The essence of “progressivism” distilled
Christopher Snowden writes an article that uses an example that is quite handy in defining the essence of the disease called “progressivism”. He acknowledges that “liberal” has be coopted by the left but still has enough historical cache to be useful to both sides of the philosophical divide. However, “progressive”, at least in the US, is uniquely the left’s.
Fast forward to a city soda tax under consideration in the “progressive bastion” of Berkley, CA where we find none other than little Robbie Reich (former Clinton Secretary of Labor) ensconced as Professor at UC Berkley and waxing enthusiastic about this proposed soda tax:
To see what the word progressive means today, consider the city of Berkeley, California. According to Robert Reich, a professor at UC Berkeley, it is‘the most progressive city in America’. It has also been described as a ‘liberal bastion’. How liberal is it? So liberal that it is illegal to smoke a cigarette in your own flat (sorry, ‘apartment’) and, at the city’s university, it is against the rules to chew tobacco or use e-cigarettes anywhere at all, including in the open air.
Berkeley is also seriously considering a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages – aka a ‘soda tax’. A public vote will settle the matter next month, and, in the view of Robert Reich, ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most progressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’.
Well, yes, that’s correct. But Reich’s claim is also a very useful tool for a little word substitution to show the insidiousness (and true intent) of “progressivism”:
Consider that statement for a moment. If you didn’t know what the word ‘progressive’ meant – and you knew nothing about Berkeley – what could you infer from the context? If the sentence was changed to ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most oppressive city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’, it would make sense. If words like ‘tax-hungry’, ‘anti-business’, ‘puritanical’ or ‘illiberal’ were substituted for ‘progressive’, it would still read correctly.
If, however, the sentence was changed to ‘if a soda tax can’t pass in the most tolerant city in America, it can’t pass anywhere’, it would be incongruous. Words like ‘permissive’, ‘libertarian’, ‘easygoing’ and ‘broad-minded’ would also be confusing substitutes for ‘progressive’ in this context, and yet these are all adjectives that appear in the thesaurus under the word ‘liberal’. From this we might conclude either that soda taxes are not terribly liberal or that progressives are not terribly liberal. Or both.
At this point I’m chuckling because Snowden has made a very good point. Reich is all but giddy about oppression and feels it is “progressive” to champion it. Because, you know, the elite know best and hopefully have hammered those who should appreciate them and their ideas enough to vote “yes” and tax themselves.
Then there’s this:
In economics, unlike politics, the word ‘progressive’ has a fixed meaning. A progressive tax is one that takes a larger share of income from the rich than from the poor. The alternative is a regressive tax, one that takes a larger share of income from the poor than from the rich. Taxes on fizzy drinks are highly and indisputably regressive, not only because the rate of tax is the same for all income groups, but also because the poor tend to consume more of them in the first place. So while it is true that Berkeley is a bellwether city when it comes to eye-catching ‘public health’ initiatives, the adoption of punitive taxes on soft drinks would be a step towards it becoming America’s most regressive, not progressive, city in economic terms.
Oh my. Snowden then asks the question of the day:
This is what confuses us, America. If a ‘liberal bastion’ – your ‘most progressive city’ – is one in which the government effectively fines people for drinking the wrong type of soft drink, what on earth are your illiberal bastions like?
Berkley (and New York and … ).
Glad you ask.