Are you a Progressive? If so, what’s your footprint?

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.

Are you a progressive

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
  • Secularism

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)
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.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our Privacy Policy.

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.


13 Responses to “Are you a Progressive? If so, what’s your footprint?”
  1. “Depends what you mean by (…). Quite hard to distinguish between ends and means, but then progressives have always mixed up the two.”


    I don’t want everywhere to be like Sweden, I want everywhere to do like Sweden. I.e. develop a political bargaining culture that ensures representation of society as a whole (mostly at least) and commitment to compromises.

  2. Nice post, Duncan.

    Besides the in depth analysis done with beer, this was the best line that applies to each of us, me especially:

    … anyway, I would probably arrive at totally different conclusions from one day to the next

    I’m always looking out for hypocrisy in views vs. actions. Not hard to find, which means that even if we think we know what we are, others may see us differently. Which is why I like to use information and trends as the focus so that readers can decide the “why” or the “should”. Judgementalism gets us nowhere.

  3. Paul O'Brien

    Your categories are a mite Euro centric for my taste. American progressives spend more time talking about inequality of opportunity–rigged rules that ultimately kill the possibility of more equal outcomes. THey are not anti capitalist, they are anti captured capitalism. WOuld love an axis that gave more voice to those who care about social and economic mobility and equality of opportunity.

  4. max

    sadly even sweden is not like sweden these days.

    a valiant effort Dr Green. my footprint looks just like yours though so I don’t think the arguments will end anytime soon. and long may they continue in fact.

  5. Sophie

    Well firstly I can’t figure out how to work the powerpoint diagram thing, probably because I’m a luddite (not that I’m suggesting we add that as an additional axis).

    Moving swiftly on, i would personally lean most strongly towards social democratic/welfarist, statist, grassroots revolutionary, with a bit of each of the others, the emphasis depending on what side of the bed I get out of in the morning.

    But the most remarkable aspect of your post is the very fact you’re having a discussion about what it means to be left wing at all. Is this allowed in an INGO these days? Don’t be irritated, be grateful you have colleagues with whom the discussion can take place! Wouldn’t happen in my place…

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.