Let’s end the nonsense right away – Progressives are Liberals who are not ashamed of their new label, and neo-liberals are for the most part conservative Democrats who still believe in the Party’s social agenda.
I suppose that the muddying of the differences is intentional because for some clarity would not be to their advantage. The largest difference between neo-liberals and progressives is quite easy – both agree in social action for society as a whole with special emphasis on the most disadvantaged groups (racially, economically and socially). Also the neo-liberals believe that the private sector can be used to administrate change while the progressives are pretty much convinced that change must come from government leadership. Take healthcare, for instance. Hillary Clinton, a neo-liberal on this issue, wants to affect change so that everyone has coverage. Her plan is that with well thought out rules and regulations, private industry (the private medical insurance industry) should have a big part to play in the development and administration of healthcare. Bernie Sanders, a progressive on this issue, believes the development and administration of a nationwide social plan (like Medicare but with no age limitation) be enacted for all. From his view, private industry would not be allowed to function in the government program. Medicare by the way has much lower administrative costs than any of the private insurances.
Another example of a neo-liberal viewpoint versus a progressive viewpoint involves the prison industry. In the ‘for profit’ prison industry prisons must always strive to lower costs and generate greater profit. While few would disagree that lowering cost on a program that we all have to bear some of the cost via taxes is not a bad thing, it is not okay to lower costs to the human detriment of these wards of the state.
The philosophical question on this and other social actions is whether the ‘for profit’ motive should be taken out of industries that affect the social welfare. Neo-liberals point to the dynamics of a competitive economic system with private industry. Progressives would point to the increased danger of abuse by companies seeking profit.
Progressives point out that it is not truly competitive as most of these social industries are dominated by a handful which creates monopoly. The line item of profit and its associative ‘bottom line’ should not be a consideration in administering a government program – only efficiency and quality should be considered.
“In order to understand where Sanders and Clinton fit within the Progressive tradition, it’s vital to know who the Progressives were and what they represented. Such questions have bedeviled generations of historians because there are no easy answers. Workers and farmers formed the largest constituencies of Progressive Era reform. But urban middle-class activists, white and black, male and female, also made their mark on the Progressive tradition. Progressives shared a belief in social improvement by way of public or collective action, focused on a wide array of social ills, and offered a variety of remedies and reforms: from a graduated income tax to public kindergartens, from eight-hour day laws to municipal ownership of utilities.” http://www.thenation.com/article/who-is-the-real-progressive-hillary-clinton-or-bernie-sanders/