In several of the arguments I've had on the web over the past week or so, socialism has come up, and degree of socialism has come up ... and I've been wrestling with the relationship of progressivism to socialism.
I have argued from a philosphical standpoint that central planning was a bad thing -- but of course I meant in economics and in cultural matters. Typically someone then throws up the interstate highway system -- which to me is a different animal and an exception to that general philosophy. After all, we can't put roads just anywhere and we do need to balance that against property rights. Any coherent road system is going to have to result from large-scale agreement, not individual transactions. Anyway, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower are brought up -- and I was asked, were they "socialists"?
Well, you know, no. They were, as all 20th century presidents seem to have been with the possible exception of Reagan, infected with the Progressive bug to one degree or another.
And basically the Progressive bug's premise is that we need to get a few smart people in power, making all the decisions to allow the rest of society to "evolve" and catch up with the Enlightened Ones. Teddy Roosevelt certainly abused the office, and he abused it in some cases to preserve some things I rather like -- some of our National Parks and National Monuments - the Grand Canyon being but one of these. It is something I have a hard time reconciling except for to say this:
The preservation of some wilderness for the enjoyment of Americans and mankind in general is relatively inexpensive and in the long run causes no social malaise. But the creation of entitlements always becomes much more expensive over time as the programs are expanded in scope and as people who would otherwise me motivated to avoid the socio-economic circumstances that entitlements are justified to address may find comfortable enough to trade off not having to work or work very hard -- it definitely contributes to further social malaise. National Parks are a one time thing that we then must maintain. Most of it was wilderness to begin with, and it cost relatively little to fire them up, not that there wasn't controversy. Entitlements are forever, and they only grow in scope and volume. The Department of the Interior takes up about 1/3 of 1% of the federal budget, as opposed to Social Security (19.6%), Unemployment/Welfare (16.1%), Medicare (12.8%), Medicade & Children's Health (8.2%).... I mean ... That's 56.7% of the federal budget on entitlements alone.
Peacenicks like to exclude all of this non-discretionary entitlement spending out of their budget comparisons to show how much more Defense spending is than everything that's left, leading people to believe that we spend way too much on defense and not enough on social and infrastructure programs. But of course they intentionally mislead. Probably the largest and most legititmate role of the federal government is national defense, which is at about 20% of the total budget, but when you exclude more than half of the federal budget -- of course the defense percentage of the remainder would more than double and dwarf everything else that is left. But when you see the big picture it's obvious that we'd have a heck of a lot more to spend on highways, national parks, the EPA, and NASA if we weren't so busy buying votes by expanding entitlement programs that arguably shouldn't exist in the first place, or be scaled way, way back for only dire cases.
So no, Progressivism is not Socialism. But Progressivism is the Mother of Socialism, communism, fascism, and naziism. It is a worldview that, if logically followed, naturally leads to such systems.
Government programs are not bad just because they are government programs. When your worldview is that government it a necessary evil that must always be kept in check and people are by and large responsible for meeting their own needs, these little things can be well and good. When your worldview is that if there is a problem, government must solve it -- well then you're well on your way to totalitarianism. It's just a matter of time.