Jumping the shark with progressives

Originally posted on MyT the following re-post, prompted by Bearsy’s post, Has The Chariot jumped the shark?  links to a full explanation of ‘jumping the shark‘ with a take on ‘progressives’ and mission creep.

When Government Jumps the Shark is the title given to a recent article by Walter Russell Mead in the journal ‘The American Interest’. In his article Mead states that in its day the progressive ideal was a revolutionary and even a noble one, whereby a bureaucratic and professional elite would mediate social conflict between rich and poor. Improving the lives of the poor while engineering the best possible administrative solutions to pressing social problems. Progressivism held out the hope that capitalism, democracy and history itself could all be tamed by competent professional management. The modern progressive era was born at times of great violence and upheaval. World War One, the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, World War Two, the invention of nuclear weapons and the start of the Cold War: it was against this background that progressives sought to turn modern life into something safe and tame.

Four generations of progressive intellectuals tried to make life a little less brutal and unpredictable, and we overlook the successes they had. However, the progressive paradigm today can no longer serve as the basis for sound national policy.

The first stage of a progressive programme identifies a terrible social problem for which the government offers a solution that will fix the problem at a relatively modest cost. Often it does, and in a well established and functioning government programme the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.

The second stage of a progressive programme is where the government addresses the need it was intended to fill, and the citizens look to their representatives with gratitude and affection. Unfortunately the cycle continues.

The third stage of a progressive programme introduces the law of diminishing returns. As the value of new projects diminishes, the political forces pushing new projects in a programme grow stronger. Mission creep sets in, with programmes and subsidies becoming more complex and reforms making things worse, special interests now focus on maintaining the programmes to meet their own needs and goals.

The fourth stage of a progressive programme is where it has moved beyond being wasteful, it has become unsustainable, but it has become powerful. Many interests and industries grow rich on these programmes, and for many families these programmes have become the cornerstone of what little financial security they have. The programme becomes untouchable. Just as these programmes are most in need of reform, reform becomes impossible.

Progressivism itself, along with the individual government programmes it spawns, is moving through the same cycle. The most urgent social problems that progressivism set out to solve, the early progressives have addressed. Today, the commitment of progressive lobbies to dysfunctional institutions and programs has brought matters to a crisis stage. “Progressives” today are too often grimly determined to achieve two incompatible ends: an indefinite expansion of entitlements and benefits on the one hand — and the preservation and even the extension of inefficient organizations and methods on the other.

Such unsustainable but untouchable policies and institutions sooner or later reach the point when they no longer threaten a country with ruin at some indefinite point in the future, the threat is imminent. That is part of what happened in Ireland, Greece and Portugal, and what may yet happen in Italy and Spain. Disastrous government policies became more politically entrenched as they became more unsustainable until the whole system crashed. When this happens, what crashes is not just one program, a whole social contract falls apart. And if the crashes in these peripheral European economies shook the EU and the world economy, a full-scale meltdown in the United States would likely be a shock as profound as the 1929 meltdown. It wouldn’t just be an economic disaster for the United States; it would likely be a historical disaster leading to crisis, upheaval and war around the world.

The above is a precise of an article in The American Interest by Walter Russell Mead in which Mead opines an apocalyptic stage five!

Author: Peter

Web researcher

8 thoughts on “Jumping the shark with progressives”

  1. Two points.

    Firstly, this is an American article about American concerns. It is typical of its genre.

    Secondly, my article was categorised with a “Humour” tag, which means that it was not serious. It was not a social commentary. It was a light-hearted opportunity to educate the rest of you about the undeniable fact that Australian culture is different to yours, its politicians and media gurus see things differently to yours, and our language accommodates, without shock or horror, sound patterns which give other cultures the screaming abdabs. 😀

  2. It was really intended (albeit somewhat lazy) to provide a link to the origins and use of the term ‘jumping the shark’. Obviously I never made that intention clear enough.

    I hadn’t heard of the term until I read the article.

  3. As I recall, ‘Jumping the Shark’ was a reference to an event that occurred in one of the last episodes of the American sit-com, Happy Days. It came to define the ‘past its sell by date’ nature of the show. The term is essentially an American one (and probably not that well known outside the US).

    Bearsy, is there not a little bit of contradiction in your comment?
    “It was not a social commentary. It was a light-hearted opportunity to educate the rest of you about the undeniable fact that Australian culture is different to yours”.

    Certainly your post was light-hearted, but it was certainly social commentary as well. Nothing wrong with that.

  4. The term is well known and current in Australia, Sipu. That’s why Annabel used it in her article, and why I used it in my title – yet another pointer to the fact that Australia is different in word and deed (and economic success) from the UK.

    It wasn’t a social commentary, it was a linguistic one.

    And it has proved to be a bloody [not a swear word in Australia, remember] hard slog; I wish I hadn’t bothered to write it. The sense of humour failure amongst cherished colleagues has thoroughly spoilt my day. 😥

  5. PB unt Sipu,

    Jumping the Shark.

    Was indeed a stunt pulled by Fonzy on Happy Days to prove his bravery. Wearing water skis, budgie smugglers and his trademark leather jacket he leapt a shark cage. Far from indicating the death knell it was meant to represent the point where fans knew the format had gone as far as it could and there was no way to better it.

    A quick Wiki shows that the stunt was shown at the very start of Series 5 and Happy Days went on for a further 2 whole series after that.

    Sorry Bearsy, but the reason I ain’t laughing at your original post is not because I didn’t get the humour but it just wasn’t funny for me. Some fall on stoney ground pal and that was a tumbleweed moment I’m afraid. 🙂

  6. Having found the term #4 Bearsy, it’s what attracted me to your post. I also missed the point completely and took it as a literal reference to the ‘general state of Boadicea’s Chariot’. I eventually deleted a rather long comment having reminded myself that no one likes blogs on blogging and on realising, with help, your intention. 🙂

    PS – I am beginning to smile, chuckle even, maybe start laughing at some point, especially at the responses it generated.

  7. Sorry Ferret, but I beg to differ. Some years ago I watched a tribute program in which the term was used by, I think, Ron Howard, the character who played Richie Cunningham. Who ever it was explained that he, one of the principal characters, had left the show because, amongst other things, it had plumbed new depths in its quest to raise laughs. He cited, ‘jumping the shark’ as the low point of the entire series. The show did indeed continue but with a diminished cast and declining audiences.

    I refer you to this:

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