"Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!"
-Homer J. Simpson

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A framework for progressive agreement

In Part I I asked if it was possible for the left-of-center parties in Canada to unite to form a winning coalition.

In Part II I laid out the first principles and philosophical underpinnings of such an alliance.

I believe that this core set of personal liberties coupled with the concern for the worst-off in society that can be the guiding force behind a progressive party. I know that as a New Democrat that I can support this position and I think most Liberals can as well. Extending the principle to concern for the environment (you don't know when you will be born either so you don't want a world that will be destroyed shortly) gets the Greens as well. The protection of minority rights inside a state is important to the Bloq and if they can agree to work within a united state to achieve their goals (and if they believe the state is committed to the above framework then I think this is possible).
So now the hard part begins, what are the actual guidelines that a progressive coalition could support?

1) Acceptance of the mixed economy.

So I have already lost the socialists (fine, fine) but quite frankly modern society has come to the realization that for many goods and services the open market (you will note "open" not "free") is the most efficient mechanism. Also, and this is what separates us from the Conservatives, we believe that the free market is not a one-size-fits-all solution and sometimes it is not the most efficient way to deliver a service (think health care) . The trick is to figure out when there is a market failure (whenever there is a negative externality - to use economic speak) and how to correct for that failure. (For more on this I direct you to Joseph Heath's The Efficient Society)

2) Seeking Administrative efficiency from government

Another thing that differentiates us from conservatives is our believe that government can be a solution - it is not the problem. However, often government can be cumbersome and ineffective and as such is up to progressives to fix it. Conservatives will simply point to this and use it as an excuse to scrap government programs. Progressives need to start talking about things like target controls, effective auditing, flexible decision structures and employee participation. Government can take lessons from the private sector on many things and use that information to provide solutions for problems that the private sector cannot grapple with.

3) Environmental Sustainability

This is yet another difference between us and the conservatives, we actually believe in democratic governments governing in the interests of people, both current and future generations when it comes to the environment. The environment is a classic example of a market failure (see point 1) and as such progressive forces need to martial non-market solutions
to the problem before the entire planet falls victim to the worst tragedy of the commons ever.

4) The renewal of civic society and the protection of minority rights.

Another major difference between us and the conservatives is that we believe that state and civil society should act in partnership to provide maximum freedom to citizens. It has been a tenant of liberal thought for three-hundred years that individuals should be allowed to pursue their own conception of the "good" and that government should focus on the "right." That's fine as one half of the picture but as Isaiah Berlin points out there are two types of liberty, positive liberty he associated with the idea of self-mastery, or the capacity to determine oneself, to be in control of one's destiny. The state should provide us negative liberty by allowing us to conduct our own affairs, but the state should promote civil society so that we have the capacity
to seek that self-determinism.

5) Equality as Inclusion

Both the left and the right claim that they are seeking equality, but our conceptions of that equality are very different. The right wants all people treaded exactly the same regardless of circumstance or environment. Progressives can rally behind the idea that, while we have to overcome such problems as the creation of a moral hazard, (more economics speak) the state should make social investments in people to help them live up to their full potential. Sometimes this can happen inside a universal program, such a public education, but sometimes there are groups that need special help so we can create "one-off" programs such as affirmative action, to promote the interests of a few in the pursuit of the overall best solution for all.

I hope to lay out some more thoughts on each of these topics over the next few days.

Tell me what you think? Are those the values of maximum liberty while limiting liberty for the sake of the least well off in society (see part II) that progressives can rally behind?