Fri Sep 29th, 2006 at 03:00:04 PM EST
Almost simultaneously with the Philip Stephens article that Jérôme points out in his"Third Way" diary, the Post Autistic Economics Review comes out with an interesting article on that very subject:
Is New Labour's `Third Way' new or just hot air in old bottles. The paper is interesting and downloadable to word for free. Now that I'm back to blogging after a long absence, I'll also post some interesting tidbits below the fold.
Grazia letto-Gillies' article starts with a brief historical overview of the history of political economy in Britain since WWII: "The First Way refers to the period from after WWII to the mid 1970s; the second Way refers to the Conservative Government period starting from 1979; and the Third Way to the New Labour Government period since 1997."
She goes on to explain the dire economic situation of the 70s that led to Thatcher's 'second way', but she makes an important point: that the economic problems have turned out to be deeply embedded in the system itself:
However, in a way the major problem was for capital itself. Though some investment opportunities were created and some foreign capital attracted in more deprived areas, the basic problem was that the shedding of activities by the state does not automatically create profitable investment opportunities. Most of the activities which were in public ownership by the 1970s had originally become so because they were not profitable under private ownership. They did not necessarily or not always become profitable when the Thatcher government privatised them. With every privatisation the City went into euphoria because immediately after each selling by the government the value of the company shot up with huge gains for the buyers and for the institutions involved in the deals; this is not surprising given the fact that the public companies' assets were sold at grossly low prices. However, often the euphoria became short-lived as many companies faced difficulties and needed propping up with continuous handouts from the taxpayer
Thatcherism proved volatile, divisive and, in the end, unsuccessful and dissatisfactory. New Labour was thus elected with high hopes...
The expectations were soon to be checked by the reality of a government that: put economic prudence and stability over fulfilment of pent up needs; put the financial expectations and interests of the higher echelons of society, the City, the big corporations - domestic and foreign - and the right wing press before those of the millions of people who voted it in; proved to be very aggressive in foreign policy and over enthusiastic for wars to achieve those aggressive aims; developed a very cavalier attitude towards democracy and accountability on the strength of a high parliamentary majority achieved, partly, through the specific British electoral system
The author then goes into a lengthy discussion of New Labour's economic policies, especially healthcare. At every turn she notes the dissatisfaction (economic and affective) with the solutions. Again, the problems point to an overall weakening system rather than the ability or inability of governments to tweak elements of the system. The higher orders of global capital are to blame, that is to say, our beliefs in certain economic "laws" [I am perhaps reading into her argument here]:
The problems of this Blair-Brown grand design for the public sector are beginning to unravel and they will increase as time goes by: problems for the user of public services; problems for the health workers and eventually problems for capital; problems for the State and the political class. Why the latter two problems? Because this grand design signals a profound structural crisis for capitalism. If the system needs propping up via continuous State intervention it cannot be very healthy. So what is going to happen when all that can be outsourced is outsourced and an even larger share of inland revenue goes to pay for private companies' profits?
Moreover, the state is in danger of despoiling itself of major functions and this may lead to a problem of legitimacy: if the State's function is limited to collecting taxes and handing them over to private - domestic and foreign - companies for the actual provision of services can the State justify itself? Will this create also problems for democracy? (Florio, 2004: 155).
A separate important question may be one that political scientists and future historian of politics may be able to tackle: how is it possible for a Labour-led Parliament to preside over the erosion leading to the demise of the NHS and to similar trends in other public services? A question almost as important as why the parliament and the Labour Party did not call government to account over the Iraq war. The huge amount of obfuscating that has been and is going on may explain why it was difficult for the wider public to understand the significance of the changes, but not why competent elected MPs accepted them
In England, as here in America, the debate has been so constrained and so deliberately shaped, that it has become difficult to talk about--much less confront--the issues of capital. This reflects, in somewhat different terms, what Jérôme said earlier today about discourse:
So despite running a massive traditional left-wing tax-and-spend programme (while pretending to be neo-liberals), the Blair/Brown duo has stabilised inequality. Surely that would suggest that the focus be put on policies rather than on discourse?
If the left does not fight for the ideas of the left, nobody will bother to implement them. The right, pushed away from its natural right-of-center place in public discourse, will focus on populist or socially conservative ideas to try to regain ground, but will certainly not advertise the usual moderate socio-economic policies it used to practise while in government. Once in power, it won't feel the need to change the tone of economic discourse, but it is likely to stop the tax-and spend ways of government.
The problem is that all of our public servants believe the same thing; only their implementation vary, and only then by small degrees. We are lacking a philosophical tie to hold on to, to debate because our "leaders" are programmed, trained, sculpted by the same educational and formative experiences. We are highly in need of some true representation.