The Politics of The Green New Deal: Part 1

The Green New Deal starts with the recognition that drastic changes to society and the economy are necessary to cope with the dangers of climate change. I see two basic assertions behind the Green New Deal. First, it says that the pain and costs of restructuring the economy will not be borne by the working class, as has been the case in every other economic disruption. Second, as a nation we cannot allow capitalists to dominate our future. There is a lot to unpack in these two issues, so this is the first of a short series.

In the course of the first part of my neoliberalism project we saw the effects of capitalism on the working class*. This aphorism from Thucydides sums up human history nicely: “the strong do what they can and the poor suffer what they must”. We saw this in the history of the English enclosures discussed by Polany; the use of state militias to break strikes in the US; and in Foucault’s discussion of the way the state forced people into becoming good little factory workers, supervised closely, but largely self-governing, self-controlled.

Republicans have hated the New Deal since forever. The Democrats started cringing over it right after WWII amid Republican fear-mongering about Communists. The Democrats gave the capitalists their first win with the passage of Taft-Hartley in 1947 and their aggressive purge of every element of leftist thinking in their ranks. Liberals joined the Capitalist Celebration; they gradually embraced deregulation, and they did nothing to protect unions, the source of worker power. Democratic wonks became experts at explaining the virtues of the market and the evils of Big Government, and crafted ever more complicated solutions to the problems created by rampant capitalism.

It was with this mindset that the US confronted the biggest crisis facing the working class, globalization. Clinton and the Democrats embraced NAFTA, and so did Democratic wonks. Paul Krugman wrote an article for Foreign Affairs attacking unions for saying that NAFTA would cost US workers their jobs. Nonsense, said Krugman. The impact would be marginal, and the Fed would simply cut interest rates to keep the economy roaring; special bonus: job training programs. This mentality continued to dominate US politics and Democratic party wonks as manufacturing jobs vanished. The promised solutions didn’t work. Capitalists got rich, and the burdens were pushed off onto the working class and small towns across the country.

Here’s a recent defense of NAFTA from the Council on Foreign Affairs. It admits that NAFTA contributed to the decline of US manufacturing jobs, but ignores what happened to the fired workers. It claims that NAFTA provided benefits to the economy as a whole, without specifying who reaped those benefits. It adds this:

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says anxiety over trade deals has grown because wages haven’t kept pace with labor productivity while income inequality has risen. To some extent, he says, trade deals have hastened the pace of these changes in that they have “reinforced the globalization of the American economy.”

Translation: capitalists replaced well-paid manufacturing jobs with cheaper foreign labor, to their benefit and that of their corporations. They ignored the impact on workers, who lost their livelihoods, their insurance, and more. The impact of free trade with China is even greater, according to a recent study, and neither party lifted a finger to help.

The Green New Deal recognizes that climate change is going to create massive disruption, including staggering losses in economic output and damage to property and infrastructure. In the ordinary course of things, the costs of coping with these disruptions would be borne by the working class. After all, the entire point of capitalism is rising profits for capital, and if that imposes costs on the working class, so be it.

To meet the goals of the Green New Deal we will have to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Coal mining jobs are already vanishing, and jobs in oil and gas production are next to go. The latter sector currently employs an estimated 2.1 million people directly and indirectly. Every one of those jobs lost in these and other fields will cost families their incomes, their health insurance, their physical and mental well-being, and their hope of retirement security. Their home lives will be damaged as they cope with unemployment. Marriages will be lost, children will be injured, and elderly parents will be affected in their own financial security, and the pain of seeing the injuries to their children and grandchildren.

New jobs will be created, but where? If the jobs are far away, the unemployed will have to bear the cost and emotional drain of moving. It’s especially difficult for older workers, and the strains of moving teen-agers adds another layer of difficulty. For some, moving will be a positive, an opportunity to start over. But for many others, it’s the loss of a sense of place, the connection to the people and places in which they are comfortable.

