Progressivism, Fairness, Equality: The Simple Plan

I just listened to an argument against Progressivism.  The participants used a basic definition of the term:  favoring progress toward bettering conditions in government and society.

One person spoke from the position that it is not necessarily income inequality but that the rapid increase in the size of the income gap must decelerate to enable a bettering of conditions.  If expansion slowed, the gap would decrease before ultimately settling into a similar tiered structure to what already exists.  The primary difference would be increased mobility between the various tiers as either a rise or fall would not be as great as it has become and return more to the patterns of the past.

Being a friendly argument, neither side cited statistics or specific references to back up their assertions.  I haven’t researched any references to cite myself, but to me the position has some historic validity in the United States.  It’s that American Dream where anyone with initiative, hard work, and some luck can move from the lower rungs of the economic ladder to the top.  Thinking back to only the generation of my parents and grandparents, I can rattle off names of individuals who started working for a company as either a teenager or in their early 20s in an entry level position and then retired 30 and even 40 years later from a job with the same company. They retired, however, from a position several responsibility or pay grades higher.  Those who I recall did not work for the same company or even in the same industry.  They built careers in different fields and were involved members of the community.  I admired and respected them when I was a kid, and those feelings have increased as I’ve grown older and they are passing away.  I don’t know if they were wealthy.  I only know that they had solid homes, well kept property, good families, and were willing to help others out whether the assistance took the form of a hand helping to pull you along or a kick in the pants to push you through some obstacle.

I have to be forgetting someone because this doesn’t seem possible, but while several of my childhood friends have worked in the same career all of their adult life I can only think of one who works with the same company or place.  In her case she teaches at the same school where her Mom worked as teacher and later administrator for 30+ years prior.  My other school friends who teach within the K-12 levels have taught at different schools within the Parish (County) and different Parishes.  Myself, as an adult the longest I have lived in the same area was approximately 8 years.  I’m slightly different in that until 2007 I remained a single man and every move both before and after getting married was for greater professional opportunities and better positions. Still, even those who have remained in the same area since graduating high school have worked for different companies and those who started their own businesses or are self employed have instituted changes in their work as different as night and day.

The opposing position in this friendly discussion brought up a plank that I hear often.  Fairness, equality, and even opportunity cannot be given to another without taking at least something from another.  How is that not being unfair to the one who has?  If you give something to another without any declaration of repayment, aren’t you diminishing self responsibility?

I can see the merits of that position.  Still, I feel there is a huge flaw by adopting that position as an argument.  In the past, did you or your family receive some benefits or opportunity not afforded to another?  It could have been a result of legitimate criteria for something which no longer exists today or discrimination for whatever reason.  It’s just something which some received and others did not.

I’m not suggesting that you are wrong.  I’m not suggesting that you took advantage.  I’m asking to think about if everyone always had the same opportunities.

This point and statistics to verify can be found in a number of places, and it shocks many people.  In the year 1860, the South was more industrialized than it would be in the year 1900.  We have that image of the Civil War of an Industrialized North against an Agricultural South.  Well, that’s partially correct because the North also had agriculture when you consider the corn and grain states of today.  The South had limited industry.  Sure you had the Tredegar Iron Works and different textile factories, but the South lagged behind the North significantly prior to the War.  By the turn of the century, did the North remain stagnant in terms of industry?  Not with people like Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and others at the helm of huge financial empires.  Even if the South had not regressed, the gap grew greater.

What difference does that make?  One might state that what happened in the past has no bearing on the conditions today.  Well just consider the differences in the cost of living among different regions.  I remember weighing 2 good job offers years ago.  Honestly in that situation, money was the deciding factor.  I accepted the position which paid about 20 percent less.  After expenses, namely lodging, my monthly real salary in the location I chose was approximately double that of the higher paying job in the North.  In fact, I even lived in a larger place with better surroundings because I could afford it with the lesser paying job and could not have with the higher paying job located up North.

To think another way:

My best comparison to either Southern history or the arguments about how unfair it is to limit opportunities for one group today to benefit a lower group is the same.  It’s a foot race.  The finish line is 100 yards from the starting line.  Everyone has to cover the same 100 yards to win the race.  Due to previous events beyond the control of any of the current participants, some individuals have already started toward the finish line and have traveled anywhere from 1 to 70 yards before the others are able to begin running.

Should someone carry the late starters to say the 50 yard mark?  I don’t think that would really help or solve any problems.

Should someone drag those 70 yards in front back to the starting line?  How about those 30 yards in front?  I don’t think dragging people back would help matters.

Should those in front have a 2 steps forward 1 step back regulation tied to them to allow the others to catch up?  I don’t think that is the answer either.

What is the answer?  I doubt a single or simple one exists.  I only know that no matter how talented one might be and how lazy and incompetent another might be, nothing either did by or for themselves created that big of a difference in where each begins running.  If you have the talent and put forth the effort to win by 70 yards, you should be allowed to do that and others should try to duplicate your success.  Still, if you got to start early or are the one with the advantageous starting block, how can you really appreciate what is fair and what is not unless you understand how and why that same 100 yard foot race can become different in ways both seen and unseen?

Chances are that you would be squawking if you felt those behind you were given something not available to you.

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