The Pathos of Politics (60) The Progressive Era

The Progressive Era

Georgism is an economic philosophy holding that the natural resources should be belong equally to everyone in a community, except that the value people add belongs to them. John Locke was an early proponent of Georgism, but the concept was popularized by and named after American political economist Henry George, from his book Progress and Poverty (1879).

George is credited with inspiring several reform movements during the Progressive Era (1890s–1920s), a period of widespread social activism in the United States aimed at political reform. Progressives’ primary goal was eliminating government corruption via targeting bosses of political machines. Many supported prohibition as a means of destroying local bosses’ power, which was based in saloons.

Another objective was regulation of monopolies – trust-busting – as a means to promote competition and thereby advantage consumers.

American mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor sought to improve industrial efficiency. Taylor’s 1911 monograph The Principles of Scientific Management was seminal in applying scientific methods to managing resources and engineering processes (such as assembly-line work). Progressives sought to apply Taylorism in the political arena, modernizing government via scientific management practices.

Progressives wanted direct democracy, where citizens directly decide policies, rather than through elected representatives (representative democracy). There are few historical examples of direct democracy. Though suffrage was greatly circumscribed, 5th-century-bce Athenian democracy was direct. Citizens in the Roman Republic (509–43 bce) could directly legislate.

In the modern era, Swiss towns enabled direct democracy beginning in the 13th century. Presently half of the states and many localities in the United States allow citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives: a mutant legislative form of direct democracy.