One critical roblem is the loss of a home. Home ownership has decreased from 68.6% to 63.7% since the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, but for many Americans the home represents a significant part of family wealth. See Tables accompanying the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances, Tables 9.07, line 6, and 9.16 line 6 and line 89 et seq. If there is mass migration to new jobs, there will be substantial losses of wealth for many families. To the extent people are forced to move from areas with low-cost housing to high-cost housing, there will be financial difficulties.

The Green New Deal says that we need to deal with these problems directly, not through some complicated 60 point plan relying on some newly created market or capitalists, but by direct government intervention. Section 4.5 requires the government to direct :

… investments to spur economic development, deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies, and build wealth and community ownership, while prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline and vulnerable communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries;

Section 4.15 directs the government to provide

…all people of the United States with—
(i) high-quality health care;
(ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing;
(iii) economic security; and
(iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.

Taken as a whole the Green New Deal rejects the neoliberal program of protecting capital at all costs, in favor of putting people and the planet first.

* I’m going to use the term working class in this series, because as I see it, the conflict is between the working class and the capitalists. In general, by working class I mean everyone who must sell their labor in order to eat. I’ve been in the habit of using the term “workers” but I’m tired of euphemisms. This definition covers a wide range of incomes, but it’s stupid to pretend that middle class people living paycheck to paycheck or people with much higher incomes who have little wealth have interests that are differentiable in any meaningful way. The Fed says that 40% of US households could not pay for an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing or selling an asset. The most recent Survey of Consumer Finances (2016) says that the conditional mean value of retirement accounts for the group with income between the 50th and 90th percentiles is $157K, from which I’d estimate median net financial wealth for that group is in the range of $300K. That means they have to keep working. I’d guess that most of the people in the top 10% of wealth could mostly make it if they were forced out of work, but certainly not all of them. They may think of themselves as wealthy because they own real estate and financial assets, and they may identify with the truly wealthy more than the working class; but I see it their real interests are aligned with those of the working class, because if that group fails, their wealth will be worthless.

64 replies
  1. Badger Robert says:

    My memory is not everything it should be, but I recall the government and the taxpayers bailed out the capitalists and the speculators about 10 years ago. In my way of thinking the debt is about due. But I hardly feel like a socialist. We need an FDR, so we better get busy and build one.
    The workers compete with each other. I suspect without nationalist wars, they begin to see that workers have more in common with other workers, than they do with owners.
    The Green New Deal just needs some arithmetic.
    Thanks for bringing this up.

  2. Peterr says:

    A word I hope to hear every time the Green New Deal is discussed is “externalities.”

    These are the costs that someone incurs because of actions taken by someone else. Perhaps the easiest example to understand is the cost of pollution. If a manufacturer is making all decisions based on the corporate bottom line, then it’s financially better for them to dump waste products into a river and push the costs of cleanup onto someone else (downstream users, society as a whole, etc.) rather than paying the cleanup costs themselves. The economic solution to externalities is to push them back onto those who created the costs in the first place, which typically means government regulation — which is why the business-dominated GOP is so anti-regulation. Lobbyists pushing to gut regulations are doing so in order to protect the externalities that benefit their industries.

    This is also where globalization comes in. While the relative low wages are part of the attraction of globalization for Western businesses, so too is the ability to work in lightly regulated areas that allow them to externalize costs of manufacturing. But the developing world is catch on, and beginning — ever so slowly — to push back. From National Geographic:

    For more than 25 years, rich countries shipped their plastic trash to poorer Asian countries, many of them developing nations lacking the capacity to manage such waste.

    China alone took in the lion’s share—45 percent of the world’s plastic waste imports. Then at the start of this year, it refused to take more, citing local environmental concerns. China’s move threw the recycling industry into turmoil as nations scrambled to find new buyers.

    China’s withdrawal as the world’s repository for plastic waste also laid bare the notion that all that disposable plastic you conscientiously put into your taxpayer-financed recycling bin was actually being recycled. It was cheaper to crush unwanted plastic into bales and send it across oceans than to transport it at home by rail or truck. Now, with China’s door closed, much of that recycled plastic is likely ending up at your local landfill. China’s new policy could displace as much as 111 million metric tons of plastic waste by 2030.

