Ten Fallacious Conclusions in the Dominant Ideology’s Political Economy

The dominant ideology does much to shape people’s views about what is happening in social affairs, why it is happening, and what if anything ought to be done about it. Ideology exerts its force in large part through what we might call its power of predisposition, that is, its default conclusions that, on examination, amount to little more than leaps of faith.

For the past century in the United States of America, the dominant ideology has been progressivism. This belief system has not been static, of course, and its specific elements, emphases, and outlooks have changed substantially since the early twentieth century. For example, whereas the early progressives were generally racist, hard imperialist, and eugenicist, today’s are generally multiculturalist, soft imperialist, and more inclined to favor killing off the human race (to save the environment) than to improve it by eliminating the biologically “inferior” people. Nevertheless, through all its emotional and intellectual ups and downs, progressivism has retained one central element: its abiding faith that the state can and should act vigorously on as many fronts as possible to improve society both here and abroad.

An economist notes in particular that progressive ideology now embraces the following default conclusions:

  1.  If a social or economic problem seems to exist, the state should impose regulation to remedy it.
  2.  If regulation has already been imposed, it should be made more expansive and severe.
  3. If an economic recession occurs, the state should adopt “stimulus” programs by actively employing the state’s fiscal and monetary powers.
  4. If the recession persists despite the state’s adoption of “stimulus” programs, the state should increase the size of these programs.
  5. If long-term economic growth seems to be too slow to satisfy powerful people’s standard of performance, the state should intervene to accelerate the rate of growth by making “investments” in infrastructure, health, education, and technological advance.
  6. If the state was already making such “investments,” it should make even more of them.
  7. Taxes on “the rich” should be increased during a recession, to reduce the government’s budget deficit.
  8. Taxes on “the rich” should also be increased during a business expansion, to ensure that they pay their “fair share” (that is, the great bulk) of total taxes and to reduce the government’s budget deficit.
  9. If progressives perceive a “market failure” of any kind, the state should intervene in whatever way promises to create Nirvana.
  10. If Nirvana has not resulted from past and current interventions, the state should increase its intervention until Nirvana is reached.

The foregoing progressive predispositions, and others too numerous to state here, provide the foundation on which the state justifies its current actions and its proposals for acting even more expansively. Progressives see no situation in which the best course of action requires that the government retrench or admit that it can do nothing constructive to help matters. They see the state as well-intentioned, sufficiently capable, and properly motivated to fix any social and economic problem whatsoever if only the public allows it to do so and bears the costs.

It follows that progressives desire a change in the state’s size, scope, and power in only one direction, regardless of past and present conditions and regardless of whether previous attempts to implement progressive panaceas have succeeded or failed—indeed, if honestly assessed, virtually all of them have failed, on balance. Progressive faith in the state, however, springs eternal.

It is a great misfortune for modern Western countries, and many others as well, that serious challenges to this currently dominant ideology do not exist. The political parties compete for office, each seeking to direct more of the state’s plunder to its supporters, but the ideological differences between the competing parties is almost entirely superficial. All politically potent parties believe in a powerful, pervasively engaged state. They differ only in regard to which specific individuals should steer the Leviathan.

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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