Stunning Lack of “Progress” in the Face of Success

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done” – Peter Drucker

I was cooling my heels around the house yesterday and a thought occurred to me about just how often “progressives” will fight against some social injustice (perhaps even legitimate), win the fight, though only by degrees, and then refuse to declare victory. Instead, they actually work to reconstruct the social injustice so they can fight it again. It’s really an odd thing.

Let me give you an example. Back during the Vietnam War those who today would call themselves progressives greatly opposed the military draft. (Back then “progressive” wasn’t cool, it was “liberal” – but now that’s not cool, so it’s “progressive” again.) Now, there were a lot of groups who opposed the draft for various reasons. The libertarians opposed it and the war for standard freedom-based reasons. The civil rights activists actually opposed on the basis that the black man had no quarrel with the yellow man and didn’t want to fight the white man’s war for him. Young men opposed the draft on the basis that they didn’t want to get drafted. Yet the history books will call out the lynchpin of the opposition as the 60s counter-culture and the progressives of the day.

The war eventually ended, and so did the draft in 1973. Fast forward 30 years or so to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Progressives (it’s cool to say that again) also opposed those wars, though they were fought with an all volunteer force. Now, I don’t have any problem with that – oppose a war for whatever reason you want. What I do find quite interesting is that during the war opposition, it was these progressives who called for the U.S. to reinstate the military draft, arguing that presidents, senators, and congressmen would think twice about going to war if their kids had to go too. (The argument was flawed on many fronts. For instance, adult volunteers are not “children” conscripted to go fight a war. Furthermore, George W. Bush had no sons, and thus would not have had any children conscripted. For that matter, senators and congressmen have always found ways to get their kids out of harms way when they needed to.)

It’s as if they, the liberals, wanted to fight the old fight again. They had already “won” in the sense that the draft had disappeared. Now they wanted to fight against the war again (which is fine as long as you do it the right way) and felt some sense of nostalgia for the old days when they had the draft as a key part of their argument.

I will argue that much the same is true in the current “class warfare” debate in our country. Once upon a time, during the industrial revolution, things were massively stratified with the robber-barrons at the top and the uneducated, unskilled work force at the bottom. Over the course of the intervening decades this country has made a lot of progress – whether you want to attribute it to progressive policies and government action or not, it’s still progress. Workers are safer and better cared for, and to some degree the mode of “big companies employing all the little worker minions” has dissipated. People today can go start their own companies with their own ideas, or work for little startups, or find a way to make it work while not living in the shadow of the big boss. That is, until liberals have their way.

In an odd bit of irony, the purported defenders of the little guy have built up regulation after regulation and thousands upon thousands of pages of tax code that lead directly back to a stratification of the work force. Only the large companies (the corporate robber-barrons) can afford the armies of accountants, lawyers, and lobbyists needed to succeed and prosper in such an environment. The little guy gets choked out by all of it and is forced to go work for the mega-conglomerate again. It’s as if these progressives have some subconscious nostalgia for the old days when the workers would unite to take on the evil, corrupt, big businesses.

Maybe it’s a crutch (a la “Crutches, Mats, and Security Blankets in a Free World“). Maybe they can’t figure out how to go in the world when the old bogeymen are finally vanquished. I suppose it is human nature after all …

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