Monday, March 07, 2011

The Paradoxes at the Heart of the "Progressive" Project

What passes for "Progressive" now is not in the least progressive.

The agendas of both so-called "Progressive" and "Conservative" ideologies are based on paradoxes that proponents conveniently ignore. Let's start with the so-called "Progressive" agenda, so-called because beneath the ideologically "Left" bluster there is little actually progressive or forward-looking thinking.

A recent piece from The Nation entitled "Stockton Goes Bust" instructively communicates the monumental paradoxes implicit in the "Progressive" project.

Stripped down to its essence, the piece would have us feel sorry for a citizen who lost her $138,000 a year job (not including benefits) with a school district and as a result lost her suburban McMansion. Now, we are told, only her fancy clothing remains from her luxe lifestyle of international travel and all the other trappings of an upper-middle class lifestyle.

The implicit message is that this person somehow "deserves" a job that pays $138,000 and all the goodies that salary bought. That this person took in over $1 million in less than a decade and basically squandered that fortune on extravagances and fantasies is carefully left unsaid.

Implicit in this point of view is the basic "Progressive" assumption that all workers in America "deserve" a job which supports the "American Dream" of a suburban home, two cars in the driveway (the garage is filled with the other trappings of consumerist "success"), designer clothing, and international travel.

In other words, the "Progressive" view of what's good and right is circa 1946, only the "good life" "deserved" by all American workers has been upgraded to higher levels of consumption.

Yes, "Progressives" give copious lip service to "green" suburbs and "green" hybrid vehicles,but it's all a nostalgic fantasy of leafy suburbia and long commutes magically devoid of any value creation.

The truth is there is nothing "green" about a large, sprawling exurban community: building a house that requires vast consumption of energy in the middle of nowhere with faux-"green" materials is not sustainable, and a vehicle that depends on lithium-ion batteries isn't sustainable, either (peak lithium is a few years out, but it's coming).

Missing from this "Progressive" program is any recognition that this American Dream lifestyle which we all "deserve" as a birthright depends on cheap, abundant oil and a global Empire to secure it for our private consumption.

The "right" of American workers, some 4.7% of the world's populace, to consume 25% of its oil and resources is unchallenged by this "Progressive" agenda, which stripped of pretensions is basically the Consumerist Fantasy of ever higher consumption and ever more "growth."

In 1946, America supplied its own oil and energy. We didn't need a Global Empire with "interests" everywhere on the planet that needed "defending." You want to stripmine 25% of the world's resources for 4.7% of its inhabitants, then you need a Global Empire to enforce that stripmining, and a Central State with the power to skim trillions of dollars from others via arbitraging the world's sole reserve currency, the U.S. dollar.

The paradox is obvious, isn't it? In demanding our "rights" to endlessly rising "growth" and consumption, then you have to stripmine the planet to feed our extravagance, and you need a Global Empire to enforce and control the flow of resources to the home country.

The standard "Progressive" disapproves of all Pentagon spending in support of Empire, and heartily approves of domestic "growth" based on rising consumption, conveniently ignoring that this "growth" requires Empire.

In a similiar fashion, "Progressives" decry 10% annual increases in Central State spending on the Pentagon and heartily approve 10% annual increases in Savior State spending on their own favorite cartels/monopolies, education and healthcare.

But you can't have 10% annual increases in Central State spending in an economy that is shrinking or grows by 2% per year at best. Borrowing or printing trillions of dollars out of thin air leads to insolvency, regardless of what the trillions are spent on.

"Progressives" don't like The Patriot Act and other Central State over-reach, but they are passionately wedded to an ever larger and ever more powerful Savior State that can impose "solutions" on the planet and the nation.

The "good" Savior State and the "bad" Central State are one in the same. You can't create a Central State that collects ever more powers to control, intercede, intervene and manipulate and not get a Central State that over-reaches and bloats into a collection of self-aggrandizing, self-serving fiefdoms and State-chartered monopolies like the Military-Industrial complex and "healthcare," to name but two State-cartel partnerships.

