Here's a signpost, pointing along the road many are doomed to follow since Clinton's attack on welfare. I found it planted in a dispatch from Ohio by Julian Borger in the London Guardian on Nov. 3. By way of heralding Bush's impending visit to Britain, Borger was edifying his readers with an account of Bush's America, in the form of a visit to a soup kitchen in Ohio, where he reports that "hunger is an epidemic."

            Since Ohio went for Bush in 2000, Borger narrates, the state has lost one in six of its manufacturing jobs, many of them on account of the trade policies espoused by Clinton and now Bush. Two million of Ohio's 11 million population resorted to food charities last year, up 18 percent from 2001. In 25 major cities across the country last year the need for emergency food rose an average of 19 percent.

            Last year, another 1.7 million Americans slid below the poverty line, bringing the overall total to 34.6 million, one in eight as a proportion of the population. Over 13 million are children. The U.S. has the worst child poverty and the lowest life expectancy of all the world's industrialized countries.

            About 31 million Americans, Borger reports, are reckoned to be "food insecure," meaning they don't know where their next meal is coming from. The USDA classes nine million of those as suffering "real hunger," defined bureaucratically as "an uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food due to lack of resources to obtain food."

            "The general requirement of product differentiation in an electoral market," the economist Robert Pollin writes in his new book "Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity," (Verso), "entails that at the margin any Democratic president will offer more social concessions than a Republican of the same cohort. But we should be careful not to make too much of such differences in the public stance of these two figures, as against the outcomes that prevail during their terms in office."

            For the truth of these observations, witness the aftermath of Clinton's welfare reforms and of bipartisan trade policies in Ohio.

            Neoliberalism, a prime target of Pollin's timely book, is giving us an entire planet of tramps and millionaires, which the populist Ignatius Donnelly stigmatized as the economic emblems of the Gilded Age. When there are food riots in Buenos Aires, when bankrupted cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh, south central India, swallow the pesticides whose "free market" price drove them into bankruptcy, the directors of the world political economy, bunkered down in Washington, should bear responsibility as much as for the hungry in Ohio.

            Through the Clinton era, as through those of Reagan and both Bushes, the bargaining power of capital to cow workers, to make them toil harder for less real money, has increased inexorably.

            At the end of eight years of the Democrat Clinton, when the bubble tide had ebbed, what did workers have by way of a permanent legacy? Clinton, Pollin bleakly concludes, "accomplished almost nothing in the way of labor laws or the broader policy environment to improve the bargaining situation for workers . Moreover, conditions under Clinton worsened among those officially counted as poor."

            In the overall economy, what Marx called the reserve army of the unemployed (jobless people who'll accept lower wages) is swelling, just as reservists are increasingly manning U.S. forces, as against the permanently employed forces of former times. The part-time soldiers recruited under neoliberalism's colors are being deployed against the fourth-generation warriors in the Third World that neoliberalism has played a huge share in creating.

             On the domestic front, Louis Uchitelle of the New York Times cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of 10,000 people tracked since 1979, when "most were teenagers and the permanent layoff was just becoming a national phenomenon. They are in their 30s and 40s now, and over the years each has held, on average, 9.6 jobs." There's a chilling guide to the new economy.

            You think the next Democratic nominee is going to address the long and short-term horrors engendered by the neoliberal credo to which Clinton paid such fealty? Of course not. What, at minimum, has to be done to change things for the better? If we are to move toward a world in which families don't have to line up outside churches in Ohio to stay alive and teenagers don't have to work for 20 cents a day in Third World sweatshops, we have to have policies here that promote full employment and income security.

            The bottom line belongs to Karl Polanyi, who argued in his 1944 masterpiece, "The Great Transformation," written amidst the Great Depression of the 1930s, that (in Pollin's explication) "for market economies to function with some modicum of fairness, they must be embedded in social norms and institutions that effectively promote broadly accepted notions of the common good. Otherwise, acquisitiveness and competition -- the two driving forces of market economies -- achieve overwhelming dominance as cultural forces."

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.