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”.
One thought on “Sidebar: Right Vs. Left”
But the idea of “social progressive” versus “social conservative” is not just tied to issues like racism or sexism.
Social conservatism tend to be concerned with religion and morality – and either want government policies to align with their religious morality, or to shift social programs to charitable or religious groups. There is concern with moral decay – and they might not want government taking a bigger role in the economy, but they do want government taking a bigger role in issues like censorship of obscene material, as opposed to Libertarians who are ok with government leaving it up to individuals.
Conservatives for the most part are keen on government involvement in things such as agricultural subsidies and of course, defense.
The left is similarly split on government involvement on social issues – generally the progressive left is out to defend underdogs or oppressed or marginalised groups and to have the state interfere to raise them up or knock down barriers – quotas and affirmative action, and even censorship of free speech if it impacts those groups – women’s groups and social conservatives were both anti-pornography in the 80s for example, but of course, the pro-choice movement is about government not interfering in decisions deemed personal.
There is a common type of graph that positions people on 2 dimension – economic left-right, and social left-right – but the social left-right axis is really about morality and also about prejudice and equality/sexism/racism.
But there is another issue too – which has to do with globalism versus nationalism. Libertarians, big business and some on the left (“citizens of the world”) are all for free flows of people immigrating with few controls – whereas right-wing populism and many who are not are concerned about immigration and oppose multiculturalism on grounds that are not necessarily based on racism because they seem themselves rooted in a place and not as “citizens of the world” – ironically Brexit is not motivated so much by fears of Muslims or blacks by about the large inflows from Poland and other predominantly white EU countries..