The Third Way is a term that has been used to describe a variety of political philosophies of governance that embracing a mix of market and interventionist philosophies. Third Way approaches are commonly viewed as representing a centrist compromise between capitalism and socialism, or between market liberalism and social democracy. However, proponents of third way philosophies often claim that the third way represents a synthesis of these competing viewpoints, distinct from and superior to both of its sources, rather than simply a compromise or mixture.. This claim is embodied in the alternative description of the Third Way as the Radical center.
Past invocations of a political 'third way', in this sense, have included the Fabian Socialism, Distributism, Keynesian economics, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and Harold Macmillan's 1950s One Nation Conservatism. A "Third Way" approach has been adopted by some social democrats and social liberals in many Western liberal democracies. While it was pioneered in the 1980s in Australia by the Hawke/Keating Labor governments, the most recent prominent examples are the Clinton Administration in the United States as well as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Labour Party (New Labour) governments of the United Kingdom under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the Liberal Party government of Canada under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin as well as then-prime ministerial candidates Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion, the Australian Labor Party under Kevin Rudd and Mark Latham and the Polder Model in The Netherlands.
The Third Way rejects both socialism and laissez-faire approaches to economic governance, but chiefly stresses technological development, education, and competitive mechanisms to pursue economic progress and governmental objectives. One of its central aims is to protect the modern welfare state through reforms that maintain its economic integrity.
The third way has been criticized by some conservatives and libertarians who advocate laissez-faire capitalism. It has also been heavily criticized by many social democrats and democratic socialists in particular as a betrayal of left-wing values.
The term was later used by politicians in the 1990s who wished to incorporate Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan's projects of economic deregulation, privatization, and globalization into the mainstream centre-left political parties (following the crisis of socialism after the fall of the Berlin Wall).
In the last decade the Third Way can be defined as:
A leading defender of the spread of Third Way influence in modern democracies has been British sociologist Anthony Giddens. Giddens regularly expounds on Third Way philosophy through contributions to progressive policy think tank Policy Network.
Various ideological beliefs were factionalised under reforms to the ALP under Gough Whitlam, resulting in what is now known as the Socialist Left who tend to favour a more interventionist economic policy and more socially progressive ideals, and Labor Right, the now dominant faction that tends to be more economically liberal and focus to a lesser extent on social issues. The Whitlam government was first to use the term economic rationalism. The Gough Whitlam Labor government from 1972 to 1975 changed from a democratic socialism platform to social democracy, their precursor to the party's "Third Way" policies. Under the Whitlam government, tariffs across the board were cut by 25 percent after 23 years of Labor being in opposition.
Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's first speech to parliament in 1998 stated:
Competitive markets are massive and generally efficient generators of economic wealth. They must therefore have a central place in the management of the economy. But markets sometimes fail, requiring direct government intervention through instruments such as industry policy. There are also areas where the public good dictates that there should be no market at all. We are not afraid of a vision in the Labor Party, but nor are we afraid of doing the hard policy yards necessary to turn that vision into reality. Parties of the Centre Left around the world are wrestling with a similar challenge—the creation of a competitive economy while advancing the overriding imperative of a just society. Some call this the `third way'. The nomenclature is unimportant. What is important is that it is a repudiation of Thatcherism and its Australian derivatives represented opposite. It is in fact a new formulation of the nation's economic and social imperatives.Rudd is critical of free market economists such as Friedrich Hayek, although Rudd describes himself as "basically a conservative when it comes to questions of public financial management", pointing to his slashing of public service jobs as a Queensland governmental advisor.
Harold Macmillan's book The Middle Way, first published in 1938, is also written from broadly this centrist position.
After Tony Blair came to power in the UK, Clinton, Blair and other leading Third Way adherents organized conferences to promote the Third Way in 1997 at Chequers in England. The Democratic Leadership Council are adherents of Third Way politics.
In 2004, several veteran U.S. Democrats founded a new Washington, DC organization entitled Third Way, which bills itself as a "strategy center for progressives. John Kerry, the 2004 U.S. Democrats' Presidential candidate, is also considered to be third way politician, as is U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton.
Unlike previous Liberal governments in the late 20th century, the Chrétien government pursued corporate tax cuts and the expansion of "free trade", leading to the negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. As of 2007 the Liberal Party of Canada still advocates a social liberal agenda based on balanced budgets, support for globalization and fiscal "moderation".
