Obama Administration’s Owl Plan Illustrates the Folly of Progressivism


A single piece of breaking news illustrates clearly both the impossibility and immorality of using force to achieve any arguable social end.

The AP reported on Tuesday that the Interior Department is developing a plan to shoot or remove barred owls to increase the population of the northern spotted owl. These two birds compete for food in the Pacific Northwest, and the spotted owl is losing. The plan also entails offering logging privileges to companies in certain areas deemed not to be vital to the endangered bird.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar calls the proposal “a science-based approach to forestry that restores the health of our lands and wildlife and supports jobs and revenue for local communities.”

Conveniently marketed as both a conservation and jobs plan, the U.S. Department of the Interior has apparently come to believe that it is now capable of administering the natural evolution or extinction of a species at an acceptable cost.

The federal government has inserted itself into the balance between animals, trees, water, and man for decades. Despite previous conservation plans also being based on scientific assumptions, hypotheses, and models, the population of the spotted owl has continued to decrease.

Beyond the ethical questions of whether killing one type of animal is appropriate in the effort to save another or how much influence well connected logging companies had in developing this plan, this ordeal demonstrates the self-destructive fickleness of the progressive approach which necessarily uses force to achieve the desires of the majority.

Sure, it would be good to see both owls thriving side by side, and it might feel noble if we felt we had a hand in it. But how can we be comfortable with upsetting an ecosystem even more than we already have through forcible removal or extermination?

After identifying a problem, the progressive approach designs a government program. Both are determined by the transient opinion of the majority of government decision makers, however empowered.

Reducing one thing to increase the supply of another is the classical progressive approach. In this case, the plan addresses owls. Progressive-liberal tax policy attempts to decrease the number of wealthy people to increase the number of middle class people. Progressive-conservative social policy attempts to decrease recreational sexual activity to increase the number of married couples with children.  

But the progressive approach is always doomed to failure. Its administrators never know enough information to make the “best,” most efficient, or least harmful decisions. The progressive approach forces the minority to accept the will of the majority, at least until the roles reverse and retribution becomes possible.

Instead of killing owls, permitting the well connected to profit from land maintained with public dollars, or trying to achieve justice by forcing law-abiding people to surrender their dignity and property, we should rely on persuasion and incentives to make the world the best place it can possibly be, both for people and owls.

Photo Credit: Mara 1