April 22, 2004

Revisioning Australia

In his what is wrong with left and what can we do about it post Peter Levine says that the US Democrats (social democrats in Australia eg., the ALP), which are:

"... today’s “progressives” are actually conservatives, staving off radical change and defending old institutions as preferable to the market alternatives promoted by Republicans. Bill Clinton is a progressive hero not because of what he built, but because of the proposals he vetoed.

Today’s progressives are not only conservative about New Deal institutions. They are eager to conserve natural ecosystems and minority cultures (especially poor, indigenous ones). They are more fiscally conservative than Republicans. They are also more resistant to scientific innovation: witness their response to genetically engineered crops. They have adopted traditional conservative priorities by objecting to federal power in the areas of law enforcement (the USA Patriot Act) and education (No Child Left Behind). And they are the biggest defenders of institutions, such as public broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities, that promote the high culture of the past."

This is largely true. You only have to compare Keating's ALP to the free market vision of John Hewson's Fightback Liberals in the early 1990s. The latter aimed at the destruction of social democracy. Keating defended social democracy whilst embracing the free market vision of an open, competitive economy.

Yet the Hawke/Keating ALP were also the economic revolutionaries as they opened the Australian economy up to the global market, and kicked away a lot of the props of old protectionist Australia int he name of competition policy.

Peter says that the:

"The problem with this kind of conservative “progressivism” is not that it is wrong. Rather, it is politically and rhetorically weak, because it lacks a broad, coherent, forward-looking agenda. School systems, unions, and welfare programs are unworthy of more than half-hearted endorsement, yet no political movement can win by half-heartedly defending the recent past....What the Left needs are new models, new institutional arrangements. The best of these, alas, are still in a nascent, experimental, R&D stage. If that is our problem, then we will get nowhere by playing politics Texas-style. At best, we are now at the beginning of a long, slow process of developing a workable alternative to laissez-faire economics."

In responding to this post Mark Schmitt at The Decembrist, Peter says that social democrats "don't yet have enough compelling ideas or concrete experiments waiting to be expanded. While we develop such experiments, we need to preserve the capacity of government to become a force for ambitious reform."

Did the Australian social democratic lack a vision of what Australia could become? No. They went beyond defending the past. The Keating ALP had a vision of what Australia could be in a global economy governed by economic flows. It was developed during the early 1990s and was used to fight the 1993 election.

It was what was often referred to as the big picture. This basically married a free market economy to social democracy. Don Watson in Recollections of a Bleeding Heart describes it as a story of progress of an independent Australia

"...towards a modern, competitive, skilled high waged economy replete with jobs that were not a dead-end;...democracy of the broadest kind, the maximisation of rights and liberties, the extension of both individual opportunity and social justice; a post-imperial multicultural Australia [that gave its people] the opportunity to choose those institutions and symbols which reflect their sentiments and reality and not those ogf a bygone era."

By 1993 the Keating ALP stood for tradition of the fair go, republicanism progress to a competitive economy, being a part of Asia and become part of a free trade system in the Asia Pacific Rim.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at April 22, 2004 03:05 PM | TrackBack
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