I’m a neoprogressive. Maybe you are too.

  1. Neoliberals prefer state-driven welfare targeted at the poorest, whereas social democrats prefer universally accessible and holistic benefits. (This is why neoliberals could be very comfortable with high levels of state expenditure on healthcare but abhor the waste and statism of the National Health Service).
  2. Neoliberals are perfectly happy to support cash-based welfare such as tax credits, Negative Income Tax or Universal Basic Income whereas social democrats would value the psychological benefit and dignity of earning your own money (That is why social democrats favour policies such as full employment and a high minimum wage as opposed to cash-based alternatives).

Neoprogressives combine a strong advocacy for the free market with a scepticism of centralisation of power, both in terms of the state and market actors. Neoprogressives believe this on consequentialist grounds, that essentially, inclusive institutions must extend beyond free markets, private property and liberal democracy to one of decentralised governance both corporate and political.

  1. We still like markets — a lot. We support the neoliberal argument that markets are, frankly, amazing tools to organise society and communicate resources efficiently and to the preferences of individuals. Where we differ is in the faith we place on market information being accurate and, as markets currently operate, able to prevent monopolies or rentier interests from corrupting this force that both groups revere. It is not enough to merely marketise everything — safeguards (whether through legislation or decentralisation) against trusts, monopolies and rentier interests have to come hand-in-hand with market liberalisation to keep them efficient and free of corruption.
  2. We love subsidiarity. Neo-classical economic theory, even extending to Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, makes it clear that markets function according to local transfers of information. This localism is adopted by neoprogressives in the operation of the state, that all social and political issues should be dealt with at the most local level that is consistent with their resolution. Bringing government closer to the individual leaves a smaller room for miscalculation and inability to accurately judge individual preferences, that is why neoprogressives tend to support devolution or EFTA over EU membership.
  3. The poor need money, but it’s not enough. Neoprogressives subscribe to Sam’s allegory about diminishing marginal utility and, unlike social-democrats, think that cash-based welfare schemes targeted at the poor is effective and ideal. Neoprogressives are very much in favour of these schemes, but similarly to the social-democratic valuation of work, we believe ownership of capital is necessary alongside cash as it constitutes a type of power and choice that cash alone doesn’t. For this reason, neoprogressives are open to Employee Share Ownership Plans, the “John Lewis” economy and co-ops since profit-sharing not only allows capital to be more widely available for the poor, but it also helps avoid the centralisation of power in society generally.
  4. We care about the welfare of everyone in the world, not just those in the UK. Neoprogressives are indistinguishable from neoliberals in this area, in wanting global progress, elimination of poverty and a liberal, open attitude to immigration.
  5. Our principles are grounded in empirics. The central point of neoprogressivism is its need for inclusive institutions to achieve neoliberal aims. Works such as Why Nations Fail demonstrate how historically the two are complementary. Neoprogressives are adamant that institutional change and dispersal of power in both the state and the market is necessary for the efficient operation of both. Such a process is the best means of allowing as many people as possible to live happy, wealthy and fulfilling lives — this is grounded in the literature shared by both neoliberals and neoprogressives.
  6. We try also not to be dogmatic. While we can be idealistic, like the progressives of the prior two centuries, we try to ensure our aims are consistent with the findings of mainstream economic theory. We support, for instance, a Land Value Tax not because Henry George is particularly inspiring, but because the policy is corroborated by evidence to this day.
  7. The world is getting better, but the liberal order is fragile. While extremely successful in reducing extreme poverty and improving living standards globally, there are challenges ahead related particularly to housing and inequality which can risk markets functioning properly as well as risk instability needed for illiberal forces to get elected. The centre-ground consensus is extremely pro-market and liberal but this is being challenged by the rise of populism. Successes in improving living standards and achieving higher degrees of legal equality for women and minorities could be at risk if people feel powerless and elect populists who will make them poorer and scapegoat outsiders.
  8. We believe that property rights are very VERY important. Yes, really. But the conception of its importance is different to that of neoliberals. While we agree that formalised ownership, ease of planning and incentive for investment are all valid reasons to support it, we additionally believe that property ownership (in the form of shares, housing or dividends) should be dispersed widely. For capitalism to be successful, you need capitalists; a multitude of investors will create a much more dynamic economy, multiplying the benefits found in neoliberal arguments for redistribution of income. A form of “Basic Capital” or something like it, is the next logical step after Basic Income and its derivatives (as is already being discussed).
  9. We’re enthusiastic about redistribution, but it needs to be wealth and power too. Neoprogressives accept the arguments made by Picketty and others regarding the crisis of inequality, but unlike the orthodox left who demand it on egalitarian grounds, we believe that dispersed wealth and political power doesn’t distort markets, it complements them.
  10. But we aren’t social democrats nor socialists. We are fierce defenders of entrepreneurship, investment, free markets and free people. We abhor a regimented and over-regulated society. Our ideas of a more participatory economy come from thinkers like David Ricardo and John Stewart Mill, not Proudhon nor Marx. Socialists talk about “public ownership” as if the public have a say, neoprogressives seek to achieve that by ensuring that capital is really owned by individuals, not the state acting in the name of individuals.

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