Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Don't Call Them Progressives

No one is without a pet peeve, a bete noire as some might say. No one. Suspicion is the only appropriate attitude concerning those who deny that there is something toward which they have only antagonism. I myself suffer from quite a few personal annoyances, namely occupational laziness, flamboyant hipsters (or hipsterism, if you prefer), political campaign ads, Che Guevara T-shirts and the obtuse people who where them, etc. I don't like these things; they provide me with an inexhaustible source of aggravation - in this respect they are quite reliable. However, I would like to discuss a particular irritation that I unfortunately (due to my cerebral interests) must encounter on a daily basis, that being the labeling of collectivists and of collectivist ends as "progressive."

It may surprise some (or not) upon realizing the fact that, from my experience, the more I learn, the more I scorn; this is particularly true when that which is being understood is free-market economics. After having become sufficiently acquainted with the workings of the capitalist economy (enough to call myself an amateur economist), its nature, its optimality with regard to human progress, and its now (personally) obvious supremacy over all other discrepant forms of social organization, nouns which previously meant little or nothing to me now provoke very poignant, very unambiguous emotional reactions. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson now are contemptuous, fantastically intolerable half-wits of the state. Alexander Hamilton is a treasonous, scheming, non-revolutionary "bastard son of a Scotch peddler" (thank you John Adams). Martin Luther King Jr is a courageous albeit misinformed, overrated (now de facto canonized) opponent of genuine freedom. Mother Teresa is an abject, "gruesome, elderly virgin" and a "thieving fanatical Albanian dwarf" (thank you Christopher Hitchens). The list of slain sacred cows proceeds indefinitely.

Nevertheless, the grievance of which I am about to speak, yet another product of my free-market enlightenment, first emerged during my second year of college. One day, just for fun, I asked my political science professor to label himself politically. An unequivocal socialist and clumsy propagandist, Dr. Bauzon spent the majority of his tenured time casting aspersions at corporations, President Bush, and what he called the "neo-liberal agenda," all while advertising on behalf of the welfare state, rights to other people's property, and other such pearls of "social justice." Needless to say, his lectures were grotesquely unattendable and the literature he gave us, whether it was the essay questions he submitted for tests or the texts he had us waste our money on, was replete with a staggering bias. At least Marx was eloquent.

I recall my professor muttering some nonsense about anti-trust laws, the workers' struggle, and his appreciation for Theodore Roosevelt (another of my deceased non-heroes, the desecration of whom I'm equally prepared to partake in) in response to my inquiry about labels. At the end he said, "Therefore, I would call myself a progressive."

Now, the non-political definition of "progressive," according to is "favoring or advocating progress." What's "progress?" It's "gradual improvement or growth." Let's assume that progress of this kind implies a continual improvement in the general standard of living among a group of people. Surely its not necessary to prove why abundance is preferable to destitution. If this is the case, then it would only be appropriate for collectivists to label themselves as "progressives" if their agenda proved to be genuinely progressive; if collectivists can legitimately label themselves as progressives, then they must endorse truly progressive policies. But is the consequent of this hypothetical proposition true? Let this be the first conditional test of collectivism.

While browsing through Craigslist's New York employment page I found an ad from something called the Working Families Party. After some research I discovered that, according to its website,

"The Working Families Party (WFP) is New York’s liveliest and most progressive political party."

The site provides enough information to test the credibility of the collectivist agenda and, therefore, the appropriateness of the "progressive" label. There's no mistaking the WFP's political stance.

Since joblessness is a pressing issue, let us use it as part of our assessment. No doubt, less unemployment is preferable to more unemployment, if progress is of value to us. Therefore, if the fulfillment of collectivist ends serves as a cause of rising chronic unemployment, then the fulfillment of said ends cannot be considered progressive. Let this be the second conditional test.

Unfortunately, the Party's "vision" bodes catastrophe for New York's jobless. Among the objectives of the Party include the imposition of a "living wage"(unspecified but undoubtedly higher than the minimum wage), paid family leave mandates, and compulsory employer-paid health coverage. Though it certainly has not dawned on any of the members of the WFP, these proposals, if legalized, would needlessly frustrate job creation.

A brief explanation of the capitalist mode of production will illustrate my point. A capitalist economy is one in which all property is privately owned. In order for economic agents to survive and flourish in a capitalist environment, they must produce goods for sale that other such agents are both willing to buy and capable of buying i.e., they must satisfy consumer demand. Entrepreneurs, along with capitalists, are the chief satisfiers of consumer demand. They go about satisfying demand by acquiring factors of production (things like land, labour, and capital goods) and using those factors cooperatively to produce those goods which are the object of consumer demand. Acquiring factors is a costly endeavour; land must be purchased or leased from landowners, capital goods must be purchased from higher-order entrepreneurs, labourers must be paid for their labour, and financial capital (a capital good itself), the money that allows entrepreneurs to acquire factors in the first place, must be sought from capitalists and investors patrolling the primary debt and equity markets.

If the difference between the amount of money an entrepreneur earns from sales and the amount of money he/she spends on factor acquisition is positive, then its referred to as a profit; if negative, then it called a loss. Low costs translate into higher profits, hence entrepreneurs continually seek to cut costs. Mandates for "living wages," paid family leave, and employer-provided health insurance all raise the cost of acquiring labour. According to the law of demand and the elasticity of the demand for labour, as the cost or price of labour increases, the quantity of labour demanded by employers decreases. To translate this bit of economic jargon, if the government forces employers to pay their employees more money in wages and benefits, then employers will tend to not only refrain from hiring further labour, they will begin firing some of their least productive employees and possible restrict the hours of others. If the new compulsory wage is, say, $10/hour, than those individuals whose productivity lies beneath $10/hr will face a serious risk of joblessness. Many will be "priced out of the market" and any newcomers to the labour market now will have to meet or exceed the $10/hr threshold if they are to possess job security. Poof
! Rising unemployment and underemployment.

The chronically high unemployment found lingering in Europe is caused in part by similar economic stratagems. The equivalent "progressives" there have added stringent labour regulations to their political program, turning the process of firing an employee, particularly a government employee, into a legal ordeal. Hence, the cost of labour rises and the quantity of labour demanded drops.

We want this - now? This is progressive? What nonsense. This is the same pathetic, Orwellian irony that the Obama campaign draped itself in with its "hope" and "change" platitudes; the former is without justification and the latter, though we have been told to expect it, has yet to manifest (good change, that is).

So it seems our hypothetical argument is complete: The fulfillment of collectivist ends cannot be considered progressive because the antecedent of the second conditional test proposition is true. Furthermore the consequent of the first conditional test proposition is false, therefore its not true that collectivists can legitimately label themselves as progressives.

Picture courtesy of Charles Fettinger

No comments:

Post a Comment