• Progressives and the Bloody 20th Century

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    by William L. Anderson: Congress
    and Obama: We Need More Innocent People in Prison



    As one who
    has written on the Progressive movement that began in the late 1800s
    and still continues today, I am struck by the way that people have
    institutionalized the "reforms" and creations of Progressives
    to the point where they become something even beyond articles of
    faith. There can be no discussion on anything Progressive governments
    enacted, not matter how much damage these "reforms" have
    caused, and even to suggest that these "reforms" are not
    essential to our very existence is want to repeal life itself.

    The latest
    hysterical "They Want to Repeal the 20th Century"
    screed comes from Steven Pearlstein, an economics columnist for
    the Washington
    , who lays out an interesting line of thought and in
    the end seems to claim that the mass of government programs and
    agencies created during the last century carries the same aura of
    truth as does the Law of Gravity. He writes:

    These folks
    are actually talking about repealing the Clean Air Act, the Clean
    Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, created in

    They're talking
    about abolishing Medicare and Medicaid, which passed in the 1960s,
    and Social Security, created in the 1930s.

    They reject
    as thoroughly discredited all of Keynesian economics, including
    the efficacy of fiscal stimulus, preferring the budget-balancing
    economic policies that turned the 1929 stock market crash into
    the Great Depression.

    They also
    reject the efficacy of monetary stimulus to fight recession, and
    give the strong impression they wouldn't mind abolishing the Federal
    Reserve and putting the country back on the gold standard.

    They refuse
    to embrace Darwin's theory of evolution, which has been widely
    accepted since the Scopes Trial of the 1920s.

    One of them
    is even talking about repealing the 16th and 17th amendments to
    the Constitution, allowing for a federal income tax and the direct
    election of senators — landmarks of the Progressive Era.

    next — repeal of quantum physics? (Emphasis mine)

    As I read through
    this litany, I realize that his line of argument is terribly fallacious,
    but to Progressives, all their talk of science and logic does not
    apply to their own methods of reasoning. Pearlstein is claiming
    that the very creation and continued existence of agencies
    like the EPA and the provisions of the Clean Air Acts and Clean
    Water Acts, along with the Income Tax and direct election of U.S.
    Senators, Medicare and Social Security are proof of their truth.

    he equates these legislative acts, along with the Keynesian theories
    and accompanying policies as having the same legitimacy as laws
    of quantum physics. Just as one cannot debate the existence
    of gravity, so one cannot even debate anything that fits within
    the Progressive agenda.

    As I read through
    the article, I come to the conclusion that Progressivism at its
    heart is a religion, one in which the State is God and Abraham Lincoln,
    Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson are its Holy Prophets.
    John Maynard Keynes is the savior. To question anything that they
    said or did is to require banishment not only from polite society,
    but from the very universe altogether.

    If there is
    a Golden Era of Progressivism, it is the 20th Century,
    and while many decent people are repulsed at the government-initiated
    slaughter of innocent people that characterized those 100 years,
    Progressives see, well, progress. Where some see the butchering
    of 10 million men in the execrable trenches of World War I and ask
    who could have ordered this needless destruction of lives, Progressives
    see "progress" in the destruction of the European monarchies
    and the establishment of the U.S.S.R. (Yes, the U.S.S.R. during
    the 1920s and 1930s was a darling of U.S. Progressives, and their
    effusive praise of the regime, and especially of Josef Stalin, is
    well documented in Paul Hollander's Political

    World War I in the USA led to military conscription, high income
    tax rates, destruction of the classical gold standard (and replacement
    with fiat paper money), Prohibition, and government takeover of
    the railroads and government control of business, all of which were
    highly-sought by Progressives for years before World War I brought
    their goals to fruition, which was aptly noted by Murray N. Rothbard
    in his classic essay, "World
    War I as Fulfillment
    ." Thus, to Progressives, the bloody
    human sacrifice that characterized that conflict was "worth
    it" because the postwar world was much more to their liking.

    It is hard
    to understand why anyone would prefer the bloodshed and social turmoil
    that was World War I and its aftermath to the relatively peaceful
    western world that existed before Europe stumbled into massive warfare
    in August 1914, yet Progressives believed (and still believe) that
    the destruction of ancient institutions and replacing them with
    edicts from the state was a good thing. And when people pointed
    out that the Russian Revolution was bringing death and destruction,
    the typical Progressive response was, "If you want to make
    an omelet, you have to break some eggs."

