Wed, Jul 16, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Those addicted to the third way need new drugs

Third-wayers are often scornful of the quack remedies promoted by the right, but their solution is not much different

By Larry Elliott  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

"Citizens of Gettysburg, before I give my address today I would like to say a word about our sponsor, Richard Jordan Gatling of Gatling Guns. I think it goes without saying that without the financial help provided by Mr. Gatling, this speech would not be taking place. Now, as I was saying, four score and seven years ... "

Progressive politics in the 1860s did not require then US president Abraham Lincoln to grub around for corporate sponsorship. It is unlikely that either Lincoln or the mayor of Gettysburg was savvy enough to think of decorating a cemetery in Pennsylvania with corporate logos. Poor old Abe, he really didn't get it.

These days when British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former US president Bill Clinton and chums meet to discuss the future of globalization they ask British Airways and Citigroup, PwC and KPMG to pony up cash for their progressive governance conference. Not forgetting, of course, that great supporter of progressive causes, the sultan of Brunei.

Does it really matter that big business is bankrolling Blair's four-day talkathon with his third way pals? Not at all. It means there are unlikely to be any papers discussing how the exemption of tax on aviation fuel damages the environment, or whether conflicts of interest between the consultancy and auditing arms of the big accountancy firms encouraged companies such as Enron. But let's face it, these issues would not be discussed even if it was the taxpayer, rather than big business, picking up the tab. The basic premise is that there is really not a lot wrong with the global economy that the good offices of baby boomer progressives cannot put right. A surfeit of jargon will disguise the fact that the third-wayers are free-marketeers who have learned how to play the chords to Stairway to Heaven. Blair's political guru, Anthony Giddens, said last week that the third way is not a dead duck. Like Monty Python's parrot, presumably, it is just resting.

Sick capitalism

The old third-wayers -- Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson -- had a different take. They believed in managed markets and controlled capitalism, which was why it was not the Coca-Cola Bretton Woods conference and why, far from sponsoring Roosevelt's fireside chats, JP Morgan's staff used to cut the president's pictures out of the papers in case the great financier had a seizure.

A truly third-way analysis would conclude that capitalism is sick and, funnily enough, the participants at Blair's third-way love-in represent countries that display the symptoms of the disease. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder could speak about how the enthusiasm for deflationary policies has left his country with nearly 5 million unemployed; Clinton and Blair could explain how they have only avoided the same by pumping so much liquidity into their economies that they are sodden with debt. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark could wax lyrical about how the Dr. Strangeloves of the economics profession took over New Zealand in the 1980s. Brazilian President Lula da Silva is the man to talk about the three percentage point drop in forest coverage in the Amazon basin in the past decade. President Thabo Mbeki presides over a South Africa where the spread of HIV/AIDS means life expectancy is six years less than in the early 1970s. Some success.

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