With everybody finally talking about the Green New Deal, progressives should make sure that remains in the national spotlight. They should focus their efforts on improving and promoting the proposal which is now in early draft mode.
However, many seem reluctant to do so. Apparently intimidated by establishment nay-sayers, liberals have instead more often conceded to the shop-worn tropes of climate-change deniers and neo-liberal advocates of trickle-down economic theory. President Trump has characterized the proposal as “socialist.” House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi dismissed it “the green dream or whatever.”
Such dismissiveness has some progressives repeating the right-wing canard that GND provisions like the following have no connection with fighting climate change:
- Family-sustaining wage guarantees, especially for displaced workers
- Enhanced Social Security for the elderly
- Free higher education and the cancelling of student debt
- Universal health care with adequate family medical leave
- Affordable, energy-efficient housing for all
- Remedies for systemic injustices among the poor, elderly, and people of color
In dismissing those provisions as “irrelevant to climate change,” “unrealistic” and “only aspirational,” liberals and progressives have been apparently cowed by climate-change deniers or at least to those whose remedies would principally benefit corporations, politicians, lawyers, and the infamous 1% instead of our country’s majority. Rather than fully commit to wind, solar, and geo-thermal technologies, the former would prefer retaining present economic arrangements while taxing, sequestering, and trading carbon pollutants.
Despite such diversions, the argument here is that the GND represents the best available response to the climate-change crisis. It deserves the full support of progressives because:
- It’s already prominently “on the table;” everyone’s talking about it.
- It boldly confronts the failed neoliberal economic model at its root – capitalism-as-we-know-it – supplying a green jobs-program-with-benefits that, in the past, have normally been associated with decent employment.
- Far from being off the wall, its provisions are intimately connected with the inevitable dislocations produced by adoption of a carbon-neutral economy.
- It has successful historical precedent.
- The funding for its implementation is readily available.
The GND Is on the Table
I recently attended a meeting of climate change activists where some participants spoke as if we are still searching for some means of getting people to recognize and respond to the problem of climate change. Participants wondered, should we endorse the recommendations of the Sierra Club, or perhaps of 350.Org, or maybe the Environmental Defense Fund? It was suggested that we take the best recommendations from such NGOs and select the ones we’d like to endorse.
It was even proposed that our group author a “manifesto” in hopes that a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey might get behind it.
All such approaches fail to recognize that the problem of climate change is already very much on the table and has huge popular support. It’s there because we all know about the unprecedented multi-billion-dollar disasters like hurricane Maria and the uncontrollable California wildfires that have afflicted us in recent months.
And just since the beginning of the new year, a whole series of dispiriting reports have emerged from the scientific community to underline the point. The studies have scientists warning us that our window for response is closing rapidly. Current estimates are that we have no more than a dozen years before we reach the point of no return on a run-away train headed for a disastrous precipice. That’s the crisis staring us in the face as our train’s engineer commands: “Full speed ahead.”
All of that has already elicited massive support for the Green New Deal proposed by Senator Markey (D-MA) and Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Unlike any alternatives, the GND now has scores of co-sponsors in Congress. Every Senate Democrat running for president has endorsed it. The easy-to-understand proposal has 80% of Americans supporting its provisions.
GND and Capitalism
Perhaps the real reason for progressives’ fears about the Green New Deal is that its proponents dare to identify the elephant in the room – capitalism-as-we-know-it. Understandably intimidated by McCarthyism along with 75 years of pro-capitalist propaganda, liberals have a hard time following suit. They shy away from any positions that might be caricatured as critical of capitalism. They bend over backwards to assure debate-opponents that they are not (as one member of our activist group put it) “crazy socialists.”
Progressives need to put those fears aside. We need to follow the bold example of the youngest and most dynamic member of the House of Representatives and that of one of our most senior senators; neither ever backs down in the face of such epithets. In that, both AOC and Bernie Sanders are increasingly joined by Americans under the age of 35. According to Gallup polls, the majority of them prefer socialism over capitalism.
In any case, the Green New Deal is not socialist. Instead, it is merely a green jobs program with the kind of benefits that used to go along with every decent job. In fact, those benefits are what every employer and government official demands for himself or herself – including health care, sound retirement, and remuneration sufficient to buy a house and send their children to college without incurring life-long debt.
Moreover, all the benefits in question are associated with the severe dislocations associated with transition to a carbon-neutral economy: universal health care to remediate problems caused by the fossil fuel economy; universal post-secondary education to equip workers to participate productively in the new high-tech culture; low-cost energy-efficient housing that will accommodate those forced to move from old fossil-fuel-related jobs to new green employment opportunities perhaps far from their current homes; and reparation for the long-standing practice of locating polluting industries in poor and minority communities.
None of that is off the wall or disassociated from combatting climate change effectively.
New Deal Precedent
All the controversy is like what happened with Roosevelt’s original New Deal.
Back then, with their focus fixed firmly on Wall Street, Republicans objected to the apparent overreach of FDR’s proposals. What, they asked, do Social Security, legalized unions, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and the “alphabet soup” of programs like the WPA (Works Progress Administration) with its FMP (Federal Music Project) and FTP (Federal Theater Project) have to do with reviving the Stock Market? To them such enactments seemed completely off-the-wall. They wanted top-down solutions that would focus on Wall Street – bail-outs, tax breaks, and government subsidies.
However, for Roosevelt and his constituencies none of the New Deal programs were far-fetched. What Republicans failed to acknowledge (but what Roosevelt saw clearly) was that those living on Main Street needed to believe that response to the national crisis of depression would take them into account as well as the rich who had little need of government assistance. Wage-earners needed jobs with benefits. They needed laws to improve their living standards. They needed a tax code benefitting them rather than the already wealthy. Enactment of programs based on those convictions got FDR elected four times in a row. After Lincoln, he’s generally remembered as the greatest American president.
Funding the GND
But how will we pay for the Green New Deal?
In short, it should be financed in the same way FDR paid for his original program – by drastically increasing taxes on those most able to afford them. In Roosevelt’s time (and up until the 1960s) the highest tax bracket was 91% on incomes over $400,000. AOC has suggested a 70% tax on incomes over $10 million.
The truth is that enactment of some version of the GND with its transition away from carbon-based energy provides another rich income-source as well. The Green New Deal promises to make wars-for-oil obsolete. The elimination of such adventures will also go a long way towards eliminating blow-back in the form of international terrorism. As a result, our government should be able to shrink its military budget by at least 50% and to reinvest the resulting resources in GND programs.
Yes, we’ve finally arrived at a point where Americans have a proposal before them that they can both understand and whose provisions they overwhelmingly support. It’s got the public’s attention. So, progressives should make it their business to support its general direction and to take part in refining its provisions. Everybody needs to get involved in that project: wage earners, mothers, fathers, children, the unemployed and homeless, and not merely the usual suspects, viz. politicians, lawyers, economists, and business leaders.
Widespread citizen involvement should have progressives pushing for hearings on the GND throughout the country and well before the Democratic presidential debates. Then the suggestions of local meetings should be collated and processed into a final form that the majority can get behind.
To reiterate: this is not merely or even principally the job of professional politicians, but of our national community. After all, the Green New Deal is by no means a finished product.
The bottom line is that progressives should not be intimidated by gas-lighting nay-sayers, technocrats, politicians and lobbyists. Remember, their precise point is to discourage as unrealistic what the world needs to effectively meet the unprecedented emergency presented by climate change.
The Green New Deal is best understood as a green jobs program with benefits. It’s what we all need; it’s what we all deserve.