When Liberals Become Progressives, Much Is Lost

In recent decades, the label “progressive” has been resurrected to replace “liberal,” a once vaunted term so successfully maligned by Republicans that it fell out of use. Both etymologically and ideologically, the switch to “progressive” carries historical freight that augurs poorly for Democrats and for the nation’s polarized politics.

.. Historical progressivism is an ideology whose American avatars, like Woodrow Wilson, saw progress as the inevitable outcome of human affairs.

.. The basic premise of liberal politics, by contrast, is the capacity of government to do good, especially in ameliorating economic ills. Nothing structurally impedes compromise between conservatives, who hold that the accumulated wisdom of tradition is a better guide than the hypercharged rationality of the present, and liberals, because both philosophies exist on a spectrum.

.. A liberal can believe that government can do more good or less, and one can debate how much to conserve. But progressivism is inherently hostile to moderation because progress is an unmitigated good. There cannot be too much of it. Like conservative fundamentalism, progressivism contributes to the polarization and paralysis of government because it makes compromise, which entails accepting less progress, not merely inadvisable but irrational.

Hillary Clinton, for example, called herself “a progressive who likes to get things done” — the implication is that progress is the fundamental goal and that its opponents are atavists.

.. Unlike liberalism, progressivism is intrinsically opposed to conservation. It renders adhering to tradition unreasonable rather than seeing it, as the liberal can, as a source of wisdom.

The British philosopher Roger Scruton calls this a “culture of repudiation” of home and history alike.

The critic of progress is not merely wrong but a fool. Progressivism’s critics have long experienced this as a passive-aggressive form of re-education.

.. Because progress is an unadulterated good, it supersedes the rights of its opponents. This is evident in progressive indifference to the rights of those who oppose progressive policies in areas like sexual liberation.

.. The ideology of progress tends to regard the traditions that have customarily bound communities and which mattered to Trump voters alarmed by the rapid transformation of society, as a fatuous rejection of progress.

.. Trump supporters’ denunciation of “political correctness” is just as often a reaction to progressive condescension as it is to identity politics.

.. Where liberalism seeks to ameliorate economic ills, progressivism’s goal is to eradicate them.

.. Moynihan recognized this difference between Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he always supported — as exemplified by his opposition to Clinton-era welfare reform — and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which he sympathetically criticized.

.. The Great Society partook more of a progressive effort to remake society by eradicating poverty’s causes. The result, Moynihan wrote, was the diversion of resources from welfare and jobs to “community action” programs that financed political activism.

.. Conservatism holds that accumulated tradition is a likelier source of wisdom than the cleverest individual at any one moment. It fears the tyranny of theory that cannot tolerate dissent.

.. Liberalism defends constitutionalism. One of the finest traditions of 20th-century liberalism was the Cold War liberal

.. progressivism, by its very definition, makes progress into an ideology. The appropriate label for those who do not believe in the ideology of progress but who do believe in government’s capacity to do good is “liberal.”

Trade Wars, Stranded Assets, and the Stock Market (Wonkish)

Yet you go to trade war with the capital you have, not the capital you’re eventually going to want – and stocks are claims on the capital we have now, not the capital we’ll need if America goes all in on Trumponomics.

Or to put it another way, a trade war would produce a lot of stranded assets.

.. The costs of protectionism, according to conventional economic theory, are not that tariffs caused the Great Depression, or anything like that. They come, instead, from moving your economy away from things you’re relatively good at to things you aren’t.

American workers could sew clothes together, instead of importing apparel from Bangladesh; in fact, we’d surely produce more pajamas per person-hour than the Bangladeshis do. But our productivity advantage is much bigger in other things, so there’s an efficiency gain – for both economies – in having us concentrate on the things we do best.

.. So, what would a trade war do? Suppose the US were to impose a 30 percent tariff across the board, with other countries retaliating in kind so that there’s no improvement in the U.S. terms of trade (more technical stuff I don’t want to get into.) How much would this reduce trade? It depends on the elasticity of import demand; a reasonable number seems to be around 4. This would mean a fall in imports from 15 percent of GDP to around 5 percent – a 10-point reduction. And that in turn means a reduction in US real income of around 1.5 percent.

