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Beware of State 'Progress'

I’m always a little leery when I hear a politician use the word "progress." This word is often used in relation to some massive government program designed to "improve" society. Rather than improve society, these programs usually fail and their harmful side-effects often justify my apprehension.

I admit that throughout history there have been a number of positive events that could be described as progressive. These include the steel plowshare; the printing press, and penicillin, breakthroughs that changed the way people went about their lives. We could label these kinds of progress "concrete discoveries," in the sense that their effects on society are fairly easy to measure. And these discoveries generally improved conditions for the populace.

But there have been other crucial changes based on abstract, unproven theories and these haven’t always been beneficial to society. In fact, if I had to pick the event that put our country in its downward spiral, it would be when do-gooders first began blaming "society" for people’s shortcomings. And now, to make things worse, social scientists have decided that undesirable behaviors are actually medical conditions. Before this, a drunk was a drunk and a thief was a thief. People were held accountable not only for their actions but also for their achievements or lack of achievements.

Now, drug abuse, drunkenness, stealing, and other anti-social behaviors have been redefined as illnesses. The medical classification: "Impulse-Control Disorder." So there are no more bad guys. There are only individuals helpless in the wake of their impulses while a cruel society prevents them from improving their station in life.

Let’s pursue this a little further. If society is the culprit, or if enough people can be persuaded to think so, then the State is justified in stepping in and "correcting" society. The State has been trying to correct society for several years and now it is even considering ways to stop society from "causing" obesity. The State’s reasoning is that the immense advertising and availability of prepared foods, temptations offered by society, are preventing people from controlling their impulse to over-eat. And, because they claim that the problem is caused by society, the State must fix it.

The State’s approach to stopping society from causing obesity will probably be similar to the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs. These two ill-advised programs wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, ultimately failing to accomplish their goals. But the failure of these social experiments — or, as they have been called, "Prohibition Revisited" — has made no impression on our myopic Congress. It continues to make the same costly mistakes over and over again and taxpayers pick up the check.

During Prohibition, no one could have imagined that one day our government would be considering a similar program to curb obesity. Anyone suggesting that such an action might take place would have been laughed out of the speakeasy. But, with government and do-gooders, yesterday’s folly is tomorrow’s wisdom.

Will do-gooders ever stop finding problems caused by society? Not likely. If you are a General, you need wars to fight. If you are a surgeon, you need patients to operate on. And, if you are a do-gooder, you need good works to do. So, if there isn’t an obvious problem that needs fixing, you must create one.

But how can do-gooders create a problem of such magnitude that only massive government intervention can solve it? First, they look at society and select something that seems to be "inappropriate" and make it an issue. Then they "language" it. They construct words and phrases to portray the problem as being "out-of-control" and then a "crisis." Their clever language is bolstered by questionable facts and statistics. Next, an obliging media reports anecdotal stories to support the manufactured crisis. And, finally, a self-serving member of Congress sees the new crisis as a way to gain headlines and introduces legislation to remedy the odious epidemic.

Although social experiments usually fail, the laws that create them are never repealed. So the cost to maintain these failed programs continues to rise. But the cost of legislation doesn’t concern our erstwhile heroes in Washington. They boast about their role in enacting these failed programs. And, like perpetual motion, every four years, our two indistinguishable political parties hold conventions, our national form of vaudeville, and propose "new and improved" corrections to society.