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The Third Way, also known as Modernised Social Democracy is a centrist political position that attempts to reconcile centre-right and centre-left politics by synthesising a combination of economically liberal and social democratic economic policies along with centre-left social policies.
It is a reconceptualization of social democracy and is positioned to the right of the centre-left. It supports workfare instead of welfare, work training programs, educational opportunities and other government programs that give citizens a 'hand-up' instead of a 'hand-out'. The Third Way seeks a compromise between a less interventionist economic system as supported by neoliberals and Keynesian Social democratic spending policy supported by social democrats and progressives.
The Third Way was born from a reevaluation of political policies within various centre to centre-left progressive movements in the 1980s in response to doubt regarding the economic viability of the state and the perceived overuse of economic interventionist policies that had previously been popularised by Keynesianism, but which at that time contrasted with the rise of popularity for neoliberalism and the New Right starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
The Third Way has been promoted by social liberal and social-democratic parties. In the United States, a leading proponent of the Third Way was Bill Clinton, who served as the country's president from 1993 to 2001. In the United Kingdom, Third Way social-democratic proponent Tony Blair claimed that the socialism he advocated was different from traditional conceptions of socialism and said: "My kind of socialism is a set of values based around notions of social justice. ... Socialism as a rigid form of economic determinism has ended, and rightly." Blair referred to it as a "social-ism" involving politics that recognised individuals as socially interdependent and advocated social justice, social cohesion, equal worth of each citizen and equal opportunity.
Third Way social-democratic interpreter Anthony Giddens has said that the Third Way rejects the state socialist conception of socialism and instead accepts the conception of socialism as conceived of by Anthony Crosland as an ethical doctrine that views social democratic governments as having achieved a viable ethical socialism by removing the unjust elements of capitalism by providing social welfare and other policies and that contemporary socialism has outgrown the Marxist claim for the need of the abolition of capitalism as a mode of production. In 2009, Blair publicly declared support for a "new capitalism".
Policies supported by self-purported Third Way supporters vary by region, political circumstances, and ideological leanings. Third Way advocates generally support public-private partnerships, a commitment to fiscal conservatism, combining equality of opportunity with personal responsibility, improving human and social capital, and protection of the environment. But even to these ends Third Way advocates differ due to conflicting priorities. Anthony Giddens for example called for abolishing the retirement age so people can exit the workforce whenever they save enough, believing society should be more inclusive to the elderly; Emmanuel Macron did the exact opposite, raising the retirement age to balance the budget. The Bill Clinton administration, influenced by the works of the controversial political scientist Charles Murray, was less friendly to the welfare state than Tony Blair.
The Third Way has been criticised by other social democrats, as well as anarchists, communists, and in particular democratic socialists as a betrayal of left-wing values, with some analysts characterising the Third Way as an effectively neoliberal movement. It has also been criticised by conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians who advocate for laissez-faire capitalism.
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