A great democracy has got to be progressive, or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy."

- Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

20 February 2012

Defining a Second Progressive Movement

By Hannah Miyamoto - HONOLULU
Creative Commons, 2012: CC-BY-NC-ND)
Revised February 21, 2012

Modeled after the first Progressive Movement, what would a second Progressive Movement be like? What reforms would it seek? Who would be the most important members? What values would it profess? What, in fact, are Progressive values, inline with the first American Progressive Movement that peaked between 1900 and 1920?
The best way to answer these questions is to first list what this kind of Progressivism is not.

Progressivism is not the Liberalism of people reluctant to be called "Liberals." Although Progressivism is similar to Liberalism, they differ by one fundamental value difference: Liberals seek social stability by balancing conflicting interest groups, while Progressives seek social stability by steadily improving life for everyone--the Progress in Progressivism--by encouraging the adoption of policies that benefit the most people without denying anyone their civil rights.

Progressivism is not the Socialism of people reluctant to be called "Socialists." While Socialists have gathered under the "Progressive" banner since at least the 1940s, this is largely a reaction to anti-Communist persecution. Although government ownership of public utilities and important businesses like major banks may be part of a legitimate Progressive program, Progressives understand the potential inefficiencies of government ownership and operation and do not generally oppose private ownership of businesses large and small.

Progressivism is not Libertarianism. Unlike libertarians (also called "egoistic individualists"), Progressives do not consider government an evil, necessary or otherwise. Progressives reject all theoretical absolutes--the ultimate flaw of libertarianism--other than that the best policies provide the most benefit for the most people. By corrolary, Progressives also reject the egoistic libertarian principle of expanding individual "rights" in defiance of the common good. Instead of individual "rights", Progressives understand the value of using laws to enforce mutual obligations.  

Progressivism is not merely "More Left than Liberal." The most common use of "Progressive" today is to describe people deemed to be further to the "Left" of the "Liberal Establishment", of whom President Obama is presumed the current standard-bearer. The foregoing mention of "pragmatism", "efficiency", and "mutuality of obligations" indicates how the priorities of traditional Progressivism differ from the views expressed in today's "Daily Kos", "firedoglake" or even the New Republic and Nation magazines, because these publications often denounce the President and his party for not supporting policies that the majority of American voters are also unlikely to support.

Having explained what Progressivism is not, these twelve principles define what Progressivism is:

1. Let's work together! Social problems are challenges that must be overcome through collective action. When a problem like unemployment afflicts a large part (e.g., 10% or more) of the workforce in a city or state, the problem will not be solved in a reasonable time, if ever, without collective action through government, or another powerful institution or individual.

2. Solutions, not slogans! While Progressives understand and use theories, they do not ignore experience or speculate about social conditions. and they pragmatically abandon disproved theories in favor of ones that have proven reliable.

3. The greatest good for the greatest number.The best solutions help the most people without unfairly discriminating against someone. Liberty is not freedom from restrictions, but to be subject to the same limits as everyone else.

4. Conserve for a better future. "The greatest good for the greatest number" demands that public policies be based not only on the near future, but on all time to come. Education, infrastructure, and research are some of the many things that governments, public institutions, and corporations must emphasize in their budgets, even though the benefits are not felt for a generation or more. The ultimate Progressive goal is a society that consumes resources at a lower rate than at which they are replenished.

5. Use science for policy decisions. To help assure that Progressives support policies that actually do good and do it efficiently, Progressivism relies on rational analysis and logic to evaluate proposed and current policies. Although Progressives oppose giving uhbridled power to so-called "technocrats", they realize that not everyone has the required training and free time to make rational decisions on public policies independently. Consequently, one hallmark of Progressivism is giving power over public policy in very limited areas like banking, transportation, energy and communications, to appointed "commissions" of people with special expertise in their field.

6. Government is not inherently evil, and has a great potential to do good. True to its hallmark pragmatism, Progressivism sees government as a means for achieving popular goals. Progressives abhor corrupt, unresponsive, and inefficient government agenicies, legislatures and courts, but they also expect government agencies, legislatures, and courts to be honest, responsive, and reasonably efficient. Government is not an evil to Progressives, necessary or otherwise.

7. Expediency and efficiency determines government size. Since the primary purpose of government is to restrain individuals and institutions like corporations from harming other people, government cannot serve its purpose unless it is powerful enough to restrain and, sometimes, "punish" people and individuals whose conduct interferes with the operation of policies intended to benefit the public interest. Weak government merely guarantees that certain individuals, corporations and other entities will victimize other individuals, or otherwise act contrary to the public interest, ultimately endangering the social tranquility that is the primary aim of Progressivism.

8. No abusive corporations or individuals. Progressives also do not consider corporations, all of which are created by government, to be irredeemably evil. Rather, abusive corporations must be reformed or dissolved, and laws and policies must be adopted to guide corporate officials and individuals toward proper, publically-beneficial conduct. In addition, all corporations--each one a government creation---must be monitored closely to guarantee it does not become abusive of the public interest.
However, in areas where even temporary public exploitation and inconvenience is intolerable, exclusive government ownership is preferable.

9. Let the People decide. While Progressives are never mere "populists", nor do they put much faith in "direct" or "pure" democracy, they do believe that a well-informed citizenry, given enough information and time to absorb it, will make decisions that properly serve the interests of everyone affected. Furthermore, Progressives believe in the principle of "participatory democracy", in which everyone is able to influence all decisions that affect their life, especially those made by officials in governments and large corporations.

10. Nothing is more democratic than taxes. The rule that the size of government is determined democratically, in accordance with public interest, extends to public debt and tax levies. Since law and law enforcement make business more efficient and secure, and provide services like water supply and wastewater treatment much more economically than an individual might purchase on their own, "small government" is not inherently better than "big government." Expediency and experience are the best guides, not theories and doctrines.

11. John Galt is not alive and never was. Since "property rights" are social constructions created to maximize the efficiency of resource utilization by incentivizing resource extraction and economic production,  and individuals could not maintain control of so-called "private property" against determined usurpers without government, "private business regulation and non-discriminatory taxation by democratically-constituted governments do not constitute "theft" or "exploitation." Economic regulations of general applicability do not deny anyone their rights.

12. Freedom is the right to live under the same rules as everyone else. Since all 'laws" and "rights" are a convenient legal fiction for implementing the social structure and adopted cultural values, including Democracy and the Supremacy of the Constitution, then any"laws" enacted by democratically-elected legislators, signed by the President or a Governor, and that do not clearly violate the Constitution do NOT violate anyone's "rights." "Rights" are created by laws and the federal and state Constitutions; "Rights" do not exist in the sky, are not "found in Nature," do not come from revered texts like the Bible, nor the pontifications of philosophers.

Furthermore, since all rights are created by law, then law creates freedom, by helping guarantee that everyone's rights are protected from interference by others.

In his second Treatise on Civil Government (1690), John Locke, the greatest inspiration for America's independence, explained the relationship between freedom and law:
"Freedom then is not... 'a liberty for every one to do what he lists ["wants to do"], to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws:' but... to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it..." (II, sec.22).
Or, as Locke wrote in his treatise: "Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins" (II, sec. 202)