(Analysis.) When we think of the full political spectrum, from pure socialism on the left to unbridled capitalism on the right, we find progressivism at the center – not the left, as is commonly thought. Under socialism, the people own the means of production, and get the benefits of that production. The people's government plans and manages the production, but, with that power, may become overbearing and self-serving. Under capitalism, corporations own the means of production, and compete to create better products at less cost. The corporate management maximizes profit for the owners, and may form monopolies or mega-corporations that make people pay dearly for products, even basic needs. With progressivism, like capitalism, corporations own most of the means of production, but, like socialism, the people get much of the benefits of that production. Progressivism always aims for the common good, but, unlike socialism or capitalism, its policies are not ideological, but practical. Progressives choose policies based on what has been shown to work, and on scientific study.
In U.S. history, progressive policies took hold when capitalism brought much pain to, and became threatened by, the people. Near its end, the Gilded Age heaped depression on top of dangerous working conditions and skimpy pay. The occurrence of strikes rose from 1000 per year in the 1890's to 4000 in 1904. By 1911, a "rising tide of socialism" saw hundreds of socialists elected to public office. President Theodore Roosevelt was among the leaders that saw the situation as did the progressive Milwaukee Journal: "[Conservatives] fight socialism blindly ... while the Progressives fight it intelligently and seek to remedy the abuses and conditions upon which it thrives." So the "Progressive Era" began and brought us such gains as workplace safety standards, food and drug purity standards, the national park system, control of corporate monopoly growth, guards against plutocracy and aristocracy via progressive taxation, and, in some states, a total ban on corporations in politics.
During the Great Depression of the 1930's, with one-fourth of the work force idled and many thrown out of home, tenants and the jobless organized, self-help movements formed, and general strikes stopped business-as-usual in several cities. Wage cuts prompted sit-down strikes against the rubber manufacturers in Akron, and after the long sit-down strike against GM in Flint was won, a wave of such strikes swept the nation. From this state of affairs came President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which brought us such gains as the Social Security system, unemployment insurance, minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, child labor limits, protection of the worker's right to unionize, a firewall between Wall Street speculators and regular banking, bank deposit insurance, and Wall Street watchdogs. Also, there came a sharp rise in unionization and the golden age of the American middle class.
That golden age ended around 1980 with the onset of the "Reagan Revolution," which brought a sharp fall in union membership, and a trend of weakening and reversing progressive gains. Corporations grew bigger and, by a growing system of legal bribery, got more power in government. Lawmakers flattened progressive income and estate tax, and tore down the wall between speculators and regular banking. President Reagan also helped form a big right-wing propaganda system that bent the D.C. "conventional wisdom." In 2008, these trends climaxed in the Bush Crash and the Great Recession, which, once again, threw many persons out of work and home. And while established progressive safety net programs, such as unemployment insurance and food stamps, cushioned the fall, street rebellion against the capitalist system still arose -- this time in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And while a law to rein-in Wall Street passed, banks are jamming up its implementation, and risky derivatives trading and too-big-to-fail banks still go on.
Today, as we still sit in the throes of the Great Recession with a battered and shrunken middle class, faced with climate change, and renewed Wall Street corruption and corporate power, progressives still fight for policies such as Medicare for all, a carbon tax, a stock transaction tax, ending corporate tax breaks for oil drilling and moving jobs and profits overseas, infrastructure funding, and breaking up too-big-to-fail banks. Today, as much as ever, we need to aim for the common good with proven, practical governance – that is, we need the progressive way.
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