April 19, 2007


Australians are all conservatives now: Regardless of this year's election results, the left-wing dogma of interventionism and statism is in retreat while free-market causes will prevail across the nation (Scott Prasser, April 20, 2007, The Australian)

WHATEVER the Australian Labor Party decides at its national conference, which begins next Friday, whatever sham debates are waged between Left and Right factions, whatever policy victories on mining or industrial relations are stage-managed to bolster Kevin Rudd's leadership, it will be irrelevant for the direction of a future federal Labor government.

Why? Because during the past two decades conservatives have won all the key policy battles. Conservative values drive the policy agenda to such an extent that whoever is in power is essentially unimportant. Now, and in the foreseeable future, there will be little divergence from the conservative agenda. We live in a conservative world and the Labor Party takes its policy cues from the conservative framework. Left-of-centre views may still have currency at universities, but in the real world of voter preferences and policies that work there is no market for outdated left-of-centre policy products. Everywhere, leftist policies are in retreat. [...]

Nor is this trend just an Australian phenomenon. Tony Blair's New Labour Government in Britain has largely continued Margaret Thatcher's policies. The Iron Lady just did the dirty work in tackling the country's out-of-control trade unions and privatising those decrepit overstaffed government-owned businesses.

Similarly, in the US the Reagan Republican conservative agenda was pursued just as vigorously by a Democratic president. Who can forget Bil Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 when "he pledged to end welfare as we know it"? His subsequent commitment to welfare reform, balanced budgets and free trade was confirmation that he was more in keeping with Barry Goldwater than George McGovern.

And if the British and US cases do not prove the point, bear in mind that even many European countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Germany have adopted the conservative free-market policy agenda of reduced government spending, tax reform and privatisation with some success. Only France remains a reluctant starter and its high unemployment rate testifies to the resultant policy failure of its approach, but a president Nicolas Sarkozy may begin to reverse the tide.

So, far from there being a third way as Blair and Rudd pretend, there is merely the conservative way or a return to non-viable policies of the statist Left.

Close, but not quite. While the Left has had to accept that its statist social welfare solutions don't work, the Right has had to accept that electorates do want solutions of some kind. The genius of the Third Way--whether of Thatcher/Blair or Clinton/Gingrich/Bush--is to achieve what were initially the ends of the Left via the means of the Right, such as work requirements in Welfare, self-funded unemplyment benefits, personal accounts in SS, HSAs, school choice, etc.The psychic disonnance that makes Left and Right so crazy these days comes about because the rank-and-file trail their leaders in accepting these realities. The Left hates the means more than it desires the ends and the Right is unreconciled to accepting the ends. Significantly, the most prominent Third Wayers (even though they don't generally refer to themselves as such) are religious believers (and do quite explicitly refer to themselves as such), for whom the end of caring for your neighbor, defending the dignity of the person, and the inferiority of the state to society are all doctrinal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2007 9:13 PM

Nice commentary. A home run.

Posted by: jdkelly at April 20, 2007 8:26 AM

I wouldn't be so quick to jump to conclusions...third way reforms as you call them are barely 10 years old. I don't think taking people off the worst kind of welfare consistutes a reform, Clinton was and is a political animal, that's why he did that. Besides, much of the welfare of this type was shifted to SS disablity.

$401K's a success for sure but what has the government got to do with that? Everything else on your list is conjecture.

Third way reforms, in my opinion, are what leftists use to change the name of something out of vogue so it can continue to be.

Right now this country continues to move forward on productivity gains but public sector unions threaten to gobble that up.

Posted by: Perry at April 20, 2007 1:23 PM

Not a reform? Then why did it take decades and the firdt GOP majority in forty years?

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2007 6:37 PM