    Because climate change is a global issue, there can be no solution that simply pushes the problem onto some other part of the world. The notion that “I can burn more fossil fuel, because the costs of doing so are spread so thinly on everyone else that they don’t matter” can no longer be tolerated. If climate change is to be meaningfully addressed, that means confronting externalities, accounting for their costs rather than assuming we can just shove them off on someone else with no cost to ourselves.

    I long for the day when “globalization” is not embraced by the business community because it means they can exploit lesser-developed countries, but instead it is feared because it means that the global community is united in forcing businesses to own all the costs of their business practices, rather than pushing the worst of them off on the rest of the world.

    • Greytourist says:

      Hear, hear. Thorough accounting for all inflows and outflows should be the basis of the quantitative aspects of business decisionmaking and product production. A somewhat more squishy form of this is needed to assess issues of social equity and agency (“Gross Domestic Happiness”, to exemplify a somewhat derided metric). There is one organization that has been working this angle for 45 years now. Though unabashedly willing to use the levers of capitalism and free markets, Rocky Mountain Institute has been pushing – from a highly quantitative and engineering perspective – the benefits of holistic energy systems. It pisses people off because it’s willing to work with such actors as Walmart, the Defense Department, China, and other nation-states because it knows that these entities can change whole sectors of the world economy simply by implementing profitable measures within their own organizations.
      We’re already seeing what these approaches deliver in our direct competitors. Some are autocratic states, others democracies with a longer term perspective than our own.
      At some point, though, these evolutionary methods will stall. Probably soon. Then we have to return to the moral imperatives to transcend capitalism. At least corporate capitalism.

      • Peterr says:

        Call me crazy, but I think the DoD may be the hidden source of support for the GND. They have gamed out the effects of climate change, and don’t like what they see at all. Changes in water flows, changes in arable/non-arable land, and changing coastlines have major implications for famine/drought, mass migration, and — most of all — chasing after diminishing/changing resources are the fuel for the warfare of the 21st century.

        If there are ways of mitigating any of these things, short of dropping bombs and sending in divisions of troops, the DoD will get behind it in a big way.

        • P J Evans says:

          I don’t think you’re crazy. The people who are trying to ignore that coming disaster – they’re the ones who are crazy.

        • TooLoose LeTruck says:

          And I will whole heartedly second that thought.

          Every day I am saddened, frightened, and infuriated by what I see going on around me, all in the name of profit.

          Apparently you can never make too much money, too fast… and all other concerns be damned!

        • Greytourist says:

          I do think that the military would be behind portions of the GND. But don’t think that the military is structurally set up to embrace the antihierarchialist ethos that underpins the GND.

          Personally, I believe that we only survive long term if we transcend the plutocratic mess we’ve put ourselves into (again) and figure out how to quantitize “7th generation” decision making into our economics. It starts with empowering those who don’t necessarily have wealth to do their talking for them.

        • Anon says:

          To hear Major General Smedly Butler tell it the military is simply a tool of oppressive capitalism. And even more recent actions like the assault on the Bonus Army make that plain. That said the DoD does nothing so much as plan and it is significant that many of their plans for the future sound as green as the Green New Deal, and far too green for the comfort of the executive or legislative branches’.

          My bet is that when push comes to shove they will disagree on the scope of the problem and be agnostic on the methods so long as those methods keep their budgets and those of their suppliers’ intact.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Many thanks, Ed. An articulate and much needed starter for a long discussion.

    Capitalism in its neoliberal form has made tremendous inroads into the culture and society at large. That has moved the fifty yard line much nearer the capitalists’ goalpost than it was during FDR’s time. Corporations and their major owners have been waging class warfare ever since. Ed notes the important milestone of the passage of the 1947 Taft Hartley Act, which gutted the rare major legislative victory by labor: 1938’s Fair Labor Standards Act. Taft Hartley was important as a sign that business had cast off its supposed war-imposed restratints, as an expression of a major anti-labor victory, and as a banner for the right’s all-out war on the left, expressed in McCarthy’s witch hunts.

