The Green New Deal Challenges The Domination Of Capital

The Green New Deal is an overarching statement of political goals for the Democratic Party, something the party has not had for decades. It lays out a vision of a future inspired by the best the party has to offer, Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, which he laid out in January 1941 as the US stared at the unfolding crisis in Europe. In this post I called for just such a statement, and this is everything I could have hoped for. It is a combination of Roosevelt’s unfinished goals and the massive work done by liberals to expand the reach of the Constitution to previously disfavored groups. It offers hope and possibility as we confront the crisis of environmental disaster.

It also offers a stunning contrast to the closed and frightened Republican/MAGA plutocratic vision for this nation. Their hounds immediately attacked the messenger, the message and anyone who might want to consider the message with their usual childish insults and trollish memes, their version of political discussion. A few conservatives recognize the seriousness of the problem of climate change, but have nothing to offer, as reported by Emily Atkin in The New Republic.

Here is the text of H.R. 109. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and read it. The summaries I’ve seen are insufficient to convey the brilliance of the document.

The Green New Deal acknowledges that meeting the challenge of impending climate disaster will be enormously disruptive. It’s most important virtue is that it doesn’t assume that the entire burden of the disruption will be borne by working people. Instead, it insures that workers are protected from disruption, not with some phony job training program, but with real protection. Equally important, it insures that capital will not be able to grab vast profits or control adaptation for their cash benefit.

Capitalism has brought staggering social and environmental changes in this country. Frequently, the technology that has produced those changes was the product of government research and development. Capitalists imposed all the costs of those social and environmental changes on working people and the poor while sucking up all the benefits for themselves. You don’t see the rich living next door to petroleum processing plants or airports or gravel pits or trash dumps. You don’t see their kids suffering from asthma caused by factory pollution or heavy truck traffic or worse. You don’t see them unable to pay medical bills or take their kids for needed medical attention. That’s for the little people.

The Green New Deal says that’s over. When the price of natural gas dropped, capitalists stopped using coal, and coal miners lost their jobs, their insurance, their homes and their futures. Under the Green New Deal, when natural gas is phased out every displaced worker will have a job and health care, because the Green New Deal offers a job guarantee and insists on universal access to health care. Communities, especially marginalized people, will participate in decisions about location of new manufacturing facilities and other issues affecting them, and that participation will enable all of us to protect ourselves from the costs capitalists impose on us today.

The Green New Deal recognizes that a substantial research and development program will be needed to create new technology to meet its goals. That’s going to be funded by the government. But this time there is no free ride for the capitalists. Section 4.1 requires the government to provide and leverage

… in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital (including through community grants, public banks, and other public financing), technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization ….

The entire document is designed to rebalance power in deciding the future of the nation. It is explicitly small-d democratic. It explicitly favors the interests of the vast majority. It explicitly slashes the power of the rich to dictate what, if any, response will be made to the threat of climate change.

This rebalancing is a serious challenge not just to capital and the rich, it is a serious challenge to both parties. Democrats claim to be the party of the people. The Green New Deal forces them to prove it. The Republicans represent the interests of the rich against the interests of working people. The Green New Deal makes this contradiction concrete. Both parties claim to want the best for the future of the country. The Green New Deal forces them to come up with positive programs or to do nothing in the face of mounting inequality, a zero-sum political economy, and impending environmental catastrophe.

There’s an even more direct assault on the dominance of capital in the Green New Deal. It calls for decarbonization of the economy. That directly threatens the wealth and power of a number of rich people, for example, the Koch family, whose fortunes are grounded on petroleum. The value of their fortunes will fall as oil becomes a mere feedstock for chemical processing. So will the fortunes of others, Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes, and African kleptocrats. The finances of a number of regimes of varying degrees of hostility to the US, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, the oil emirates, Iran, Iraq, and maybe ISIS. Their power will drop as the value of their natural resources falls. These are ruthless people with no interest in planetary survival. They will fight to the death to prevent the loss of power and wealth.

