What do you do if you’re a ‘third wayer’ and things don’t seem to be turning out all that flatteringly for your vision? You just keep talking in pretty much the same way, slap a coat of Web 2.0 paint on the vision and press on.
Oh well, none of us that I know of are that clever about what we should be doing to make the world a better place. But it can be irritating both reading and listening to Tony Blair clones. The general shtick is that the era of mass this and mass that is over, thus we have to ‘move beyond’ mass welfare. This will be done when we empower people.
Couldn’t agree more, but somehow I don’t think we can make much progress without acknowledging how difficult this is. While there are things we can do to make welfare more active, more empowering etc etc, the third wayers seem never to write about this in the tragic terms that I think are warranted. When there was no welfare people looked at the misery and the indignity of it and thought that surely welfare was a no-brainer.
(I agree – in any reasonable utilitarian analysis the ‘utility’ supplied to the poor from welfare vastly exceeds the disutility of us rich people giving up ten, twenty or even thirty percent of our income. The idea that redistribution from rich to poor was socially beneficial was an integral and natural part of the views of early 20th Century mainstream economists like Marshall and Pigou. If the consumption of virtually all commodities is characterised by diminishing marginal utility (as you consume more you get less ‘utility’ from each unit consumed) then it stands to reason that taking a dollar from someone with lots of money can be done at relatively little cost to utility whilst redistributing it to the poor enables the use of the same dollar to secure things of much higher utility. On a simpler level, swapping one person’s luxuries for another’s necessities makes obvious sense. This commonsense disappeared from economics as it tried to give itself value free foundations and so lost contact with its origins in moral philosophy.)
Anyway, as we now discover, we’re also subsidising the behaviours that generate poverty – like single parenthood, drugs, domestic violence and the breeding and neglect of kids. Why do third wayers never really focus on the tragedy of this – on the difficulty of subsidising something while trying to reduce it? We’ve got ourselves a very very hard problem and we’re probably condemned to tinkering at the edges to alleviate the worst of it – unless that is one simply declares war on the welfare state as some on the right would like to do.
The third way has broadened its base in the UK, illustrating just how important leadership is. In Australia we had eleven years of John Howard and the parameters of our politics – perhaps that should be perimeters of our politics – are still shaped by that time as we continue to obsess about the most recent boatload of asylum seekers. In the UK they’ve had a similar amount of time with New Labour and now they have cooked up a new brand – “progressive conservatism” a subject which no fewer than two think tanks have dedicated themselves to exploring (not to mention Demos who established a ‘progressive conservatism’ project from which much of this seems to have started.)
David Cameron the putative Conservative PM spends a great deal of his time sounding more like Tony Blair than anyone else. When this struck me from watching a few of his YouTube videos I discovered on further inspection that this is indeed a criticism which has some currency in the UK. However given the party he heads one presumes that there are plenty within progressive conservatism who hope to use the third way and the Web 2.0 ideas which have come in the wake of the third way to scale back the state, as alternative approaches are cranked up. Then it may not seem so nice.
It’s in the nature of politics that bold claims get made when one is campaigning in poetry and that those claims end up looking a bit shoddy after a period of governing in prose. What’s more galling is all the consultants and spruikers for the new approaches sound just the same – when it seems to me that those who set themselves up as ‘thought leaders’ ought to both campaign and govern in prose.
I thought this when recently hearing a new generation spokesman purveying ‘progressive conservatism’ recently in Australia. I kept wondering with him as I do with all the progressive conservatives I’ve come across why it’s seems to be such a fundamental part of their identity that they’re conservatives. After all, these are within a hair’s breadth of the same ideas that took New Labour to power and have kept it there for over a decade. I’m all for them taking them on and pointing out that they can be given a conservative spin. Indeed they can, and they’ll grow depth for it. (I also appreciate the use of the word ‘conservative’ to imply Burkean conservatism rather than just representing the interests of capital, poofter bashing and anything the right wing spinmeisters are on about at the time – which, in the US includes destroying the budget while in government and complaining about the destruction of the budget – or the repair of the budget depending on what is happening – when out of office.)
But there you go. If the Conservatives win in the UK elections I guess we can watch with interest to see what gets made of these ideas when they start being translated from poetry into prose. I’m intending to post at least one follow up to this post, though there may be others – and Don Arthur probably has more sensible things to say than me on it anyway. In any event, this post got written as an introduction to a brief response to reading a old third wayer’s recent rehabilitation of an agrarian communist from the English civil war. Lot’s of poetry, not much prose, if you get my meaning – and I’ll expand in my next post.
Postscript: I’m aware that the values base and ideas appealed to in the video of David Cameron to which I’ve linked could be explained as just a relatively cynical outreach to Labour voters which accordingly used language that wouldn’t upset them (and it reminded me of the ALP add when it said “no offence Mr Howard, but you’re just out of touch” – showing respect to the other side so as not to accuse those who voted for them of being stupid.) However there are lots of other more general examples – I had videos of several in an earlier draft of this post which WordPress ate up. Perhaps readers can provide some better links. In the meantime how’s this for an example.