    The political success of neoliberalism is often regarded as starting with Lewis Powell’s 1971’s memo for the Chamber of Commerce, written the same year that Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court. Powell had spent his career as a corporate lawyer and tobacco lobbyist in Richmond.

    But Powell’s thesis summarized an existing consensus. His thesis was that business corporations had to take a much larger, more aggressive and conservative role in politics than ever, if they were to protect their interests from the democratic progressive movements unleashed during the 1960s. Lobbying – a convenient expression for corporate activity that overtly fund election campaigns, did the work of legislators, and thereby controlled government – took off under Reagan in the 1980s, and mushroomed under the Bush/Cheney regime.

    Every revolution needs an army and every court needs its courtiers. In the case of neoliberalism, they are drawn from economics and business school faculties and the so-called law and economics faculties at law schools. Their members have metastasized into non-traditional business forms, such as foundations, health care, education, and the think tanks that have erupted since the Powell Memo.

    Yves Smith has written a marvelous essay describing this development, “Is a Harvard MBA Bad For You?” []

    “[T]he problem is bigger than the Harvard MBA, or even MBAs generally. The underlying problem is increasingly mercenary values in society, and the rising popularity of MBA programs was more a symptom than a cause….[D]uring the 1980s…societal values moved in a big way towards valuing profits and markets over relationships and communities. This in turn was the product of a long-running, well-funded effort by then extreme right wingers to undo the New Deal and make prevailing views in the US more friendly to Corporate America. The strategy for that project was set forth in the 1971 Powell memo.”

    Smith, a Harvard MBA from the early 1980s, makes a stark point. It is in sharp contrast to the utilitarian educations many millions of Americans are being propagandized to pursue: “[H]aving more MBAs out there doing whatever they do is probably a bad thing because studying economics…makes people less compassionate, and MBA logic is economic logic with a little less jargon.”

    • InfiniteLoop says:

      The argument that economic logic and compassion cannot coexist devalues and demonizes all of science by implication. We’ve always needed to apply morals to determine “should we” rather than “can we”. That’s a limitation, not a flaw.

      The fact that economics has nothing to say about “good” or “fair” does not make it a less useful tool for evaluating incentives and efficiency.

      If we actually want to realize a society where the global costs of client change accrue to the wealthy and not the workers, I’d much rather see us employ solid economic logic in the pursuit of non-traditional outcomes than throw policies out there and hope.

      • Ed Walker says:

        Perhaps you could explain what you mean by “solid economic logic”. My reading on the subject, much of which is described in my archive, is that solid economic logic is what got us here. As a simple example, economists solidly supported deregulation of the financial sector, and claimed their logic supported that decision.

        • InfiniteLoop says:

          In broad strokes, I mean a systematic application of principles. It’s possible to apply principles incorrectly or incompletely, of course, or towards an immoral end. Policymakers have done plenty of both.

        • jonf says:

          OTOH solid economic analysis would always have us on balanced budgets or even surpluses as Clinton was fond of bragging about. I think Larry Summers was recently boasting about that sort of thing and telling us in his sternest to stay away from MMT. But we know such nonsense leads to taking money out of the economy and leading to recession. So perhaps economists are not always right or they … er kind of shade things their way. Thankfully the GND will rely on the likes of Stephanie Kelton for economic advice.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yves accurately describes a cultural phenomenon, not an analytical one. You are right that economists can hold divergent views, Stephanie Kelton and Bill Black, for example. But Black recounts being explicitly warned that he might never receive his PhD at Michigan if his views fell outside orthodox ones. Such screening continues for life. Rigidity is useful to police norms and excise competition.

