Easter in the Time of COVID-19

It was a miracle
No one thought possible
Before Ash Wednesday.
Suddenly,
Traffic stopped,
Stores closed,
Schools shuttered,
Even churches.
Focus shifted
To health, family,
Leisure,
Jokes, stories,
Children, grandchildren
Lovemaking,
Reading, studying,
Conversing, writing,
Napping, dreaming,
Cooking and eating
Together.
Houses never cleaner –
Or messier (Your call).
Finally knowing
That Special Other,
And our very selves.
Imagining and living
Without hated jobs
And nosey bosses.
 
With cards freshly reshuffled.
The New Deal came
They said couldn’t be.
Hearts opened
Skies cleared
People sang
From porches
And open windows.
Eyes smiled
With other masks
Dropped and replaced.
Could you tell?
 
And now it’s Easter
Sad tears for the dead
Clear eyes
To see that their passing
Was no Act of God
Or preordained,
That New Life,
Another way
Is possible NOW
(It always was)
Where no one
Dies like that,
And no one’s work
Brings tears,
Where all finally
Get that recompense
Guidance and well-being
Each child deserves.
 
So, no matter what
Wall Street’s
Wolves and vultures
Might howl and screech,
From behind
Presidential Podia,
Tell them:
There’ll be no return
To the tombs we knew
Before Good Friday,
Ash Wednesday
And our cleansing
Lenten fast.
Seize the day:
It’s Easter
NOW
Like never before!

COVID-19: The Great Social Equalizer and Liberator from Unnecessary Work

The Coronavirus plague should be putting everything in perspective for us all. It should make us ask what life’s really about, no matter if we’re rich or middle class. (The poor are another story.) That’s because COVID-19 has forced everyone who’s solvent into something like the same boat. It’s made us realize that the vessel has just sprung a huge leak that threatens to take us all down collectively and personally – unless we make some fundamental changes on both fronts. The possibilities for change are endless, hopeful and encouraging.

Our Shared Reality

First of all, think about our shared boat. All of us have been born into a consumerist culture that tells us life’s about money, beautiful clothes, luxury automobiles, travel to exotic places, entertainment, and eating in fine restaurants.

Suddenly though, none of that has much meaning.

In my own case, since the springing of the Coronavirus leak, I don’t even have anywhere to spend the money I already have. My two old Volvos have been parked in our driveway for 2 weeks; I haven’t used a drop of gasoline; there’s no place for us to go. I can spend all day in my pajamas, and nobody will know the difference. I live a 70-minute train ride from Broadway, but it’s all been shut down. I can’t even watch March Madness or Lebron on TV. There’s no spring training or the prospect of a baseball season. And as for fine restaurants, I can’t even buy a donut and java at “Coffee An’,” our local hangout, or even at Starbucks.

And I imagine it’s like that for billionaires too. I mean, what do they do all day? Like me, they’re confined as they shelter in place. Like me, they get up in the morning, read the newspaper or some online source, eat breakfast, maybe go for a run, take a shower, eat lunch, nap for a while, talk with some friends or associates on the phone, read a chapter or two in a book or an article in a magazine, have a drink for happy hour, eat supper with family, watch a Netflix movie, have a nightcap, and go to bed. That’s it.

And tomorrow will be the same. What else can they do? What more can their money buy them? I mean, it’s pretty much the same for all of us who are lucky enough not to be homeless or in prison. Under the Coronavirus regime, Jeff Bezos’ life can’t be that much different from my own.

So, as I watch financiers thrilled at the prospect of a surging stock market stimulated by a number I can’t even imagine, I wonder what for? Where are they going to spend the profits they anticipate? Who’s going to buy the stuff they imagine will be produced? Their situation is the same as mine.

And where did all that money come from anyway? (They didn’t have it for Bernie’s Medicare for All.) What does it mean? Why is green paper – or fiat numbers someone decided to put on investors’ computer screens – so powerful? And what did any of those Wall Streeters do to earn it? In present circumstances, how does it make their lives better than mine?

It all seems somehow made up. And in a very real sense, so does the rest of the stuff I’ve mentioned so far.

Solutions

And then there’s Mr. Trump’s solution to this health crisis. In a word, it’s DENIAL. Of course, that’s one way of dealing with our sinking ship. Just ignore the problem and get back to normal. Or as Trump puts it: “Open the country for business again. Right now! Start driving those cars and buying that junk. Eat up those Big Macs and put some fat on those bones of yours. Fire up those plants and darken the skies with smoke again. Bury those pipelines and frack like fu*k. (I’m sure he puts it that way.) Cut down some more rainforests. Fill up those plastic shopping bags and throw them in the ocean. Get on with the business of poisoning the planet. Above all, produce those bombs, planes, tanks, and missiles. And be sure to use them. There are so many sh*t-hole countries to destroy and so little time.

“And, by the way, be sure to ignore the scientists (again!). Hell, if we left it up to the doctors and their hypochondriacal tendencies, the stores, stadiums, shows and showrooms would be shuttered for two years. And then what?

“So, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and for the sake of our grandchildren, let the old people and other weaklings die – even if millions expire prematurely. Who cares? With the market in the tank, there’s nothing for them to live for anyway. Better dead than bored and broke.”

That’s the Trump many of us know and loathe. Thankfully however, his denial’s not the only way of dealing with the problem – although (disappointingly) the congressional bail-out package shows that ALL of our politicians (including Sandberg and Warren) pretty much agree with the president!

For the rest of us however, it’s high time to move in another direction – to reassess what we take as “normal,” cut our losses, and get back to the basics that lockdown has forced upon our awareness. In fact, COVID-19 might be the Process of Life, it might be Mother Nature, it might even be God (!) telling us to review and revise our entire way of life – the way environmentalists have been suggesting since Francis of Assisi, Henry David Thoreau, and Jacques Cousteau.  

But our world has gone beyond them too. I mean, given the beneficial developments unforeseen by those proto-ecologists, we might finally be able to transcend their insights and pressure our politicians to move towards the prospects that futurists described for us in the 1960s and ‘70s. Remember their speculations about “the leisure society” that computers and “cybernation” would make inevitable? What will we do, they asked, with all that free time?

Now’s the time to stop and answer their question. Despite our dear leader’s recommendations, it would clearly be insane to return to the suicidal “normal” that seemed inescapable just two weeks ago. We have to make everyone understand that.

New Directions

So, if not in Trump’s and our senators’ direction, where should we go? How about:

  • For sure, nationalizing health care into a single payer system. If nothing else, the present pandemic has revealed the absolute inadequacy and intolerability of the healthcare status quo. Medicare for All needs to be the sine qua non element of effective response.
  • Break up any business that’s “too big to fail.” (Aren’t you tired of bailing out the rich?) Breaking up corporate giants makes sense even according to strict free market principles. Adam Smith himself saw monopolies as counterproductive. If businesses make inadvisable decisions, they should be allowed to crash, burn and be replaced by more efficient firms.
  • Mimic the success of FDR by implementing a Green New Deal (GND) to absolutely restructure our economy in ways that take seriously the crisis of climate chaos. Besides redirecting production away from carbon and towards green technology, the GND would provide enhanced unemployment insurance, forgiveness of college loans, paid maternity leave, free childcare, higher minimum wages. . .
  • Almost as certainly, our country also needs some form of Universal Basic Income (UBI). As we’ll see immediately below, the work furloughs forced upon us by COVID-19 have made it clear that many of our jobs are pretty close to busywork. So many of those jobs can be safely eliminated.

