Third way to globalisation

By Keijo Rahkonen

Ever since Anthony Giddens wrote an article called “After the left’s paralysis” which was published in the New Statesman in May 1998, debate about the ‘third way’ has become an international phenomenon. In the article, Giddens attempted to explain, if not condone, Tony Blair’s New Labour politics. The fact that Giddens’s consequent book, The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, has been translated into 25 languages, speaks volumes of international interest.

The debate became European with the manifesto Europe: The Third Way - Die Neue Mitte, published in London in June 1999. The manifesto was credited to Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder although it was ghost-written by Peter Mandelson and Bodo Hombach. One of the main slogans of this document was: “We support market economy but not a market society.” Paradoxically, the original father of this slogan was the French socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin who wants to keep his distance from Blair and Schröder’s political line. However, the difference between these leading European politicians is not very pronounced. The difference could be described as theoretical or even cultural. Jospin has declared that his politics are “socialist in a modern context”.

In Finland, the ‘third way’ has not become a subject of major debate. In an article published in June 1998, the then Minister of Labour, Liisa Jaakonsaari, recommended taking on board some aspects of Blairism. Erkki Tuomioja (now the Foreign Minister), who has debated with Giddens, doubted that Blairism can be considered as a beacon for the rest of Europe. Some commentators, however, have come to the conclusion that Finland for some time has actually implemented ‘third way’ ideas without calling them such.

'Third way' and 'work reform'

Surprisingly, the only Finnish political party to try to implement some ‘third way’ ideas is the Centre Party. The party’s “work reform” programme was, however, tackled – mainly by the trade unions. The Centre Party even organised a seminar at the Finnish Institute in London in March 1998, “Towards a European welfare and work reform”. One of the speakers was Frank Field, who at the time was the minister responsible for welfare reform.

Blair and Giddens’s ‘third way’ has been criticised in academic circles as well. It has been seen as heir to neo-liberalism and Thatcherism. For instance Pierre Bourdieu’s close colleague Loïc Wacquant warns of an American “Trojan horse” which will bring to Europe some elements of the dark side of America’s economic success strory like poverty, inequality, etc.

In my view, one of the problematic aspects of the ‘third way’ is its welfare-to-work programme. It is strongly committed to full employment and wage-work society. Giddens is clearly aware of the problem but only mentions it in passing and in no way incorporates it into his wider framework. The ‘third way’ remains on this side of a wage-based society. It is committed to old work society, an aspect of ‘third way’ that has been criticised by Ulrich Beck.

It is clear that the ‘third way’ still has a lot of mileage left. Giddens has just published another book, The Third Way and its Critics (Polity Press), launched at the London School of Economics in February 2000. In this book, Giddens attempts to defend the ‘third way’ and answer his critics – but then somehow fails to do this. He dismisses criticism and lists some of Blair’s achievements (e.g. the minimum wage). In fact, it has been reported that Giddens feels hurt because his academic colleagues have not taken his book on the ‘third way’ very seriously. Some have actually mocked it, possibly partly because of Giddens’s close relationship with power and political class.

Giddens dismisses Tuomioja's comments

In his new book, Giddens refers several times to Erkki Tuomioja’s critical contribution at the seminar in London in May 1998, organised jointly by the London School of Economics and the Finnish Institute. Giddens’s reaction to Tuomioja’s comments is dismissive. Nor does the book even mention anything that would go beyond a work society. He seems to be totally committed to a welfare-to-work programme, even if he does not approve of the American way of forcing it on people.

 One gets the impression that Giddens’s faith in the blessings of a flexible work market and free competition has become even stronger, although in a slightly contradictory way he occasionally emphasises the need to regulate global markets. He does indeed insist that the ‘third way’ still is basically a left-wing project. Understandably Giddens’s thinking has been criticised for being all over the place and trying to perform a balancing act between incompatible viewpoints. Be that as it may, probably his new intervention will encourage more debate on the ‘third way’.

Whilst Giddens’s critique of his critics is a disappointment, to say the least, the collection of articles on globalisation, edited by Giddens and Will Hutton, is a more interesting starting point for debate. On the Edge: Living with Global Capitalism (Jonathan Cape) begins with Hutton and Giddens’s long dialogue on various aspects of globalisation. It transpires that Hutton, an ex-journalist with The Guardian and The Observer – and one time editor of the latter – is quite sceptical about the development of globalisation, whereas Giddens is a “gee-whizzer”, as he somewhat ironically describes himself, fascinated by new technology and suchlike,. And lo and behold, such money men as George Soros and Paul Volcker in their contributions to the book see the development of global markets in darker colours than Giddens! The most pessimistic writer is the Nobel Prize winner, medical doctor and ecologist Vandana Shiva, who explains in a critical way the human and ecological consequences of global capitalism, especially the effects of bio-business giants like Monsanto.

On the Edge also contains excellent summaries of some fairly recent sociological studies. German sociologist Ulrich Beck analyses the relationship between individualisation, globalisation and politics. Californian sociologist Arlie Russel Hochschild describes international child care market, i.e. how mothers in the First World employ mothers of the Third World to look after their children. LSE sociologist, Richard Sennett from New York, explains the conclusions of his book The Corrosion of Character which looks into the consequences of work flexibility on people’s lives, how it changes fundamentally workers’ identity and creates continuous uncertainty. Manuel Castells – well-known in Finland – gives summaries of some of his earlier analyses of “info capitalism”.

Castells concludes his article with a long paragraph about a wonder country called Finland, a wonder company called Nokia and a Finnish prodigy called Linus Torvalds who currently lives in Silicon Valley. Castells asks his readers to look towards Finland as “the first true information society”. Looking at it from the street level here in Helsinki, I am not quite convinced of Castells argument – no matter how flattering it is.

Keijo Rahkonen is Assistant Professor of Social Policy at the University of Helsinki. He was the convenor of the seminar at the Finnish Institute on “Blairism” – A Beacon for Europe?”, organised jointly with the London School of Economics and the New Statesman.

See also:

Doubts about Blair's 'third way'

10 May 2000

Lutheran bishops in defence of the Nordic welfare State

24 February 2000

Poverty assumes modern disguises

1 February 2000

Bishops attack Anglo-American economic doctrines

March 1999

Nordic model defended by Finnish Prime Minister

January 1999

Blairism divided Finnish social democrats

June 1998

Frank Field and Shirley Williams discuss welfare reform

March 1998

Lutheran worries about welfare state

March 1997

From Lutheranism to the crisis of modern welfare state by Torkel Jansson

March 1997


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