Progressivism

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A philosophy that attempts to improve human flourishing through reforms. Successes of progressivism include 8 hour work days, universal enfranchisement, etc.

Progressivism is a political philosophy that takes the "pursuit of happiness" seriously. Pursuit of happiness in a more Aristotelian sense: human flourishing. Not beer parties. Flourishing means being able to become what you want and do what you want. Progressives want more human flourishing. In this sense, early liberals were progressives and most modern liberals are progressives. And not just flourishing for elites, but for everybody at every age.

Progressives see many obstacles to human flourishing: poverty, disease, tyranny, corruption, monopolists, bigotry, ignorance, traditions, pollution, crime, war, etc.

Progressives believe that humans can flourish better if these obstacles are removed or circumvented, and that society can find solutions. This improvement is the progress in progressive. As Paul Wellstone said: “We all do better when we all do better.”

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Some of the solutions to problems of human flourishing include markets, regulations, unions, corporations, education, laws, publicity, privatization, takings, antitrust, buyouts, public works, infrastructure, balancing powers, social provision, etc. Progressives are pragmatic: they are not committed to one set of solutions (such as traditional solutions or markets): they will look at the history of experimentation with these solutions accross the planet and select what they think will work best in their situation, even if it is untried. In this sense, the founders of the US and authors of its Constitution were progressive.

Progressivism demands improvement, but not perfection. Early liberal enfranchisement of white, male landowners with the vote was progressive, but far from perfect. Later enfranchisement of blacks and women was further progressive improvement. And civil rights voting acts to enable blacks and other minorities to actually register and vote was further progressive improvement still.

This doesn't mean that progressives all perceive the same problems and would choose the same solutions. Progressives are a heterogeneous lot, and can disagree strongly. But their pragmatism and lack of perfectionism allows them to work together and with others easily through compromise.

It may appear that progressives turn away from markets and towards government, but that is because there is little progress to be made by markets that markets aren't already making. In some cases, markets create problems (such as redlining) that require regulation to undo. In some cases, conspicuous market failures require either government incentives or government provision (such as for roads and schools.) In some cases, government institutions were under-performing (such as representation of the indigent in courts: the solution was access to free legal services.) And sometimes government is oppressive: hence the ACLU.

Progressivism has often been defined by its history and people. The history of progressivism is usually a list of issues that progressives have fought for such as 8 hour work days, universal enfranchisement, antitrust, etc. What unites all these issues is that they were viewed by progressives as solutions to the problems they saw for human flourishing. Lengthy work days provided no opportunity for leisurely pursuits, education, family matters, health issues, etc. Voting restricted to men meant women's issues (such as their legal status, whether they could own property, etc.) were not attended to. Monopolies and trusts created hardship for farmers and the poor by keeping prices artificially high. But viewing progressivism by its history and people, rather than by its basic objective, causes a "can't see the forest for the trees" problem.

