Ed Driscoll

Why 'Progressives' Always Get Tech Wrong


“There are two Americas, all right, Glenn Reynolds notes in his latest USA Today column. “There’s one that works — where new and creative things happen, where mistakes are corrected, and where excellence is rewarded. Then there’s Washington, where everything is pretty much the opposite:”

That has been particularly evident over the past week or so. One America can launch rockets. The other America can’t even launch a website.

In Washington, it’s been stalemate, impasse, and theater — the kind of place where a government shutdown leads park rangers to complain, “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.” Well, yes. The politics don’t work, the websites don’t work — even for the people who manage to log on — and the government shutdown informs us that most of government is “non-essential.” Instead of correcting mistakes or rewarding excellence, it’s mostly finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and excuse-making.

Meanwhile, in the other America — the one where people have their own money and ideas invested, and where they get the credit for their successes and pay the price for their failures — things are going a lot better. Just a couple of examples:

Read the whole thing, to coin an Insta-phrase. (And yes attempting to reward the parasitical half of America, USA Today is still featuring their insane “Cost of the Shutdown” counter on their homepage, as if government were something that makes money, instead of simply printing it and spending yours.) And then check out fellow Michael Malone in Forbes, who explains “Why Progressives Always Get Tech Wrong:”

If we have learned anything (not least from Progressivism’s crazy cousins Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism) over the last century it is that none of this is true.  Human beings are messy and unpredictable creatures, with 10 billion different perspectives and opinions about how to live a good life.  There are also more good ideas, intellectual capital, in those 10 billion brains – especially regarding some problem at hand – than in the combined faculty of Harvard and Stanford.   Moreover, some people actually prefer liberty to comfort, freedom to happiness. That’s what Steve Jobs was trying to say; and that’s what’s going unsaid at those select Valley dinners with the President.

So, instead of a healthcare Twitter, we get a gigantic mess as the government tries to impose a single, software-driven system on 300 million Americans.  Anyone who has ever worked on or, worse, bought a big software application – and this is one of the biggest in history — could have told HHS that the final result would be buggy, late, unsatisfying to users, unable to live up to its billing, and most of all, resistant to upgrades, much less wholesale changes.  In the real world, you can’t just order “Make it so!”

Whatever else it was, Progressivism was a top-down, mass-control, limited-freedom political philosophy that has only grown more anachronistic as the decades have passed and as, ironically, technology itself has increasingly supported de-centralized, networked, and bottom-up institutions.   Corporations learned that a generation ago (or they disappeared).  In successful corporations today, management works best when it is the servant of employees and customers:  look at the backlash from a billion users every time Facebook or eBay tries to impose some new rule or pricing scheme from above.  And what are open systems and crowd-sourcing but the next evolutionary step in the inversion of the old top-down model?

That leaves the federal government the last true bastion of late 19th century command-and-control thinking.  It can build as many websites and social networks as it likes, but as long as it tries to impose mass solutions from the top in a world of personalized solutions from the bottom, it is doomed to fail – and our nation continue its slide into debt and enfeeblement.

And along the way, plenty of astonished “I was sure it would work this time” reactions from “Progressive” true believers. Responding to Silicon Valley Obama supporter Cindy Vinson’s now-legendary cri de coeur in the San Jose Mercury that, “Of course, I want people to have health care. I just didn’t realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally,” Neo-Neocon writes, with an assist — and a little diabolical laughter –from Monty Python, “No one expects The Obamacare Sticker Shock!”

But it’s that last quote from Vinson that seems to encapsulate a common liberal mindset on Obamacare—or on government-funded benefits in general—that so infuriates conservatives. Who doesn’t “want people to have health care”? But the real question—and the real difference between the approaches of conservatives and liberals, inflammatory rhetoric aside—is how such a thing would be paid for, and especially whether it is possible to do so without putting an undue burden on the wage-earning tax-paying public.

Vinson, like so many people, uses the term “health care” to mean “health insurance,” but let’s gloss over that and stipulate that most people couldn’t afford the former (particularly if a major health problem were to arise) without having the latter. Vinson probably isn’t saying that she didn’t expect to pay for her own health insurance. She is saying that she expected to pay only for her own health insurance, not for the health insurance of those others she “of course” wants covered.

So the trillion-dollar question is: who did she expect would pay for their insurance?

As Moe Lane wrote yesterday, “The most expensive thing in the world is something that’s free, Ms. Vinson. And if you sit down at the poker table and you don’t know after a half hour which person is going to be taken to the cleaners, it’s going to be you.”

“PS: No Republican voted for Obamacare,” Moe adds — presumably with a little diabolical laughter of his own.

Related: Speaking of “Progressives” getting tech and the rest of the business world wrong, “Repeat after me: Politicians don’t matter when your nation is run by unelected unionized bureaucrats-for-life,” Kathy Shaidle writes. As Mark Steyn wrote in late October of 2010, when the polling data made it obvious the GOP would return to the Congressional House after four years in the wilderness, “Where do you go to vote out the CPSC? Or OSHA? Or the EPA?”

At Ricochet, Troy Senik writes that “Populism’s Hard When You Don’t Like the People.” And the left truly dropped the mask last week. But will enough of the “Progressive” religious faithful such as Ms. Vinson discover over the next few years just how much they’re loathed by the leftwing ruling class?