This Bird Won’t Fly: the Fate of the Left-Winged Phoenix

When I was a student at the University of Illinois, the various left-wing groups formed an umbrella organization called the Radical Union. They hung posters of Marx, Lenin, and Mao on their office walls. Their emblem was a phoenix rising from the ashes, symbolizing their desire to burn America to the ground and build their utopia upon the ruins. This remains the core of left-wing thought today and goes far beyond cheering on rioters and looters who set parts of cities ablaze in the name of “social justice.” Rampage is not revolution. The larger assault has been on display throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Their hope has been that the self-inflicted policy wounds triggered by media-driven panic would do so much damage to society and economy that they could seize power and impose their ideology on a reeling people. The goal is not to recover or rebuild from the calamity, but to institute the permanent shutdown of advanced civilization to preserve their simplistic values.

The New Republic, once the respected forum for responsible liberalism, is a perfect example of the ascendency of extremist thought across the entire left wing of the spectrum. They have even come to call one of their weekly summaries “Apocalypse Soon.” TNR has featured a variety of articles that play off the pandemic from “The Pandemic Is the Right Time to Defund the Police” to arguing that with major universities closed, small, private liberal arts colleges can now compete online to reach “civically engaged citizens of the world.” A detailed plan for the future was “Rebuilding an Economy that Works Again” by Dean Baker, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and a visiting professor at University of Utah. The hopeful title is, however, a typical left-wing fiction as the argument would purposely cripple the economy and send American living standards backwards by generations.

Baker’s assault on the modern world is explicit in his diatribe against technology and his policy proposals to hinder its future development. In a passage heightened by TNR’s editors, he asserts “It is mind-boggling that our outmoded and regressive system of intellectual property protection has not featured more prominently in debates about inequality.” To Baker, “technology has been a major factor, if not the major factor, in the rise of inequality… if anyone could freely copy Windows and other Microsoft software, Bill Gates would probably still be working for a living.” Perhaps, but he probably wouldn’t be designing software, because under Baker’s system, there would be no money in it. Incentive is a bad word to Baker, and a system that runs on it is illegitimate. Yet, the real nature of incentive is to create something people want. Money is made only when consumers willingly exchange it for a good or service being offered. The market represents people’s free choices, but that freedom is anathema to leftist totalitarians who wish to impose their subjective preferences upon everyone else.

In an earlier TNR column, Baker argued against letting anyone profit from finding a vaccine to combat COVID-19. People should not be rewarded for hard work and innovation, or for providing others with even the most awesome benefits. This theme was expounded upon by Kate Arnoff, a TNR staff writer, who alleged that intellectual property is “a deadly obsession.”   

Baker favors publicly funded “open source” studies. “Researchers can still be well compensated for their work, but they may find it more difficult to accumulate vast fortunes.” Government “policy will determine who gains from technology.” In a leftist regime, only researchers in a few politically correct fields will be compensated. “The relatively high pay for people in STEM fields” depends on IP protection, which will be denied to “dubiously productive sectors” in favor of “greener stretches of the economy.”

Baker’s rapid shift to “the emergency of climate change” includes praise for China because it has more solar panels and electric cars than the U.S. Yet, he fails to mention it remains the world’s largest source of pollution and carbon emissions. Anyone who has visited China knows there is no comparison between its cities and American cities when it comes to air quality. Beijing’s official stand is that it will not halt increases in emissions until 2030 because the aim is not just to alleviate poverty, but to fulfill President Xi Jinping’s goal of a “comprehensive well-off society” by the end of this year with further growth thereafter.

Not surprising is Baker’s attack on the China policy of President Donald Trump. He thinks the U.S. should “negotiate access to Chinese technology” because Beijing’s efforts will “almost inevitably… bring more useful technological breakthroughs to bear within a regime of clean-energy collaboration.” The U.S. should welcome dependence on a rising China (which Baker seems to think has already surpassed us and which does not bother him), as already evident in China’s control of supply-chains for medicine, raw earth minerals and electronics. No mention of COVID-19 as a product of Chinese science transmitted around the world.

At home, Baker favors carbon taxes and disincentives to drive cars (such as taxes on driving in cities during the day), and he hints at even more aggressive policies to “alter individual behavior” away from wanting to improve living standards in the face of a degenerative Green New Deal. Meanwhile, in another TNR article, Doug Gordon hopes that while “American Cities Are Built for Cars. The Coronavirus Could Change That.” Gordon is a TV writer who also pens a blog on urban biking.

J. C. Pan,  a TNR staff writer, has embraced what the results will be of the policies favored by Baker and his ilk in an article that envisions mass employment as the new norm. “We need anti-poverty measures that treat wide-scale joblessness as a starting point, not as a temporary problem that will naturally resolve itself.” Given that the economy was booming with the lowest level of unemployment in fifty years before the unwarranted COVID-19 panic, the Left is counting heavily on disrupting any recovery. They want to keep activity at an eco-friendly low level, using welfare to replace work, and forcing people to accept the inevitable shortages of goods. To them, affluence is dangerous. Inequality will not be redressed by redistribution within a growing economy (share the wealth), but by leveling within a depressed economy (share the poverty).

The old emblem of a phoenix rising from the ashes should no longer be accepted as an accurate description of leftist aspirations. The ashes remain, but nothing in the current leftist agenda will fly. A mole would be a better mascot, burrowing under the ashes to avoid the light of day. Moles construct their own habitats just as ideologues construct their own small worlds within which to live. Like moles, they cannot see anything outside their limited domain. Their faculty lounges are akin to mole dens from which the vermin tunnel out from time to time on quests that leave only destruction in their wake. Surface dwellers seeking to improve or at least conserve their lot consider them pests and seek to banish them. The mole is thus the perfect symbol for the Left in our current crisis.

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues.

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