A Neo-Progressive Manifesto

This piece builds on my thoughts regarding Umair Haque’s Generation M Manifesto.

Dear conservatives on the Left and Right – and those beholden to them.

We would like to break up with you.

Every day, we see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. It’s been a long time coming but we have irreconcilable differences.

You wanted big, fat, universal and eternal institutions. We want renewable, transparent, responsive, and people-oriented organizations.

You turned politics into a divisive word. We want open, engaged and deep democracy — everywhere.

You wanted financial fundamentalism – be it unrestricted, unregulated capitalism or protected and subsidized industrialism. We believe in a post-industrial economy: a shift from the hierarchical to decentralized with the use of markets as a progressive policy tool.

You wanted big growth, measured only by GDP. We want smart growth and real value, built by people with character, dignity and courage.

You wanted organizations hidden behind veils of secrecy. We want open institutions, fit for survival, designed to grow and share wealth, that seek to create markets, not own them.

You believed in top-down and trickle-down. We believe in emergent and bottom-up.

You prized biggie size life: McMansions, gas guzzlers, and McFood. We want a sustainable, humanized life.

You let citizens devolve into consumers and users. We want citizens to be hackers, creators and… citizens.

You’ve claimed the choice is between a winner take all society or a no winner society. We want an eco-system that rewards talent, ideas, productivity and collaboration – we want a meritocracy.

You wanted a culture that is controlled by the past. We want a free culture that builds on the past.

You’ve wanted to protect monopolies or protect jobs. We want an economy that allows for creative destruction.

You wanted exurbs, sprawl, and gated anti-communities. We want a society built around sustainable communities.

You wanted more money, credit and leverage — to consume ravenously. We want to be great at doing stuff that matters.

There’s a tectonic shift rocking the social, political, and economic landscape. We are pro-ams, we are creatives, we are hackers, we are neo-progressives and we are legion.

Who are neo-progressives? We are engaged. We start non-governmental organizations, work internationally, create social enterprises, volunteer in our communities, start socially conscious businesses and advocate outside of organized politics. We are a growing number of people who act differently – doing meaningful stuff that matters the most.

Neo-progressives are those of us who have not found a natural home on the left or the right of traditional politics and are increasingly returning to the core values of historical progressivism, using evidence-based public policy to help ensure the equality of opportunity in a market-based economy.

Everywhere we look, we see an explosion of neo-progressive businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, and government. Who are the neo-progressive role models? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless, Etsy, and Flickr peeps. Ev, Biz, and the Twitter crew who made Tehran 2.0 possible. Calvin Helin, Wendy Kopp and Teach for America, Tzeporah Berman and the ForestEthics crew as well as Mitchell Baker and the Mozilla community. The folks at Kiva, Talking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmer. Anita Roddick, Margot Fraser, Muhammad Yunus, Hernando de Soto Polar and Jeff Sachs are like the grandparents of neo-progressivism. There are tons where these innovators came from.

The creative destruction neo-progressives want isn’t just awesome — it’s vitally necessary. And if you think it all sound idealistic, think again.

We face global warming, a financial meltdown, a de-industrializing economy, increasing inequality (both nationally and internationally) and the possibility of catastrophic terrorism.

But the real crisis is the same one that confronted us in the late 18th century and in the mid 20th century and it isn’t going away, changing, or “morphing.” It’s the same old crisis — and it’s growing.

You’ve failed to recognize it for what it really is. It is in our institutions: the rules by which our economy is organized.

But increasingly they’re your institutions, not ours. You made inherited them but you failed to renew them and now they’re broken. Here’s what we mean:

“… For example, the auto industry has cut back production so far that inventories have begun to shrink — even in the face of historically weak demand for motor vehicles. As the economy stabilizes, just slowing the pace of this inventory shrinkage will boost gross domestic product, or GDP, which is the nation’s total output of goods and services.”

Clearing the backlog of SUVs built on 30-year-old technology is going to pump up GDP? So what? There couldn’t be a clearer example of why GDP is a totally flawed concept, an obsolete institution. We don’t need more land yachts clogging our roads: we need a 21st Century auto industry.

We were (kind of) kidding about seceding before. Here’s what it looks like to us: every era has a challenge, and this is ours: to renew what’s been given us and create what wasn’t — to ensure we foster a sustainable shared prosperity.

Anyone — young or old — can answer it. Neo-progressivism is about ensuring governing and economic institutions once again reflect progressive values. It is more about what you do and who you are than where you fit on a broken political spectrum. So the question is this: do you still belong to the 20th century – or the 21st?

