[TODAY]The Third Way and Korean 'Leftists'

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[TODAY]The Third Way and Korean 'Leftists'

Rationally, a third anything is neither the first nor the second, but a different thing entirely. Anthony Giddens' "Third Way" political philosophy, however, is distinctive in that it starts from a denial of traditional social democracy and neoliberalism but still embraces parts of their core arguments. The third way is therefore based on the Hegelian dialectic of political systems that generate countervailing systems, out of which develops a synthesis.

Social democracy guarantees the livelihood of the loser in free market competition. It is based on an egalitarian principle in which taxes from those who have are collected to provide for those who have not. In contrast, neoliberalism is a cold-hearted formula in which those who win enjoy their wealth alone. Those who have lost in the competition are themselves made responsible for their fate. They cannot expect any help from the government. Neoliberalism is extreme individualism, which argues that those with grievances should advance themselves in society to settle those grievances.

The third way embraces the social welfare system of social democracy and the competitive market concepts of neoliberalism. If traditional social democracy meant welfare for the lazy, the third way's slogan is "from welfare to work." It is similar to President Kim Dae-jung's "productive welfare."

Mr. Giddens, who perceives the third way as running along the same philosophical tracks as the center-left, delivered the Yumin Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the JoongAng Ilbo at Hoam Hall of Performing Arts on Monday. During the lecture, Mr. Giddens said, "In the past few years, for the first time in their history, leftist governments have come to power in such countries as Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Chile and Argentina." The reference to the Kim Dae-jung administration as leftist surprised the Korean audience, and the discussion that followed was very lively. As a nation divided for half a century along communist/capitalist lines, the reference to the left provokes an allergic response here; it calls to mind destructive socialism and the communist regime in the North.

But it is not surprising when Taiwan's Chen Shui-bian, Brazil's Fernando Cardoso and Kim Dae-jung are lumped together as leftist or third way politicians. Mr. Chen inherited a market economy of the Nationalist Party. Mr. Cardoso, a former sociologist, is a widely renowned reformer who revived the withering Brazilian economy by pushing neoliberal social and economic reforms when he was finance minister.

In Mr. Giddens' thesis, Bill Clinton of the United States, Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany are leftists or social democrats. Mr. Giddens said Mr. Blair borrowed a page from Mr. Clinton and other Democratic Party politicians who called themselves "new Democrats" in recasting the Labor Party as the "New Labor Party."

In April 1999, Mr. Clinton invited Mr. Blair, Mr. Schroeder, Wim Kok (the prime minister of the Netherlands) and Massimo D'Alema (the prime minister of Italy) to the White House for a discourse on the third way. Soon after those discussion at the White House, Mr. Blair and Mr. Schroeder jointly issued a paper on the third way and the new center.

Mr. Kim's election campaign, during which he pledged to pursue both a market economy and democracy, was closely related to third-way policies. His "productive welfare" runs along the same lines as the "welfare to work" of the "new" Labor Party of the United Kingdom. If there is any difference, it is that Mr. Blair reformed the ailing welfare system, while Mr. Kim started from scratch.

We know that Mr. Kim had discussed the basic tenets of the third way with Mr. Giddens before he became president. The two, who met at the Blue House again on Monday morning, probably discussed Mr. Kim's policies and those of center-left governments in Europe. President Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party also met with Mr. Giddens on Tuesday for a 75-minute breakfast.

Mr. Lee asked Mr. Giddens why he defined Mr. Kim's politics as leftist. Mr. Giddens said he categorized Mr. Kim as a leftist politician of the third way on the basis of meetings he had before Mr. Kim became president, but that he could not explain further because he was not intimately familiar with current Korean politics.

Soon after Mr. Kim's election, the key brains of his campaign defined the policy of the "people's government" as that of the third way. Later, the third way disappeared from their rhetoric, but it is not important what we call the Kim government. It is important to change the government and our economic structure to meet the demands of a market and knowledge economy.

If Mr. Giddens' Yumin Memorial Lecture leads Koreans to no longer be surprised by the labeling of the Kim administration as a leftist government, and if it induces the public to look again at the third way promise he made but seems to have forgotten in the muddy currents of politics, then the lecture was a worthwhile event.


The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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