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The European Third Way

I have a theory, though lack statistical evidence to support it, that the Third Way trope is a phenomenon that recurs every three years, with deep troughs and high peaks occurring more or less every 30 years. It’s a Schumpeterian wave-like process driven by hostility to capitalism.

Yesterday Lord Robert Skidelsky wrote at Project Syndicate on impressions he had gleaned from a 2001 stay at the Caracas Hilton where he attended a Third Way conference. Robert discussed the nature of leftwing populism in Venezuela. It may not have been his intention, but he was able to describe a situation, typical of many populist regimes in many Latin American countries, from at least 1945 onwards, in which the largesse (in this case the Chavez cheque book) on which populism rests is paid for either by milking the cash cows of monopolistic state enterprises or by foreign debt - and eventually a combination of both.

It has been an unsustainable model for reasons that don’t need repeating ad infinitum. I describe Latin American economic populism in some detail in my book Capitalism, Institutions, and Economic Development. I have lived for at least eleven years in at least three or four different Latin American countries. The story is familiar to me.

Robert then adds, however, that “Chávezism may well prove to be a significant phenomenon far beyond its Latin American homeland”. I could be wrong, but I suspect he may have in mind the troubled European periphery (he surely cannot be thinking of Africa, because that is a region where capitalist economics has a promising future).