The New Oxford American Dictionary defines progressive as “a person advocating or implementing social reform or new, liberal ideas.” I would define the dangers of progressivism as “the unrecognized, unseen, or deliberately concealed adverse consequences inflicted on the exact groups progressive policies are proclaimed to assist.”
The unfortunate case of Eric Garner is a prime example, a situation that I wrote about last week. Mr. Garner was killed by police officers who attempted to arrest and detain him for the nonviolent crime of selling untaxed cigarettes. Subsequent to this horrific event, the NYC mayor, Bill de Blasio, said at a press conference that “I can understand why any New Yorker may say [the selling of untaxed cigarettes is] not such a big offense … [but] a violation of the law is a violation of the law.”
At the same venue, NYC Police Commissioner Bratton said, “We need the public’s help also to appreciate that when an officer does approach you to correct your behavior, that you respond. That’s what democracy is all about.”
In order for citizens to correct their behavior, one must assume that they were acting incorrectly to start with. One must also assume that the police are acting appropriately, without undue aggression, and with a reasonable cause to stop a citizen. One of the cardinal dangers of progressivism is assuming that the state is an evolved, higher form of order that invariably is superior to the cumulative sum of all citizens. After all, if a majority consensus agrees on a matter, isn’t that the democratic way? What could possibly go wrong with that?
In the case of Eric Garner, or anyone else living in a state with high cigarette taxes, people will sell loose, untaxed cigarettes to those who either can’t afford to buy a full pack or who are priced out of a pack because of high taxes. This may seem like an insignificant sum to some folks, but that insignificance is very real to one group—the economically disadvantaged—which explains why aggressive policing in this arena really is an assault on the poor.
The “broken windows” philosophy of law and order suggests that aggressively policing petty crimes will serve as a deterrent to more serious crime in general, benefitting society at large. Some fans of the strategy say that it is working, citing that in 2013, the NYPD made 395,539 arrests—this represents a significant jump from 1995, when there were significantly fewer arrests and three times as many murders. What most people don’t realize is that these two variables are coincidental and not causally linked because, since the 1990s, major U.S. cities in general have enjoyed significant decreases in violent crime regardless of the tactics used (you’ll be very surprised to discover what has really caused the drop).
Broken windows policing is the “new,” “progressive” version of stop and frisk or rules that in practice disproportionately target minorities and the poor—the same alleged groups that Mayor De Blasio and the progressives claim to be fighting for. Even though the penalties for such crimes remain the same, the monetary fines, loss of time for work to appear in court, and a possible jail sentence all disproportionately have a more negative impact on the marginalized. A recent eye-opening article in Reason provides a wider wealth of information on the subject.
The perverse impact is best studied with regard to marijuana. Whether you are a staunch opponent of marijuana or a die-hard advocate for legalization, the war on marijuana has cost taxpayers $3.6 billion annually with no palpable yield—that is, over the past three decades, the criminalization of marijuana has had no effect on overall usage, which is why 30 million Americans today report using cannabis regularly. But despite the cost to all taxpayers, the broken windows philosophy in NYC toward marijuana possession or distribution has been dramatic with 800 arrests in 1991 compared to just under 60,000 in 2013. According to the New York Times, nationally, from 2001 to 2010, there were 8.2 million marijuana arrests, and in 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana than for all violent crimes put together. Imagine what would happen if all those police officers fighting pot smokers would shift their attention toward violent criminal offenders.
Having low crime is a good thing, and the progressives would tout the benefits of a strict marijuana crime policy in order to “root out the bad eggs.” But the reality of this law’s application reveals its own perversity. According to the ACLU, even though whites and blacks use marijuana at similar rates, if you are of color, you are 3.7 times more likely than a white person to be arrested for possession. This disparity was most pronounced in Iowa, where blacks are 8.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession.
In the same study (titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White”), five important findings were cited:
1. Marijuana possession arrests increased between 2001 and 2010.
2. Racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist throughout the country.
3. Racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests increased between 2001 and 2010.
4. Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.
5. States are wasting money on marijuana possession arrests.
Dismissing these inequalities while supporting such petty crime policies, then, is a tacit approval of prejudice and the throwing away of precious public funds toward fruitless endeavors.
In the end, the dangers of progressivism boil down to the dangers of collectivism—that in the pursuit of the well-being of the whole, the legislators forget that the collective is composed of unique, distinct, individual units whose rights are not inferior to the cumulative sum. In the progressive world, coercion is invariably substituted for persuasion, which is the first step toward tyranny.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal