Bernie Sanders speaks at rally in Phoenix, Arizona. His spending plan has been described as 'puppies and rainbows.'

BC VIEWS: Decoding politically correct terms

What does 'progressive' mean these days? How about 'inequality' or 'social justice'?

Last week’s column used a term that’s currently popular in politics, “austerity.”

This is the political act of not spending enough money. It has recently been declared a sin by “progressive” people. In its most virulent and extreme form, “austerity” even leads to running a surplus on the public treasury to pay down debt.

Opposing “austerity” came into fashion in Greece, the crumbling, corrupt basket case that may yet bring down the whole European Union. Greek politicians got themselves elected by pretending outrage that the rest of Europe wasn’t willing to keep bailing them out forever.

South of the border, we have seen Bernie Sanders riding a wave of popularity, with sweeping promises including free health care and university tuition. His plan implies increasing U.S. federal spending by 40 per cent or so.

The Sanders plan isn’t just based on “puppies and rainbows,” as Austan Goolsbee, former chair of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, told The New York Times. “They’ve evolved into magic flying puppies with winning Lotto tickets tied to their collars.”

We’re getting a fair bit of magic puppy politics from the Justin Trudeau government in Ottawa, and with an election on the horizon in B.C., an update of Ambrose Bierce’s immortal Devil’s Dictionary might be useful.

Progressive: According to Vancouver MLA Sam Sullivan, this used to refer to the modernist movement that brought at-large elections and a professional civil service to local government.

Now it generally means going into debt as fast as you can. Today’s self-styled progressives also oppose most industrial activity, which is what brought us the progress they enjoy today.

Inequality: This is the awful social problem where some people earn more money than others. It used to be called “capitalism.” South of the border, they called it “the American dream.”

Globally, income inequality is falling, with a growing middle class in Asia and South America. Here in Canada, people tend to start out poorer and gain wealth as they get older. On the evidence, it seems the less state control of the economy, the better.

Affordable housing: This is a favoured term of politicians, because they can make it sound like almost anything. What it really means is subsidized housing, probably subsidized by you.

Social licence: This is a favourite of professional protesters, and others who like to pretend they speak for all of society. It allows them to declare, without evidence, that a years-long scientific review of an industrial project is “flawed” in some undefined way because protesters continue to appear on TV.

What it really means is that democratically elected governments and division of authority between local, provincial and federal levels don’t matter any more.

Climate change: This has replaced the more restrictive “global warming.” Like affordable housing, it means whatever politicians want it to mean. It covers snow, flooding, drought, whatever. As with inequality, “progressive” governments must “fight climate change” with ever-increasing state control.

Harm reduction: This is the “progressive” alternative to drug addiction treatment. Rather than treat what correct-thinking persons agree is a disease where the patient has no control over his or her choices, government offers free needles, housing and food.

It doesn’t so much reduce harm as spread it and encourage it, by relieving people of personal responsibility to make better choices.

Social justice: This is not to be confused with ordinary justice, where people get what they deserve. It is where the state takes income away from those who earn it and gives it to those who don’t. See also inequality.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc