Progress Into Entropy

In his keynote speech at CPAC, Glenn Beck invested an intriguing amount of effort in identifying “progressives” as the danger facing America. He criticized both Republicans and Democrats for accepting these dangerous progressive ideas. Writing on his Web site, Beck says:

The progressive idea of a big, bloated government has infected both parties. In a survey, 80 percent said “the main thing that influences what members of Congress do in office” is either “personal self-interest” or “special interests.”

But it’s not just Congress; state governments are doing it too. There are 21 states who currently have under-funded pensions and entitlements. And, even if you’re in a “safe zone,” it doesn’t mean you’re safe.

[…] Politicians don’t think the rules apply to them. They only think about getting themselves re-elected. They’ve run through the boundaries of the Constitution.

And what about us? We think we are entitled: This is America! We deserve it! But, just like Tiger Woods said, we were wrong. It’s got to stop. And it starts with us. And that’s what the president needs to tell the American people.

Washington needs to stop the spending, yes, but you have to make sacrifices too. I just mentioned the pensions. In what world does it make sense to continue to promise funding a system where this routinely happens.

It’s interesting to see the progressive label applied to the Left in a negative way. They often like to use the term for themselves as a compliment, flattering their intellectual vanity by praising themselves for looking forward, and following the inevitable flow of history. Beck might be waiting to pounce with the checkered history of the early 20th-century Progressive movement, including their infatuation with eugenics, if the Left responds to his CPAC speech by claiming they’re proud to wear the “progressive” mantle. I hope I don’t spoil his fun by discussing it now, but it’s a topic that has interested me for a long time. Safely navigating the end of the New Deal calls for an understanding of how it began… and why it was always doomed to end this way.

The great intellectual obsession of the early 20th century was the belief that scientific methods could be used to design a superior society. This is, without question, the most deadly and tragic falsehood the human race has ever talked itself into believing. Untold poverty, tyranny, murder, and warfare have resulted from it. From the perspective of the next century, it’s not hard to see why. After a society is designed, it must be constructed, and human beings suffer beneath the application of hammers and nails.

Every theory of social design – from fascism and communism, to the elitist grab bag of Progressivism, and the command economics rotting away the wealth of America and the West today – requires force to implement its programs. All of these designs assumed a powerful central State, a concept that seemed as natural and reasonable to the academics of the 1920s as the notion that a ship must have a helm. Nourished by the intellectual energy of collectivist thinkers, these growing States quickly realized they would have to compel obedience to their designs, because a substantial number of their citizens would never comply willingly. How many modern Americans would be happy to mail checks to the government, specifically to pay their share of TARP, the “stimulus” bill, or union subsidies?

These programs are advanced forms of the same cancer that produced Italian and German industrial policies in the 20s and 30s. In each case, a supposedly brilliant group of central planners set about imposing their theories and emotional preferences upon a populace that was required to trust them.

When the modern American Left identifies itself as “progressive,” it’s saying that a massive, growing government is our inevitable destiny – progress is measured solely by the growth of government power, and the only way to “care” about a social issue is to throw tax money at it. In reality, this is progress toward entropy, a system doomed to starve itself to death. As Glenn Beck puts it, after quoting the new Republican governor of New Jersey on the lucrative pension plans of state employees:

You pay $124,000 into the system and get $3.8 million out of the system? Forget about “fair,” how is that sustainable? It can’t last.

[…] We expect it. We assume big government will be there for us every step of the way.

Well, I hate to be the Friday buzz-kill, but it’s not always going to be there. America has been recklessly spending in the last few decades and it’s catching up to us rapidly.

Now, we’ve got a choice to make: Do we choose the fundamentally transform America to a Marxist, spread the wealth, cradle to grave nanny state? Where no one gets a boo-boo? And, as we have seen in country after country, is only sustainable through the barrel of a gun? Or do we come to our senses and realize that spending and taxing kills business? And stop with the pensions that literally pay out 30 times what we put into them!

The reason Big Government is unsustainable is that it really only has one coin to spend: compulsion. All of its resources are gained by extracting them from the citizens who produce them. The federal government doesn’t really spend money; it forces citizens to do so. Compulsion suffers from the law of diminishing returns – the more it’s used, the less value it can appropriate. In a relatively free society, clear and simple laws can generate enormous resources for the State. Here at the twilight of the New Deal, the acolytes of Big Government are reduced to proposing thousand-page bills that will regulate what kind of light bulbs you can use, or levy fines for failing to purchase government-approved health insurance.

Each of these increasingly desperate power grabs reduces the overall wealth of society, because wealth is a function of choice. It is only generated by free men. The slaves of a totalitarian State may be able to generate subsistence, but they don’t produce a significant amount of wealth. The more freedom government takes from its citizens, the weaker they become, dramatically worsening the problems a supposedly compassionate, progressive State claims it can solve.

You can read an example of this in the New York Times piece on the millions of people who might remain out of work for years to come. The Times tries to pin this on “institutional investors who crave swift profits,” and amazingly blames “the declining influence of unions” for making it “easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees.” Ah, yes, if only we had larger and more powerful labor unions, demanding unsustainable benefits and work contracts for everyone, and siphoning huge amounts of corporate cash into the pockets of union leadership. Employment would skyrocket! If only all businesses could produce a quality product… like the public schools, whose union workers won’t put in an extra half hour a day to resolve a crisis!

Progressives have no ideas beyond increasing State power, so their ideology is unable to cope with the dynamics of a vast economy. Look at the absurd Thomas Friedman, blubbering that “we’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks,” and quoting a Johns Hopkins foreign-policy expert who says “the great task of government and leadership is going to be about taking things away from people.” Wrong. The great task of a resurgent America is taking things away from the government, and the intellectually bankrupt Left.

We will soon begin correcting the tragic error of progressive thought. Their “nation-building” days are over. A nation of free men and women builds its own future, with innovation and energy beyond the comprehension of a Left devoted to the belief that progress only runs in one direction: down into the ruin of a titanic, collapsing State. The current President offers himself as a hospice nurse, armed with fabulously expensive drugs that can ease the pain of a dying nation. His successor will be required to perform that service for a morbidly obese government that never should have been allowed to gorge itself on our liberty until its heart gave out.

Cross-posted at