        Neoliberalism, like its precursor, Social Darwinism (which was neither social nor Darwinian), enshrines ruthless selfishness as an intellectual, economic, and moral good. Its purpose is to reinforce and reward the behavior patterns of its patrons, and to remove the cultural standing of competing arguments. By tossing them outside the Overton Window, as socialism was by the end of the Second World War, polite society can no longer discuss such ideas, on pain of losing ones reputation and employability.

      • Mainmata says:

        I’m an economist who has spent his career using economic tools and analysis to support environmentally sustainable policies and practices (and more recently also applying these to climate change adaptation and renewable energy). So there is no inherent reason that economics can’t be used for the public interest. (I hesitate to use the word “moral” in this context because the conservatives have politicized the concept for their own cynical purposes. But I understood what you meant.) In fact, economic concepts have been very important to environmental and climate policy analysis. For example, the discussion above about the need to internalize externalities is an environmental economic discussion.

    • Peterr says:

      Please don’t confuse those who study economics and those who study business. They are related, obviously, but hardly the same. As one economics prof once told me, “Economists seek to understand how the system works – business folks seek to understand how to make the system work for them.”

      An MBA and a PhD in economics are two very different things. Sadly the PTB seem to be more enamored with the rather than the latter, and we’re all paying the price for that. As for me, I’ll take a Nobel laureate Dale Mortenson over a millionaire MBA any day of the week.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        You might be overstating the distinction. My observation is that some economists, such as those at Koch-funded economics faculty departments, like their counterparts who research food or chemicals for BigAg or tobacco-related diseases for Big Tobacco , are happily engaged in making the system work for their patrons.

        As Bill Black’s experience illustrates, economists are also stringently filtered for orthodoxy (not a dynamic limited to economists). Methods include restricting access to graduate programs and funding for them for the orhodox, the inability of the unorthodox to obtain mentorships and recommendations for teaching posts at top-tier schools, rejection of the non-orthodox from teaching posts at such schools and their inability to obtain tenure, and restricted access to the few top journals in a field where publication is essential to promotion.

        • Peterr says:

          #notalleconomists . . . ?

          Fair enough. Even so, though, there is a very strong difference in approach between these two fields of study. An MBA is a professional degree, not an academic degree like a masters or PhD in economics.

          For an MBA, and unlike an econ PhD, there are no math requirements, no language requirements, and no comprehensive exams to show an understanding of the breadth of the field. Pick a major university and pull up the website for the graduate program in economics in one tab and the MBA program in another tab, and compare the two courses of study. No matter what school you pick, the content that appears on these two tabs will be very, very different from each other. The prof I quoted simply reduced the content of those two tabs to a single sentence.

    • Anon says:

      That is a sound point. But I would argue it starts a hell of a lot earlier that Harvard. A good friend of mine paid off her college loans working as a business consultant. One of the perks the company offered was a chance to help underprivileged schools by sending consultants into the schools to teach part time. The material … the basics of finance and a sound economy, for grade schoolers. In the end I think the neoliberal training was as much for the junior consultants as it was for the kids, and both got a hit of kool-aid out of the deal.

      Indoctrinate early and indoctrinate often.

  4. Andrew Wson says:

    Very crisp, focused essay. Thanks.
    Labor mobility and its costs have been a concern of mine for decades, and your remarks on the dislocation of relocation hit the big snags. Coming back to housing, how is the working class going to recover the value in their homes after it disappears along with their jobs? Another run of the ’07-’08 scam, it seems to me.
    The Bank bailout off the ’07 crash is just the most recent of the many I remember. Didn’t we bail out GM & Chrysler at some point, too? We never stop bailing IN to Raytheon, Northrop-Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed, GenDyn, etc., etc., etc. and it looks like Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet have moved into the neighborhood, too. Whaddya mean, Banana Republic corruption??? Who taught them how to cheat, after all?
    You have accurately called the climate a class issue. Marx identified the working class on two vectors:
    (1) Progress for the working class only comes with general improvement in the condition of humanity
    (2) Only the working class can throttle capitalism by withholding its labor.
    ……..”Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your planet.” Just sayin’……..

