressive “contribution” to the relief stimulus bill? In the Wu New Deal, Joshua Sharf provides a short list:
- Corporate pay statistics by race and race statistics for all corporate boards at companies receiving assistance;
- Bailing out all current debt of the postal service;
- Required early voting;
- Mandated same-day voter registration;
- A $10,000 bailout for each and every borrower with federal student loans;
- For companies accepting assistance, one-third of board members must be chosen by workers;
- Provisions on official time for union collective bargaining;
- A full offset of airline emissions by 2025;
- Greenhouse gas statistics for individual flights;
- Retirement plans for community newspaper employees;
- A $15 minimum wage at companies receiving assistance;
- Permanent paid family leave at companies receiving assistance.
If you’re asking yourself how any of these items contribute solutions to the current problems, you’ve identified the underlying progressive vision. It’s not about solving problems, it’s about centralizing power. It’s in contradistinction to the Declaration and the Constitution, the principles of which Calvin Coolidge characterized as “final.” “All men are created equal.” Final. “They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable [natural] rights.” Final. “That among these are the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Final. The people have a natural [God-given] right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion (conscience), freedom of self-defense (bear arms). Final, final, final.
Progressives don’t believe this. They believe our founding must evolve to address what they’ve identified as the “ills” of society and which conservatives view as part of the human condition: inequality, dislocation, bigotry of every sort. I try not to question people’s intentions. The political-religious zeal of progressives is not malicious (for the most part). It is based on the conviction that society can be systematically improved by disinterested (in the sense of lacking the motive of personal gain) experts. Computer models are the avatar of this concept. What do computers have to gain by forecasting millions of dead from Wuhan Flu or predicting catastrophic global climate change? That models are designed by fallible humans and are only as good as their assumptions and inputs remains unacknowledged. It’s science! Although, it’s really just shallow emotionalism that characterizes the progressive vision.
The question of tradeoffs goes unaddressed, and the concern for “what is the cost to my freedom” is unconsidered. After all, progressives mean well. Why should we doubt them? The natural tendency of bullies and tyrants to be attracted to “systems” of concentrated, centralized power isn’t a problem, because — disinterested, expert, progressives.
Finally, how does It’s a Wonderful Life’s Pottersville come into this? Mark Krikorian addresses it in his piece, “Visas for Pottersville: Facing 30 percent unemployment, we’re importing more foreign workers. Why?” Professor McClay points out the modern problems of dislocation due to industrialization and inequality due to corporate consolidation were to be “solved” by progressives concentrating power among progressive administrators. The contemporary version of this is globalism. Economic expansion and interconnectedness warrant open borders and global governance by institutions like the United Nations, and its subsidiary, the now-discredited WHO. Even the Trump administration has failed to account for the wages paid by American workers for the importation of foreign workers (those annoying tradeoffs again). The visa program was set to expand at the beginning of March. And the progressive proposal in the relief package?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s never-let-a-crisis-go-to-waste Wuhan virus proposal included, amid all the other nonsense, automatic renewal for all foreigners with work permits. It didn’t end up in the final bill, but at least you could make a case for narrowly tailored measures freezing everything in place until the crisis passes.
I agree with Kirkorian, the limits on immigrant workers probably aren’t coming. Conservatives regularly cower before charges of “racism,” “bigotry,” and “hate.” And this is how we end up with Pottersville. From an ethos of conscientious individualism (wear a mask and wash your damn hands!) and subsidiarity (open that new manufacturing operation in the shuttered plant of your hometown of Bedford Falls; “the best social policy is a tight labor market”) to corporate consolidation, government as corporate senior partner through heavy, anti-competitive regulation, and infatuation with emotionally satisfying, progressive-defined virtue. Americans and our freedom hurt worst.Published in