Yes, when you think about it, so much of the work we do is unnecessary. Do we really need advertising, health insurance companies, defense contractors, malls and retail outlets, oil giants, and businesses that destroy our health and environment? Do we really need McDonalds and Burger King?

What we’re learning now is that we can get along without any of them.

And certainly, we don’t have to do all that traveling – the hours upon hours spent in morning and evening rush hour traffic. And then there’s all that time that road warriors waste in airports traveling to meetings that might just as well take place via Skype or Zoom.

The same is true for a lot of our schooling. Do we really need to maintain all those expensive campus plants, when present experience teaches us that remote learning is quite effective, inexpensive and time saving?

And above all, worldwide focus on real national security problems like pandemics and lack of adequate medical care has put in perspective those other completely manufactured problems connected with our endless wars. Is our national security really served by them? Or is that make-work – is it busywork too?

So, how about eliminating those 300 foreign military bases and the millions of soldiers, independent contractors, and related jobs as well? Again, it’s busywork – make-work that’s completely unnecessary and wasteful of taxpayer money.

Additionally, the release of non-violent inmates from Rikers and other prisons brings to light the fact that if we’d legalize drugs and treat addiction as the health problem it is, we wouldn’t need all those penal institutions either.

Conclusion

So, the present pandemic, at least in some respects, might be the proverbial blessing in disguise.

It’s suggesting that we eliminate all the jobs now revealed as unnecessary. Doing so will suddenly make it possible for us to reduce the time we all spend trying to “look busy.”  Suddenly, it becomes possible for us to share the decreasing number of jobs that can’t be done cybernetically. We could share the remaining jobs working just 4 hours each day, or 3 days a week. We could work 6 months each year and have 6 months off. Or we could spend 1 year on the job and take 2 off.

The list of changes suggested by our current crisis is endless. And I’m sure any of us could add to the list of labor-saving discoveries the current lockdown has brought to light.  

In summary, our forced retreat invites us to realize that we’re all in the same boat and (and as someone else said) once our basic needs have been met, the best things in life are free.

Don’t Be Cowed by the Right: Support the Green New Deal

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.

Conclusion

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.  

Why Progressives Should Focus Exclusively on Promoting the Green New Deal

At last, the Green New Deal (GND) has our country debating climate change in an urgent and understandable way. Though the topic of environmental chaos was totally ignored in the 2016 election cycle, that definitely won’t be the case during the coming election season. We have Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), and Ed Markey (D-MS) to thank for that.

With everybody finally talking about the Green New Deal, progressives should make sure that the conversation continues. Unlike its alternatives, the GND is easy to understand, and 80% of Americans support its provisions.

For that combination of reasons, scores of Democrats have already co-sponsored the Cortez-Markey proposal. Editors at the New York Times (NYT) have cautiously supported the GND proposal as “better than our climate nightmare.” The AFL/CIO has demanded inclusion in discussions about the scheme’s final shape. Republicans, of course, are generally ridiculing the proposal as too expensive and based on “fake science.”

This is what a national debate looks like. The Green New Deal has finally given climate change the attention it deserves.

Objections to the Green New Deal  

None of this is to deny that the debate has often been contentious even among those with unquestionable commitment to solving the problem of climate change. Some have characterized the GND’s general proposals as “off-the-wall.” They ask: what do issues like universal health care, free post-secondary education, fair housing, paid vacations, state-sponsored childcare, enhanced retirement, and increased minimum wage have to do with climate change? For their part, union representatives have expressed fears that the proposal will adversely impact the good-paying jobs of their rank and file.

Perhaps the NYT editors best expressed the currently prevailing skeptical approach when they asked, “Is the Green New Deal aimed at addressing the climate crisis? Or is addressing the climate crisis merely a cover for a wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the Democratic Party to the left?”

In summary, contrarian assessment so far seems to be that the Cortez-Markey proposition is just too ambitious and disconnected from the actual issue of climate change.

My argument here will be that it is neither. To get what I mean, first of all consider the natural threat posed by climate chaos and then how the Green New Deal ingeniously attempts to meet that threat in ways that surpass any of its alternatives.

The Climate Change Threat

Never in history has the human race faced such peril. 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. In January, the Rhodium Group identified unbridled economic growth and factory emissions as the main causes of such disasters.

Then, just since the beginning of the new year, two other dispiriting reports have emerged from the scientific community to underline the point. A study in the journal Science pointed out that the planet’s oceans are warming 40-50% faster than previous UN estimates. The result, we’re told, will be even more virulent hurricanes and other weather events (like tsunamis) in the near future. Meanwhile, the proceedings of the National Academy of Science warned that Antarctica’s huge ice reserves are melting much faster than predicted. As a result, ocean levels are about to swell and swallow up huge areas of coastal plain along with entire island-nations creating possibly billions of climate refugees in the process.

Alarmingly, scientists are warning 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.”

Despite all of that, however, we shouldn’t be discouraged. After all, crises have two aspects. As President Kennedy reminded us 60 years ago, emergencies even like the one before us present a danger, but also an opportunity. I’ve just referred to the dangers; they are obvious to all but the willfully blind.

Incentives to Wall Street

The genius of the Green New Deal is that it highlights the opportunities. Instead of waving the banner of austerity, it upholds the flag of all-inclusive prosperity. It points out unprecedented prospects for improving life on our planet. Yes, it underlines astounding benefits for Wall Street. However, its main beneficiaries live on Main Street. They include our grandchildren yet-to-be-born.

The benefits for Wall Street are surprising but logical at least according to prevailing economic theory. Changing from a carbon-based economy to one based on wind, solar, and geo-thermal energy, promises to create opportunities for innumerable new businesses and entrepreneurs. The UN estimates that the transition will add $26 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Twenty-six trillion dollars! That’s good news for investors.

And they’re beginning to embrace the prospects. Nonetheless, the unaided market gives little indication of mobilizing fast enough or of being focused enough to avoid the impending train wreck. Inducing Wall Street to apply breaks, lay new track and change direction will take time.

Conventional wisdom holds that Wall Street’s market-based solutions will also require hard-to-understand, top-down remedies such as carbon taxes with rebates, carbon sequestration, and carbon trading.  None of those have much hope of gaining the popular understanding or traction needed to inspire the mass mobilization required to address climate change effectively.  

Additionally, market-based solutions necessitate powerful incentives from the government in the form of tax breaks, deregulation, and outright subsidies to corporations. While virtually no one has trouble with the logic of providing such incentives, the crisis at hand requires immediate action that cannot wait for stimulants to kick in any more than it might wait for market solutions to provide timely response to attack by a foreign enemy.

Incentives to Main Street

And that brings us back to the genius of the Green New Deal. The latter recognizes that government must step in to meet a threat much larger and overwhelming than any attack ever experienced in American history or the history of the world. Doing so necessitates government-directed restructuring the economy from the bottom-up. Washington must take charge just as it would during war time – just as it did during World War II. It means DC’s becoming the employer-of-last-resort in new enterprises that Wall Street has proven incapable of sponsoring or even identifying in timely fashion.  

The GND also extends to Main Street the incentives that conventional wisdom routinely offers businesses but is unwilling to distribute to wage-earners. GND proponents understand that responding effectively to the crisis of climate change will require an unprecedented mass mobilization of a population that as yet has exhibited little awareness of the problem’s immediacy. Moreover, the public has been subject to mind-numbing propaganda on the part of powerful climate-change-deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry and by politicians bankrolled by those interests.

GND advocates understand the impossibility of mobilizing an audience like that under the banner of austerity and reduction in living standards. Instead mobilization requires convincing ordinary citizens that responding to climate change will improve their lives and make them more prosperous. It entails providing incentives for them to get on-board just as we saw it might for Wall Street investors.

And no one should object to that. It’s like what happened with Roosevelt’s original New Deal.

Back then, with their focus fixed firmly on Wall Street, Republicans objected to the 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 – bail-outs, tax breaks, and government subsidies.

However, for Roosevelt and his constituencies none of the New Deal programs were far-fetched. What Republican cognitive dissonance failed to acknowledge (but what Roosevelt saw clearly) was that those living on Main Street needed incentives too. They 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 subsidies too. 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.  

Paralleling FDR’s response to the Great Depression, proponents of the Green New Deal recognize that climate chaos “changes everything.” It impacts our standard of living; it threatens our family life, our health and longevity; it makes irrelevant old kinds of jobs (e.g. in fossil-fuel-related industries); it calls for new kinds of homes adapted to new weather patterns. It calls for massive re-education, and for reparations to those victimized by the old fossil fuel order.

With that in mind, the GND provides new kinds of jobs to do work that the private sector has proven unable or unwilling to provide. It offers massive re-education that will emphasize not only science and technology, but the arts, literature, philosophy, and theology (where the wisdom and moral roots of human civilization are to be found). More specifically, to meet the severe dislocations related to understanding our changed world, to health problems caused by the fossil fuel economy, to energy-inefficient housing, to declining living standards caused by job-loss in a more traditional economy, and to the practice of locating polluting industries in poor and minority communities, the GND demands:

  • Free higher education and the cancelling of student debt
  • Universal health care
  • Affordable, energy-efficient housing for all
  • Family-sustaining wage guarantees, especially for displaced workers
  • Paid vacations for all workers
  • Adequate family medical leave
  • Retirement security for everybody
  • Remedies for systemic injustices among the poor, elderly, and people of color

Grandchildren as Overriding Incentive

As already indicated, all of that is easy to understand and far more likely to secure popular buy-in than cap-and-trade explanations or complex discussions of carbon sequestration or carbon taxes with mathematically calculated rebates for the poor. Everyone can understand higher wages.

However, what’s easiest of all to understand are the benefits such buy-in, popular mobilization, and rapid response will secure for our grandchildren whose very lives are threatened by the inaction rendered likely by those more arcane measures.

To begin with, the Green New Deal will secure for those younger ones we love not only a healthier planet, but longer lives less threatened by war and terrorism. That point is by no means trivial and even goes a long way towards answering the question: How will you pay for it all?

Certainly, the Green New Deal will have to 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 that will benefit our grandchildren. The Green New Deal promises to make wars-for-oil obsolete. So, our descendants will not have to fight such wars or worry so much about the blow-back from “terrorists” created by those foreign adventures. That in turn will enable our government to shrink its military budget by at least 50% and to reinvest the resulting resources in GND programs.

To put a finer point on it: what we’re talking about here is a kind of inverted thinking about military spending. That is, to meet the challenge to national security represented by climate change, we must reduce and redirect rather than increase our bloated military budget. Meeting the financial challenges presented by an alienated and angry Mother Nature calls for a drastic disinvestment from the military and reinvestment in the provisions of a GND – precisely on national security grounds.

Conclusion

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 final form. 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.

In short, our unprecedented climate crisis calls for New Beginnings – for a fresh start. That’s what the “New Deal” meant historically. It’s what the Green New Deal should embody today. None of its general provisions are “off the wall.” Each is connected to an actual dislocation caused by the switch to a non-carbon-based economy.

So, 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 NYT Casts Doubt on the Green New Deal’s Radical Objectives

Last Sunday, The New York Times published an editorial on the Green New Deal (GND). It was called “The Green New Deal Is Better than Our Climate Nightmare.”

Though its title purports to second the GND proposal sponsored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D MA), the article actually damns the measure with faint praise. It also endorses remedies for the climate crisis much less comprehensive and closer to what corporate America favors than to the broad worker-friendly recommendations of the Markey-Cortez proposal.

By doing so, the authors obscure the proposal’s historical connections to FDR’s daring New Deal as well as those between climate change and a failed capitalist system itself. Finally, the article’s half-measures imply an unexpressed reservation about paying for the GND that shows little appreciation of the problem’s gravity and of the fundamental socio-economic changes necessarily connected with transition to a truly non-fossil fuel economy.

Faint Praise

Begin with the article’s faint praise. True, the Times editors rightly chastise the Trump administration’s policies as “boneheaded,” including its denial of the problem, rolling back of Obama-era limits on emissions, opening more lands to oil and gas exploration, weakening of fuel economy standards, and its formation of a special committee bent on debunking the climate crisis.

Granted: all of that reflects the thinking of GND advocates. So far, so good.

But then, the Times editors criticize the proposal first because its initial draft was poorly written by Ms. Cortez’s staff and, secondly, because the proposal is too extensive.

As one respondent in the editorial’s “Comments” section observed, the Times editorial devoted twice as much space (150 words) to critiquing the proposal’s initial “poorly written talking points” as it did to describing the actual resolution (72 words).

Comprehensive Solutions

And what about the Times’ disagreement with the broad character of the Green New Deal?

To answer, consider the (in progress) proposal so far . . . It suggests nothing less than a complete overhaul of capitalism-as-we-know-it. In doing so, it purposely parallels the measures implemented by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his original New Deal.

Following the Great Stock Market Crash of ’29, the latter didn’t content itself with bailing out banks and Wall Street. Instead it more comprehensively addressed the concerns of Main Street providing minimum wage legislation, unemployment benefits, government-funded jobs for the unemployed, and a Social Security retirement plan for all. It also legalized labor unions.

By adopting that strategy, FDR not only addressed the deep-seated problems of capitalism such as widespread unemployment, low wages and huge wealth-disparities. He also met the genuine needs of the country’s majority and secured their buy-in to the New Deal despite pressure by the elite to reduce the great depression to a technical matter solvable by the monied classes. The working class was won over; its members’ anger against the system was mollified; they put down their pitchforks, Roosevelt was elected four times in a row, and capitalism was saved.

This time around, the green version of the New Deal does something similar. It includes not merely a transition to a renewable energy economy powered by wind and sun, but rejection of any nuclear power options, of technology allowing fossil fuel plants to capture and store their own emissions, and of market-based solutions such as carbon taxes and cap and trade policies. As described by the New York Times, and in the spirit of FDR’s program, the GND proposal suggests:

  • Free higher education
  • Universal health care
  • Affordable housing for all
  • Remedies for “systemic injustices” among the poor, elderly and people of color
  • Family-sustaining wage guarantees
  • Adequate family medical leave
  • Paid vacations for all workers
  • Retirement security for everybody

Like Roosevelt’s measures, these provisions are aimed at securing the required support of the country’s majority who might otherwise be persuaded to continue ignoring the problem by the propaganda of elite climate-change deniers and by the forbidding specter of austerity measures. The generous GND provisions are intended to acquire buy-in on the part of those who also might otherwise be too distracted by simply trying to make ends meet than to comprehend and face up to the very real threats posed by climate chaos.

Failing to see all of that, the Times editorial board asks in effect, what do the social goals listed above have to do with meeting the climate change crisis? Wouldn’t it would be better, the authors imply, to be less radical and more focused on setting a national electricity standard, including the nuclear and carbon capture options along with wind and solar alternatives, providing tax incentives for electrical vehicles, improving the efficiency of buildings and the electrical grid, and intensifying efforts at carbon sequestration?

More specifically, the editors ask, “Is the Green New Deal aimed at addressing the climate crisis? Or is addressing the climate crisis merely a cover for a wish-list of progressive policies and a not-so-subtle effort to move the Democratic Party to the left?”

(See what I meant by “faint praise?”)

In other words, the Newspaper of Record, wants readers to focus narrowly on remediating climate change while overlooking what GND advocates identify as the root cause of the catastrophe. It wants its readers to ignore what Green New Dealers consider the indissoluble link between capitalism-as-we-know-it on the one hand and worker exploitation along with environmental destruction on the other.

The Capitalism Connection

Think about the connections first with workers and then with the environment. (Sorry: but doing so might evoke painful memories of ECON 101.)

With both workers and the environment, capitalists are forced by the logic of market competition to adopt exploitative practices whether they want to or not. That’s because, for one thing, wage workers in particular are compelled to enter a labor market whose compensation level is set by rivalry among laborers seeking the same job.

As a result, each prospective employee will bid his competitors down until what economists have called the “natural” wage level is attained. Marx for one, found this “natural” level below what workers and their families need to sustain themselves in ways worthy of human beings. In other words, wage competition represents nothing less than a race to the bottom. Capitalism’s unregulated labor market assures an inadequate wage for the working class.

Similarly (and this is the major point in the context of climate change) the capitalist system also necessarily devastates the environment. That is, the market’s reliance on competition all but eliminates the presence of environmental conscience on the part of producers.

Thus, for example, environmentally sensitive entrepreneurs might be moved to put scrubbers on the smokestacks of their factories, and filters on the sewage pipes to purify liquid effluents entering nearby rivers, streams and oceans. Doing so would, of course raise the costs of production, Meanwhile, however, competitors who lack environmental conscience will continue spewing unmitigated smoke into the atmosphere and pouring unfiltered toxins into nearby bodies of water. Their lowered costs will enable them to undersell the conscientious producers, and eventually drive the latter out of business. In this way, the market rewards absence of environmental conscience.

In other words, fighting climate change and protecting workers’ rights are intimately connected. They are both aspects of resistance to the destructive logic of capitalist competition.

According to proponents of the Green New Deal, such realizations uncover the failure of the market system itself. That system has proved incapable not only of addressing climate change. It has also failed to provide a living wage for its unskilled workers, jobs for those displaced by technology, affordable housing to the working class, and inexpensive health care – not to mention repair of the country’s crumbling infrastructure. That array of problems calls for remedies far beyond the band-aid solutions suggested by the Times board. It also requires extensive buy-in from the affected majority including those who work for wages. The GND achieves both ends.

Paying for the Green New Deal

Not far in the background of almost any criticism of the Green New Deal is the question unspoken or emphasized, how are we going to pay for such “generous provisions?” The incredible and ironic implication here is not only that it makes sense to do a cost-benefit analysis about saving the planet and the lives of our grandchildren. The implication is also that some price might be too high or some social change (like abandonment of capitalism-as-we-know-it) too drastic!

But overlooked in such mystifying thought processes are the considerations that, among other benefits, abandoning a fossil-fuel-dependent economy will:

  • In the end provide very low-cost energy to consumers
  • Save government subsidies currently extended to the fossil fuel industry
  • Make unnecessary the resource wars currently waged against countries in the Middle East and threatened in Venezuela
  • Therefore, render unnecessary the tremendous expenditures such wars entail
  • And remove a major stimulus to terrorism
  • In summary, necessitate a basic restructuring of our economy including precisely the provisions sought by GND advocates

Conclusion

It’s that fundamental restructuring of everything that the Green New Deal anticipates. The proposal of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ed Markey recognizes that necessity far better than the editorial board of the New York Times.

As Naomi Klein has put it, the climate crisis “changes everything.” It calls for a comprehensive New Deal – for a new start beyond business as usual. It requires recognizing the intrinsic weaknesses of capitalism-as-we-know-it and remediating those weaknesses by incentivizing and including the working class in any solution that has the slightest hope of success.

France’s Yellow Vests: Their Program Should Be Our Program

As I reported recently, I spent my Christmas vacation tracking down and studying France’s “Yellow Vest” movement. In December, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman did something similar. However, as expressed in his piece, “The End of Europe,” his conclusions mirror old threadbare thinking about social transformation. Most tellingly, while honoring the voices of the Yellow Vests as grassroots activists, Friedman’s responses exclude the very democratic input the Yellow Vests demand. Instead, he looks to government and business leaders to save what he termed “the idea of Europe.”    

My own conclusions are the reverse. I see the Yellow Vests as advocating a democratically radical, comprehensive and bottom-up approach to what distresses our world. In fact, the issues and demands of the Yellow Vests suggest proven reforms that are clearly feasible, since they’ve worked in the past. The economic and political restructurings implicit in their working-class demands could save our planet and create the other world that all progressives sense is possible. Consciously or unconsciously, the Yellow vests propose a program worthy of support by us all.    

Friedman & the Yellow Vests

According to Friedman, France represents the last barrier against the disintegration of Europe itself. Across the European Union (EU), England is committing collective suicide (because of Brexit), Germany is turning inward, and Italy (along with Greece) is in full rebellion against EU austerity measures. Meanwhile, the United States incipient withdrawal from the world increasingly leaves the continent without its traditional life insurance policy against “predatory threats from the East.” That insurance is needed now more than ever in a world where Russia is again asserting its power, and where China promises to become the center of the world.

However, Friedman says, the Yellow Vest Movement reveals that France itself is in danger of disintegration. The movement has arisen because the country’s working poor and anxious middle class have not benefitted from the liberal order of political-economy characterized by globalization, technological development, and mass migration of workers from the former Soviet Union and from France’s colonial empire. In the face of such developments, the poor have been completely marginalized, while robotics, artificial intelligence, outsourcing and competition from Chinese imports have made it increasingly difficult for middle class wage-earners to sustain accustomed life styles.

For France, all of this has been complicated by the ineptitude of its president Emmanuel Macron. On Friedman’s analysis, Macron has done the right things, but in an arrogant top-down, “let them eat cake” manner. The right things have included giving tax breaks to the rich, while imposing austerity (and job re-training programs) on workers. Austerity has meant raising taxes on diesel fuel, reducing pensions, and making it easier for employers to fire their workers.

In other words, Friedman approves of the very policies that have given rise to the “Yellow Vests” in the first place. For him, it’s just that austerity’s necessarily bitter pill wasn’t administered with the proper bedside manner.

And, according to the New York Times columnist, there is no apparent alternative. In the face of globalization, he holds that old solutions (simply cutting or raising taxes) cannot work. Instead, he vaguely calls for cities and local leaders to become “more nimble.” In his words, that means forming coalitions of business leaders, educators, and small entrepreneurs who can compete locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

That’s it. That’s Friedman’s analysis and solution.

Entirely absent from his considerations is any mention of “Yellow Vests” (i.e. working class) involvement in the solutions he finds so elusive.  That is, Friedman’s own approach, like that of Macron is entirely top-down. Like Macron he seems tone deaf to the “Yellow Vest” demand for inclusion in decision-making processes.

Necessary Changes in Consciousness

But what would such inclusion entail?

It would first of all necessitate changes in the very consciousness exhibited in the Friedman piece. These changes would include recognition of:

  • The Fundamental Failure of Capitalism: Friedman begins his article by celebrating capitalism. He writes “Ever since World War II, the liberal global order. . . has spread more freedom and prosperity around the world than at any other time in history. . .” Granted, such triumphalism might have been defensible (for those ignoring, for example, U.S. interventions in the Global South) before the dawn of the climate and immigration crises. However, today its uncritical hubris is embarrassing as the system’s train of destruction stretching back to capitalism’s dawning are seen as threatening the very continuation of human life as we know it. We can now see that capitalism has not really been successful. Quite the opposite. Persisting in lionizing the system while ignoring its run-away destruction prevents serious analysts from imagining the fundamental changes necessary to address the system’s basic failure. Apparently, it prevented Friedman from doing so.
  • Yellow Vest Criticism of Neo-liberalism: What consciously or unconsciously irks the international working class about neo-liberal globalization is the fact that the reigning economic model accords rights to capital that it steadfastly denies or severely restricts in the case of labor. It grants capital the right to cross borders wherever it will in pursuit of low wages and high profits. Meanwhile, it insists that labor, an equally important element of the capitalist equation, respect borders and/or severe restrictions on its mobility. Evidently, this is because the authors of the system (politicians, corporate boards, and lawyers) realize that freer movement of labor especially from the East or Global South would outrage constituents and consumers within industrialized countries in the developed world. The “Yellow Vests” prove that such outrage has taken hold in France and threatens to spread across the continent as workers from Europe’s former colonies extend and appropriate for themselves the logic of “free trade” heretofore acted upon only by capitalists and denied to labor. The immigration crisis is the result.

Necessary Reforms

As noted earlier, the Friedman article throws up its hands in surrender before the changes he describes as perhaps signaling the end of Europe. He writes, “Here is what’s really scary, though. I don’t think there are national solutions to this problem — simply cut taxes or raise taxes — in the way there were in the past.” So (to repeat) our author is left with the standard neo-liberal policies earlier described – trickle-down tax cuts for corporations and austerity for workers – implemented by the usual suspects with no mention of worker input.

None of that will work for the Yellow Vests. They want their voices heard. They want democracy at all levels. Such democratic ideal suggests changes far beyond the tired nostrums offered by Friedman – or perhaps even imagined by the French protestors themselves. These might include:

  • Democratized International Trade Agreements: Trade agreements like the European Union or NAFTA for that matter need to be negotiated with workers taking part. That means that the real EU question isn’t whether or not Great Britain should renegotiate its Brexit. The real issue is the reformulation of the EU Charter itself. The whole thing has to be rethought with the circle of negotiators widened to include all stakeholders. This means going beyond politicians, corporate heads, and lawyers to include trade unionists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, educators, social workers, women, and representatives of children. In the process, each stake-holding group must have equal votes to complement their intellectual input. The same holds true for NAFTA.
  • Democracy at Work: Workers like the Yellow Vests spend most of their lives at work. Hence, their demands for democracy suggest, that any concept of self-governance must be broadened from the exercise of voting franchise every few years to include democracy at work. In its most effective form, democracy there takes the form of worker-owned cooperatives, where workers decide what to produce, where to produce it, and what to do with the profits. Enterprises of this type would never elect to pollute their neighborhoods, to pay outlandish salaries to administrators, to move their firm to a foreign country, or to lay off workers because of technological advance (all Yellow Vest complaints). Introducing such change is entirely possible. For instance, since 1985 Italy has taken steps to favor cooperative ownership. According to the country’s Marcora Law any company going out of business must extend to workers the right of first refusal in the case of a firm’s transfer of ownership.
  • Democratization of the New Technology: Democratic movements like the Yellow Vests need not be Luddite vis a vis the introduction of new technology. Instead, they might welcome any “labor saving” technologies. However, the point of such introduction would not be to down-size the labor force, but to shrink time spent on-the-job. For too long computers and artificial intelligence have been used by employers to cut labor costs and increase profits rather than to expand worker free time. By contrast, worker-friendly technological policies could make widespread job-sharing possible to eliminate unemployment. Four-hour workdays could replace present overwork. It could become possible to work only 6 months per year, or to take sabbaticals every few years without any reduction in pay.
  • A Green New Deal: Part of eliminating unemployment entails implementation of a Green New Deal (GND) to address climate chaos in ways that mirror Roosevelt’s original New Deal to combat the disastrous effects of the Great Depression. Prominent among the GND’s provisions must be the contemporary equivalent of the old Civilian Conservation Corps – this time to accomplish the environmental ends that the economy’s private sector is unwilling or unable to achieve.  
  • A Marshall Plan for the Former Colonies: To reverse the influx of immigrant workers, the former colonial powers must stop the wars and environmental policies that end up creating refugees and migrants in the first place. This means, first of all, ending their resource-wars and the failed war-on-terrorism. Secondly, however, the old colonists need to implement a New Marshall Plan in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia, where centuries-long resource-extraction policies have created the very poverty, hunger, and unemployment that has transformed the Global South from a natural paradise to a cauldron of social inequities. Besides being a remedy for the migration crisis, a grand Marshal Plan for the Global South is a matter of reparations.
  • Implementation of the NIEO: Specifically, reparations should entail something like the implementation of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) demanded by the Group of 77 within the United Nations in 1974. The New Order would grant Global South countries the power to control multinational investments within their borders. Recognizing that no country has ever achieved “development” as a mere supplier of raw materials to already industrialized countries, the order would require the latter to make large transfers of capital to the former colonies in the form of money and technology. It would also guarantee stable prices for raw materials from previously colonized nations in exchange for finished products (like tractors and computers), with the prices for the latter indexed to the established value of the raw materials.
  • Implementation of A New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO): As recognized by the UNESCO McBride Report in 1980, the former colonies need not only a new economic order, but one in which special attention is given to the international flow of information. The Global South needs a world information system that gives its inhabitants themselves the ability to portray and understand their own reality rather than being dependent on their former keepers for information about their lives, cultures and politics.     
  • Deep Cuts in Military Spending: All of this would be financed by higher taxes on the world’s 1% and by developed world cuts in military spending. Such increases and cuts would (1) recognize that the present war on terror is an utter failure, and (2) divert money now spent on attacking countries in the less developed world to constructive projects there such as rebuilding homes, schools, hospitals, power plants and water purification systems. Arguably, this would do more to combat terrorism than wars and bombing campaigns which many see as aggravating the problem of global terror. Again, this is a question of reparations.  

