Social Class, Social Action, and Education: The Failure of Progressive Democracy

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Moreover, actual corruption in government becomes much more common without a strong middle class. In short, a weak middle class hollows out governing practices and institutions, so that the bureaucracy no longer delivers for its citizens.

Social Class, Social Action, and Education

But the important connection, the one progressives rarely make, is that these changes in government have an impact on growth. The active engagement of the wealthy, with their disproportionate power to secure public policies to their liking—through lobbying, campaign expenditures, and other means of influence—is likely to cause taxpayer dollars to be wasted. Government money is misspent not just when the wealthy pursue rent-seeking activities—narrow tax breaks, special copyright terms, patent monopolies, giveaways of the broadcast spectrum, and mining and logging rights on public lands for below-market fees, among others—but also when the wealthy shift broad policy away from more efficient alternatives.

The foresighted and efficient government that comes from having a strong middle class creates favorable conditions for growth, while wasteful, corrupt, and unfair policies are a significant hindrance.


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A strong middle class helps ensure that government works well, fostering favorable conditions for the economy to prosper. Being middle class in a middle-class society—where most people have adequate financial resources and stability, but not enough to allow for a life of leisure—fosters attitudes and behaviors that are essential to building a healthy capitalist system.

Middle-class parents raise their children to value work and education because they understand their children will be dependent upon work, not capital, for most of their income. They convey to their children the principle that if you work hard within the system and follow the rules, you will get ahead.

They pass down the patience necessary for children to pursue an education, career, or entrepreneurial activity, and they have the economic means to sustain that patience and plan for the long term. Conversely, these positive orientations can be undone by extreme levels of economic inequality, as, for example, David Callahan emphasizes in The Cheating Culture , which explains how the rise in white-collar crime and ethical misconduct for example, expense account fraud among employees on the lower tiers of the business world has been fueled by rising economic inequality, which has broken down social norms and made cheating more rewarding.

Members of the middle class set goals and strive to achieve them. Students—whether poor or middle class—who go to schools where the majority are middle class have much better outcomes.

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They score better on tests, graduate high school and complete college at higher rates, and have more successful careers. Researchers find that this is not only because of the direct involvement of middle-class parents who, for example, make sure teachers are good and schools have adequate resources, but also because middle-class kids have positive attitudes toward achievement and engage in productive behaviors such as regularly attending class and doing homework. And in middle-class schools, these attitudes and behaviors dominate.

People who are raised middle class are also much more likely to become entrepreneurs. A Kauffman Foundation report finds that 72 percent of entrepreneurs come from middle-class backgrounds—a vast overrepresentation given that only 44 percent of the public meet their measure of middle class.

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In short, a healthy middle class is a necessary precondition for the propagation of a healthy capitalism. The usual progressive argument goes: These policies do not kill jobs.

But progressives need to make a stronger case and argue: These policies are essential to creating and sustaining the middle class and thus fueling future growth. For one theory to supplant another, progressives need to be not just loud and clear about the flaws in the old theory, but to advance vigorously a compelling alternative.

People are beginning to question whether the constant cutting of taxes and regulations really does produce unrivaled growth. But this is not a sign of victory for progressives, merely an opportunity to push an alternative theory. Progressives need to seize this opportunity by putting forward their own theory: that a strong middle class is the key to economic growth.

Leaders in academia, government, and policy-making circles need to take up this charge. Political standard-bearers have to synthesize the message of middle-class-led growth and popularize it, just as Roosevelt did with Keynesian economics and Reagan did with trickle-down. They tilt overwhelmingly to the progressive side. By , barely 7 percent of U. The ongoing media takeover by tech leaders is certain to accelerate this trend.

Similar patterns can be seen in Hollywood, once divided between conservatives and liberals but now heavily slanted to the left. Perhaps nothing has so enhanced the power of the clerisy as the expansion of universities. Overall, the percentage of college graduates in the labor force soared from under 11 percent in to over 30 percent four decades later.

The number of people enrolled in college in the United States has grown from 5 million in to some 20 million today. Universities, particularly elite institutions, have emerged as the primary gatekeepers and ideological shapers for the upper classes. Orthodoxy of viewpoints in contemporary higher education is increasingly rigid.


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  4. Another study of 51 top colleges found the proportion of liberals to conservatives ranging from at least 8 to 1 to as much as 70 to 1. At elite liberal arts schools like Wellesley, Swarthmore, and Williams, the proportion reaches to 1. These trends are particularly acute in fields that affect public policy and opinion.

    Leading journalism schools, including Columbia , have moved away from teaching the fundamentals of reporting and adopted an openly left social-justice agenda. Once largely a college phenomenon, progressive ideology is now being pressed upon elementary school students , a development that could transform our politics permanently.

    As authoritarians from Stalin and Hitler to Mao all recognized, youth are the most susceptible to propaganda and most easily shaped by the worldview of their instructors. This process has been most apparent in the environmental movement, which has elevated as its ideological battering ram the unlikely figure of Greta Thunberg, a seemingly troubled Swedish teenager.

    The politicization of basic education, particularly concerning American history , is notable throughout the country but most entrenched in liberal regions such as New York City and Minneapolis. Social Welfare History Project. From your comment, it appears you want someone at the SWH Project to prepare a term paper or dissertation. Sorry to say, we have more to do than prepare your paper. Best wishes, Jack Hansan, Ph.

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    I was wondering how the progressives promoted the general welfare of the people politically. The last person i asked said through referendum and reform but one cant typically write an essay in its entirety based on two words! As I wrote on the entry you referenced: …Progressivism began as a social movement to cope with a variety of social needs and eventually evolved into a reform movement and greater political action.

    The early progressives rejected Social Darwinism. In other words, they were people who believed that the problems society faced poverty, poor health, violence, greed, racism, class warfare could best be addressed by providing good education, a safer environment, an efficient workplace and honest government. Progressives lived mainly in the cities, were college educated, and believed that government could be a tool for change…. I would recommend these for which there is a lot of content on the SWH Web site: child labor, woman suffrage, civil rights, mental health, corrections.

    You will have to do the work about how the results came about.

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    Good luck, Jack Hansan. I enjoyed reading this. I am curious of who you believe best represented the progressive goals of the progressives. Personally, I have done some research, and I have chosen Jane Addams. Again, who would you choose? Thank you for the question. I never really thought about who was the most progressive of the Progressives.

    However, I did a little review and came up with a number of names you might want to consider instead of Woodrow Wilson. Clearly, Jane Addams qualifies; but there are others who contributed significantly. Also, there are a number of labor leaders who might qualify:Rose Schneiderman,Robt. Upton Sinclair, Jr. Hansan, Ph. I was wondering what tactics exactly did the Progressive reformers use to promote reform?