You often hear very tiresome people saying “I’m a social liberal and a fiscal conservative” as if it meant anything. In reality neither “social” nor “fiscal” issues are useful in telling left from right—especially not at City Hall, where “fiscal conservatives” have consistently championed pouring billions of dollars into an ever-shrinking subway plan. And saying that a “real progressive” wouldn’t be racist or sexist is as laughable as saying that “real Christians” aren’t homophobic, “real feminists” aren’t transphobic, etc., as well-intended as it is.
Nevertheless, I do think there is a way to meaningfully distinguish right- and left-wing politics. This is the framework I use when I talk about the political spectrum at City Hall. (That is, when I’m not talking in D&D terms.)
In general, progressives support the transfer of power and resources from the private/individual to the public/commons. That is, shifting to progressive taxes to fund public services and infrastructure, including social programs that aim to raise the minimum standard of living for disadvantaged residents. The idea is that wealth should be distributed from people with more than enough to people with less than enough, and doing it through democratically elected representatives is the fairest way to do it.
In general, conservatives support the transfer of power and resources from the public/commons to the private/individual. This leads to:
- the concentration, rather than distribution, of wealth
- reinforcement of existing power structures/hierarchies
- catering to the people with the most power and resources
In municipal politics, this plays out in a few ways—for instance, the gradual shift from property taxes to a funding model based on “cost recovery” from user fees (and on MLTT windfall, sustainability be damned). It also takes the form of offloading social programs and public infrastructure to non-profits, charities, and the private sector. Government is a business, and programs and services are only for people who can pay for them.
I don’t think all oppression boils down to class, but at City Hall, everything does boil down to money. To quote Joe Biden, “Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget”.