A neoliberal view of progressives. The cricket of course is a neoliberal.
Pinocchio from the 1940 Walt Disney movie
In my last post I outlined what I thought was the most fundamental — and also most egregious — lie that progressives told both to themselves and to the world at large. I noted that since progressives sincerely and passionately believed in this misstatement of the truth, it was probably ungenerous to say it was actually a lie, but that it was most certainly a prevarication. This most fundamental of falsehoods about the nature of social reality is this: Government actually has the capability to solve or ameliorate all social and economic problems without creating even worse problems. A corollary to this falsehood is that individuals and non-governmental social organizations lack the power without government assistance to solve their most serious problems. The counterargument disproving this thesis starts with the observation that human social organizations are fundamentally chaotic systems. What the term chaotic system actually means and how the most fundamental assumption of progressive ideology is invalidated by considering them was the subject of my last essay. If you have not read it, you probably should before you read this one.
But fundamental lies about reality give rise to a great many other lies in support of the fundamental one. People who succumb to it will need to declare a great many other falsehoods to buttress the first. Listing what I consider such subsidiary lies is the subject of this post.
Other Lies Progressives Propagate
What follows is a list of what I consider the most consequential falsehoods held as true by most progressives. Some of these falsehoods are more fundamental than others, and of course not all progressives believe in every single one of them. Nevertheless, every single one of them represents hot button issues for most progressives.
The Ideological Opponents of Progressives and a Large Fraction of the American People Are Racists and Fascists
One of the most time honored modes of reacting to one’s hostile opponents is to demonize them. Progressives have been doing this for some time to their neoliberal (aka “conservative”) opponents; but since the election of Donald Trump this demonization has taken on a hysterical tone.
This is just my personal guess, but I suspect the first trigger for the hysterical demonization was Hillary Clinton’s declaration that the majority of the Trump supporters belonged in a basket of “deplorables”. In the words of Clinton,
You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the ‘basket of deplorables.’ Right? They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.
The second trigger was the election of Donald Trump, at which time the progressives lost their sanity. One of their reactions was to accuse Trump of being essentially a Russian agent to win the election. This riposte had the twin virtues of simultaneously giving an explanation of how the Democratic candidate could have lost to such a buffoon, and delegitimizing Trump’s fledgling administration.
Working at the suggestion of the first trigger for this hysteria, progressives began to loudly proclaim that all those who voted for Trump were racists and fascists. If you think I am painting with too broad a brush, simply do an internet search with the search phrase “Trump voters are racists and fascists,” and you will find posts with this thesis from publications like The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Republic, The Chicago Tribune, and many, many more.
Besides finding such accusations incredibly galling, neoliberals must also find them extraordinarily confusing. How can neoliberals be fascists, when fascism is a form of socialism? The only difference between the communism of the Soviet Union and the fascism of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy was the fascist fiction that the owners of businesses actually controlled their establishments. The fascist reality was that the state was in total control, with the so-called “owners” only being apparatchiks of the state. As a concomitant, if Republicans including Trump are such fascists, should they not be attempting to gain increasing control over the economy? Yet every indication from Republican actions, from Trump’s reduction of economic regulation through executive orders to the GOP attempts in Congress to reform taxes and to repeal and replace Obamacare, points to Republicans trying to reduce government control over the economy. The progressive accusation that the GOP — substantially a group of neoliberals — are actually fascists is a blatant lie.
So how about the accusation the GOP’s neoliberals are really a bunch of racists? if Republicans were the party of racism, why are there so many African-American Republicans? A very small list of such worthies would include Alveda King, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Michael Steele, Herman Cain, Justice Clarence Thomas, Rep. Allen West (R-FL), Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), Rep. Scott Thomas (R-TX), Rep. Mia Love(R-UT), Don King, Alan Keyes, Larry Elder, J.C. Watts, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) and a great many more. If Trump were a racist, would he have a black as an important cabinet member (Ben Carson heading HUD)? If Trump were a racist, would he be trying to increase federal help for black colleges significantly? In what specific way has Trump demonstrated he believes blacks or any other race to be inferior? In what ways has he attempted to make blacks subservient?
During the Charlottesville, Virginia riot over the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee last August, major media outlets worked overtime to picture Trump’s reactions to the riot as those of a racist. Yet, what precisely were those reactions? Trump condemned both sides of the riot, as well he should. On the progressive side of the conflict were a violent Antifa organization and Black Lives Matter. On the opposing side were American Nazis and racist Klansmen. However, because Trump was even-handed in his condemnation of both sides, he was himself judged of being a racist. He promptly confused the issue by later claiming there were also good people on both sides. Perhaps there were, but whatever the truth, it was hard to discern; and nothing could contradict the responsibility of both sides for fomenting the violence.