Meanwhile the media focuses on the horse-race and the cost. Can the Green New Deal pass? How could we ever pay for it? Every single article I’ve read makes a point of saying it’s politically impossible and almost all whine about the money. No one thinks the Senate with its piratical crew of Republican science deniers and Trumpists will ever pass it. And costs are not an issue until we agree to move it forward, and when it becomes real, brilliant economists like Stephanie Kelton will lead the way.

Right now every Democratic politicians opposed to the idea has to explain why their tweaks to neoliberal capitalism will accomplish something without crushing their voters. Republicans will continue to deny until the evidence overwhelms even their astonishing capacity for self-delusion. The rest of us have a planning document, something we can turn into legislation, something we can actually do that will make a difference. We’ll be working on it while the brain-dead bitch about the impertinence of the youngs, and politicians pour perfume on their campaign treasuries to hide the stench of raw petroleum.

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27 replies
  1. Samuel says:

    I had high hopes for the GND, but I was not exactly pleased with the text of the proposal.

    It didn’t focus enough on densification of cities and realistic measures to reduce carbon due to transportation (which is the sector of the economy that most contributes to US carbon emissions).

    And at the end of the day, a sufficiently high carbon tax (and dividend) is going to be necessary to incentivize people and businesses to make decisions to significantly reduce their carbon footprint.

    Noah Smith’s proposal is closer in line with my views. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-02-12/an-alternative-to-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-s-green-new-deal

    That said, I am glad that climate change is something that is entering the public discourse (as opposed to the 2016 election cycle where Trump was barely asked about his ridiculous conspiratorial nonsense view on the matter).

    • Ed Walker says:

      1. Urbanization is a nice idea, and would no doubt be useful in cutting pollution. While HR109 doesn’t make it explicit, the call for affordable decent housing solves one of the problems driving the shift to exurbia by making city housing possible.

      2. The emphasis in Smith’s proposal on technical change is typical of a certain group of Democratic wonks. It assumes that the elites can invent something that will solve a problem created by capitalism, and it de-emphasizes changes in the power structure to favor the interests of the majority of working people. His solution to the problem of displaced workers is “let them eat training”, and let there be market negotiations on education and health care. That’s not good enough, and it has been tried and has failed miserably.

      Climate change requires us to live differently. Smith doesn’t want to face that problem.

  2. FB1848 says:

    I do not read the GND as pledging to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2030, as has been widely reported in the press and advertised even by AOC. The resolution would establish a sense of the House that it is the “duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal to…. achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions….” Later in the text, it calls for a 10-year mobilization to “accomplish” that and other goals. Nowhere does it actually fix a 2030 target for achieving net-zero emissions. I’m guessing that wiggle room was created by Senator Markey’s staff or by outside consultants to AOC. That is to the good, insofar as net-zero emissions by 2030 is impossible. The EU has established a goal of net-zero by 2050 and other developed countries, including New Zealand and the UK are moving in that direction. The preamble to the GND resolution cites the 2050 target established by the I.P.C.C. and my reading is that is the target implicit in the resolution. Again, that is to the good insofar it would establish an ambitious and necessary goal in keeping with scientific opinion and with the other industrial countries that are taking this challenge seriously. It was unfortunate that the initial messaging advertised a 2030 date because that will lead sympathetic but realistic people to dismiss it entirely.

  3. roberts robot double says:

    That’s a fantastic piece, Mr. Walker.

    What the GND injects into the system is really compassion. Justice for the workers is compassion. Care of the environment for our current and future generations is compassion. A more equitable distribution of wealth is compassion.

    The love a person feels in their heart is of no worth until it creates generous, caring actions for others, and not just those of their immediate social circle. The GND is applied compassion, applied to the entire government of our modern economic society.

    >> Republicans will continue to deny until the evidence overwhelms even their astonishing capacity for self-delusion.

    On this point, I do disagree, however. Their stubborn self-interest and deceipt know no bounds. The GOP has become, over the vast decades, the party of evil overlords cloaked in abhorrent policies catering to their high-dollor donor base.

