There's a famous phrase coined by Margaret Thatcher to describe the inexorable march to a brave new world in which social democracy in Britain would be cast into the scrapheap of history.
TINA, there is no alternative:
There is no alternative (shortened as TINA) was a slogan of which Margaret Thatcher, the radical British Prime Minister was fond. In economics, politics, and political economy, it has come to mean that despite capitalism's problems, "there is no alternative" to the status quo of their economic system and neoliberalism. This is the central slogan of neoliberalism, arguing that free markets, free trade, and capitalist globalization are the only way in which modern societies can go, as any deviation from their doctrine is certain to lead to disaster.
The bold lie contained within this statement has been laid bare to all of us in recent years as we have been witness to the radical economic agenda of the Bush Administration. With the same callousness exhibited by Marie Antoinette saying "let them eat cake" when the starving poor cried for bread, the brazen mendacity of the Iron Lady saying that there is no such thing as society, we have seen the Bush Administration carry the neoliberal agenda to its ultimate conclusion. Pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words, but this one was worth a couple of thousand lives.
When Katrina hit New Orleans, I was working in a medical call center. I have never been more ashamed than those weeks following the storm when I spoke to the poor souls trapped on some rooftop or refugee camp trying to get the supplies they needed to live.
Refugees in this country. For all our wealth, they were left to die. Their lives had less value than putting money into the hands of the few so that they might have another yacht or mansion.
I like listening to Bob Marley, and there's a great line from "Get up, Stand up" that I never could get just right, but I think went something like this:
Life is worth much more than gold.
It may lead some to damn me for a fool, but when I look at economics I don't see the dispassionate calculation of utility that neo-liberals do. I see the lives of men, children, and women, and I think to myself, "there but for the grace of God go I."
And that's the soul of it. I want a good man (or woman) who has that in their heart when they say that they want to be the leader of this country. And that's why I could never get on the Obama train, because I thought that the "gravitas" was in large part a disconnection from the way that real men and women live. And that that simple thought, "there but for the grace of God go I" wasn't on the man's mind. Because poverty and inequality were things that happened to others not him, and even his work in Chicago was cast in the context of what a great personal sacrifice it was for him to take on this work.
Recently Senator Obama gave an interview to the New York Times on his economic policy, and near the end the reporter asked Obama if he had a simple message like Reagan's call for less government and lower taxes. Obama responded:
“I think I can tell a pretty simple story. Ronald Reagan ushered in an era that reasserted the marketplace and freedom. He made people aware of the cost involved of government regulation or at least a command-and-control-style regulation regime. Bill Clinton to some extent continued that pattern, although he may have smoothed out the edges of it. And George Bush took Ronald Reagan’s insight and ran it over a cliff. And so I think the simple way of telling the story is that when Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, he wasn’t arguing for an era of no government. So what we need to bring about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected with that market and to succeed in that market. And it’s now a global marketplace.
“Now, that’s the story. Now, telling it elegantly — ‘low taxes, smaller government’ — the way the Republicans have, I think is more of a challenge.”
What's missing in this response is any inkling of a belief that the economy should serve some greater purpose than creating the greatest amount of wealth that it can. No thought that much of what is valued may later be shown to have been grossly inflated by the desire to make a quick buck.
No call for the government to preserve the public good, to create a positive benefit for society. Instead, what we get is a call for marginally more action to preserve the status quo. Obama is like a doctor prescribing aspirin for a patient suffering from cancer. It may allow them to feel less pain in the short term, but in the long term it will succeed in killing the patient. Where decisive action taken early to confront cancer can allow the patient to live a long and fulfilling live, decisive governmental action to kill the cancer of greed, of the market run amuck turning Man and nature alike into commodities stripped of their sacred character, inaction allows the cancer to spread. In the long run, the failure of the government to place society first means that the legal and political foundations of the capitalist market that protect private property and litigation of economic disputes collapse.
And all the same, the wisdom of the New York Times, and so it seems every other media outlet, tells us a simple reason why it is damn foolishness to take issue with the half measures and obfuscation that Obama puts forward as "progressive" economic policy:
Even if Obama does figure out how to meet the challenge well enough to get elected, there are any number of ways in which his plans could fail. He has never run any government entity — no state, no city, not even a municipal agency — and he may not prove to be good at doing so. The economy could deteriorate further, leaving him with a Clinton-like choice between manageable deficits and direct help for the middle class. Or maybe the many economists who like his agenda are simply wrong. Maybe his health-care program won’t bring down costs. Maybe the Virginia model won’t work for the rest of the country.
But it’s not entirely clear what the alternative is, at least in the broad sense and at least for the time being. A much more left-wing agenda than Obama’s would consist of erecting new trade barriers, reregulating various industries and otherwise getting the government even more involved in the economy than Obama would. This program has the dubious distinction of being disliked by both voters and experts alike. Populism hasn’t won a national election, or even the Democratic nomination, in decades, and economists can point to any number of ways why it wouldn’t work anyway.
Remember my paesano friends, there is no alternative.