Third Way Politics

This post is a preamble to a planned post for tomorrow on the Alberta government third way health care plan. This plan was released today. I have not yet looked at it in depth (tonights job) but have read and seen a few news reports on it.

Before discussing the plan itself, I would like to discuss the term ‘third way’, and it’s place in recent political economy discourse. For some this discussion will simply reveal bias (which may be evident in my post tomorrow) though my hope is that it triggers a tendency to view public policy with a critical eye. There is a chance the remainder of this post will not relate to the Klein announcement (though I would bet it does) in which case this post is simply a brief summary of recent political terminolgy, ideology and event.

For many Albertans today’s health care announcement, or it’s preannouncements since January may be the first time hearing of ‘third way’ with respect to public policy, although the term was occasionally applied over the last century, and most recently is associated with the Blair government and the rise of New Labour during the 1990s. Due to similarity in policy with New Labour, the term ‘third way’ has also been applied to the Clinton and Chretien executives, and in many respects may still be applied to their successors Bush 43 and Martin.

‘Third Way’ in these contexts can be thought of as a reaction to the economic policies of the Reagan, Mulroney, and Thatcher governments that in the 1980’s changed the fundamental nature of their national economies by embracing neoliberal economic principles as a cure for the high rate of inflation thought to be caused by a combination of oil-shock, the increased wages demanded by those working in nations with nearly full employment, and a consensus that the post-war boom was over. Neoliberal principles demanded the rejection of the welfare state (government’s role as a wide-ranging service provider, gradually built over time through policy programs and active control of economic management through monetary policy with the goals of stable income and high employment).

Many viewed this as a significant and unwelcome change in policy direction, and in 1993 the Chretien Liberal’s promised a different approachwhich the voters accepted. Likewise, in Britain and the United States traditionally centre or centre left parties would find electoral success. However, not only was neoliberalism adopted by these parties, but it arguably became adopted more vigourously. It is this process, the acceptance of neoliberalism and neoliberal globalization by traditionally left of centre political parties, that defines the term ‘third way’ (as I understand it). [For a description of how ‘third way’ policies have effected Canada, please read “Paradigm Shift” by Stephan McBride (2001).] The ‘third way’ has been described as ‘capitalism with a smile’ and more truthfully, ‘neoliberalism with a smile’. For critics of neoliberalism the ‘third way’ is nothing more than a masking of the negative effects of neoliberal policy behind a deceitful smile.


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