Since the time of Woodrow Wilson, Democrats—but not only Democrats—have fretted that the middle class is shrinking due to the power of large corporations, and that only government action to “level the playing field” can save the middle class. The “middle class is being more and more squeezed out by the processes which we have been taught to call processes of prosperity.” Obama? Hillary? No, that’s Woodrow Wilson in 1913 (The New Freedom). It’s striking to realize that progressives have been playing the same tune for a century, no matter what’s actually taking place in the economy—indeed, in the midst of the greatest expansion of affluence in the history of the world—with the same set of proffered solutions: greater government power, regulations, higher taxes, and subsidies for the markers of affluence.
Reynolds’ Law thus strikes at the heart of progressivism as a political ideology. Progressivism can’t deliver on its central promise. In fact, it’s guaranteed to make things worse in exactly that respect. It’s not that it sacrifices some degree of one good (liberty or prosperity, say) to achieve a greater degree of another (equality). That suggests that the choice between conservatism and progressivism is a matter of tradeoffs, balances, and maybe even taste. Reynolds’ Law implies that progressivism sacrifices some (actually considerable) degrees of liberty and prosperity to move us away from equality by undermining the characters and thus behavior patterns of those they promise to help.