Conclusion

The elegance of the just-listed responses to France’s Yellow Vests and to the crisis of the neo-liberal order the protestors are rebelling against is that they are not new. In the cases of the New Deal and Marshall Plan, they enjoy a proven track record. At the same time, the prescriptions are much more detailed than the abstract cliches reflected in Thomas Friedman’s endorsements of neo-liberal austerity and “more nimble” decision-makers drawn from the professional classes.

Instead, the suggestions just listed have been with us since the 1930s (in the case of the New Deal), since the 1940s with the Marshall Plan, and since the mid’70s and early ‘80s with the proposed NIEO and NWICO. For their part, as Richard Wolff points out, worker co-ops have been hugely successful, for instance in the Mondragon Corporation in Spain and throughout the world, including France and the United States. Across the globe, worker cooperatives already employ 250 million people and in 2013 represented $3 trillion in revenue. Meanwhile, a huge body of literature from the 1960s and early ‘70s described a world in which computers and robotics would be used not to one-sidedly increase corporate profits, but to provide lives of leisure and enjoyment for ordinary people.

None of this is unrealistic, dreamy or impractical. In other words, we have the Yellow Vests to thank for helping us recall that another world is not only possible, but that we’ve already experienced it!

The Missing Faith Dimension of the Capitalism vs. Socialism Debate

Jesus Communist

Democracy Now recently reported surprising results from a new Gallup poll about evolving attitudes in this country about socialism. The poll concluded that by a 57-47% majority, U.S. Democrats currently view socialism more positively than capitalism.

Let me offer some reflections sparked by those poll results. I offer them in the light of some pushback I received over my related blog posting about the capitalism vs. socialism debate. These current reflections will emphasize the faith perspective that has not only shaped my own world vision, but that should mobilize Christians to be more sympathetic to socialist ideals.

To begin with, the Gallup poll results are themselves astounding in view of the fact that since after World War II all of us have been subjected to non-stop vilification of socialism. As economist and historian, Richard Wolff, continually observes Americans’ overcoming such programming is nothing less than breath-taking. It means that something new is afoot in our culture.

On the other hand, the Gallup results should not be that shocking. That’s because since 2016, we’ve become used to an avowed socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, being the most popular politician in the country.

On top of that the recent 14-point victory of another socialist, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, grabbed everyone’s attention. Recall that Ms. Cortez defeated 10-term congressional incumbent, Joe Crowley, in her NYC race for the Bronx and Queens seat in the House of Representatives.

Socialist candidates seem to be sprouting up everywhere. They advocate a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, and tuition free college education.

Such promises seem to be somehow awakening Americans (at least subconsciously) to the reality that at least since WWII, similar socialist programs have become quite familiar. We’ve all experienced their efficacy since Roosevelt’s New Deal. We expect the government to intervene in the market to make our lives better.

In fact, since the second Great War, there have been no real capitalist or socialist economies anywhere in the world. Instead, all we’ve experienced are mixed economies with huge elements of socialism that we’ve all taken for granted.

Put otherwise, economies across the globe (however they’ve identified themselves) have all combined the three elements of capitalism: (1) private ownership of the means of production, (2) free and open markets, and (3) unlimited earnings, with the corresponding and opposite elements of socialism: (1) public ownership of the means of production, (2) controlled markets, and (3) limited earnings. The result has been what economists everywhere call “mixed economies”: (1) some private ownership and some public ownership of the means of production (exemplified in the post office and national parks), (2) some free markets and some controlled markets (e.g. laws governing alcohol, tobacco and fire arms), and (3) earnings typically limited by progressive income taxes.

What has distinguished e.g. the mixed economy of the United States from the mixed economy, e.g. in Cuba is that the former is mixed in favor of the rich (on some version of trickle-down theory), while the latter is mixed in favor of the poor to ensure that the latter have direct and immediate access to food, housing, education and healthcare.

My article also went on to argue that the socialist elements just mentioned have enjoyed huge successes in the mixed economies across the globe – yes, even in Russia, China and the United States.

“All of that may be true,” one of my readers asked “but how can you ignore the tremendous human rights abuses that have accompanied the “accomplishments” you enumerate in Russia and China? And why do you so consistently admire socialism over capitalism which has proven so successful here at home?”

Let me answer that second question first. Afterwards, I’ll try to clarify an important point made in my recent posting’s argument about the successes I alleged in Russia and China. That point was in no way to defend the horrendous human rights abuses there any more than those associated with the successes of the U.S. economy which are similarly horrific. But we’ll get to that shortly.

In the meantime, let me lead off with a that basic point about faith that I want to centralize here. Here my admission is that more than anything, I’m coming from a believer’s perspective.

That is, without trying to persuade anyone of its truth, I admit that my Judeo-Christian faith dictates that the earth belongs to everyone. So, boundaries and borders are fictions – not part of the divine order. Moreover, for some to consume obscenely while others have little or nothing is an abomination in the eyes of God. (See Jesus’ parable about the rich man and Lazarus (LK 16:19-31).

Even more to the point of the discussion at hand, it is evident that the idea of communism (or communalism) comes from the Bible itself. I’m thinking of two descriptions of life in the early Christian community that we find in the Acts of the Apostles. For instance,

Acts 2:44-45 says:

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

Acts 4:32–35 reads:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had . . . And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”

Jesus’ identification with the poor and oppressed is also important for me. He said that whatever we do to the hungry, sick, ill-clad, thirsty, homeless, and imprisoned, we do to him. The words Matthew attributes to Jesus (in the only biblical description we have of the last judgment) are:

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
There is much, much more to be said about this basic faith perspective. But for now, let that suffice.

