Ideology is such a lonely word

Kevin Rudd’s 7700 word essay on the global financial crisis, published in this month’s edition of The Monthly, was a remarkable contribution to serious political debate by a sitting Prime Minister. What isn’t remarkable given its length and lack of humor is that it appears to have gone down like a lead balloon. Mentions of the essay in the media seem generally restricted to pointed criticisms of it from members of the Opposition or their sympathisers. A few journalists (such as The Australian‘s Matthew Franklin) have even had a go at “Julie Bishoping” the Prime Minister, on the somewhat flimsy pretense that 26 words of the essay’s 7700 words were almost identical to a passage that appeared in an recent Foreign Affairs article. Err… ouch [wet noodle limply falls to ground].

For the benefit of those who haven’t splashed out on the magazine, I am going to try and offer a hopefully more level-headed summary over the fold.

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Rudd’s reaffirmation of the Third Way?

There’s been quite a bit of buzz in the media over the weekend about a 7700 word essay on the challenges posed by the global financial crisis that the Prime Minister has produced for the next edition of The Monthly magazine. Apart from being quite a uniquely direct intellectual contribution to debate by the sitting leader of a nation, the essay looks set to revive hostilities along traditional ideological lines. In seeking to frame the global financial crisis as a signal that the neoliberal economic doctrine popular in recent years is fundamentally flawed, the Prime Minister is opening the door for Federal Labor to make a return to its social democratic roots. One could almost believe that Tony Blair’s nerdy antipodean brother is alive and well and living at Kirribilli House.

Those lovers of ideology over at The Australian have already produced not one but three opinion-based pieces on Rudd’s essay, together with a video analysis from Dennis Shanahan. Both Paul Kelly and Lenore Taylor see the essay as an opportunity for a new era of distinction between Australia’s major parties to begin, with Rudd’s Federal Labor visibly leaning a little towards socialism, and Turnbull’s Opposition staunchly defending the free market liberal agenda. There is more than a hint of the suggestion in both pieces of an unspoken truth; these guys really want Turnbull back in the game, and Rudd’s Labor tarred with the old-school, old Labor brush. Of course, they don’t really give away whether or not they have actually seen the complete essay.

As someone with a fairly inherent social democratic bent, I don’t really see a problem if the Prime Minister makes an attempt in the essay to use the fallout of the global financial crisis to push for a more balanced economic agenda. In an time when the leader of the free world is engaging in large-scale nationalisation programs and propping up insolvent giants, surely only the most deluded observer could believe that something was not a bit rotten in the state of the global economy’s regulatory regimes. At least for me, the need for greater balance in the nation’s economic affairs has been apparent for some time; it’s just plain common sense given the problems we know the world is facing today – an absurd patchwork of rich and poor, and a subliminal devaluation of the common good. To a large extent, Rudd may be seen as getting on the bus far too late, if he really does believe that it is only the global financial crisis that has engendered a need for significant systemic change. I will however reserve judgement on the essay until it is published in full.

The magazine will be available in newsagents this Wednesday. You can read the first 1500 words of the essay online here.

ELSEWHERE: Mark has more at Larvatus Prodeo, as does Jason Soon at Catallaxy.