.. even a trade war that drastically rolled back globalization wouldn’t impose costs on the economy comparable to the kinds of movement we’ve seen in stock prices.

But the costs to the economy as a whole might not be a good indicator of the costs to existing corporate assets.

.. Meanwhile, the factories that do exist were built to serve globalized production – and many of them would be marginalized, maybe even made worthless, by tariffs that broke up those global value chains. That is, they would become stranded assets. Call it the anti-China shock.

.. Of course, it wouldn’t just be factories left stranded by a trade war. A lot of people would be stranded too. The point of the famous “China shock” paper by Autor et al wasn’t that rapid trade growth made America as a whole poorer, it was that rapid changes in the location of production displaced a significant number of workers, creating personal hardship and hurting their communities. The irony is that an anti-China shock would do exactly the same thing. And I, at least, care more about the impact on workers than the impact on capital.

Paroling the Spanish Prisoner (Wonkish)

one of the issues that came up was the recovery in Europe, which is real and in some ways a bigger story for the world economy than the continuation of the Obama expansion here. An obvious question, which Anil raised, was whether this recovery calls for a reconsideration by Euroskeptics like myself.

.. we underestimated the political cohesion of the single currency, the willingness of political elites to suffer enormous economic pain in order to stay in the monetary union.

.. During the good years money poured into Spain, fueling a huge housing bubble. This fed inflation that made Spanish industry uncompetitive, leading to a huge trade deficit.

.. over the period 2008-2018 Spain suffered an enormous cumulative loss of output it could have produced: 33 percent of potential GDP. That’s as if the U.S. were forced to pay a price of more than $6 trillion to, say, remain on the gold standard.

.. the politics of the euro have been far more robust than us Anglo-Americans could have imagined.

How Democracies Perish

Everybody agrees society is in a bad way, but what exactly is the main cause of the badness?

Some people emphasize economic issues’

People like me emphasize cultural issues. If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.

Patrick Deneen ..  new book, “Why Liberalism Failed,”

.. democracy has betrayed its promises.

  • It was supposed to foster equality, but it has led to great inequality and a new aristocracy.
  • It was supposed to give average people control over government, but average people feel alienated from government.
  • It was supposed to foster liberty, but it creates a degraded popular culture in which consumers become slave to their appetites.

.. “Because we view humanity — and thus its institutions — as corrupt and selfish, the only person we can rely upon is our self. The only way we can avoid failure, being let down, and ultimately succumbing to the chaotic world around us, therefore, is to have the means (financial security) to rely only upon ourselves.”

..  Greek and medieval philosophies valued liberty, but they understood that before a person could help govern society, he had to be able to govern himself.

People had to be habituated in virtue by institutions they didn’t choose — family, religion, community, social norms.

.. Machiavelli and Locke, the men who founded our system made two fateful errors.

  1. First, they came to reject the classical and religious idea that people are political and relational creatures. Instead, they placed the autonomous, choosing individual at the center of their view of human nature.
  2. Furthermore, they decided you couldn’t base a system of government on something as unreliable as virtue. But you could base it on something low and steady like selfishness. You could pit interest against interest and create a stable machine. You didn’t have to worry about creating noble citizens; you could get by with rationally self-interested ones.

.. Liberalism claims to be neutral but it’s really anti-culture. It detaches people from nature, community, tradition and place. It detaches people from time. “Gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification.”

.. Once family and local community erode and social norms dissolve, individuals are left naked and unprotected. They seek solace in the state. They toggle between impersonal systems: globalized capitalism and the distant state. As the social order decays, people grasp for the security of authoritarianism.

“A signal feature of modern totalitarianism was that it arose and came to power through the discontents of people’s isolation and loneliness,” he observes. He urges people to dedicate themselves instead to local community — a sort of Wendell Berry agrarianism.

.. Every time Deneen writes about virtue it tastes like castor oil — self-denial and joylessness.

.. Yes, liberalism sometimes sits in tension with faith, tradition, family and community, which Deneen rightly cherishes. But liberalism is not their murderer.