Now for the second point about human rights:

• To repeat: no one can defend the obvious human rights abuses of Russia or China. They are clearly indefensible.
• In fact, they are as inexcusable as the similar abuses by the United States in countries which are or have been U.S. client states. I’m referring to Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Vietnam, and countries throughout Latin America and Africa. In all the latter, it has not been unusual for freedom of press to be violated, for elections to be rigged (think Honduras just recently), for summary executions to be common, for journalists to be assassinated in large numbers, and for dissenters to be routinely imprisoned and tortured. Christians advocating social justice have been persecuted without mercy. (Recall that infamous Salvadoran right-wing slogan, “Be a patriot; kill a priest.”)
• Moreover, while we have been relatively free from such outrages on U.S. soil, the events of 9/11/01 have been used to justify restrictions of freedoms we have historically enjoyed. Here the reference is to wiretappings, e-mail confiscations, neighbors spying on neighbors, and other unconstitutional invasions of privacy that seem to violate the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. It is now even permissible for the nation’s head of state to identify the press as “the enemy of the people.”
• 9/11 has also been used to justify the clearly illegal invasion of at least one sovereign country under false pretenses (Iraq) with the resultant deaths of well over a million people (mostly civilians). Other countries have also been illegally attacked, e.g. Libya, Yemen and Somalia without due congressional authorization. 9/11 has further “justified” the establishment of “black sites” throughout the world, the “rendition” of prisoners to third countries for purposes of torture, innumerable (literally) arrests without charges and imprisonments without trial. It has even led to extrajudicial killings of U.S. citizens.

Such observations make the general point that when countries perceive themselves to be under attack, they implement policies both domestically and abroad that defenders of human rights correctly identify as repressive, cruel, criminal and even homicidal. Russia, China, and Cuba have been guilty of such policies. But so has the United States in supporting friendly regimes throughout the world and by implementing increasingly repressive policies here at home.

Now consider the pressures that led Russia, for example, to implement its own indefensible repression:

• As the most backward country in Europe, its people had suffered enormously under an extremely repressive Czarist regime. [Czarism, in fact, was the model of government that most Russians (including criminals like Stalin) had internalized.]
• Following its revolution, Russia was invaded by a vast coalition of forces (including the United States). It was forced to fight not only the invaders, but Czarist sympathizers and anti-communists within its own population.
• The country had twice been invaded by Germany through Poland and saw itself as needing a buffer from its implacable enemies to the west.
• Its people had fought heroically against German invaders and though suffering 20 million deaths and incredible infrastructure destruction, it managed to defeat the German army and largely be responsible for winning World War II.
• During the Cold War, Russia found itself under constant threat from western powers and especially from the United States, its CIA, and from NATO – as well as from internal enemies allied with the latter.

My only point in making such observations was not to defend Russia’s indefensible violations of human rights (nor China’s, nor Cuba’s); it was, rather, to make my central point about the efficiency of economies mixed in favor of the poor vs. those mixed in favor of the rich.

As shown by Russia (and even more evidently by China), economies mixed in favor of the poor develop much more quickly and efficiently than economies mixed in favor of the rich. While both Russia and China became superpowers in a very short time, the former European and U.S. colonies in Latin America, Africa, and South Asia have remained mired in colonial underdevelopment. The latter’s organizing principle of “comparative advantage” has proven ineffective in enriching them, since it locks them into positions of mere suppliers of raw materials to industrialized countries. No country has ever reached “developed” status by following such principle. In other words, Global South countries are still waiting for that wealth to “trickle down.”

So, readers shouldn’t mistake the argument made by Wolff and others. It was not to defend the indefensible. (Even Khrushchev and Gorbachev recognized and denounced the crimes of Josef Stalin.) The relevant point is about capitalism vs. socialism. It was to indicate that the vilification of socialism overlooks the achievements of that system despite (not because of) restrictions on human rights that are common to both systems in egregious ways that no humanist or follower of Jesus should be able to countenance.

My conclusion remains, then, that it is up to people of conscience (and especially people of faith) to oppose such restrictions and violations wherever we encounter them – but especially in our own system where our voices can be much more powerful than denunciations of the crimes attributable to “those others.”

Fascism Is “Capitalism in Crisis”

Princess Bride

This is the third installment in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

[Last Monday this series on the Second Coming of Adolf Hitler tried to connect Hitler and the response to the tragedies of September 11th, 2001. In the aftermath of those events, the U.S. Vice President’s wife, Lynne Cheney and her American Council of Trustees and Alumni identified university and college professors as “the weak link in the fight against terrorism.” They found it particularly offensive that some of the latter had identified the September 11th attacks as “blowback” for “American” Hitler-like policies in the Third World. Such response inspired me to do some research on the question paying particular attention to data found in a standard Western Traditions textbook used in many institutions of higher learning, Jackson Spielvogel’s “Western Civilization.” This third installment attempts to clear up some common misconceptions about fascism which many see as threatening to take over the U.S. today just as it did Germany in the early 1930s. (Unless otherwise indicated, all references are to Spielvogel’s text.)]

The thesis here is that privatized globalization is a continuation of Hitler’s system of fascism which is understood here as “capitalism in crisis.” To understand that position, it is first of all necessary to clear up prevailing confusions about fascism itself. Not surprisingly, misunderstandings abound concerning its nature. Most correctly identify fascism with a police state, with institutionalized racism, anti-Semitism, and totalitarianism (though they typically remain unclear about the term’s meaning). Most too are familiar with concentration camps, the Holocaust, and, of course, with Adolf Hitler. Some can even associate the Nazi form of fascism with homophobia and persecution of Gypsies. However, rarely, if ever will anyone connect fascism with capitalism. For instance, here is Jackson Spielvogel’s (Western Civilization) textbook description of Hitler’s thought:

“In Vienna, then, Hitler established the basic ideas of an ideology from which he never deviated for the rest of his life. At the core of Hitler’s ideas was racism, especially anti-Semitism. His hatred of the Jews lasted to the very end of his life. Hitler had also become an extreme German nationalist who had learned from the mass politics of Vienna how political parties could effectively use propaganda and terror. Finally, in his Viennese years, Hitler also came to a firm belief in the need for struggle, which he saw as the “granite foundation of the world.” Hitler emphasized a crude Social Darwinism; the world was a brutal place filled with constant struggle in which only the fit survived” (794).

Here it is interesting to note that racism, especially anti-Semitism, nationalism, propaganda, terror and Darwinian struggle are signaled as defining attributes of the Hitlerian system. Capitalism is not mentioned, though “struggle” is. Perhaps, had the term “competition” been used instead of “struggle,” the basically capitalist nature of “Social Darwinism,” and fascism might have been clearer.

Fascism and Communism

Textbooks typically add to the confusion by closely connecting fascist Nazism and Communism. For instance, Spielvogel’s Western Civilization deals with Hitler’s fascism and Josef Stalin’s socialism back-to-back, linking the two with the term “totalitarianism.” Spielvogel’s transition from one to the other illustrates how the merely mildly interested (i.e. most college students) might come away confused. He writes, “Yet another example of totalitarianism was to be found in Soviet Russia” (801). Spielvogel defines totalitarianism in the following terms:

“Totalitarianism is an abstract term, and no state followed all its theoretical implications. The fascist states – Italy and Nazi Germany – as well as Stalin’s Communist Russia have all been labeled totalitarian, although their regimes exhibited significant differences and met with varying degrees of success. Totalitarianism transcended traditional political labels. Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany grew out of extreme rightist preoccupations with nationalism and, in the case of Germany, with racism. Communism in Soviet Russia emerged out of Marxian socialism, a radical leftist program. Thus, totalitarianism could and did exist in what were perceived as extreme right-wing and left-wing regimes. This fact helped bring about a new concept of the political spectrum in which the extremes were no longer seen as opposites on a linear scale, but came to be viewed as being similar to each other in at least some respects” (Spielvogel 789).

