The Difference Between Libertarians & Progressives

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What are the differences between Libertarians and Progressives?

The primary difference between libertarians and progressives turns on each type’s commitments along the economic freedom dimension. Where libertarians see economic freedom as essential to the generation of overall prosperity and the stewardship of capital, progressives seek to curtail economic freedoms. Whether in supporting higher taxation and redistribution, regulation of industry, or limiting private property rights, progressives are committed to various forms of economic intervention. Such interventions are usually carried out purportedly in service of the least advantaged in society. Libertarians, on the other hand, think the least advantaged in society are more likely to improve their conditions through dynamic entrepreneurial markets and a robust civil society sector. While both types agree about the goal of environmental protection, they usually disagree about the means.

How are Libertarians and Progressives similar?

Despite stark contrast on economic matters, libertarians and progressives find greater overlap on issues that involve the protection of civil liberties or personal freedoms. For example, both types are skeptical of various forms of prohibition, whether on illicit drugs or sex work. Despite more recent fracturing among progressives on civil liberties such as free speech, progressives have historically supported basic civil rights and have found common cause with libertarians on issues ranging from criminal justice reform to non-interventionist foreign policy.

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More About Libertarians

Libertarians score high on both economic and personal freedom. In other words, libertarians value entrepreneurship and enterprise, often because they think these are the bases of a prosperous society. Libertarians are also keen to protect the individual in his or her pursuit of happiness, however different that pursuit might look to others.

More About Progressives

Progressives (sometimes referred to as “liberals”) score lower on economic freedom but higher on personal freedom. That means progressives are quicker to embrace values of personal choice but place a comparatively lower value on private property rights or investment, production, and exchange. Many progressives think capitalism is a system that allows the strong to prey upon the vulnerable.

Most progressives are committed to the administrative ordering of society along economic lines. Because progressives view themselves as advocates for those they consider dispossessed or disenfranchised, progressives favor wealth redistribution. Such redistributive policies include high taxes and revenues to fund centralized social programs or welfare schemes.

In recent decades, many progressives have moved away from supporting civil liberties such as free speech, and legal doctrines such as equal treatment under the law. Instead, more progressives think that social justice requires abandoning civil rights in favor of “equity,” which means equality of outcome. More contemporary progressives are willing to curtail the freedoms of certain groups -- such as the wealthy -- whom they view as oppressors operating in an unfair system.

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