Obama and TINA: A scandal we'll never hear about

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.




This writer is an idiot. I'm sorry. No one, almost no one is talking about "erecting barriers" who is a Populist at least on the left. They are talking about modifications to policy that at least give the United States a chance to win.

And even worse, many of these ideas, policies are originating from economists.

His line should be more Democrats haven't won so often because they do not propose real solutions for the middle class and dramatic policy change.

The problem with economists

Is that, as a class, they've yet to learn this one simple truth:

Any system of economics which fails to adequately support human life will eventually crash and be abandoned.

The ENTIRE POINT of economics isn't so this country or that country, or this minority or that minority, can "win".

We don't need to win. We need to be able to feed, clothe, and shelter our population. If it takes complete protectionism, dumping the WTO, firing torpedoes at trade vessels that try to enter our ports, and ending exports to do it, then that's what we should do.

Capitalism is WORTHLESS if it doesn't feed, clothe, and shelter the great majority of the population. Gold is a pretty worthless commodity as well, we'd be better off on the Potato standard than the Gold standard- at least if push comes to shove you can put a potato in the oven, add a little butter and salt, and call it dinner.

This is why I'm so left wing I've wrapped over to the right- and I consider food, clothing, shelter, water, medical care, and transportation to be things that GOVERNMENTS should provide through taxation. Leave the free market to what the free market does best: providing foreign luxuries.

Maximum jobs, not maximum profits.

socialist market economy

is what you are referring to. China is absolutely this and even India has socialist rules most of Europe. It's really only the United States that is not addressing social needs or have a national strategy w.r.t. trade, international economy.

Hopefully that is something this site can bring to light. Economists are not saying what this writer is. Now there is way variation in the field but there are so many experts showing current trade policies are not working, recommending policy changes, issuing warnings and talking about global labor arbitrage. It's not the economists here that are the problem. It's multinational corporations, special interests and foreign national influences who are writing legislation, through buying off our government, getting these bills and loopholes passed and so on.

It's not an either/or choice here. How can one be against free trade when current trade policy is anything but resembling the theory of free tree and the variables controlled which imply a win-win?

This is a matter of being logical, to use the statistics, the science, the theory as it was intended as well as model other nations and how they do take into account their citizenry in economic policy.

This is the issue to get regular folks (that's us) to comprehend what kind of policy changes really need to happen.

Trade is a massive, large, multifaceted, multiple sector system. With any system that has thousands of variables one cannot come up with a 2 dimensional answer on how to fix it.

I love your line I went so left I wrapped around and ended up on the far right. ;) Truly the corruption is enough to twist one into a political pretzel.


I agree with you.

Economics: The science of providing sustainable amounts of food, clothing, shelter and entitlements to those within the domain of the nation state throughout the life time of each citizen.

What we have been enduring for the last 50 years is not economics it is a ponze scheme by, for and of the Global Elite. Off with their heads.

The "New Agenda for America" and the 2008 Presidency

The irony

is that what you are saying about economists is correct, but the sad truth is that there's still a substantial economic fundamentalist set that honestly believes that the market works the way that theory says it should.

Then you have the mainstream that's come to accept that there are substantial informational asymmetries that permeate the market and make it difficult for individuals to make fuly informed and rational decisions. Joseph Stiglitz life work has been in this area, and long before Globalization and its Discontents Stiglitz laid out the deep theoretical work in Whither Socialism? in which he advocated a role for government in reducing these informational asymmetries.

Note that anyone who argues that populism is confined to the angry left has difficulty dealing with the idea that government should step in to provide information, because that's much of the basis of their power. The best example of a policy that I can think of where the government stepped in to reduce informational assymetries, was the intoduction of America's Job Bank by the Clinton administration. This was one site at which the job listings at myriad local and sate agencies where centralized into a single search that allowed the job seeker to see a large number of job openings not listed on other sites. In 2007, the Bush admnistration killed thise site.

If we really believe in a free market, there must be no information costs, or one of the key assumptions of the market model is violated. As such, efforts like America's Job Bank served a useful purpose by reducing the amount of time that individuals had to spend on job searchs. I honestly believe that the next Democratic administration should revive America's Job Bank, and require that employers with over 25 employees place an ad (at no cost) on the website detailing job skills needed and minimum pay.

And this is only halfway through the economic spectrum. There's a large group of economists who believe that many of the assumptions needed to make the market model work don't exist in reality. Ecological economists believe relative economy levels are often better indicators of the utility of a given good than absolute levels. What this means is that the value of each incremental unit of economic growth may be worth less as economic inequality increases than where income is more equally distributed, because wasteful status competition, i.e. conspicous consumption, is reduced. So it may be that nominally poorer countries with more equal distributions of wealth are in fact better off in utility terms than wealthy nations with high inequality. This calls into question the very nature of economic growth, because in some case economic growth could make a nation less well off.

America's job bank & random thoughts

I can only think of two real economists who support free trade theory, as implemented, Mankiw and Jagdish Bhagwati out of Columbia University. Paul Samuelson blasted Bhagwati as dead wrong on outsourcing, by the math frankly and Samuelson of course was dead right.

I seriously cannot think of anyone, even the architects of this disaster who have not acknowledged problems, not working, the massive trade deficit. Now of course many of those architects want to prescribe more of the same after they acknowledge the trade deficit. ;)

No doubt they blocked America's Jobs Bank because the DOL with regard to guest worker Visas is notorious to enable literally discrimination against American workers, so they do not have to consider or hire American workers.

I have a side comment. I'm watching the talking heads on cable and they said like a mantra and have been for some time, how there are no policy differences between Clinton and Obama and it's all ego and personality

This is some spin and a complete lie. The reason so many are pissed is because Clinton (now one can debate if she meant any of them) over time came increasingly Progressive/Populist in policy and one thing I note is she had some pretty dramatic action on the housing crisis.

Another thing is now magically, I guess after they are assured their guy is in, decided to count all of the FL/MI delegates.

There may be some policy difference twixt Clinton and Obama ...

I'm watching the talking heads on cable and they said like a mantra and have been for some time, how there are no policy differences between Clinton and Obama and it's all ego and personality

... it might be an exaggeration, in that there may be some policy differences between Clinton and Obama, but they are both by and large centrist Corporate Democrats, and the biggest differences are clearly in the brand-marketing side of the campaign ... "New and Improved!", "A Name You Can Trust!" ... rather than in their ideological position, in that fuzzy middle ground that is center-left in the American politics of today and center-right in European politics.

brought to you by.....

I know. I was one of those anyone but Hillary people initially but as she went on the campaign, esp. after getting rid of Penn, I noticed policy positions that were amazingly Progressive/Populist. I don't know if she meant any of them had a change of heart, what....but it was quite pleasantly surprising.

Whether is was all a lie, trying to win, I don't know but at least it's known what people really want and need in terms of true policy objectives somewhere.

Anybody not aware, AT&T donated $1M to the convention, is prominently displayed on all items and right after Obama was declared the winner they passed FISA so AT&T could not be prosecuted for turning over voice records.

They are owning the media with this gigantic infomercial too! All that is happening with this convention in my mind is the inane, superficial drivel coming from all of the TV networks seems more obvious....my God, they are going to have to run sitcoms to fill the airwaves with more unless bits of nothing no information reporting. Is it just me or am I now inundated with vague sounding promises, problem description and absolute refusal, both parties to really present policy and solutions that are going to do a damn thing?

It does appear Obama beefed up his financial crisis policy but that's way down the line and millions will already be foreclosed upon by then.

The mainstream position in the profession on trade ...

... is in support of free trade in principle.

Since those promoting corporate wealth agreements along the lines of NAFTA as "Free Trade" agreements are only using the term as a marketing label, the arguments of individual economists quibbling about the details are of little import ... the arguments of economists are not being used to design the policy, but simply to provide a high status cover story.


"believes that the market works the way that theory says it should"**************************************

This mantra of the free marketeers has a fatal flaw in its logic - it is based on the assumption that people , companies and markets behave rationally all the time.

which of course anyone who has ever worked in the coporate world knows is patently false. Bubble after bubble, and herd mentalities in markets also shine the spotlight on this flawed assumption