Notes on Out of the Rut: Making Labor a Genuine Alternative, edited by Michael Carman and Ian Rodgers, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1999
Carman and Rogers have assembled a quality team of progressive thinkers to reflect on various aspects of economic policy under the former Labor government and to present pithy suggestions as to how those policy issues should be tackled by the next Labor government. Common to all contributions is the belief that Labor should be more interventionist than the current party line would favour. The book's six most most radical proposals are:
Out of the Rut is meant to be a very approachable little book and it is---good stuff. It conveys understanding by comparing prospective Labor policies with past policies. In terms of wooing voters though it lacks the Argy touch. Fred Argy's Australia at the Crossroads compared progressive liberalism, which has much in common with the recipes here, with its main rival, hard liberalism. It always helps understanding of what is being advocated to know what is being rejected.
Despite suggestions such as the above that are quite radical, this book still sits squarely within the current paradigm, namely the belief that well-managed liberal democratic capitalist societies can meet their citizens' needs. For example, the distribution of income (including employment income and the social wage) is seen as the central determinant of social justice. There is no suggestion that the reigning paradigm may be incapable of solving such fundamental concerns as declining environmental quality, pathological social relations, the two-edged nature of technological progress and the glacial rate of institutional change. Equally traditionally, it concentrates on the short term, namely one parliamentary term. What do these policies mean for our grandchildren? Indeed there is no assessment of how successful the proposed policies might be even in the immediate future, particularly in comparison with competitors.
Because editors should never be criticised for not doing what they never set out to do (only for doing badly what they wanted to do well) it would be unfair to claim that this book is too narrow in scope and should have addressed other policy issues besides economic. It would be fair however to say that the editors fail to place their excursion into economic policy within a wider policy framework.
DC Feb 1999