Fresh Takes

Progress is in the eye of the beholder

As the US Democratic Party primaries determine who will contend for the next presidential election, the words commentators use to describe the intentions of the different camps illustrate the importance of semantics in politics.

For decades now, the left has succeeded in monopolizing the notion of progress. The fact that their opponents have neglected to contest this rhetorical victory indicates either incompetence or an outsized dominance of the bastions of influence (media, culture, academia) by elites on the left. Indeed, this notion should not belong to any group. If progress is a positive step, but different parties aspire to distinct and incompatible goals, then progress for one side necessarily represents decline for the other.

Some want to control prices (minimum wage, rent control) to improve workers’ living standards and housing access. Whether the means considered achieve the desired results should be at the heart of discussions. For economists, price controls actually create shortages—in these cases, of jobs and housing—and thus end up harming those who seek employment and accommodation.

Good intentions are not sufficient if the means employed are counterproductive. For the left to proclaim itself a “force for progress” is fair game, but for political journalists to uncritically accept and repeat such a label undermines the quality of the fundamental debate. To mislabel an object is to add to the misfortune of this world.(1)

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1. Albert Camus, Œuvres complètes, La Pléiade, Tome 1, 1960 [1944], p. 908.

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