May 31, 2010 1 Comment
Here’s a thought experiment I instinctively apply when evaluating this or that public policy: If I were revived after being frozen 500 years, and the policy were still in place, how would I feel?
Call it the “Buck Rogers” test.
I don’t know about you, but if I woke up 500 years from now and discovered that “affirmative action” still existed, I’d want to freaking strangle somebody. If we still had to have ‘welfare’ in any recognizable form, I’d be pretty sad. On the flip side, if there were still a military maintained with taxation I’d be like ‘well of course’. If there were still public education of some sort (not necessarily its current form) I’d be nonplussed.
On more specific items: if I heard there were still something called the “Department of Housing And Urban Development”, I’d launch into a deep existential depression. I’d have a similar reaction to learning any of the following about 2491 America from Erin Gray upon being unfrozen: the government still regulates the size of toilet-flushes; the government still has farm subsidies; the government still taxes income by garnishing peoples’ paychecks and then once a year forcing them to do a giant intrusive questionnaire/calculation based on arcane/labyrinthine rules; the government still launders a 30-year-fixed mortgage subsidy through Fannie and Freddie; the government still dictates how many miles-per-gallon-of-gasoline land vehicles must get; the government still hands out food stamps; the government still cites and imprisons people for transferring cannabis to one another.
Whatever you may think of these policies and/or programs now, you must admit that it would be depressing as hell to learn they’ll still be in place 500 years from now. And if you don’t think so: honestly, there’s something deeply wrong with you. One of the strengths of the Buck Rogers test is that it forces one to think long-term about the policies they favor. Is it a short-term fix, just “for now” (and if so, when/under what circumstances can it end??), or is it something you’d be comfortable embedding into society permanently? Many of the above policies may have justifications now, but as permanent embedded features of society, even many of their supporters would have to agree they just stink.
But another, related, strength is that it forces one to be honest with oneself about the arguments they use for policies. For example, if you claim affirmative action is “still needed” because “we’re not there yet”, you either must admit that (a) it can and should go away eventually, or (b) you’re being a damn phony with that argument.
Staying with affirmative action, assuming the answer is (a), this naturally raises the question: Well, when can we get rid of it? The pro-AA answer is, essentially, “I dunno, but certainly not yet!!”. Ok fair enough, but when? Most AA supporters do not appear to have thought that far in advance. But they should, and the Buck Rogers test forces them to. Regardless of how much one favors AA, are its supporters willing to declare that it can and should still be around 500 years from now? To say “yes” is to essentially admit that one doesn’t even believe AA can or will achieve its supposed goal (racial equality), but to say “no” is to admit that the policy should sunset. In either case the anti-AA are far more comfortable putting their position to the Buck Rogers test than are the pro-AA.
There was a brief shining moment during the debates over the Iraq war when the left appeared to grasp the power of this sort of argument. That is, for a while at least, the Left became quite fond of asking for ‘metrics’, for tangible ‘benchmarks’, against which one could measure the progress of the Iraq occupation and thereby declare victory. This was all well and good, the only problem being the Left has never shown a propensity to apply this principle to any other aspect of public policy, before or since. What pray tell are the ‘metrics’ for affirmative action, for welfare, for progressive taxation by which one could declare the equivalent of ‘victory’ and stop agitating for their increase?
Of course, there are none. The Left’s infatuation with ‘metrics’ was short-lived and highly specific.
It should come as no surprise that most if not all of my policy preferences pass the Buck Rogers test. On most issues you can name, my position is one I’d be perfectly comfortable and happy to learn is still in place in 2491.
What about you?
What about the “progressive” left? How much of the “progress” so passionately favored by “progressives” really survives the Buck Rogers thought experiment? This really gets back to the idea of progress most aptly stated by Ronald Reagan, in a quote I’ve always heard and dug up (and didn’t find anyone claiming was bogus):
Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.
That, to me, would be progress. So how do “progressives” measure progress, I wonder?