Virginia Postrel has an interesting article at Bloomberg "Progressive and Racist. Woodrow Wilson Wasn't Alone," a book review Thomas Lenoard's Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Here are a few key quotes:
The progressives believed, first and foremost, in the importance of science and scientific experts in guiding the economy, government, and society. Against the selfishness, disorder, corruption, ignorance, conflict and wastefulness of free markets or mass democracy, they advanced the ideal of disinterested, public-spirited social control by well-educated elites. The progressives were technocrats who, Leonard observes, “agreed that expert public administrators do not merely serve the common good, they also identify the common good.” Schools of public administration, including the one that since 1948 has borne Woodrow Wilson’s name, still enshrine that conviction.
Later, she writes:
Advocates similarly didn’t deny that imposing a minimum wage might throw some people out of work. That wasn’t a bug; it was a feature -- a way to deter undesirable workers and keep them out of the marketplace and ideally out of the country. Progressives feared that, faced with competition from blacks, Jews, Chinese, or other immigrants, native-stock workingmen would try to keep up living standards by having fewer kids and sending their wives to work. Voilà: “race suicide.” Better to let a minimum wage identify inferior workers, who might be shunted into institutions and sterilized, thereby improving the breed in future generations. ...
... Clark’s theory is now a foundation of mainstream labor economics. In his day, however, it was highly unpopular. “A key element of resistance,” writes Leonard, “was that many progressives were reluctant to treat wages as a price,” rather than a right of citizenship and social standing. Informed by their beliefs in scientific racism, most progressives preferred wages to favor some groups over others: men over women, whites over blacks, and most prominently, native stock over immigrants.
Although they generally assumed black inferiority, progressives outside the South didn’t worry much about the “Negro question.” They were instead obsessed with the racial, economic, and social threats posed by immigrants. MIT president Francis Amasa Walker called for “protecting the American rate of wages, the American standard of living, and the quality of American citizenship from degradation through the tumultuous access of vast throngs of ignorant and brutalized peasantry from the countries of eastern and southern Europe," whom he described in Darwinian language as “representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence.”
So restricting immigration was as central to the progressive agenda as regulating railroads. Indeed, in his five-volume History of the American People, Wilson lumped together in one long paragraph the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act as “the first fruits of radical economic changes and the rapid developments of trade, industry, and transportation” -- equal harbingers of the modern administrative state. With a literacy test and ban on most other Asian immigrants enacted in 1917 and national quotas established in 1924, the progressives bequeathed to America the concept of illegal immigration.
The first paragraph is preface for what follows. It relates why I eschew the label "progressive" despite having some sympathies for some aspects of what today's progressives espouse. In my estimation, "progressivism," then and now, contains substantial hubris - believing that through dispassionate logic, science, and a superior moral locus, we are justified in moving heaven and earth to bring about a brave new world. Institutions and practices that have emerged through time as practical ways of making the world work be damned! I believe most change should be modest reform, not revolution. It is in this sense that I would claim the term conservative. We want to conserve the good as we seek improvement. We aren't that smart and we aren't that noble, when it comes to redesigning the world.
The minimum wage piece is particularly interesting. While impacts of minimum wage increases art notoriously complex and difficult to summarize with precision, most economists agree that substantial increases in the minimum wage dampen job growth overtime. There are studies that show, just as the early progressives logically surmised, that increased minimum wages have a negative impact on the employment of minorities, particularly young black men.
I am definitely going to read this book!