Canada's largest leftwing party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has also experimented with the so called "Third Way" at various times. During the government of Roy Romanow in the province of Saskatchewan from 1991–2003 the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party broke with its socialist past and followed a very conservative agenda with the goal of reducing the province's debt. This was characterized by a program of hospital closures, program cuts and privatization. Romanow would later claim to be a "disciple" of the "Third Way" ideology of Tony Blair (even though he had been in power for five and a half years before Blair's first election win). Romanow would also quip that he was a supporter of Blair's Third Way concept before it even existed.
The Province of Ontario's only NDP premier Bob Rae also followed a very fiscally conservative agenda during his government (1990-1995). Ontario was experiencing its worst recession since the Great Depression when Bob Rae was elected into office. After 1991 the government introduced budget cutbacks, reopened collective bargaining agreements with the public sector unions (the "Social Contract") and put a cap on enrollment into medical schools. The Social Contract which imposed a wage freeze on public sector workers and forced them to take ten days off per year without pay (Rae Days) led to a split between the Ontario New Democratic Party and their historic allies, the labour unions (the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and the Canadian Auto Workers).
Bob Rae also failed to deliver on one of his key campaign promises of introducing public auto insurance drawing intense criticism from the leftwing of his own party. In 1995 the NDP went down to an historic defeat at the hands of the province's Progressive Conservatives led by Mike Harris. In spite of the improving electoral fortunes of the federal NDP in the province of Ontario, the Ontario NDP has yet to make any significant gains. In 2002 Bob Rae wrote a piece to one of Canada's most rightwing newspapers, the National Post entitled "Parting Company with the NDP" where he criticized the party for rejecting the "third way" of Tony Blair and opposing globalization. The Ontario NDP has also thoroughly washed its hands of Bob Rae and recommitted itself to social democracy, with leader Howard Hampton citing the policies of the Swedish Social Democrats as reflecting his own beliefs. In 2006 Bob Rae joined the Liberal Party of Canada and ran for the party's leadership, coming in third. He has since been elected as a Liberal, representing Toronto Centre, in the March 2008 by-election.
After declining fortunes in the early 1990s the federal NDP also followed a more centrist agenda under leader Alexa McDonough leading NDP members and supporters including Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove to call for her resignation. After two modest election results the NDP chose Jack Layton as its leader in 2003. Layton vowed never to move the NDP into the "mushy middle". As of the 2006 election the NDP won 29 seats and 17.5% of the popular vote (their highest number of votes since 1988). This has been largely at the expense of the Liberals.
Other leaders who have adopted elements of the Third Way style of governance include Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Marianne Jelved of Denmark, François Bayrou of France, Gerhard Schröder of Germany, Ferenc Gyurcsány of Hungary, Wim Kok of the Netherlands and Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of Pakistan, whose book's preface was written by Anthony Giddens.
Third way is sometimes described as an idea of former social-democrats which replaces socialism with capitalism and a minimum of socialism, and a strategy to bring the social-democratic parties back to power where they have lost elections. For example, Slavoj Zizek argues that the notion of the Third Way emerged as the only alternative to the victorious global capitalism and its notion of liberal democracy when the Second Way crumbled. Critics argue that third way politicians are in favour of ideas and policies that ultimately serve the interests of corporate power and the wealthy at the expense of the working class and the poor. Some also classify the Third Way as neosocialism or "neoliberalism with a social touch". In many western nations where social democratic or "socialist" parties have adopted centrist or third way policies or have been seen by some as doing so, many new leftwing parties have been able to attract voters disillusioned with the traditional left. These include The Left Party of Germany (formerly the Party of Democratic Socialism), the Left Party of Sweden, the Socialist Party of Ireland and Sinn Fein, The Respect Party of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Citizen and Republican Movement and the Communist Party of France, the Green Party in the United States and the United Left of Spain to name a few.
Charles Clarke, a former UK home secretary and the first senior "Blairite" to attack UK Prime Minister Brown openly and in print, stated "We should discard the techniques of 'triangulation' and 'dividing lines' with the Conservatives, which lead to the not entirely unjustified charge that we simply follow proposals from the Conservatives or the right-wing media, to minimise differences and remove lines of attack against us.