For most of my life, I’ve considered myself a “progressive”. Over the last few years I’ve changed that description to “moderate progressive” – something US Senator Bernie Sanders said, during the 2016 election, a person could not be. I do not know if I left the progressive movement or if it left me but at the moment we are not together. I am also not comfortable with the right, which I consider a threat to Western Civilization.
It is not that I no longer share progressive goals of fairness, equality and an end to poverty – I do. However, I believe in getting there using the best available evidence, sound economic policies, cooperation and consensus building rather than the sheer force of my belief in an ideology to shove my ideas down the throats of people who disagree or don’t understand.
The “progressive” left relies heavily on the idea that “capitalism is dying” and it is not. There is simply no evidence, other than a slight uptick in votes in a few elections, to suggest that either pure socialism or communism is on the rise. Globally, the evidence suggests just the opposite China and Russia are not communist anymore, Cuba is quickly moving away from it, Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution in Venezuela has failed miserably and the last of Latin America’s communist rebel groups FARC has reached a peace agreement with Columbia’s government ending decades of civil war. For the first time since we moved away from the barter system, the entire world will soon function under roughly the same economic system and that system is capitalism.
It is not even clear how socialism, as proposed by Karl Marx, would work in the 21st century and beyond. After all, how can “workers” control the means of production if everything is made by robots and companies do not need workers anymore.
That does not mean though that pure laissez-faire capitalism is triumphant. That approach too has failed where it has been tried. It failed with great fanfare in the collapse that led to the great depression and it failed again in 2008 leading to the ‘great recession’. In Kansas and Louisiana, Republicans gained enough power to put the principles of the modern conservative movement to the test – slashing taxes and government services to the bone. In both cases, Republican ideology failed miserably. On the whole, since the 1980s the idea of trickle down economics, as espoused by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and others has failed. Since that time, the wealthy have certainly accumulated more wealth but it has not trickled down very far.
However, contrary to attacks from the right and the left, globalization has worked very well – just not for everyone. Since 1990 global GDP has surged, extreme poverty is in freefall, education levels, health outcomes, and life expectancy are all rapidly improving in the global South. And while the West has lost some high-end manufacturing and mining jobs, many products have become more affordable for average families. Adjusted for inflation the cost of things like cars, televisions, home appliances, computers, and smartphones keeps coming down – allowing nearly anyone to own what were once high-end luxury items (or at least things that were considered major purchases and required a considerable slice of a family’s annual income to obtain.
It would be reckless and dangerous to pull back from globalization now. Doing so might create a few jobs for a few people (though most of those would be done by machines now) but it would also make many products much more expensive and it would have a devastating impact on many of the world’s poorest leading to increased political and economic instability. Most important of all, it would lead to more wars. Looser borders might (might) increase the chances of a one-off attack by a madman, but they decrease the chances of full-scale war between major powers. Countries with strong economic ties and where a significant number of one country’s nationals live in the other country and vice-versa simply do not go to war with one another easily or frivolously.
Going forward, our relationships with other countries will be even more important. Of the major problems facing the world in the 21st century almost none of them can be solved by any one nation, or even a small group of nations, acting independently. Climate change, mass drought, and desertification, waves of immigration, water pollution, overfishing, food security, cybersecurity, fighting invasive species and pandemic diseases, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, energy security, the regulation of robotics and biotechnology and a host of other problems will require levels of international cooperation that we have never achieved before. That level of cooperation cannot be achieved in the midst of hot wars, cold wars or trade wars.
Domestically I believe that we need to focus on both income inequality and “identity politics”.
It is sad that we still have to focus on “identity politics” or as it was called before 2016 “civil rights”. After all, the West has spent most of the last two centuries on the issue – first for “the people” generally and then on women’s rights, rights for racial minorities, religious minorities, LGBT people, people with mental and physical disabilities, etc. At this point, we should be all set but we’re not. Nearly all “minority” groups still demonstrably suffer from discrimination in employment, income, education, the legal system, housing and more. We cannot back down from that fight until we’ve achieved a much larger sense of fairness and equality.
We also have to have to limit income inequality for the good of everyone. In this, I’m of two minds. We do not need a ceiling on how high people can climb, but we do need a floor on how low we’ll let them fall. The government has a large role to play in ensuring greater income inequality but I believe that we can do it without swelling the size of government. I believe that a universal basic income, combined with universal health care and universal access to education and skills training should be the basis of a new, new deal. To get there it will take a combination of tax cuts and the elimination of many existing government programs.
In the end, we will have given people enough of an income to survive regardless of what else happens, combined with the ability to tackle any physical or mental health issues they may face and the ability to improve their economic prospects. It would require the left to give up the idea that government is best at solving people’s problems – that most people can solve their own problems if given the tools. It would require the right to abandon the notion that government has no role to play in inequality. But, as I’ve shown above, neither pure socialism nor pure capitalism work. There would no doubt be some problems left to solve but if you were to remove people who need a little more money, people who have mental and physical health issues and people who need more education or job skills from the government assistance list – it is not at all apparent that those problems would be especially large or widespread.
These are my core political beliefs but perhaps, more importantly, I’m open to better ideas. I am willing to be proven wrong. I’m willing to have conversations with people to my left or my right provided they’ve done their homework and their arguments are fact based rather than ideological. Anyone can watch Fox News, read Breitbart, Rebel Media or their left wing equivalent and simply parrot talking points. I believe in researched, evidence-based solutions. And this is the basic for the revolution that the West needs.
I am a Canadian-American dual citizen and am well aware of the politics in both countries and also try to follow politics in the rest of the world. Nowhere are things as bad as they are in the United States, but I see symptoms of the same illness in Canada, the UK, and parts of Europe. We are becoming more and more focused on ideology and less on evidence and compromise. We’ve come to see those who have different perspectives, who have come to different conclusions or have different ideas as an evil other.
When elections come the only goal is winning, even if that means supporting bad people or attacking good people. In the case of the Republican Party in the US, they’ve courted support from white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups and accepted help from a hostile foreign government to help ensure the election of a man who many long-time Republicans don’t particularly like. They’ve also convinced their core supporters that education and journalism are bad for society. In the case of the “progressive” left, they’ve shown a willingness to use Republican propaganda and demonize and sabotage a woman who agreed with them on many of their core issues simply because they did not like her as much as another candidate. They’ve also come up with a laundry list of government programs and services they would like without any real plan for how to pay for it and that they themselves aren’t willing to contribute to financially.
When one side wins an election the push forward with as much of their agenda as they can, completely ignoring the wants and needs of the other side. This inevitably results in greater energy on the losing side and when they win the next election they push back, undoing the ‘reforms’ of the other side. This two-steps forward two-steps back approach does not lead to change, it leads to increasing division and hostility without any lasting improvements for anyone. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to political instability and even civil war.
The West definitely needs a revolution but it needs a revolution of reasonable adults; people willing to have conversations and debates based on evidence; it needs a revolution of people who are willing to negotiate and compromise with people they disagree with; people who are willing to push back against the worst impulses of people who are fundamentally on their side; people who are willing to call bullshit on a piece of false information even if it does support their worldview; people who are liberal enough to recognize that very few problems ever go away on their own but conservative enough to avoid trading their cow because someone promised them magic beans. We need serious people, willing to look at solid evidence, have serious conversations about serious issues and try to forge consensus. In the current political environment that would be a revolution, the rest is just destructive noise.