    The Great Depression
    was the next event that solidified the Progressive hold on U.S.
    policies, and like World War I, it provided Progressives the opportunity
    to make permanent changes in the nation's political economy, or
    at least bring permanent changes to the legal institutions that
    set the boundaries for private enterprise. Furthermore, in the name
    of "bold action," the government engaged in activities
    from cartelizing U.S. industries (the idea that reducing output
    would reduce layoffs, which would reduce unemployment) to hiring
    vast number of people to do chores from writing propaganda for the
    Roosevelt administration to digging drainage ditches in U.S. cities.

    That the nation's
    unemployment rate still was in double digits in 1940 did not discourage
    Progressives from pursuing their various agendas, as they claimed
    that unemployment would have been greater had the government done
    "nothing." Meanwhile, the Great Depression spread from
    the United States to the rest of the world and led to political
    and social upheaval that ultimately exploded into World War II.

    Because Progressive
    policies (laid out in detail in Murray Rothbard's classic America's
    Great Depression
    ) created the economic calamity that created
    the rest of the turmoil, one can say that World War II also was
    a Progressive's war. Not surprisingly, Progressives jumped at all
    of the "opportunities" that war brought, including military
    conscription, government control of the economy, further destruction
    of sound money, price controls, forced unionization of firms that
    did business with the government, military destruction of cities
    in Japan and Europe, and the creation of an international monetary
    system that would collapse in less than three decades and lead to
    the ultimate Progressive goal: worldwide fiat money.

    World War II
    ended in 1945, but not before more than 50 million lives had been
    snuffed out, and the reach of Stalin's Soviet Union extended, along
    with the establishment of what would be the Cold War. Unfortunately,
    the end of World War II was not the end of the mass murder of which
    either Progressives would directly influence or, at least approve.
    Wars in Southeast Asia killed millions of people, and the killing
    escalated after U.S. Progressives in Congress and the White House
    committed millions of conscripted troops to the region to prop up
    existing non-communist governments.

    It is hard
    to know how many innocents died in these Progressive conflicts,
    but it is clear that the so-called vision that these We-Want-To-Remake-the-World
    that Progressives demanded resulted in slaughter and calamity that
    is hard even to describe, and when one thinks of the vast human
    displacement, the use of concentration camps, and the state-sponsored
    violence that was endemic, the only things that remotely resemble
    what happened were the Thirty Years War and the Assyrian and Babylonian
    conquests of the ancient world. Yet, when one speaks to Progressives
    about World War I and World War II, we are told that the first "made
    the world safe for democracy" and the second was "the
    good war."

    some Progressives might agree that these wars were bad — although
    they will claim that the Progressive Agendas had nothing to do with
    them — but then they will point to the "accomplishments"
    of the 20th Century, specifically the establishment of
    the Welfare State and the expansion of government agencies and programs
    that ostensibly were created to save humanity from the alleged horrors
    of capitalism. Pearlstein's screed, for example, lists a number
    of Progressive "reforms" and creations, from the EPA to
    Social Security and the Income Tax.

    The idea is
    that their very creation proves their necessity, and that
    our society would collapse and fall into chaos and death without
    them. Not only is the State central to our existence, in the Progressives'
    viewpoint, but now that the state is all-pervasive, we cannot survive
    unless the state is nurtured and expanded, for "reforms"
    always involve the expansion of government, and anything
    less is to do away with civilization altogether.

    Such thinking
    hardly is new. Frederic
    Bastiat more than 150 years ago
    anticipated Pearlstein when
    he wrote:

    like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction
    between government and society. As a result of this, every time
    we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists
    conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove
    of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed
    to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists
    say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced
    equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on,
    and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not
    wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise

    "Progressive" for "socialist," and you can see
    that nothing has changed. (While it is true that many Progressives
    do not claim to be socialists, both believe that all improvements
    in the human condition come about as the result of the expansion
    of the State. There really are no exceptions.)

    In the end,
    we are supposed to ignore the slaughter and destruction of the world
    wars, the exponential growth of the surveillance (read that, domestic
    spying) state, the choking taxation, and all of the wars fought
    since in the name of "liberation" and "progress."
    Furthermore, if any of us would like to repeal all of that, or if
    we wish it had not happened, something is wrong with us.

    as stated earlier, love to use the "break eggs to make an omelet"
    analogy to justify the destruction that has accompanied their Great
    Visions. To be honest, I'd rather not eat what they are trying to
    force down my throat.

    16, 2011

    L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
    ], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
    and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
    von Mises Institute
    . He
    also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit
    his blog.

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