I get irritated sometimes when a nameless Oxfam colleague (and no, there aren’t any prizes for guessing) asks ‘yes, but are you/they left wing?’, to which I of course, respond ‘depends what you mean by ‘left wing’’ (I think he finds me pretty annoying too). So in an effort to improve on this rather un-nuanced discussion, how about moving from 1D (left-right) to two (are you a progressive?). Off the top of my head, here are six plausible axes for assessing your degree of progressivity on development issues:
Grassroots Revolutionist: your priority is celebrating and supporting grassroots movements eg Occupy and the Arab Spring
Statist: you see state control of the economy, hands on industrial policy, and a high degree of regulation as the core to development
Anti-Capitalist: you know what you oppose (capitalism, large transnationals etc)
Social Democrat/Welfarist: you want everywhere to be like Sweden
Environmentalist: you increasingly focus on One Planet living and the implications for human activity in terms of consumerism, fossil fuel use etc
Human Rights: you focus on the recognition and respect of basic human rights, as set out in international law
Any improvements on the categories? Quite hard to distinguish between ends and means, but then progressives have always mixed up the two. You can try filling out this powerpoint slide (one notch from the centre is ‘a bit’, 5 notches is ‘a lot’, use line draw to fill in your footprint) and let me know what you think of the exercise. Anyone putting five notches on every axis is more likely to be an indecisive wimp than a saint.
I suspect that comparing colleagues’ footprints might help us understand why you some people tend to disagree with each other/get on each other’s nerves.
Since coming up with these axes, I have done some in-depth research with Oxfam India colleagues (OK, we talked over a beer). Turns out (amazing, eh?) that your definition of ‘progressive’ depends on where/who you are. After deep discussion (and another beer), they came up with the following set of axes:
- Gender equality
- Minority Inclusion (dalits, tribals etc)
- Pro-poor deregulation (e.g. scrapping regressive subsidies)
- People power (opposing an over centralizing state)
- Progressive tax reform
Would love to see what other country contexts produce. So here’s a bit of homework – decide your own axes, fill in your progressive footprint, send it in, and I’ll upload the best ones. And here’s mine (for what it’s worth – regular readers feel free to put me straight, and anyway, I would probably arrive at totally different conclusions from one day to the next.) And if anyone has a less clunky way to do the spider diagrams, I would love to hear about it.
My progressive footprint (for now, anyway)
And here’s a less clunky version of the ppt, c/o reader Ian Hanham. Uses spreadsheet instead of line draw.