  5. oldpaint says:

    Capitalism needs to be treated differently today because it is different. I wonder what portion of “capital” today goes into financial gimmickry that produces nothing other than more wealth for the “capitalists”? Monopolies also are different beasts. Price gouging is an issue (big pharma) but more important is sheer concentration of power (Facebook, Google and Amazon). Thank you, Ed Walker, for your contributions to a rational conversation. I look forward to more.

  6. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Interesting times.
    IMVHO, the GND will offer more viable employment, to more people, in a more evenly distributed fashion, than what we’ve seen since the creation of the Industrial Age.

    • Mona Williams says:

      Yes. The Federal Job Guarantee, one of the pillars of the GND, will provide locally useful, federally-funded jobs at a living wage. The living-wage part means it will also act as a wage stabilizer. Underpaid, badly treated workers will have a place to go, and private employers will have to up their offers to get them back. No more “useful army of the unemployed.”

  7. Star_Rover says:

    Our planetary capitalism has had only a rather brief run, obviously it is not sustainable, and if continued as configured appears to be suicidal.

    Thus, if UFO’s exist, i.e. space faring life of some nature, could they possibly have come from a capitalist planet … and could humanity as currently organized ever do such?

    In speculative futures, economics is seldom addressed … maybe for cause.

  8. Kick the darkness says:

    As an interesting exercise, superimpose a heat map of US CO2 emissions with a county breakdown of the results from the 2016 election. Foci of US emissions clearly concentrate on Clinton counties (obviously, large urban areas). So, if the driving force behind the green new deal is reducing US emissions to combat AGW, local infrastructure projects and technological patches sold to Democratic-leaning voters could conceivably be quite effective. Particularly, with respect to commuter emissions for example. That’s good news. But such measures are not necessarily ideologically transformative in the way the green new deal envisions. Sustainable societies, economies and democracies lie at the root of it-a long term moral imperative. So I think it might be helpful for the green new deal to distinguish between what we can do immediately ($ -> projects) from who we want to be in the long run. It would add a certain immediacy and visibility to get the ball rolling. Both are necessary.

    • Pete says:

      I agree. But immediately was yesterday and perhaps as far back as Carter putting solar panels on the WH if not before.

      McConnell said he will call a vote on GND and it will likely not pass. If immediately was yesterday circa 1977-1981 then it gets no better in 2020 assuming Dems win all three branches – leaving aside the entrenched conservative SCOTUS. “Effective” action starting in 2020-2022 is…

      I do NOT want to be pessimistic and yet…

      I forget where I read it, but “selling” the GND as a wealth generator, GDP enhancer, jobs maker, etc has been talked about, but doesn’t that assume the adoption of the very capitalistic “ills” being discussed here?

      Aside from a general concern about future generations, I have a 3 and 5 year old grand daughters so like many have a direct very stake in this though I will likely be long gone by then.

      • Kick the darkness says:

        Yeah, I try to think of optimism and pessimism in a ying/yang kind of way. The glass is both half full and half empty at the same time. I have a 14 year old teen that shows me all the adult places I hide my cynicism, and a 6 year old, that, like all kids, is a garden of hope. A clear eyed look at the trends suggests we probably won’t make too much of a short term dent in CO2 emissions. All the modeling in terms of how that plays out in human affairs, however, makes lots of inter-dependent assumptions, and is not carved in stone. So there is hope in that. Since I was thinking of the Sand County Almanac this morning, here is another quote: “We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve, but to strive.”

    • Kick the darkness says:

      I should add that on line you can find that others have drilled down into this data. For emissions/household, the urban spikes encompass suburban areas that are not necessarily “blue”. So the local politics are complex. But I still think there is lots of CCC-esque infrastruture stuff that could get off the ground quickly, prioritized on a carbon footprint basis. Like the promises of convenient light-rail access to LAX, for example. Please…

  9. e.a.f. says:

    Many highly paid workers don’t think of themselves as working class. Its a big mistake, because they’re disposable. . As some old timers used to say, in tough times you can get half the working class to kill the other. The Democrats aren’t much better than the Republicans when it comes to workers. In Canada, the federal Liberals are only marginally better than the federal Conservatives. What has made the difference in Canada is the N.D.P. which has forced the federal liberals to implement health care and C.P.P. back in the day.