    And there’s one more point I’d like to note. The people of the petroleum-based counties you mention — Russia, some African and many Middle Eastern countries — those people are also living under the yoke of corporate and dictatorial economic and physical oppression. Some of those people, like our very own Trumpers, willingly and to their own detriment support those regimes, that much is sure; in the case of ISIS, the vast majority do. Once we right our American ship (if indeed we can), we must find and manifest compassion for all of the fine, simple folk who are being tread underneath the grinding wheels of power as manifested across Earth’s cultures.

    The further we share our own good fortune with other oppressed peoples, the greater will be our prosperity and happiness. As Machiavelli so rightly stated, one must aim above the target in order to hit it. I can think of no higher target than “On Earth as it is in Heaven”. As a Sufi who has interacted with kind, accepting people of many different faiths over the course of my nearly half-century of life, I know that there are many people across the world (likely a majority) that would joyfully welcome such a peaceful, simple, and tolerant Earth-friendly society.

    Peace be with you all, my friends.

  4. Hops says:

    Some have compared this transition to the abolition of slavery. Slavery was immensely profitable and the benefits went to relatively few. But those few had the political power in the South. And the war came.

  5. Pete says:

    Humans tend to only take action when there is no choice but to take action. Or as Churchill said of Americans eventually doing the right thing…Neither will work for this.

    It’s damn hard to convince hard core deniers and their followers when they do not feel the effects of the cause acutely like, say, Pacific islanders, indigenous Alaskans, etc most of which do not carry any political weight in the USA. And the old saw about convincing someone to go against their (perceived) self interest comes to mind.

    I’d like to see an “apolitical coalition” get behind this that includes scientists, journalists, celebrities, a billionaire or two and I’d like to see the current discussion get away from the “no more cows”, no cars, no jet planes nonsense…but I understand why that is.

    Ed used the term disruption which reminded me that Dahr Jamail uses the term Climate Disruption instead of global warming, climate change, etc. Climate disruption manifests in extreme weather and environmental change – like desertification, drought, and mega wildfires – and eliminates falling into the trap of conflating weather and climate.

    Here’s Dahr at the 33:00 mark. Please watch.

    https://www.democracynow.org/shows/2019/2/12

    • Rayne says:

      The majority of support behind GND and other constructive action is nonpartisan — it’s partisan when it gets to elected office because one major political party in this country is as deeply in bed with fossil fuel businesses as it is the gun industry. There is no getting around placing pressure on one party and its donors when that party is the bottleneck to GND legislation.

      As for the “no more cows” remark: repeating hyperbole does not help. Read some Lakoff on framing. The issue is protein production with lower CO2 output, including changes to meat and dairy production. If the public is more aware that current farming methods create proportionally excessive CO2 compared to alternatives readily available, they will begin to make immediate changes. Repeating hyperbole may only harden some and scare others.

      When was the last time you ate venison instead of beef? Or skipped cow’s milk cheese for goat cheese? They’re delicious alternatives we can enjoy right now and look, only needed framing to reduce methane emissions. Better marketing.

  6. Klaas says:

    Great article.

    I would like to add for the benefit of people of my generation, those over 60: the GND is in essence a moral plan, in the sense that it is trying to repair the future of those we have harmed, kids, grandchildren and future generations.

    Disregarding this looming disaster, sa journalists did in the 2016 presidential debates, or diminishing it without offering a credible alternative, as Howard Schultz did, seems deeply immoral.

    Denying climate change in face of all the evidence and thereby negating the need for a plan to address that, is amoral. You might as well throw your kids and grandkids in deep water without learning them to swim.

    That is also the way we should characterize climate change avoiders and deniers in the coming elections: basically immoral and amoral people.

    • Pete says:

      Being a moral thing reminded me that, in the Democracy Now link I provided above Dahr makes comment on his interview/experience with people.

      Let me not do it justice here.

      Speaking broadly and not of any specific individual (like anyone here) Americans if not Westerners writ large talk in terms of being born with rights – to natures bounty.  Recall the whole Manifest Destiny thing. Heck, even the New Testament mentions dominion over the animals if not the Earth.  Corrections welcome – I’m not all that formal religious.

      But Dahr’s comment on indigenous people suggest they think more in terms of responsibility if not obligations to take care of that which has been given to them at birth.  Rights to take versus responsibility and obligations to conserve that which sustains us.