So-called "Progressives" love these State-monopoly partnerships because they invite "top-down" "solutions" which can be shoved down the food chain. The idea that people can sort out their own lives is anathema to "Progressives" because it would deprive them of the large-scale bureaucracies and concentrations of power that they see as the foundations of "solutions."

But stripped of ideological niceties, this is just another example of the State buying complicity. Once you depend on the fiefdom for your perquisites and power, then magically, the fiefdom becomes not just essential, but expansive.

Once again, the "Progressive" view is essentially nostalgic for 1946, when the American Empire was "good" because it had expanded to defeat fascism, and American workers shared in the largesse of vast Federal borrowing and spending.

"Progressives" ignore all the paradoxes implicit in their nostalgic fantasy worldview: that $1 trillion borrowed and spent in 1944 bought quite a bit of goods and services, and in an economy with plentiful labor and resources and little debt, there was a substantial follow-through of "growth" from that massive debt-based spending.

But now that the Federal government borrows and spends $1 trillion a year more than it spent a mere 3 years ago in 2007, the "Progressives" are silent. Marginal return has set in with a vengeance: now we borrow and spend $1 trillion to create less than $1 trillion in measurable "growth." The money is simply being squandered to support fiefdoms that are failing to do anything except consume more money and resources to maintain their own perquisites and power.

This is the ultimate paradox at the heart of the "Progressive" program: if we want to pay people $138,000 a year to shuffle paper or data (and add another $20,000 or $30,000 in pension and other benefits to their pay), then that person has to create more than $160,000 in actual productive wealth.

But we don't. As a nation, we are living a great lie, and the so-called "Progressives" are just as committed to continuing that lie as any "right-wing" "conservative." The "Progressive" agenda boils down to wanting to pay everyone $138,000 for doing $38,000 (or $8,000) of actual productive work. The $100,000 difference between the value of what we actually produce and what we want to consume is either skimmed from others or borrowed into existence: in effect, borrowing from future value creation to live large today.

There is absolutely nothing Progressive about this rapacious "growth" of consumption based on stripmining the planet and borrowing from our future.

Rather than live within our means, we stripmine resources from others via the implicit power of Empire and the masked arbitrage of the dollar's reserve currency status.

Only the world is getting tired of our gaming and self-absorption. Now the Federal Reserve has to print the money to buy the debt we are borrowing from future citizens. Abolishing the Fed and just printing the trillions in cash just takes us on a slightly different path to insolvency and collapse. The bottom line is we can't live beyond our means forever, because the gaming, arbitrage, skimming and fraud that we depend on to fill the widening gap between what we produce and what we consume are not sustainable.

"Progressives" are fixated on income inequality as the root cause of all our problems. I too rail against the Financial Elites, for their highly concentrated wealth has naturally led to concentrated political power which has corrupted and distorted the machinery of governance.

But even if we throw off the chains of serfdom and break up the banking cartels, Wall Street and the Fed, that won't change the facts that we are facing The End of Work, the End of Empire, the end of cheap, abundant oil, the bankruptcy of our dueling paradox-ridden ideologies and of our Savior State, a.k.a. the over-reaching Central State.

What would be truly Progressive would be to articulate a new vision of sharing resources and a prosperity that rejects the "American Dream" of ever-rising "growth" of consumption. What would be truly Progressive would be a complicity-free vision of a limited Central State that no longer claims to be a Savior State or an Empire that has "interests" everywhere on the planet, a State whose mandate is restricted to safeguarding civil liberties and limiting the concentrations of wealth and power that have corrupted the machinery of governance and spawned a vast array of ever-expanding, unaccountable states within the State.

What would be truly Progressive would be to champion the dispersal and diffusion of concentrations of monopoly-cartel wealth and power, including all the monopoly-cartel-State fiefdoms which are failing so visibly, including education and sickcare.

To be truly progressive, we need to dump the "American Dream" birthright to ever-higher consumption and all the unsustainable elements of the American Project. Living honestly within our means, with transparency and accountability rather than excuses, denial, self-indulgence and a reliance on exploiting others--now that would be progressive.

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