Obama adoption of "there is no alternative" stance on economy

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Two lines stood out to me about President Obama's press conference opening remarks on the state of the U.S. economy:

...at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life.

I think this is not only incorrect, but also quite counter to the "grass roots we can do it yes we can" message that got Mr. Obama to the White House.  If we accept that the only way to heal a broken economic system is through the actions of the federal government, we absolutely dis-empower and even discourage individuals, families, local communities, and regional partnerships from taking action, taking responsibility for their own way of life.  I think it's irresponsible of Mr. Obama to suggest that we must turn to the federal government's resources for something better, that there is no alternative.


Obama and others keep talking about how if we don't act with this stimulus package, we "could turn a crisis into a catastrophe."  I really don't like the framing and implications here:

  • We have to support this package because if we don't, it will be our fault that things get worse
  • This package is our only hope of things NOT getting worse
  • The unemployment rates, suicides, rampant crime, amplified oppressive poverty, and general breakdown of our society is not a catastrophe

And if this is just a crisis, what does the catastrophe look like?  No one seems to be willing to paint a picture and follow it to its natural conclusions, but that's a blog post for another time.

With these statements, Barack Obama is reinforcing the notion that a top-down, old minds, "the government will save us" approach is all we've got, and that you're complicit in facilitating a catastrophe if you're not on board with that.  There is no alternative.  Trust us.

There will be good things to come out of the Obama administration, I'm sure, but this is not one of them.  This is a shameful reversion to policies and framing that have very much hurt this country, not helped it.  I bet he could do better.

6 thoughts on “Obama adoption of "there is no alternative" stance on economy

  1. I don't think the "yes we can" message means that the federal government need not get involved or even lead the way in many areas that need more support than they've received in the past. I believe in communities, but Richmond can only do so much to pull ourselves out of this financial mess without federal money; and we also can't--and don't have to--do it all ourselves. Wouldn't it be even more disempowering to watch our elected leaders stand by and do nothing?

  2. Thanks for commenting, Travis. I think there's a spectrum of options in between "watch our elected leaders stand by and do nothing" and "the government is the only entity that can save us."

    I'm not at all saying that we shouldn't take advantage of the resources of the federal government, I'm merely pointing out that the way this was framed makes it sound like we have no other option to pursue economic recovery, and I think that's a dangerous idea to propagate.


  3. I don't understand how with $10 trillion dollars in debt, (about $37,000 of debt per person), the federal government has real resources to jolt the economy. It seems like it would take a quick fix to get us out of this, and a quick, effective solution supplied by a single source seems unlikely to me to succeed.

  4. Mark, there's a saying to the effect that something is real if it creates real consequences. The economy, money, and debt are all abstract, intangible concepts. Yet they all create real consequences; their believers create those consequences. In that sense, the federal government has exactly the same real resources now that it has always had.

    Chris, I suspect you represent a different audience, with a very different perspective, than the typical audience that Obama addresses. I suspect his strong assertion had a lot to do with the expected frame of reference of a different target audience.

    Cheers, y'all

  5. It is dangerous, and disempowering, to put a stopper on creative thinking about resolving crises. I agree with that.

    But I also expect (though don't necessarily like) the feds to give more attention to the corporate world first. That's how our economy runs, like it or not. And I don't see a radical restructuring of our economy away from corporate capitalism anytime soon. The gov't won't do it because the real power brokers won't let them. It sucks, but it just ain't gonna change unless all the corporations go bust, and the gov't won't let that happen b/c they need for folks to be employed so they can tax us and thus stay in operation themselves! It's a vicious vicious cycle.

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