12.6.11

THE SOCIAL ENGINEERING FANTASY.  Walter Russell Mead suggests it's overreach.
Progressivism held out the hope that capitalism, democracy and history itself could all be tamed by competent professional management.  Victorian capitalism had been brutal, disruptive, competitive.  Society became more unequal even as living standards gradually rose.  Democracy was irresistible, but the masses were uneducated.  The modern progressive era was born at times of great violence and upheaval.  World War One, the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, World War Two, the invention of nuclear weapons and the start of the Cold War: it was against this background that progressives sought to turn modern life into something safe and tame.

I cannot blame four generations of progressive intellectuals for trying to make life a little less brutal and unpredictable, nor should we overlook the successes they had. Nevertheless, the Fonz has left the building; the progressive paradigm today can no longer serve as the basis for sound national policy.
The successes he names, in a longish post, may or may not be attributable to government action -- that's material for numerous case studies.  The problem with social engineering, Lynne Kiesling argues, is the conceit that it's possible.
The “government knows best” attitude that drills down too far and does not target the ultimate objective, which is reducing electricity use, both fails to deliver on its goal and is patronizing and condescending in the bargain.
The context is the pending ban of 100 watt light bulbs, but we could be talking about urban renewal or drug prohibition or a balanced transportation policy or whatever the next full employment bill for policy shops brings.

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