The phrase was used to signify Thatcher's claim that the market economy is the only system that works, and that debate about this is over. One critic characterized the meaning of the slogan as: "Globalised capitalism, so called free markets and free trade were the best ways to build wealth, distribute services and grow a society's economy. Deregulation's good, if not God." By contrast, Thatcher described her support of markets as flowing from a more basic moral argument; specifically, she argued that the market-principle of choice flows from the moral principle that for human behavior to be moral requires free choice by people.
Historically, the phrase may be traced to its emphatic use by the 19th-century classical liberal thinker Herbert Spencer in his Social Statics.[non-primary source needed] Opponents of the principle used it in a derisory manner. For instance, cabinet minister Norman St John-Stevas, one of the leading "wets", nicknamed Thatcher "Tina", after the acronym TINA. The critic of globalization Susan George coined the opposing slogan "another world is possible" in 2001.
Angela Merkel's use of the term alternativlos (literally "alternative-less"; without alternative) in relation to her responses to the European sovereign-debt crisis in 2010 led to the term becoming Inappropriate word of the year.