Here Spielvogel correctly points out “significant differences between fascism and communism. One is radically right, the other radically left. Nazism is identified with nationalism and racism (not, it should be noted, with capitalism). Communism is associated with Marxism and socialism. In the end, however, the two are viewed as “similar to each other in at least some respects.” Thus, clarity of distinction given with one hand seems to be erased with the other. Confusion is the typical result. Such fogginess might have been cleared had Spielvogel employed greater parallelism in his expression – i.e. had he identified Stalinist communism with police-state socialism and Hitler’s Nazism with police-state capitalism.

National Socialism

Nonetheless, history books and teachers are not solely at fault for student confusion. There are other understandable reasons for the distancing of fascism from capitalism. For one, Hitler’s Party called itself the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP). As a result, it is quite natural for students who reflect on the question at all, to conclude that Hitler and his party were “socialist,” or even “communist,” since the two terms are almost synonymous for most Americans. After all, well-indoctrinated students would be justified in reasoning that Hitler did such terrible things he must have been a communist.

Lost in such analysis is the historical realization that during the 1930s, all sorts of approaches to political-economy called themselves “socialist.” This is because they supported state intervention to save the market system that was in crisis during the Great Depression. Thus, there were socialisms of the left as found in Soviet Russia. But there were also socialisms of the right, such as Hitler’s in Germany, Mussolini’s in Italy, and Franco’s in Spain. In other words, interventionist economies easily adopted the “socialist” identification to distinguish themselves from laissez-faire capitalism, which in the aftermath of the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929, had been completely discredited. As we shall see below, in such context (were it politically possible) Franklin Roosevelt’s interventionist program to save capitalism could easily have been called National Socialism instead of the “New Deal.”

However, analysis of fascism’s approach to socialism must recognize the national character of the socialism advocated. [Yet even here, according to Spielvogel, Hitler’s program had a distinctly international dimension eerily evocative of promises associated with the current global economy. Spielvogel recalls, “After the German victories between 1939 and 1941, Nazi propagandists painted glowing images of a new European order based on “equal chances” for all nations and an integrated economic community.” (829)] The critical adjective (nationalist) was intended precisely to distinguish the right wing brand of socialism from its left wing international antagonist. In this connection Hagen Schulze writes in Germany: a New History (2001):

“The catch-phrase “national socialism” itself had been created before the First World War as a means to unite a variety of nationalistic organizations in the battle against “international socialism.” The term was designated to appeal to the working class, but it also proved attractive to young people from the middle and upper classes with romantic notions of Volksgemeinschaft, a “popular” or “national” community” (231)

The implication here is that right wing zealots “co-opted” a popular term to confuse the young – a strategy employed to this day with great success. Here as well one should note that “national socialism” is signaled as a direct opponent of “international socialism.”

Fascism as Mixed Economy

Yet another reason disjoining fascism from capitalism is that fascism was not capitalism pure and simple. (The same might be said of Roosevelt’s New Deal – and even today’s U.S. economy.) Both systems were “mixed economies.” That is, if capitalism’s essential components are private ownership of the means of production, free and open markets and unlimited earnings, socialism’s corresponding elements are public ownership of the means of production, controlled markets and restricted earnings. Both Roosevelt and Hitler combined the two approaches to economy.

Once again, in a period when free market capitalism had been widely discredited, both Hitler and Roosevelt performed a kind of “perestroika.” Soviet Premier, Mikhail Gorbachev would later use the term to refer to the restructuring of socialism, in order to save it by incorporating elements of capitalism. The suggestion here is that more than a half-century earlier, Roosevelt and Hitler had done the opposite; they had incorporated elements of socialism into the capitalist system in order to resurrect it. So, while the means of production most often remained in private hands, others (such as the railroads, the postal system, telephones and highways) were nationalized.

Similarly, while the free market was allowed to continue in many ways, its freedom was restricted by measures socialists had long advocated (e.g. rationing, legalized unions, social security, wage and price controls). Finally, high income taxes were used to restrict earnings and garner income for the state to finance its interventionist programs. [Few recall, for instance, that during the 1940s, U.S. federal income tax rates assessed incomes over $400,000 at a rate of 91% (See Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, 567-8). Government revenue collected in this way paid for populist programs that modestly redistributed income to the American working class and unemployed. Such redistribution found its way into workers’ pay envelopes, but also took the form of “social wage.”]

None of this is to say that Roosevelt’s and Hitler’s interventionist economies were the same. Mixed economies, after all, are not the identical. The key question for distinguishing between them is, “Mixed in favor of whom?” Some mixed economies are mixed in favor of the working class, others, in favor of their employers. As the product of a liberal capitalist, Roosevelt’s mixture successfully sold itself as the former. That is, while keeping most means of production securely in the hands of capitalists, Roosevelt gained the support of the working classes through his populist programs aimed at gingerly redistributing income downward towards those unable to fend for themselves. In other words, Roosevelt’s “mixed economy” was blended so as to facilitate its defense in populist terms – that is, as mixed in favor of the working class. And the defense achieved plausibility with the American people. Despite objections from more overtly pro-business Republicans, Roosevelt was elected four times in succession. His party remained in control of the U.S. Congress for nearly a half-century.

Hitler had another approach. Influenced by Herbert Spencer and (indirectly) by Friedrich Nietszche (see below), der Fuhrer was an extreme social Darwinist whose programs unabashedly favored elite Aryans and despised “the others,” particularly socialists, Jews, trade unionists, non-whites, Gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled and other “deviants.” On the other hand, Hitler despised “liberal” politicians like Roosevelt, with their programs of social welfare. On those grounds, he vilified the Weimar government which preceded his own. During the early years of the Great Depression, Weimar politicians had attempted to gain the favor of the working class, and to sidestep civil war by implementing wealth distribution programs (233). Funding the programs necessitated tax increases, unpopular with middle and upper classes. It meant strengthening unions along with socialists and communists.

The point here is that is it with good reason that few make the connection between fascism and capitalism. A student of Spielvogel, for instance, would have to be quasi-heroic to do so. After all, he or she would be not only resisting the confusion fostered by the text itself, but would also be swimming against the stream of American propaganda, which treats Hitler’s system as the product of an evil individual, and unconnected with any specific economic system (other than, mistakenly, socialism or communism).

Despite such ambiguity, next week’s blog entry will attempt to demonstrate more specifically that even a closer reading of a text like Spielvogel’s makes unmistakable the connection between fascism and capitalism.