I grew up in a culture and era of “progress” as a near certainty, for both technological and social progress.

That certainty was always, to a great extent, naive and myopic. The evidence for greater skepticism was always there. But the 21st century has hammered this home.

One big example, which I have expressed before, is that in the 19th century America had the cultural technology to close down and replace a major political party; at some point since then we seem to have lost that technology.

Lately I keep thinking, as American government largely acts powerless to address large supply constraints challenging our economy, that this is another cultural retrogression. Recall the major wars of the 20th century, and how American leadership wrung its hands and frowned about price increases, but remarked solemnly that “the economy was running too hot” and it was simply up to the Federal Reserve to slow it down and lower demand? Hopefully the answer is no, because that is not what happened.

Much can be said about the difference, of course, including the fact that America does not have a remotely functional political system now. That’s a kind of retrogression, itself, but it’s even broader than that, in this learned helplessness toward economic challenges which this culture actively addressed, effectively, not that many generations ago.

Meanwhile one can also see retrogression playing out “in real time,” with Democratic attitudes toward economic recovery. A year ago I would have said, probably did say at least once, that a dozen years of mounting and horribly costly dysfunction had taught Democratic leadership exactly one, single thing: don’t skimp on stimulus spending after a deep economic downturn. Since then, they have certainly already unlearned that one thing for simplistic wrong reasons.

I have adjusted to progress being nothing like we imagined it, in late 20th century America. Ills persist and recur. People and institutions seem to learn very little, whether about responding to a pandemic; or dealing with the oil shocks which keep recurring regularly enough that at this point in my life it feels stupidly tedious; or heaven knows, politics.

But the extent of outright and substantial regression, wow. I noticed bad, seemingly discredited ideas coming back, a decade ago. But culturally forgetting even some important, useful lessons which had processed… Ouuuuuch.

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