18 thoughts on “A Neo-Progressive Manifesto

  1. Pingback: The Neo-Progressive Manifesto Prelude (or why Generation M must be remixed) | eaves.ca

  2. Max Lybbert

    With strawman statements like “You wanted big growth, measured only by GDP. We want smart growth and real value, built by people with character, dignity and courage” it's amazing that there's been a communication breakdown. Are you actually suggesting that conservatives are opposed to “real value” and leaders with “character, dignity and courage”?For the record, I'm opposed to “smart growth” only because each and every suggested implementation I've seen doesn't look all that smart. Or, relies on smart people never making mistakes. Or is in some other way fundamentally impractical.I won't go through each statement. But a couple that stand out are:> We believe in a post-industrial economy: a shift from the hierarchical to decentralized with the use of markets as a progressive policy tool.When I read Ronald Coases “Theory of the Firm” I get really excited. However, I am unable to see how progressives intend to decentralize the market. In the US, at least, the value of a progressive appears to directly related to how much regulation he adds to the process.> You wanted big, fat, universal and eternal institutions.In the US the government's interesting attempts to save Chrysler and GM (and the United Auto Workers union) seem designed to prop up “big, fat … and eternal institutions.” The attempt to set up a cap and trade system and universal health care seem designed to form “big, fat, universal and eternal institutions.” I don't know how things are north of the border, but I really had a hard time swallowing this one.> We want an economy that allows for creative destruction.So do I. I was happy to see Enron go down; followed by Bear Stearns, Citi and others. I would have preferred if GM and Chrysler went through normal bankruptcy procedures instead of the one-off procedures they got (including the President of the US appointing the CEO, …). I would prefer to see the government stop propping up economically unsustainable practices at the UAW, AFL-CIO, and groups such as ACORN. Unfortunately, support for creative destruction often appears limited to the creative destruction on political enemies and not political allies.> You [may have] inherited them but you failed to renew them and now they're broken.In the US, the “failure to renew” political institutions largely was due to the obstructionism of the progressives that created them. Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, the Department of Education, and other 1960s-era social experiments were marked hands off. Any attempt to make them sustainable was fought viciously. The only institution that the conservatives really got a chance to renew was the military — and it has been renewed very ably.

  3. MrTeacup

    I wish this was idealistic! I unfortunately I think it's basically a conservative approach. Unlike Obama, you reject wielding actual political power to address problems, instead preferring a libertarian approach of “voluntary compliance” – no doubt you think the major problem with conservatism is intolerance and telling people how they should to live, rather than injustice and exploitation.What we find here is a manifesto committed to improving the lives of the privileged creative class, people who already enjoy the highest standard of living in human history. Your heroes are people who've created great software, great hardware & cool t-shirts, no wonder you don't want to really mess with the system, it's worked pretty well for you so far. Sure, there are a few shout-outs to progressive activists to signal your “socially conscious” bonafides, but since you retreat from wielding political power, no doubt we must rely on the free market to trickle some of those benefits down. And for a “bottom-up” manifesto, the bottom is defined at a remarkably high point.Isn't there something perverse, even obscene, about placing the purveyors of fine t-shirts and hip, hand-crafted housewares along side people dedicated to alleviating third world poverty, as if those two things were part of the same moral issue?This “new” manifesto is not only not new, it has already been identified and critiqued as an extension of post-Fordist, anti-hierarchical capitalism developed since the 1970s. In the book “The New Spirit of Capitalism”, the authors describe this as businesses responding to the “artistic critique” of capitalism. From a review: “The values of expressive creativity, fluid identity, autonomy and self-development were touted against the constraints of bureaucratic discipline, bourgeois hypocrisy and consumer conformity. “But now, the “social critique” of capitalism — exploitation and poverty — is abandoned, because addressing those concerns would require a more fundamental change, while the problems of the artistic critique can be achieved (for a privileged class) by more superficial reforms.Some might reply, “What other choice do we have? Socialism has been discredited!” That may be true, but if it is, we should at least be honest, and get off our “socially conscious” high-horse, producing manifestos that cry crocodile tears over the exploitation of the system that we support.Links:A New Spirit of Capitalism: http://books.google.com/books?id=9QuQihQ_4GsC&l…Review: http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2101

  4. WhiteRabbit

    No mention of individual liberty. That is rather striking. And I think I can see why. People running around doing what they will won't produce the results you're looking for. Given the choice, people will live in McMansions, buy gas guzzlers, and eat at cheap hamburger joints. They'll build gated communities and run companies for profit. Given the choice, people will do things you would never consider “stuff that matters”. And the only way to prevent these horrors is to curtail individual choice far beyond what we do now.

  5. david_a_eaves

    WhiteRabbit – definitely will include individual liberty… I've less of a problem with people living in McMansions and using gas guzzlers as long as they are priced accordingly – for energy, carbon, etc… For me the problem isn't McMansions per se (although I confess I've not interest) it is that the total cost of living in one isn't borne by the consumer. I'm interested in full cost accounting.