Links

Progressive Taxes (5 links)
Suggested by Adam Smith, first implemented in the USA: reduces inequality and supported by economic theory.
America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (book) (1 link)
A progressive vision of how the USA has gone wrong and how to simply repair the economic inequality, plutocracy and corporatocracy that are the real cause of so many problems.
Center for Economic and Policy Research [More...]
A sane think-tank that does not start with the Koch brother's right-wing/libertarian alternative-universe framing. Balanced progressive examination of issues, often based on original research.
Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State [More...]
Property systems are coercive. Robert Hale points out in 1923: [T]he systems advocated by professed upholders of laissez-faire are in reality permeated with coercive restrictions of individual freedom and with restrictions, moreover, out of conformity with any formula of "equal opportunity" or of "preserving the equal rights of others." A difficult read.
Diamond Shaped Society (3 links)
The diamond shaped society is a term coined by Charles Wright Mills and revived by David Brin for majority middle-class societies in the first world. Libertarianism, being conservative and aristocratic, is harmful to the diamond shaped society.
How the GOP stopped caring about you [More...]
"The history of the Republican Party shows why, since the Civil War, the nation has been caught in cycles of progressivism and reaction." Libertarians (the Kochs) have been important players in this latest cycle of plutocratic reaction.
Liberals, you must reclaim Adam Smith [More...]
David Brin denounces modern libertarians and their selective citation of Adam Smith. Brin calls for progressive reforms to bring capitalism back to Smithian competition.
Libertarians Are Huge Fans of Economic Coercion [More...]
"Hale showed that all economic regimes rely upon economic coercion, laissez-faire ones just as much as socialist ones."
My Take on the Seven Things We Need to Focus on for Equitable Growth in America [More...]
Brad DeLong presents seven progressive ideas that promote growth and simultaneously reduce inequality.
People’s Policy Project [More...]
People’s Policy Project (3P) is a think tank founded in 2017 by Matt Bruenig. The primary mission of 3P is to publish ideas and analysis that assist in the development of an economic system that serves the many, not the few. Funded through Patreon, to avoid the compromises typically demanded by monied interests.
Political Research Associates [More...]
"Political Research Associates is a progressive think tank devoted to supporting movements that are building a more just and inclusive democratic society. We expose movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights."
Progressive Living: Progressivism [More...]
A description of progressivism by progressives. Places progressivism in opposition to corporatocracy. Has a good list of historical political actions and people.
Progressive Taxation (1 link)
Libertarians are generally antitax, but when they tolerate taxation they tend to prefer regressive taxation that favors their rich sponsors. Progressive taxation means that as you earn more, you are taxed at a higher rate.
Progressivism explained. [More...]
Mike Huben explains his view of progressivism by its objective, not by its history.
Public Money for Public Purpose: Toward the End of Plutocracy and the Triumph of Democracy – Part VI [More...]
Dan Kervick proposes six challenging progressive tasks whose successful pursuit would help us achieve a more just, equal and democratic society.
The Connection Between Work and Dignity [More...]
An efficient economy leaves unemployment high: some inefficient but useful jobs can alleviate unemployment and create dignity for the workers. "If we work hard and produce something of tangible value, we tend to feel a sense of self-worth when society rewards us for it with a decent, middle-class life."
The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive (book, online)
Dean Baker's online book describing how upwards distribution through markets is a result of government policy (due to capture by the rich), and how to change to more equitable polices.
The importance of redistribution [More...]
"democratic egalitarianism"--the idea that individuals flourish best in a free society that allows them to choose democratically the rules that govern their lives, with the understanding that the institutions must be sustainable and must allow all individuals to flourish, not just a select few.
The Second Bill Of Rights: FDR's UNfinished Revolution-- And Why We Need It More Than Ever (book)
FDR proposed 8 economic rights: employment, with a living wage; food, clothing and leisure; farmers' rights to a fair income; freedom from unfair competition and monopolies; housing; medical care; social security; education. A foreshadowing of the Capability Approach.
The Ultimate Goal [More...]
Social goals and social contracts: progressivism redescribed. Part 2/4 of David Brin's Political Totemism and the Danger of Metaphors.
Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (book, online)
George Lakoff's handbook for progressive framing and political change. A short downloadable book.
What Does a True Populism Look Like? It Looks Like the New Deal [More...]
"If our economic rules empower corporations and financial interests excessively, then the correct response is to rewrite those rules -- at home as well as abroad. If trade agreements serve mainly to reshuffle income to capital and corporations, the answer is to rebalance them to make them friendlier to labor and society at large..."

Quotations

This notion, that the preservation of freedom sometimes requires the restriction of freedom, may induce incomprehension or apoplexy in the libertarian—but it should not. After all, [minarchist] libertarians are themselves committed to such a thought in their basic justification for the state: the coercion of the state frees people from the “wild” coercion of lawless individuals.
Chris Bertram, "Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace"
What’s amusing about libertarians and laissez-faire people (and the loose way certain economists talk) is that they will describe my choice to pay rent as non-coerced and voluntary while describing my choice to pay income taxes as coerced and involuntary. But there is no neutral construction of “coercion” that would ever support such a distinction. As Hale aptly demonstrates, coercion occurs when there are “background constraints on the universe of socially available choices from which an individual might ‘freely’ choose.”
Matt Bruenig, "Libertarians Are Huge Fans of Economic Coercion"
We are going to need a bigger and better government. The private unregulated market does not do well at health-care finance, at pensions, or at education finance. The private unregulated market does not do well at research and early-stage development. The private unregulated market does not do well with commodities that are non-rival, or non-excludible, or produced under conditions of greatly-increasing returns to scale. We are, in all likelihood, moving into a twenty-first century in which these sectors will all be larger slices of what we do. Thus in the twenty-first century a well-functioning economy will need a larger government share in the economy than was needed in the twentieth century.
Brad DeLong, "My Take on the Seven Things We Need to Focus on for Equitable Growth in America: Thursday Focus"
It seems to me that there are five areas in which government spending has a demonstrated superiority over the private sector -- health and disability insurance, education, old-age pensions, infrastructure spending, and military spending. It seemed to me that structural changes in our economy and society were driving the amount of money we ought to spend in sum on those five up, hence the enlargement of government.
Brad DeLong, "Nick Eberstadt and the "Takers" Once Again: More Reflections on the General Theory of the Moocher Class"
Large-scale government social-insurance programs are the best way we have found to achieve major and important public purposes. There has never been a private marketplace offering unemployment insurance. The unemployment insurance program works quite well: It gets money to people who have previously paid for it when they need it. Edward Filene’s welfare-capitalist notion that defined-benefit pensions offered by employers and more recent hopes that defined-contribution 401(k)s could provide old-age pensions more efficiently and effectively than Social Security have not covered themselves with glory over the past generation: Too many defined-benefit private pensions have not been paid out in full as promised, and too much wealth invested in 401(k)s has been skimmed off to enrich the princes of Wall Street. In health care, despite extraordinary administrative inefficiencies and little ability to improve quality and cost-effectiveness, the private insurance marketplace works—unless you are old, sick (and happen to be out of a job), or poor. Yet it is the old, the sick, and the poor who need health insurance most—hence, Medicare and Medicaid.
Brad DeLong, "Shrugging off Atlas"