Obama's Progressive Goal: Make Us Poorer By Any Means Possible

by William L. Anderson
Apr. 13, 2012

California regulators recently announced their plans to try to force people to live in dense housing developments rather than single-family homes, which environmental bureaucrats believe are wasteful and contribute to dread global warming. Likewise, the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has issued an order that effectively will keep electric power companies from building new coal-fired power plants, which will mean even higher electricity prices.

Before Obama was elected in 2008, his soon-to-be Secretary of Energy Steven Chu told the Wall Street Journal: "Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe." While Chu now claims to disagree with his own statement, nonetheless it is instructive that Americans are facing record-high gasoline prices that are inching us closer to what Europeans pay. (When I was in Latvia in August 2011, gasoline prices were about $8 a gallon there.)

(Before the election, Obama bragged to a friendly audience in San Francisco that his energy policies had the potential to "bankrupt" electric utilities, and it seems that that the president is having some success in pursuing those goals.)

On the tax front, the Obama administration has set as its open goal tax rates at a minimum of 30 percent for anyone earning more than $1 million, and under Obama’s watch, the USA now has the highest corporate tax rate in the world. While Obama claims this is being done in the name of "fairness," I contend that there really is a much darker goal that Obama and his fellow Progressives have, and that is making Americans poorer, more dependent upon the state, and less able to make decisions without permission from government.

As one who has studied the Progressive Era, I am struck by the continuity of thought from the early Progressives of more than a century ago to those people today who claim to be Progressives. While the modern Progressives no longer are open adherents to racism (the Progressives gave us Jim Crow laws) and eugenics, nonetheless the basic attitudes of Progressives today strongly mirror their forebears who agreed that "too much freedom" is bad for people, and that a strong and semi-benevolent state should guide, prod, and (when necessary) force individuals to do things they never would do on their own.

Critics either couch Obama’s actions as being done from ignorance ("Doesn’t he know that lower capital gains tax rates will raise more revenue than high rates?") or a misunderstanding of economics. Even when critics take Obama at his word – "fairness" is his watchword on taxes and the economy – they still don’t understand that the higher tax rates will only give a perception of fairness, and that the rates will do nothing to cramp the lifestyles of the "idle" rich while blocking the rise of entrepreneurs.

In other words, Obama is not a guy who somehow mistakenly believes that we can "help" the middle classes by jacking up taxes on wealthy people and corporations. He already knows that the trust fund babies and people living off the vast wealth created by others are not going to be much inconvenienced by higher tax rates.

Take the Kennedy family, for example. No American family has supported higher tax rates on itself than the Kennedys, yet they have continued to live lavishly, although few of them have employment that actually pays well enough to support their bacchanalia lifestyles. Even if taxes were raised above the levels that Obama is demanding, no one from the Kennedy family would lack bail money or enough for legal fees should one of them be picked up for drunk driving or worse.

Nonetheless, in the eyes of Progressives, the Kennedys, for all of their personal excesses, are much more respectable than the money-grubbing entrepreneurs who spend their time bringing consumer goods to the Great Unwashed who shop at Wal-Mart, thus promoting "consumerism" instead of the virtues of which Progressives approve. No, if one steps back, it is not hard to see that the Obama policies are aimed at making most Americans poorer, more dependent upon the state, and, in the end, more malleable and more obedient.

Whether it is the vast security apparatus that sprang up after 9/11 – which Obama has expanded beyond the obscene levels promoted by the Bush administration – or an executive order that will ensure that Americans pay more for fuel and electricity, the Progressive theme always abounds: Americans must be less free and more accountable to the state.

Unfortunately, at the present time, all of this seems to go over well with American voters, if the current polls are to be believed. For that matter, the only serious U.S. Presidential candidate to truly go against the Progressivist tide has been Ron Paul, and Republican voters and the Progressive media have disposed of his candidacy. (Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich all are "Progressives" in their own right and also seek to herd and corral Americans into living more "virtuous" lives.)

People who point out that Progressivism ultimately is destructive of a decent social order are painted as "nut jobs" or worse. Those who note that Obama’s war against affordable energy is hurting the very people Obama claims to be helping are portrayed as being "dangerous." And so it goes.

This is not about disagreements on the proper path to a freer and better society. Progressives like Obama long ago came to the belief that individuals are not fit to be free – except the "elites" who are self-chosen to "lead" others – and that government policies should be aimed at reducing choices and limiting liberty.

Of course, one also must remember that neither Obama nor his wealthy Progressive supporters have any intention of living the life they have chosen for the rest of us. No, they are wise and above the fray and deserve to live of the labor of their inferiors. That is the ultimate end of "fairness."
William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit his blog.

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