  6. david_a_eaves

    Max – very much appreciate the comments. On the last comment, I completely agree with you – indeed this comment is the thesis behind this article I wrote with Taylor Owen last September. It is about how the Left is killing progressive politics. However, I'm not sure this absolves The Right who have spent the last 3 decades not trying to renew or reform these institutions but simply erase them altogether. Indeed the anti-New Deal rhetoric to come out of the right has made any collaboration with the moderate Left over renewal impossible.

  7. Alexander Craghead

    Much of this manifesto is thought provoking and interesting. I don't agree with all of it, and I think some of it comes off as naive. The central core, however, seems to be to return to a more civics/citizenship oriented society rather than a partisan one, a society that is built around meaningful ideals rather than political position. That concept is extremely attractive to me.One major issue I have, however, is tone. Although the manifesto provides alternative visions that could be construed as positive, generally this feels like a negative, anti-piece. I want to build things. I want to create. I want to shape the world. And I don't want to do that by defining myself as the opposite of anything.

  8. WhiteRabbit

    Being of libertarian bent, I would not make individual liberty an afterthought but the central principle of any political manifesto, of inestimable value in and of itself. And I would be forced to abandon many of the above objectives, not because they are not worthwhile, but because they are impossible to bring about (through political means) in a truly free society. Other goals, such as ridding ourselves of protected and subsidized industry, are entirely doable and worthwhile.I recognize that the above is a progressive – not libertarian – manifesto, and the fundamental axioms are different. But I suspect many of the above goals are impossible through any system.

  9. WhiteRabbit

    I noticed the negativity too. The part about not being divisive was strange in a statement holding so much criticism. Having said that, the manifesto would lose much of its bite without the counterpoint.

  10. Max Lybbert

    > I'm not sure this absolves The Right who have spent the last 3 decades not trying to renew or reform these institutions but simply erase them altogether.Off the top of my head, the last reform effort to fail in the US was an attempt to actually invest the money that flows into Social Security. Originally many workers paid into Social Security and that money paid a few retirees. There was no effort to manage the money beyond rooting out fraud. That is only sustainable when there are many workers to a few retirees.Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton made some reforms to Social Security, so that today money that foes into Social Security is “invested” in federal bonds. Not only are federal bonds a low yield investment ( http://www.treasurydirect.gov/news/pressroom/cu… ) but the money to pay any increase will come from the government. That is just as unsustainable as the old system.The right has floated the idea of investing that money in other things since at least the 1980s. Clearly the devil is in the details, but that kind of reform would not necessarily dismantle Social Security. It would dismantle certain aspects of Social Security, but I believe those losses are warranted under creative destruction, as it would replace a system known to be unsustainable with a system that could be sustainable.I will give Bill Clinton credit for doing a good job of reforming US welfare to a more sustainable model (or models, as a cornerstone of the reform was to allow states to set their own guidelines, policies and procedures).> Indeed the anti-New Deal rhetoric to come out of the right has made any collaboration with the moderate Left over renewal impossible.The Original New Deal is a perfect example of a bad “smart growth” system. “[J]udging by other depressions and recessions; the Great Depression was unusually long, not unusually short. Arguing that since the economy eventually recovered the New Deal was a success is like arguing that if the doctor bleeds the patient and the patient survives and eventually recovers, the treatment was a success” ( http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2009/05/two-… ).The New New Deal is another example of a bad smart growth system. It may well be that targeted spending would invigorate the economy, but should we bet on the government's “top-down and trickle-down” solution or the market's “emergent and bottom up” solution? This is an example of requiring smart people in the government to never make a mistake.

  11. toddsieling

    David, this is some excellent work. Much of what I read rings true and is a great rallying cry of the transition we find ourselves in, though two parts in particular chafe:The first is the us vs. them framing. The manifesto (rightly) speaks to global problems, but roots itself in the divisiveness that has hampered us from taking that first and necessary step as a global species. It's a huge aspect of the manifesto, but if this is a work in progress, I think it's worthwhile to reconsider divisive rhetoric.The second is citation of specific people who are examples that the manifesto seems to endorse. Anyone will likely be able to name someone who isn't on the list and should be, and some who are on the list and shouldn't. I find little to admire in Google's founders other than engineering acumen, and resent their ethos of Machina Uber Alles. We could probably have a great discussion about whether I'm right or wrong on that, but the point is that bringing in specific names hampers the momentum and energy of the manifesto. Again, awesome piece of work and worth reading even with the chafes. I started reading your blog after watching you speak at City Hall on open data, and am better for doing so.

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