Then there is the progressive accusation that the United States has been and continues to be a substantially racist nation. What is the evidence for this? Recently, using data from the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center, CNN put together some illuminating time plots of the numbers of racial hate groups and crimes. Consider the plot below.
Clearly, the number of racial hate groups has been declining with time, with the number of neo-Nazi groups declining precipitously over the past decade from over 200 in 2007 to just 99 in 2016. These numbers, however, do not give a picture of the small number of people belonging to the hate groups. For example, according to Wikipedia, the largest neo-Nazi group in the U.S. is the National Socialist Movement with around 400 members in 32 states.
If there were a huge number of American racists, that fact should be reflected in a large number of hate crimes in the U.S. Again, a CNN plot of FBI racial hate crime statistics is revealing.
From these plots you can see that all race hate crimes, with the exception of those against native Americans, which are very small in number, have been declining steadily since 1996. This is particularly true for those against blacks, which have been cut approximately in half. Any racial hate crime at all is completely unacceptable, but this data again does not support a picture of a United States dominated by racism. The FBI reported an estimated total of 1.2 million violent crimes in the U.S. for 2015, of which the 1621 hate crimes against blacks represents 0.135% of the total. Although racism has not yet been totally stamped out, it is not the dominating reality of the United States. The accusation that it is is yet another blatant progressive lie.
Free-markets Encourage Increasingly Unequal Income Distribution.
Another progressive meme is the idea free-market capitalism inequitably distributes the national income, leaving a very small fraction of the population, the fabled “1%”, very rich while the rest of the nation struggles. This idea is used by progressives to argue government should redistribute more of the national income from the very rich to everyone else. European style socialism may not be all that bad after all!
The argument that free-market capitalism increasingly concentrates a larger fraction of the nation’s income and wealth in the investing class is the thesis of the French socialist economist, Thomas Piketty. Piketty’s thesis in turn is a modern day recapitulation of Thomas Malthus’ Iron Law of Wages, which was that capitalist employers would be motivated to give their workers only enough wages to survive. Employers greatest motivation would be to enrich themselves. Piketty’s restatement of it was that the returns on investments, especially stocks and other capital investments, have increased faster than the growth of the GDP in most nations, and rather than give workers higher wages, the increase in wealth is reinvested. The only difference from Malthus’ version of the Iron Law was in Piketty’s explanation of the way in which the owners enriched themselves.
The neoliberal counterargument is that Piketty’s thesis fails for the same reason as the original Iron Law. Employers need skilled workers and must bid for their services in competition with other employers. The labor of skilled workers is a scarce economic commodity like any other. That is why the number of people working for subsistence wages in highly developed countries is a very small fraction of the population. (I could point out that even those are aided by welfare programs in Western nations, but that is not relevant to the argument.)
However, for this mechanism to work there must first be a healthy free-market in which employers must bid for workers. If the economy’s growth stagnates because of government interference stifling it, employers would have less need for workers and would not pay as much for them. Also, the supply of workers would increase and their price — their wages — would decrease according to the law of supply and demand. And where would employers put their profits if they are not motivated to reinvest them? Corporations buying back their own stock has been a frequent answer to that question in recent years. The neoliberal retort to the progressives is that if the very rich have been getting an ever larger share of the national income over the last decade or so, it is all the fault of government policies smothering economic growth.
It is easy to create qualitative arguments on either side of the ideological divide, but is there any data that can tell us which side’s arguments are more correct? In fact there is, because we have a lot of data from the World Bank on something called the GINI index for most countries on Earth. The GINI index is a number usually scaled to vary from 0 to 100. If it is 0, then the country’s GDP is equally distributed among all its citizens; if it is 100 then only one citizen has the entire GDP as income and nobody else has anything. Another piece of data for each of these countries is called the Heritage Foundation / Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, which is a measure of how much a country adheres to free-markets, or alternatively how much the government interferes with the economy. It also is scaled to vary between 0 and 100. If the index is 0, then there are no free-markets and the government totally controls the economy. If it is 100 then markets are totally free and the government has absolutely no control over it all. Using GINI data from the World Bank for the year 2016 for countries for which it was available, and their index of economic freedom, I obtained the following scatter plot of countries’ GINI index versus their index of economic freedom.
Clearly, the red linear trend line has a negative slope, indicating as a country adheres more to free-markets, its GINI index tends to become smaller and its income distribution more equitable. It seems the neoliberals have the right of this argument. The progressive claim that free-markets intrinsically distribute GDP in a fundamentally inequitable way is a lie.
Yet More To Come!
Alas, but this post is already getting rather long, and I have a great many more progressive lies to rebut! I will continue the debunking in my next post.