The progressive movement sprouted from the idea that the world would really get somewhere if only everybody would let their lives be run by progressives. Central to the idea was a centralized and empowered government that could run most things better than free individuals. Its spirit and nature was defined by one of its earliest triumphs — the prohibition of alcohol — when women wanted their husbands to stop drinking and spend more quality time with them. The phrase “having it both ways” was obviously not common at the time.

Progressivism was the dominant influence in the 20th century, taking hold at different degrees in different places. Its legacy over the years includes 100 million slaughtered bodies, massive starvation, economic devastation and poverty, erosion of once-fertile agriculture, a slew of dictatorships and, in its milder forms, depression and stagnation. Meanwhile, Hong Kong, one of the few nations that hadn’t “progressed,” ended up leaps and bounds ahead of almost everywhere else.

As if 100 years aren’t enough, each of the last two years has ended with a major international headline that has reinforced the same lesson from opposite ends.

The first headline, inked toward the end of 2003, came from Zimbabwe. Marxist dictator Robert Mugabe had spent the previous three years nationalizing the country’s private farmland, and now 6 million of its citizens were on the brink of starvation. Corn, the people’s staple diet and country’s once-major export, had declined by two-thirds in those three years. Once again, the chickens of Marxism came home to roost by specifically not coming home to roost.

Then, around last Thanksgiving, a report came from the World Bank. It showed that the world experienced its best economic year ever, with global growth of 4 percent. The poor led the way, with 6 percent growth in developing countries – and 5 percent even if China, India and Russia are not included. Major growth was coupled with major declines in poverty, and the extent of both in each nation was directly correlated to how much privatization, free trade and globalization it had allowed.

Why is any of this a surprise to anyone? Because due to the comfortable disposition of progressives, it has been everyone else – especially the poor – who’ve ended up soiled from the progressive wet dream. And the progressives still haven’t woken up.

Western progressives supported Mugabe when he came to power and announced his agenda, just as they oppose globalization and rail against multinational corporations. It seems that every week there’s some anti-globalization event on campus, organized by those who think that economic ignorance justifies moral righteousness.

Those who complain that corporations are “exploiting” the poor don’t realize that a corporation can only employ people who want to be employed by it. The wages offered by multinational corporations in the Third World are on average twice as high as local wages. That’s still very low by our standards, but that’s because those countries are going through the necessary first stages of development.

The infant mortality rate in London was 75 percent in 1729. Eighty years later it was down to 32 percent. Children who would have formerly died were laboring in the fields. Another 80 years later, not only was infant mortality miniscule, but industry had revolutionized life so much that children did not have to work anymore. Had the British government imposed restrictions on that development — as African socialist governments do to their economies — Britain would not be where it is today. It would be where Africa is today.

But perhaps most annoying of all is the claim that globalization is “destroying cultures.” When progressives think it’s more important for Western tourists to see basket-weaving exhibits than for people to be well-fed, then the line has been crossed between being a knee-jerk reactionary and being a knee-jerk jerk.

Alec Mouhibian is a Daily Nexus columnist.