      This Pink Floyd song is often misunderstood as a love song.  It’s really a wake up call circa 1994.

  7. Jenny says:

    “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”  Cree Indian Proverb

    • Ckymonstaz says:

      Love this!

      great quote, never heard it before but as a fly fisherman I can attest to the damage we’re doing to our rivers and all the species who rely on them besides us

  8. Prometheus says:

    Many of us progressive democrats have been waiting for the Green New Deal for decades. Its about time! Economic democracy, decency and compassion instead of vicious, greedy, destructive corporatist capitalism. This is very exciting, and long overdue, moving the party to policies that protect people and the planet.

  9. Kick the darkness says:

    A good part about the green new deal idea, IMO, I think it provides a great unifying and internally consistent framework for a progressive vision for the country. More encompassing than a focus on just healthcare for example.

    However, especially in light of some of the other things Ed has been writing about regarding ideological frameworks, I think the green new deal document might be more successfully structured if the driving rationale was that growing income inequality made it increasingly impossible for the country to address and act on pressing environmental and social issues. Rather than the urgency of combating a pressing environmental calamity made it necessary to tackle income inequality and its related social problems. In other words, the green new deal flows from a set of values rather than a response to environmental danger. Kind of subtle maybe but I think it relates to the Lakoff framing stuff mentioned by Rayne earlier. (Any hard data that such re-framing actually works; that deep metaphorical connections can be circumvented by switching the language?). I think my comment is similar to the “moral” aspects brought up earlier, but for me values is the better term.

    Reading the green new deal thing made me come to a realization, with something of a start actually, and I thought I’d share it for what ever it is worth. There’s this site I post on that deals with climate stuff, and I have an antagonist that I have developed respect for. I’ve asked why does denial of anthropocentric climate disruption come packaged in the same swag bag as what are, to me, seeming unrelated issues like strident nationalism, gun rights, etc. Their answer was that you don’t see them as linked because deep down you don’t really understand my values. When I actually went through the items in the green new deal my realization was that it was, in fact, the green new deal was my own swag bag. The interconnection between all those things make sense to me, within the framework of my values. But I bet they would not make sense to this other person. “Your just trying to scare people into letting the government give away free stuff to people that don’t deserve it”. I’m pretty sure they would write something along those line, although they would undoubtably stick a sharper needle in it to get my goat. Different values/worldviews. Is one set moral and the other amoral? I don’t think I can make that judgement. In light of what Ed’s been writing about, are we in the thrall of different ideologies? Is the idea that the green new deal is effectively an alternative ideology to neoliberalism; that they are competing but equivalent constructs? I guess I can’t come to a decision on that.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Thanks for this insight. I’ve been thinking about ways to deal with people like your antagonist. Suppose you ask about specific points in the plan that should work across the board? For example, 4 N, requiring the government to  “ensur[e] a commercial environment where every businessperson is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies”.

      The analogy is to peeling an octopus off a glass tank: you have to pull off one sucker at a time. Thoughts?

      • Kick the darkness says:

        Thoughts?  Sure.  Good ideas?  Ha. Not so much.  There is this interesting book that specifically deals with climate change and the denial thereof in terms of ideologies, value sets, how people think.  George Marshall.  “Don’t even think about it: why out brains are wired to ignore climate change”.  For my antagonist and me, although we never stated it explicitly, I think we might  agree that our respective firewalls were along the lines of (me) the value of collective thought and action versus (them) individual control.  And I’d tack on that, somehow, individual control was inevitably threatened by collective action.  Don’t get that part but there it is.  I don’t go that site much anymore, but this was a rationale, thoughtful person and we agreed on particular things, as you are suggesting.  They got me to think about D-O events as natural instances of rapid climate warming for example.  But, ultimately, we could just not accept each others’ larger point of view.

        And its kind of what I don’t get overall.  If I have it right, political scientists, social scientists find that metrics scoring attitudes on social issues, economic issues, proclivity towards authoritarianism, etc form normal distributions.  If that’s not right it would be interesting for me to know.  yet we are fundamentally tribal creatures, we sort ourselves out.  So we’ve got to have some way of telling us from them, assuming that it really is not a built in feature.  Perhaps that is the ultimate social function of ideologies, to provide a basis for making those distinctions.  I remember when i was little my grandfather telling me that the best way to tell a Democrat was to see if they looked like a sissy walking across a field of cowpies.

