There is nothing ‘progressive’ about big government

Michael Schaus

This article was originally published by the Nevada Business Magazine. 

If progressive voters really want the kind of “bold” and “transformative” changes big-government politicians keep promising, they had better change their voting habits. Despite the lofty-sounding rhetoric, there’s nothing inherently progressive—new, innovative or revolutionary—about the policy proposals being touted by big-government proponents. In fact, far from effecting sweeping change, such policies largely serve to cement the status quo. For a prime example, look no further than the education debate that took place in Nevada’s last legislative session.

Far from fundamentally transforming the state’s educational status quo, progressives doubled down on the very policies that have been failing Nevada’s youth, even going so far as to decimate the one innovative alternative available to low income students: Opportunity Scholarships.

Far from embracing any bold innovation to the way we deliver education in Nevada, progressives actively worked to erode any educational reform or program that didn’t enrich the same government special-interests that have been running the show for decades. Public schools received more funding, scholarships for low-income students were kneecapped and, at one point, even public charter schools found themselves in the cross-hairs of “progressive” politicians. In other words, it was “more of the same” from the education establishment that has run public education into the ground—and it was hailed as a victory by “progressive” activists and lawmakers.

This same story played out on multiple fronts. More taxes, more spending and more government control over business and commerce were sold as transformative steps forward, despite the fact that in virtually every instance it was a mirror image or extension of previously enacted reforms. Not only are these “progressive” priorities far from new or revolutionary, they have all been tried on some level, and they have failed. In fact, it’s often that failure—for example, government’s monopoly on education—that has driven the populist call for ever-more government intervention.

After all, public education isn’t a mess because it’s too susceptible to free-market forces—it’s in trouble precisely because it has been a government monopoly, susceptible to political pandering and the influence of government special-interests.

Structural, cultural and even political change does not come from granting government more power to direct the economy and citizens’ lives. It doesn’t come from emboldening and empowering the established government-class of power-brokers and bureaucrats. Instead, it comes from the kind of free-market capitalism progressives have been so quick to demonize.

Not only has free-market capitalism launched the western world into a period of prosperity never before seen in human history, but it has done so while revolutionizing and transforming the world in which we live. Through the power of free markets, we have seen the industrial revolution, the uprising of Silicon Valley and thousands of advancements in how we, as a society and a culture, interact with the world around us.

In other words, “bold” and structural change is an inherent part of a free society—it need not require sweeping government action to take place. The democratic nature of free-market capitalism—a system that caters to the values and preferences of individual consumers—is a perfect tool for effecting change. Even if that change is social, cultural or civil, rather than economic.

We see this routinely, as companies “go green” and boast about their socially conscious behavior. They do this not because government decree requires it, but because the progressive tendencies of consumers encourage it. It’s the freedom of choice and competition that has empowered consumers to alter the behaviors of even the most powerful private-sector companies.

Likewise, it’s through the natural, innovative tendencies of markets—and the market’s drive to address the needs of consumers—that education might finally experience real structural change. A market-driven approach to education would be capable of addressing the needs of students—regardless of how unique or uncommon those needs might be.

True progress—whether in technology, business, education or culture—is made when individuals are empowered with more freedom to innovate, experiment and compete. And unlike “progressive” policies, such an approach would actually be a “bold” divergence from the status quo.