One of the more enlightening assignments my US History students complete each year is the one where half the class researches the progressive movement of the early 20th century and the other half researches the progressive movement of the early 21st century. It’s true. No two progressives of two different time periods are the same. Progressivism in itself keeps looking for more targets. Now whether this is a good or bad thing is certainly at the heart of the cultural struggle happening now in America. Whichever side you land on in either era, a lot is going on and there are many myriad of ideologies to ponder and discuss. Everyone is welcome to make up their own mind as to the merit of any one of these ideals, but let me present a short summary of their findings.
Protecting Social Welfare – early 20th century vs. Protecting Social Welfare of the 21st
The progressives fought tirelessly for fair working conditions, better labor laws. This also included putting elections back into the hands of the people, passing the 17th amendment by having the general population elect senators instead of the state legislatures. It also included provisions for recall elections and ballot initiatives.
Protecting social welfare of the 21st century takes the ideas of a century ago and puts them on steroids. The progressive push of this era is for $15 an hour minimum wage, universal healthcare (progressives are of course not satisfied with Obamacare) and pushing America away from the its historical model of equality of opportunity and pushing it towards the more European model of equality of outcome.
Promoting Economic Reform (20th) vs. Income Redistribution (21st)
The progressives of the 20th century targeted the robber barons, the Morgans and the Rockefellers, passing anti-trust legislation and eventually having the backbone to use it and bring down many of the great monopolies which had flourished for decades. This enabled the smaller guys to compete in business, and led to a new type of businessman such as Henry Ford, who pushed for higher wages for workers and products for the masses.
On the flip side, the income redistributionists of the 21st century aims at making a democratic socialistic society where the rich are taxed greatly (one example: proposal of taxing 90% after $3.5 million) and the tax money is used for government run programs for education, healthcare, and a myriad of other options. The modern day progressives also push for massive environmental programs such as cap and trade which penalize the most highly industrialized nations through strict emissions guidelines. Critics of these types of programs say they are misguided attempts to punish the “neocolonial tendencies” of many western nations.
In part two, we’ll look at the final two categories:
- Promoting Moral Improvement vs. Secular Progressivism
- Foster Efficiency vs. Regulatory Bureaucracy