  10. alaura says:

    Excellent post, thank you.

    My favorite part…”it insures that workers are protected from disruption, not with some phony job training program, but with real protection. Equally important, it insures that capital will not be able to grab vast profits or control adaptation for their cash benefit…

  11. Jim says:

    Hi Kick the Darkness

    I think the green new deal document might be more successfully structured if the driving rationale was that growing income inequality made it increasingly impossible for the country to address and act on pressing environmental and social issues. Rather than the urgency of combating a pressing environmental calamity made it necessary to tackle income inequality and its related social problems. 

    There are important economic relations between production and consumption here that can INCLUDE higher incomes & standard of living for ordinary people. At present economically, the political drive is to keep inequality high & rising (the neolib financial wealth agenda), creating links to stagnation of productive growth & output—growth and change that’s needed to tackle the transition to a greener economic life. Green productive growth & consumption is actually aided by rising (tho not infinite) income and spending for/on ordinary people. And obviously investment in green productive resources & a higher green standard of living must also be geared to reducing carbon. Producers and consumers must/will accept change that moves the economy towards this goal—difficult? A green improving quality of life includes better wages and services that can move people out of debt, and improve poor quality housing, clothing, food, education, unemployment, jobs and hours, ill health, lack of quality leisure etc. These improvements have inevitable constraints from lack of available resources, capacity and the carbon goal itself, tho these are not insurmountable over time.  Changes in investment, spending, with an improving quality of life, consumption and services are likely to be popular with many ordinary people. And people will accept constraints. Will rentiers & fossil fuel-lovers? Maybe not.

    • Kick the darkness says:

      I agree with you and I hope you are right about there being a large acceptance for, say, a more collective approach towards health care or elements of the green new deal.  during those town meetings early on when the Republicans were gunning for the ACA, there were a lot of people who showed up to voice their concerns.  If I was a Democrat running in 2020 I think I would listen to recordings of those meetings very carefully.  Not just what those people had to say but how they said it.

  12. Anon says:

    In effect the Green New Deal also makes something else much more explicit. Up until now even well-intentioned Dems have argued that we can just have more of the same but with solar panels. This makes it explicit that a real plan has to blow well past reusable shopping bags and priuses.

  13. e.a.f. says:

    The Green New Deal makes sense.  It will of course come as a huge shock to a certain class of Democrats.  However, they and their money can move to the Republican party.   A Green New Deal will require the involvement of the largest political party in the U.S.A.:  those who do not vote.   This maybe the last chance for the U.S.A. to make chances to help their country survive and thrive.

    Communities know what will work within their areas.  Locally driven decisions will work.  They don’t need a Koch and such to determine how they will live.  It hasn’t worked out so far.  The days of environmental disasters need to be over.   Even for those who don’t believe humans cause climate change, they may want to look at it this way, if the climate is changing on its own, humans need to ensure every square inch of land remains in good condition to grow food and every pint of water needs to remain clean so humans and animals can drink it.

    Americans are/ have been very inventive and entrepreneurial.  There is no reason these qualities can not be used in a new Green economy.   This can then be used as an example to other countries such as India or continents like South America and Asia.

    Chemical plants kill people.  So do the chemicals.  Many are not required for a healthy environment.  Things need to change and so do attitudes.  Cities can be made much more liveable for every one, not just the very rich.  Some may argue its going to violate their Constitutional rights.  However, the Constitution talks about pursuit of happiness.  Why can’t all Americans be happy, not just those who can afford it.  Having seen a few pictures on how people have to live in HUD housing and military housing.  I can’t say those people are happy.    Why do some have to live in deplorable conditions in one of the richest countries in the world?

    All people need a decent health care system.  It makes for a happier population.  Never having to wonder how you’re going to pay for your medical expenses is a huge relief.  How do I know?  Because at one time Canada did not have the health care system it does now and even as a child I knew adults would be worried not about loosing a job but the health care plan which went with it.   From what I have read, the majority of home foreclosures in the U.S.A. are due to health care costs.  What a savings to people if that didn’t happen.  The social disruption is huge when families loose their homes.

