Modern American progressives wish to tackle many worthy problems. They want to protect the environment, diminish global poverty and ensure the fair distribution of wealth nationally and globally. These are all true issues requiring address. Why, then, do I and many Americans like me not identify as progressive? I can only speak definitively for myself, but in my case I find the primary distinction to be the proposed solution. Progressives would like to use the coercive power of government to address these issues, and I would not. There are multiple reasons I hold this position, but a large factor is strictly practical. I believe that governments categorically (a) do not tend to solve problems and (b) tend to actually impede the ability of others to solve problems.
Consider the issue of wealth inequality. Many think that an ever-increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich is an inevitable consequence of unhindered capitalism, and that the government therefore needs to redistribute wealth. How is it, though, that the modern American rich have acquired their disproportionate wealth? They earned some of it meritocratically by creating immense value for others, true, but consider also how our government distributes money. When Congress spent an unprecedented $5 trillion on COVID relief, some was distributed equally via stimulus checks, but billions of dollars also went to big business. Airlines that spent decades buying back stock with their cash reserves received bailouts. Country clubs received funds intended for small business relief. Historic bailouts gave money directly to the richest Americans, publicizing the risk they took to make huge private returns. Rather than solving the issue of inequality, the government exacerbates it.
But what about the environment? Here, we see clear examples of the government actually impeding the ability of those who truly care about the environment to protect it. One such example is in the regulations of public land rights for grazing and logging. The federal government auctions off the rights to use federal land for these purposes and environmental groups have the money to buy the rights to turn these lands into environmental sanctuaries. They can’t, however, because laws state that the rights to these lands can only be sold to those using them for the stated purpose. Another example is subsidies for damaging agriculture. The government subsidizes monoculture of corn and soybeans that saps the soil of its nutrients and destroys biodiversity. Regenerative farms offer an alternative that can actually leave the environment better off than when they start, but they can’t compete with the enormous subsidies.
Ultimately, I do want to address many of the same problems as progressives. Still, it’s very difficult to ignore the huge historical failures of many government programs. In the last 50 years, the U.S. government has spent over $20 trillion dollars on anti-poverty programs. Trillions more have been spent on peacekeeping and regime change efforts. In the government’s defense, these are not problems that it is actually capable of solving. However, no amount of welfare can replace a strong community, and that’s okay. If progressives could redirect their efforts away from influencing government and move toward solutions that actually work, they could do a lot of good and I would be far more inclined to join them.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.