Expand or Collapse … or Change Course

“How do you tell a communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.” – Ronald Reagan

It would seem a trait of bad governing philosophies that they cannot maintain level prosperity, or even growth, without expanding to take more and more from the external surroundings. I’m not here speaking of a desire by many philosophies, or religions, or ideologies, to convince ever more people of the goodness of their way. This is an ideological debate and certainly welcome. Instead I’m considering philosophies of government that cannot survive in stasis. Their trend is either in conquering or collapse.

In the antebellum South, it was understood by a few high-brow thinkers that expansion was a must. The economy was built on slave labor and cotton production. While slave labor was an untenable evil that ultimately led to the South’s downfall, it was cotton production that put a time constraint on the economic prosperity. Cotton was destroying the land (as is often the case when the same crop is planted over and over). The South had to expand westward to find new, fertile soil for cotton production. It’s not clear just how far west they thought they could go. What is clear is that if there was no opportunity for expansion, the economy would slow and collapse. They needed to expand, or collapse, or change course.

Of course, at the end, it was slavery that did in the South. But I suppose the end would have come sooner or later anyway.

We found that the same was very much true in the Communist regime of the Soviet Union. Despite massive advantages in natural resources, the centralized economy of the Soviets was steadily trending downhill. The only way they could even keep level was to expand communism, grabbing more and more resources from their conquests (and garnering more and more revolutionary pride).

In less than a decade, Ronald Reagan was able to do what no previous administration thought possible. He put the clamps on Soviet expansionism and then started to roll back prior gains. Eventually, he knew there was no way the system could support itself – and he was right.

(As a side note, Kang Chol-Hwan describes quite a similar situation in North Korea. Settlers coming in from other countries quickly find their resources confiscated and their freedoms tossed aside. The North needs ever more fodder for its utterly failed economic engine. It can only work by demanding greater and greater infusions from external sources. Even with that, it appears as though we may have reached the brink.)

It should not be true of a viable governing philosophy that it must expand or collapse. Democracy does not rely on ever increasing numbers of democracies in the world in order to maintain itself. Free markets do not rely on expanding the free market to sustain themselves. True, free markets find ever more prosperity as more participants join, but this is not a must – it is an added benefit.

And what of progressivism? Do we not find it in the same boat as the Antebellum South or the Soviet Union? The nature of the expand or collapse paradigm actually points quite clearly to the undoing of progressive economic policies. But first, let’s consider a few simple questions on the liberal mindset.

On school choice – the freedom and opportunity to choose the form of your education – do progressives support or oppose? They overwhelmingly oppose. I submit this is not simply a sop to the teacher’s unions. It is rather an acknowledgment that given a choice, parents will choose the education that gives their kids the best chance in the job market, not the one that gives them the proper socialization and worldview. Thus, attempts to form the young minds with progressive ideals will not survive competition … expand or collapse.

Of course, education is not the only place liberals work hard to squelch competition and freedom of choice. Consider state laws on unionization. Businesses are fleeing union-friendly states in droves. Why? It’s purely economic. They can do better, more profitable business elsewhere. To this, the progressive response is an attempt to nationalize union-friendly policies. (Here it is again – no freedom of choice for states or individuals.) Stacking the deck at the state level isn’t good enough. As long as businesses can still choose an alternative (i.e., a different state) they will, and progressivism fails. The must expand to the federal level … or collapse.

How about tax and spend policies? It is generally understood that progressives prefer more taxes and more spending, while conservatives prefer less of both. (Obviously it doesn’t always play out that way, but that is the general conception in most circles.) The highest state income tax is 11% (Hawaii and Vermont). The highest federal rate: 35% (and set to increase to 39.6% next year). That’s a massive disparity. Why? Well, at the state level the citizens can choose – they can choose to go elsewhere. (Already wealthy New Yorkers are fleeing for Florida.) It’s a little harder to choose to leave the country and renounce citizenship. (Not impossible, just harder.) So, while state income tax rates are moderated by competition, federal rates are less constrained.

This freedom presents a natural barrier to progressive policies. The productive citizens, tired of being taxed to subsidize unproductive behavior, will simply move elsewhere. States with more business and work-friendly environments will receive the best and brightest. States with greater tax and spend policies will get the rest. Progressivism will fail. They can’t have that – so they expand the tax and spend policies to the federal level, where you don’t have as much freedom to move.

This is the very blueprint for destroying liberal and socialist policies. It is not necessary to rout them by mass uprising. No, all that is needed is competition. If the progressive ideologues are forced to compete, even at the state level, they will crumble. Free people don’t choose failure when they can do better. If we simply undo the expansionism of anti-freedom policies in the federal government, the rest will unravel on its own.

Just as light chases out darkness, so freedom will cripple oppressive policies. The two cannot coexist.

Now, if you disagree with my assessment of inevitable progressive failure in the presence of competition, then we may still find an accord. If you honestly believe that progressive policies will make for a happier and more productive citizenry, then you should be promoting freedom with me. Let the games begin, and may the best plan prevail (for the good of us all). If you will not, then I suspect you know how it will turn out and are unwilling to accept such an answer. Either way, the truth will out.

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