    So yes, Americans go for your New Green Deal!  Become the country you set out to be.

  14. Ken says:

    I’m one of the moderate Democrats being gently chided in the comments. To be clear, I’m not interested in becoming a Republican and I promise you I understand the vision being presented. However, there are two (2) aspects of this GND that are incredibly problematic to me as a moderate that are worth taking seriously by the more liberal elements of my Party as we move inexorably toward 2020:

    1. There’s a huge difference between putting forth a bold vision and promising pie in the sky. There are a minimum of 7 different initiatives in the GND that would require completely overhauling entire industrial / construction / financial / medical sectors. Any 1 of those 7 initiatives represent the equivalent of a manned space program or an interstate highway system.

    The ACA was enacted only 9 years ago with a Democratic House, Senate and Presidency and still barely passed and with many, many compromises, and as a result of its passing the House flipped fewer than 8 months later, then the Senate flipped 2 years later due to voter anger.

    The point being that we learned the hard way about political reality in the US by losing the political power to enact our goals and our first move after the 2018 elections is to put forth a program that is several orders of magnitude larger than the ACA? Why do we think this will put us into the position to win back power when everything we know tells us the opposite?

    2. AOC and Markey did themselves no favors in rolling this out. They inexplicably allowed an internal FAQ to be released as a blog post on AOC’s website that was even more bold / optimistic / unrealistic than HR 109. Many who saw the FAQ did not see HR 109, and vice versa, leading to mass confusion and putting a wrench into what should have been a much smoother messaging strategy.

    Additionally, and worse, while the FAQ was eventually retracted after some truly amateurish spin control, many who read both came to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that the FAQ represented the true goals of we Democrats. In other words, HR 109, which would disrupt the United States on a scale never before seen, actually represents the internal compromise document.

    • bmaz says:

      Well, this is totally a sweet comment to weigh in with for your first time ever. Thank you! 

      Seriously, you would never want to enter this forum hoping for better things for the American public and our children’s lives. Hell no, of course not. Always swell to enter with some jackass crap about how we can never have nice things because …. bullshit. Get out.

    • Ed Walker says:

      No one knows what moderates want or think. They just react negatively to the left of the party, deny that the serious  change we desperately need isn’t possible, and stick us with more centrist candidates who agree with them, proposing tweaks to the system that created the current problems with more or less support from both political parties. I hope you stick around; maybe read some of my earlier posts on neoliberalism, and try to understand why the future isn’t going to be like the past.

  15. P J Evans says:

    @bmaz February 17, 2019 at 8:04 pm
    Does he know that resolutions have no force? That they’re just a starting point?

  16. Thomasa says:

    The GND needs to happen. If nothing else it will create debate in both houses of congress. It’s about time. There is no time to lose. The solution requires an overhaul of society,including land use patterns to enable less transportation and major changes to agriculture. 

    The details will be argued at length unless, say, McConnell forces a vote on the floor without giving members time to consider it. That’s his current strategy. Make it a non-starter. 

    I hope Pelosi’s reticence re GND is strategic to prevent a Republican ploy and not a statement of values. If it’s values then she must be replaced. 

  17. Bobster33 says:

    At this point, I feel obligated to chime in with my version. Ten Year Ten Trillion Dollar Infrastructure program. A Trillion dollars is 10 million construction jobs and 16 million jobs overall. We need 4.4 trillion to upgrade our current infrastructure, 1.1 trillion to harden our utilities, 2.2 Trillion for converting to a green economy and 1.1 Trillion for new infrastructure (high speed rails, etc.).

    We do this by scrapping the cap on wages, raising taxes to 73% on all incomes over $3 million and Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax.

    We start by making every military base net zero. Forcing the military to build field of solar panels, and wind turbines will make them energy independent. And they will fund the scientific development of new technologies. Finally, we are not cutting the military, we are changing its priority.

    As a final thought, imagine a wind turbine on a superfund site with the revenue funding the clean up of the site.

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