Sunday, July 19, 2009

Comment Rescue: What do progressives want?

I suspect this comment by DelawareDem was off the cuff and not intended to be all-inclusive, but it is instructive:

A progressive Democrat believes that government should and can provide a social safety net for its population, like social security, unemployment insurance and healthcare. It should set standards and provide funding for education. And of course the government should provide for the national defense. In other areas, the government should regulate the free market to prevent fraud and monopolies, but should otherwise allow the market to work.

What interests me is the disparity between this comment and the realities of what progressive Democrats actually work toward. Take this part: In other areas, the government should regulate the free market to prevent fraud and monopolies, but should otherwise allow the market to work. You have to wonder exactly what that means, since on its face it would not include having the government intervene to bail out particular manufacturing sectors or to interfere in the internal rules of companies to set the compensation rates for executives. But these are both things that have happened over the past year, and the current occupant of the White House has been roundly criticized by many on the progressive left for not going far enough.

Also missing in DD's definition of what a progressive Democrat believes is any indication of how the government should pay for all this. I know that's not missing from the progressive philosophy, because the progressive income tax, surcharges on excessive wealth, and an overall taxation level above 40% of GDP and 50% of individual income are heart and soul of the progressive Democrat agenda.

But so is mandatory safety regulation that restricts personal choice (helmet laws, seatbelt laws)...

Then there are the details--always the details!--with things like health care, which includes (as it is on the table currently) a potential bonanza for trial lawyers, mandatory end-of-life counseling, and potential built-in provisions that would covertly end private insurance while taxing businesses for not providing it!?

Or the details of national defense, our progressive kin have been awfully quiet about the currents administration's continuation and extension of Bushco Constitutional abuses, the ever-expanding war in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, or the amazing continually ballooning defense budget and military....

The point here is explicitly not to bash DD for making a good-faith effort to define the interests of progressive Dems in a short paragraph, but to emphasize that the devil is always in the details of how far you extend the power of the State to achieve your aims. From my perspective the progressives tend to come down on the side of as far as possible in the pursuit of noble goals, which is sometimes scarier than the consequences of the problems they are trying to solve....


tom said...

You are being too generous Steve. This comment is fundamentally flawed in ways that go far beyond intent vs details.

It has internal contradictions. DelawareDem uses the metaphor of a safety net, yet two of his three examples are at odds with this image.

Let's, as you say, unpack this a bit. A safety net is placed under people who are at risk of falling (eg. circus performers, high-rise construction workers, etc.). Its purpose is to catch them if they fall and allow them to get back to safe footing.

Unemployment "insurance", though it is far from perfect in implementation, is a good fit for the safety net metaphor because it 1) does not impose a large burden on the general population, 2) is designed to only pay benefits to the small minority of workers who involuntarily lose their jobs for an extended period, and 3) is by design temporary in duration and serves to get people to the "solid ground" of new employment. I could go on at length about its flaws and how it would be better provided by the market sector, but that is outside the scope of this topic.

Social security and health-care (either in its current incarnation as Medicare/Medicaid, or even moreso as the universal coverage being proposed) cannot by any stretch of the imagination be construed as a safety nets because while a true safety net can be viewed as mildly beneficial to the average person (it reduces the chance that they might at any moment be struck and injured by a falling person), SS & Medicare/aid instead impose a large and growing burden on the general population, which even the most dedicated socialists among us will sooner or later be forced to acknowledge as these programs become increasingly bankrupt. They also fail the safety net test because they are universal in application, whether you need or even want them, while a true safety net catches only those in actual need. And finally they fail the safety net test because they last for the rest of your life, while a safety net is used only long enough for you to get back to solid ground.

Setting standards and providing funding for education is another interesting area. While it is well within the constitutional mandate of the state (and local) governments and therefore needs no comment on that level, it is a power that is nowhere explicitly delegated to the federal government and therefore they should legally have no involvement in educational standards or funding. If you disagree, there is an established way to proceed: amend the Constitution.

And since it's guaranteed that someone will trot out the "General Welfare" clause as a counterargument, let me point out that Black's defines General welfare as "General term used to describe the government's concern for the health, peace, morals, and safety of its citizens.", and this definition has not changed substantively since the 1st edition in 1891. No education there. Further, two of the three primary authorities on the meaning of the General Welfare clause, James Madison and John Dickinson, view it as a restriction or specification on the power to tax. The third and weakest of the three (because he was absent from the Convention while Art I Sec 8 clause 1 was written and debated), Alexander Hamilton, does argue that it grants a power to spend outside the other enumerated powers, and the Supreme Court has adopted his interpretation in what many legal scholars call the worst decisions ever made.

And since it was probably just off the cuff, ill-considered wording, I won't bother to comment on the non sequitur of "government should regulate the free market".

Eric Dondero said...

Why aren't you covering the Town Hall meeting with Mike Castle where Delaware Patriots stood up and challenged the Obama Regime's legitimacy.

This is the BIGGEST NEWS OF THE DAY, blogosphere wide about the State of Delaware, and the Libertarian Movement's challenge to Obama, and Delaware Libertarian is asleep at the wheel.

My gosh Dude, pay some attention! I hope you've got some good excuse like "Geez, I had to work 18 hours at my job yesterday..."

Steve Newton said...

Will "I was spending a 21-hour day, first on a military airfield, then on a military flight, and then driving several hours to a temporary duty destination" do for you?

Besides, the real news in Delaware isn't Mike Castle, it's the fact that Libertarian Wendy Jones just might have a shot to knock off the presumptive Democrat beauty queen daughter of the former State Senate Majority Leader in the 19th District--which everyonei n Delaware, as well as IPR, have covered, but not you.

Nancy Willing said...

That town hall meeting was last month and it was covered over at DE Politics. That the off-topic birther YouTube the meeting produced now the bee in Rush Limbaugh's bonnet doesn't have much to do with Delaware.

R said...

Whenever I see "government" in a comment by a progressive, I typically replace it with "other people" to make it more accurate. Not a 100% indicator, but a damned good one.