Don Pesci: Humpty Dumpty's answer to a progressive's confusion

Humpty Dumpty and Alice. From   Through the Looking-Glass .  Illustration by    John Tenn   iel

Humpty Dumpty and Alice. From Through the Looking-Glass. Illustration by John Tenniel

Connecticut State Rep. Josh Elliot, a progressive Democrat from Hamden, views the state budget as “a moral document that can be used to create a more equitable and fair society,” The Hartford Courant tells us. The paper quotes Elliot on the point: “Are you taking an economic frame and saying ‘what can we do to grow GDP at all costs?’ … Or are you taking a moral and ethical frame and saying ‘what can we do to build up a just society?’ And I think those two questions are at loggerheads right now.”

There is a welter of confusion here. The point that Elliot appears to be making is that progressives like himself view the economy as having a moral dimension lost to free-marketers, i.e., redundantly rich capitalists concerned only – note the devil word “only” -- with growing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It would not be possible in Elliot’s view for a free-marketer such as, say, Fredrick Hayek, author of The Road To Serfdom -- a ruthless attack against the collectivist ethos that informs socialism, communism, progressivism and fascism -- to be a moralist.

In The Constitution Of Liberty, Hayek identifies one indispensable “moral rule for collective action… The most important among the principles of this kind that we have developed is individual freedom, which it is most appropriate to regard as a moral principle of political action. Like all moral principles, it demands that it be accepted as a value in itself, as a principle that must be respected without our asking whether the consequences in the particular instance will be beneficial.”

This is how a true moral philosopher addresses morality. In Elliot’s progressive universe Hayek’s overriding moral principle of political action – the sustenance of individual liberty – is subservient to his own undisclosed overriding moral principle, which is antagonistic to the liberty of the subject. Under the progressive scheme of things, individual liberty is sacrificed on the altar of an “equitable and fair society” created without regard to real-world circumstances by modernist super-moralists like Elliot, who know better than the little people who participate in a free market what services and goods should be provided to them. To Elliot, the liberty of the subject celebrated by moral philosophers such as Hayek is immoral.

Elliot’s framing permits only two possibilities: an economic frame that allows only the growth of products “at all costs” and an economic frame, moral and ethical, that is concerned primarily with building up a “just society.” There is no via media in Elliot’s view. His is a stark and merciless either-or: either an immoral free market society or an ethical progressive-socialist society. In Communist governments, the governed are not permitted to choose between the two.

Progressivism is the shadow of socialism, which is why so many progressives here in the United States, still a free market country, support the candidacy for president of Bernie Sanders, running for the Democratic presidential nomination but a socialist wolf in wolf’s clothing. Progressivism differs from socialism only in degree, not in kind. And, of course, socialism historically has been the nursery bed of both communism and fascism. Mussolini and Hitler both were socialists before they became fascists, and Stalin embraced the Marxism of the Communist Manifesto because he correctly recognized a visionary Communist scheme of “property ownership by the proletariat” as a perfection of socialism. There is another reason as well: Only under a Communist government is the ruling elite powerful enough to suppress the liberty of the people, which Hayek and other classical liberals such as Adam Smith characterized as the indispensable “moral rule of collective action.”

Communists, socialists and progressives – three peas in the same liberty denying pod – care little for the real-world consequences of their theoretical utopias.

When Alice objects to Humpty Dumpty’s use of words to signify opposing meanings, he offers her a lesson in tyrannical government. Humpty Dumpty has misused the word “glory” to signify “a nice knock-down argument.”

Alice protests, “But ‘glory’ doesn't mean ‘a nice knock-down argument.’"

Humpty Dumpty snarls scornfully, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'


“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that's all.”

Elliot may make the word “moral” mean whatever he wishes it to mean. After all, Democrats are now masters of Connecticut governance; they hold commanding positions in General Assembly, the state’s constitutional offices, and the governor’s office as well. And nearly half of the Democrat ruling majority is composed of quasi socialist progressives like Elliot. Still, the real meanings of words are stubborn things.

According to a Yankee Institute piece published in May of 2018, “The Tax Foundation’s annual ranking of states based on state and local income tax collection placed Connecticut second in the nation, trailing only New York, for the most money collected per resident. Connecticut collected $2,279 per person through both local and state income taxes. Massachusetts ranked fourth and Rhode Island 20th. The national average per capita tax rate was $1,144, meaning Connecticut has almost doubled the average tax burden.” Is there a connection between the loss of assets – salaries are assets too – and the loss of liberty?

Depressing figures such as these will increase under Governor Ned Lamont’s recent revenue expansions. In what sense is it “moral” for Connecticut’s government to increase the burden of taxation further, when we know that excessive taxation, a great deal of which is used to enhance the salaries of tax-consuming public employees, tends to drive to other states both Connecticut’s rich and middle class taxpayers, thus depriving those in need of dwindling tax resources?

Indeed, in what sense is it moral to support a government now engaged in encouraging infanticide? Connecticut is contiguous to New York, which now winks at infanticide; and, one may be certain that socially progressive governments – New York and Connecticut – sooner or later will swap their social-justice DNA, without mentioning the outsized proportion of African American women obtaining abortions relative to white women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2016 report points out that black babies made up a whopping 35 percent of the total abortions reported in 2013, although blacks represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Moral? To what cleverly invented Decalogue do progressives point to justify such a disparity in abortion between black and white women?

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.