Progressivism is Dead
COVID19 killed it
Progressivism is dead:
COVID19 killed it
My entire adult life, I have been a progressive. To me that label meant that when done well, government, is capable of improving the lives of people. With better design, and better incentives, government (a form of collective action) can enhance freedom, and promote good choices.
For the 3 people who read Ending Medical Reversal (2015), Malignant (2020), and the 300 papers I’ve published, you will not be surprised to hear this is my view—it is present in all my work.
To me Progressivism has several corollaries:
1. It means freedom of speech and freedom to think, even if those views threaten the powerful
2. It means society is judged by how it treats the poorest amongst us, not by how it rewards the rich
3. Structures—political, economic, social—are the real root of problems, and solutions require careful, incremental fixing of structures, not shaming or blaming of individuals.
4. Tolerance & compassion were core tenets amongst progressives I admired.
COVID19 killed progressivism. People who identify on the political left, are increasingly frenzied and disinhibited. Their policies contradict all of the principles of progressivism. Let me highlight a few e.g..
1. Censoring misinformation. Many progressives have embraced the idea that social media must censor ‘misinformation.’ But none of them are capable of defining the line between honest debate and misinformation. Few appreciate the potential for an authoritarian to abuse this power. (see video)
And consider the case of lab leak—Facebook suppressed discussion of it for 4 months—only to rescind after it was clear we needed to have that discussion. You cannot censor science in a crisis. It is too volatile, too live, and too unsettled.
2. We forgot the poor! The policies that were pushed by the left were policies that shielded principally the zoom class of worker—the upper middle class, highly educated laborer. Among these: school closures. What will soon be seen as the greatest policy blunder of the pandemic; One that will scar the lives of hundreds of thousands of kids. This policy was pushed by left of center cities, and cities with strong teachers’ unions. Progressives forgot about the poorest amongst us, while red states remembered.
3. Blamed people not structures—the rhetoric online was a constant stream of shame and blame. Good people (those who can afford to stay home) and bad people (all the rest). The shaming and blaming and moralizing continue to this day. Pre-vaccine everything was the fault of libertines who would not stay home, and post vaccine everything is the fault of the unvaccinated.
4. Tolerance & compassion has been replaced by vaccine passports, and mandates, and passionate calls that people who decline vaccination should pay higher premiums, lose their jobs or not receive medical care!
Progressives have forgotten that the structures of society—our tribalism, our income inequality, our politics—trap people in information bubbles where they are not given open and honest information about vaccines. On the other side, there is a different bubble of dishonesty that won’t consider adverse effects fairly. I learned this the hard way, trying to talk about the benefit of vaccination while reducing the risk of myocarditis.
In short, for each pillar of progressivism that once existed, we instead have the precise opposite sentiment among self-proclaimed liberals. A full analysis of the origin of this swing is beyond me, but it is undeniable that many people were anchored to Donald J. Trump. Whatever he said, we did the opposite. That is evident by massive opinion poll swings in school re-openings the moment he said we ought to do them, documented by Vlad Kogan.
That was the original sin. Closing schools for so long in Democratic stronghold cities, strong union cities, precisely after the President that many disliked pushed for it. But no matter how wrong he was about other matters, he was right on that issue. We should have reopened schools. And the net result has been devastation so catastrophic it will shape this country for the next 100 years, if we survive it. The damage is done; time will reveal it. As for me, I had been pushing on schools since Sept of 2020, and I think there is progress now. In 2021, It is inconceivable to close them again, but, I still live with regret. My regret was not doing more in the summer of 2020.