Chuck Chalberg's take on a century of American progressivism ("The arc of progress," July 8), beginning under Republican President Teddy Roosevelt's leadership of a Progressive Party in 1912, was stimulating.

And Chalberg is to be commended for retrieving from Chesterton and Belloc the term "distributism'' to describe a wider distribution of property and income as a middle way between laissez-faire capitalism and socialism. This remains the best way to counter the redistribution toward the top that inevitably occurs when the invisible hand of the market allocates too much to too few.

Missing however, was any significant credit for the enormous value of progressive reform, taxation and government investment during what is also called "The American Century.''

Here's a quick recap of missions accomplished and conditions improved since 1912: The United States became the most broadly educated nation in the world; women and people of color (two-thirds of our people) are no longer officially second-class citizens or living in de facto slavery under the shadow of local control and states' rights; federal programs from the New Deal to the Great Society provided economic security and health care that virtually eliminated elderly poverty, helped extend life expectancy and arguably created the middle class as we know it; environmental movements cleaned up rivers and lakes and aquifers, and freshened once-lethal air in many regions; public works and research investment created interstate highways and the Internet and satellite technology, contributing enormously to productivity and business growth, and now full citizenship is gradually being extended to marginalized communities of gays and lesbians.

My ancestors were poor southern farmers and laborers when this century began; before it ended, my parents, uncles and aunts and cousins were business owners, lawyers and engineers.

The story of the century is essentially a tale of progressive triumph, of responsible business leaders and good governments working together to solve problems. It's an overreach to raise fears that the course of this century or President Obama's expansion of health care coverage has put us on the path to a "servile state.'' We actually are in need of at least a little more "distributism'' to correct a regressive redistribution toward the top 1 percent over the last 30 years.


Dane Smith is president of Growth & Justice, a Minnesota-based policy research organization.