In last weekend’s New York Times, Columbia Professor Jeffrey Sachs predicted and championed a new progressive movement that will allegedly restore “honest and effective government for all,” revive “crucial public services,” “end the climate of impunity” that encouraged fraud on Wall Street, and “re-establish” the supremacy of “people votes over dollar votes” in Washington, D.C., whatever that means. These ends will be accomplished by essentially replicating the Obama presidency thus far. If this prediction has any merit, it is a prudent time to heed Bill Buckley’s admonition to stand athwart (progressive) history and yell, “Stop!” Happily, three formidable obstacles undermine Professor Sachs’ progressive prophecy.
First, his inspiration is misplaced. Professor Sachs takes inspiration from the Occupy Wall Street movement. He shouldn’t. Whereas most hardworking, law abiding Americans see in the Occupy movement unruly scenes of violence, drug use, social disorder, and disorganization, Professor Sachs sees the beginnings of a new era in modern politics. Contrary to this wishful thinking, the people in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere have not started America on a path to renewal. They have started themselves on a path to social alienation, criminal records, and, as reported at the Occupy Atlanta encampment, tuberculosis. Unsurprisingly, there has been no popular outcry against the reestablishment of law and order, and sanitation.
What the Occupy crowd and Professor Sachs seem to miss, or not appreciate, is that bigger government equals bigger businesses and less consumer choice. It also, as Dennis Prager correctly notes, leads to smaller citizens. Increasing the size and scope of the federal government inexorably restricts individual decision-making. Subjecting citizen initiative to the policy paternalism of Washington is, aside from being bad policy, also fundamentally un-American. Professor Sachs’ vision runs contrary to the truth Ronald Reagan noted: we are a people with a government, not a government with a people. Finally, he gets the Progressive analogy wrong. Whereas earlier Progressives were law abiding citizens who championed some admirable causes, like women’s suffrage, today’s Occupy rabble trash private and public property and have no discernible, coherent agenda.