I started as positively pre-disposed to it myself. I have a few questions about it though. I feel most at home in the upper-right orange, between pragmatic libertarian and idealistic progressive. But there’s something weird about being there, because I don’t feel like I’m especially an idealist. I feel a lesser identification with the dark red group (see my caveat on the narrowness of this idea of a “corrupt progressive” below) and the yellow “minimal state” group, each of which emerges more on some points than others. There’s something very odd about this arrangement, though. Notice there is no:
1. Pragmatic progressive
2. Pragmatic conservative
3. Dogmatic progressive
4. Dogmatic conservative
5. Corrupt libertarian, or
6. Idealistic libertarian
Why? Sumner suggests that by “corrupt” he doesn’t mean “taking bribes”, he just means abandoning principles to please people. But that’s an extremely narrow way of thinking about the reasons for flexibility in an ideological perspective. Sumner allows for pragmatic libertarians and considers himself one. Why? Presumably because he doesn’t think he’s “abandoning principles” for someone – he’s simply pragmatically recognizing where principles are good guides and where they are less good guides. He sees principles as broad sketches or frameworks for approaching problems not divine laws. He is, in short, a pragmatic libertarian.
But don’t progressives and conservatives act flexibly for precisely this reason as well? Most progressives and most conservatives aren’t in power and aren’t seeking votes, so they’re clearly not maintaining a flexible outlook to “please special interest groups”. Even many progressives and conservatives in power aren’t doing this to “please special interest groups”. There is a good reason to push for tort reform – the Republicans aren’t just kowtowing to the doctors. Clinton didn’t work on welfare reform to cater to a segment of the political spectrum, he largely did it because it needed to be done! This complete lack of pragmatism on the progressive/conservative side of Sumner's schema and complete lack of a “corruption” group on the libertarian side says a lot about Sumner.
He has some strange points here too. Dogmatic libertarians and idealistic conservatives revere the original intent of the Constitution? That this sentence was written by a libertarian is blatantly obvious. A progressive would say that it’s the dogmatic libertarians and idealistic conservatives that are putting their own modern spin on the Constitution. But of course the very idea that this is even a contested point is foreign to many libertarians and conservatives. They simply assume that progressives have knowingly and proudly written off the founders!
There’s also something very odd going on when Scott Sumner and Will Wilkinson both put themselves pretty darn close on this mapping to where I put myself (we seem to just be on different halves of the same segment). I imagine a lot of progressives and a lot of libertarians are all putting themselves in that segment. What good is this schema if that’s where everybody in the discussion puts themselves? I imagine anarcho-capitalists are going to put themselves in the yellow area rather than the very light purple area. When a centrist Keynesian and an anarcho-capitalist are adjacent to each other something’s a little off, I think.
I don’t like that old diamond model much, personally – but even over the course of writing this post I’m starting to think that is better than this.