FRIED LIGHT: No alternative is no alternative

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By Roger Snodgrass

FRIED LIGHT: No alternative is no alternative

Every time I buy an airplane ticket these days I steel myself for the bad news to come:

“Fly by Night Airlines regrets to inform you that we have no alternative but to go out of business. Having tried to slash our overhead and expenses to the bone, we have also cut the margins of safety as much as we dare or can get away with, which took us a long way because safety is so skewed in favor of the consumer. But frankly, by the time we cover our golden parachutes and set a little aside until we can cancel your frequent flyer miles, we’re paying you to fly with us, and that’s a charity not a business. It is a deplorable but legally established fact that we may refuse to refund any unused tickets, which we will duly do as soon as we get a head start out of town.”

This is an imaginary, impertinent, unusually frank, but otherwise not so far-fetched, notification.

The phrase “we have no alternative,” is emphasized here because it seems to be a key concept in our cultural and political life and one of the only active ingredients in our economy.

“I just didn’t have a choice,” sure beats the heck out of “I’m sorry.”

Meanwhile, “Sorry,” the universal reflex and constant condition of our time has been devalued as any sort of explanation.

Of course, you’re sorry? How not?

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the iron lady of British politics was not Ronald Reagan’s mother as some urban legends have it. But the two of them were the mother and father of the economic philosophy that has hell to pay for where we are now.

Thatcher is also the modern political figure most associated with the phrase, “There is no alternative.” Look it up. Scores of her speeches use the term.

For example, in a 1967 speech to the Conservative Party, Thatcher used the phrase typically, in the context of condemning nationalized industry.

“A private industry has to justify its investment to the market,” she said. “One has to look at the project in which one proposes to invest, making certain that there is no alternative means of reaching the same objective more cheaply. One has to make sure of a good return on one's money. We do not feel that this is always done in the nationalized industries. So often it seems as though the attitude is, "There is plenty more money where that came from".

I don’t know that Bush or Treasury Secretary Paulson or Fed Chairman Bernanke have actually used the phrase, “There is no alternative," in the current crisis. Others have done that for them, rounding out the ultimate irony.

The motor for the present fiasco was anti-government claptrap carried to a fault. Now the only alternative is for the heirs of Thatcher and Reagan to eat their words

The other day I had dinner at a restaurant on Canyon Road in Santa Fe that had its own tiny parking area. Since it was still early, there happened to be a parking space. An ember of optimism can glow for weeks on far less good fortune.

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Good grub. We pay the check, walk out to the parking lot and find a car parked squarely behind our vehicle.

No problem. I went back into the restaurant and asked the waiter to see if anybody might belong to the car that was blocking us.

Yadda, yadda. No luck at first, but finally the culprit was found, a waitress. Hurrying out to move her car, she said without regret, “I was going to be late. I had no alternative.”

I will spare you my uncharitable and inappropriate reply.

From top to bottom, people, there are alternatives.