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The 2020 Public Services Trust Blog

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Election Quadrilemma?

By Henry Kippin

The Financial Times came out for their party of choice today in typically measured fashion.  Their editorial picked holes in all three parties’ agendas, but argued that the Conservatives were the best of the bunch.  Maybe the public will feel the same this Thursday, who knows.

The FT’s ideal-type model was what struck me as most interesting:

“We stand for a liberal agenda: a small state, social justice and open international markets. But we do have a vision of the changes needed for economic and political renewal. It is on this basis that we judge the fitness of the contenders for power.”

But is a liberal agenda, small state, social justice and open international markets a plausible mix?  I find it hard enough getting my head around Matthew Taylor’s trilemmas, but could this be a quadrilemma?  This would be a situation where three out of four objectives could be achieved, but not all four together.  Why?

  • Do a small state and social justice mix?  Jury is out on that one.
  • Does being economically liberal preclude corrective spending and positive discrimination?
  • Who can monitor the liberal agenda when the state is small?
  • Can open international markets be effectively navigated by a small state?
  • And can social justice ever be achieved within this context?  Maybe within one country, but internationally?

I’m not sure whether this is actually a quadrilemma, but its certainly a bunch of big policy blocks with similarly big ideological and practical considerations.  For example, some have argued that development in some parts of the world depends upon the underdevelopment of the others.  Others have pointed to the weakness of small states within a globalised market economy.  In this country, economic liberalism and social liberalism have been difficult things for a government to achieve together.  I find it hard to imagine that the FT would ever get the government it wants given these criteria – but I guess we will find out!

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Posted by Henry Kippin at 2:38 pm
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