Progressives don't really get progress, but the American people do
Progressives claim to have a monopoly on progress – designed by intellectuals who 'know better' and brought about by a big, beneficent government. But Americans voted in last week's elections that this brand of progress actually impoverishes, and that a free market is much smarter.
President Obama and other progressives attribute the Democrats’ electoral shellacking last week to their failure to communicate with ordinary Americans. The implication is that most Americans are too slow to appreciate the noble and courageous government programs that progressives enacted for the public good. Another implication is that progressives are unusually smart and visionary.Skip to next paragraph
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The very label “progressive” suggests a forward-looking intelligence – a desire to progress past present superstitions and misinformation into a future enlightened by ideas rather than benighted by ignorance.
And because, for progressives, progress is believed always to involve a larger role for the state, the hallmark of progressive thinking is the outpouring of ideas about what government can do. Anyone objecting to the implementation of these ideas is, therefore, a nonprogressive – someone content to allow past habits and irrational notions to interfere with big, bold, collectively imposed ideas for improving society.
Trouble is, progressives’ understanding of the source of progress is regressive. It reflects an outmoded belief that society advances only if it is consciously designed by well-meaning and smart intellectuals and steered by a beneficent and powerful government.
For a different view: Election tally: Glenn Beck won. Progressivism lost.
Free markets regulate themselves
No one more famously exposed the wrong-headedness of this belief than did Adam Smith way back in 1776. Leave individuals free to pursue their own goals as they each see fit, said Smith in effect, and the result will be an orderly, prosperous, and growing – a progressing! – economy that no one did or could design.
Since Smith, generations of economists have refined our understanding that a decentralized, free-market economy is far smarter than is even the best set of ideas concocted by the world’s most brilliant intellectuals.
When markets are free – when individuals are prohibited only from violating the property rights of others and from breaking their contractual promises – the economy swarms with countless ideas. Countless entrepreneurs generate creative ideas for supplying new goods and services that consumers will value; legions of engineers work to develop techniques for producing outputs more efficiently; armies of attorneys devise new ways for contracting parties to better reduce and share risks; bankers around the globe each work to improve methods of getting liquidity into the hands of borrowers who can use it most effectively.
These ideas, constantly bubbling up from millions of different minds, compete with each other. Each of these ideas is tested in the real world, but without being forced on anyone. Also, the feedback on these ideas’ usefulness comes not from seminar participants, but from millions of actual producers and consumers putting their own money on the line.
Ideas that actually work survive. Ideas that don’t, don’t.
One size doesn't fit all
Here’s an even better part. In markets, one size does not fit all.