    Globalization has worked well for corporations, workers not so much because in many cases they don’t get to move, only the money. The migration of people from Northern Africa to Europe has been mainly, in my opinion, the fault of European and North American corporations. Then they get upset when the victims show up on their front door. this is much the same in the U.S.A. They created the problem in Central America, now the people are on their front steps.

    Corporations are not going to take a New Green Deal laying down. They have killed before to keep their money and they’ll do it again.

    Climate change needs to be address and when the rest of those oil industry jobs go there will be enough unrest to go around. A green new deal, if its anything like the recycling thing, its a con job. they shipped all the shit to China or put it in the dump if they couldn’t get a decent price for it. if we are truly going to have a New Green Deal, all countries need to start by dealing with their own garbage and their own re cycling. In my opinion the American population is too large for a Green New Deal to work and in Canada we’re too large geographically.

    • NorskieFlamethrower says:

      “Many highly paid workers don’t think of themselves as working class.”

      And that “middle class” disdain for the very term “working class” corresponds to the dismantling of unions and the rise of neoliberalism. My father was an English teacher and worked from the late ’40s and through the ’70s for unionization of public education and it was the refusal of a majority of working teachers to recognize that they in fact were working class that held the majority of teachers from organizing and making common cause with the all other workers. Here in Wisconsin it is sad and depressing to see how fast the fascists were able to purge the generation of teachers who had experienced the success of unionization by simply scaring them into retirement as they systematically dismantled one of the best public education systems in the country. My wife was one of the 10’s of thousands of victims of this political warfare and has ended up teaching prospective teachers at a local university long after her “retirement” for less than she made in the last years she taught elementary kids. What has happened to public education in this state is horrifying.

      • e.a.f. says:

        When you talk about “middle class” in economic terms, in Canada you’re talking about all the Unionized teachers, fire fighters, nurses, paramedics, police officers, custom and immigration officers, doctors, federal, provincial, municipal workers.

        In British Columbia, teachers are a powerful union. They go on strike for things like smaller class sizes. When the government decided to legislate some thing else it went to the Supreme Court of Canada and the Teachers Union won. Although there has been an increase in private schools, its not nearly like the American system. We have very wealthy neighbourhoods where all the kids go to public schools. Unions in Canada, have over the years, helped each other out, i.e. a big expensive strike, other Unions, lent money and not a small amount. They have understood, we all hang together or we all hang. In B.C. we had a government which tried to turn the tables, and make it harder to unionize, etc. but the big unions were in the public sector and those workers knew, no union, no job, no decent salary.

        In my opinion, for a Green New Deal to work, Unions need to be involved. Perhaps because historically Canada was more European in attitudes, we did better with Unions and there wasn’t the “individual” thing that we see in the U.S.A. We were also “blessed” with a lot of British trade unionists over the past 100 years.

        What happened in Wisconsin was truly beyond my comprehension. How did the citizens let it happen? I understand legislation was passed to do the dirty work, but there really wasn’t the public support for teachers that we’ve seen here in B.C. Teachers in B.C. all make, after 10 yrs. experience $88K and change, but in Alberta, our red neck province, they make $99K and change. that’s with a Bachelor of Education. More degrees, more money. Its why some teachers invest in a Master Degree, during the summer. It helps with the pension in the end. Oh, right all of these jobs have good pensions. It keeps the economy afloat in the bad times. Ah the last time I checked B.C. was still short of teachers, especially French immersion and teacher’s aides. Teachers aides make approx. $17 to $18 an hr. No degree required. it has benefits and pension. health care, complements of the government.

  10. Michael says:

    I noticed that the part of the National Geographic article that @Peterr quoted doesn’t include the very disturbing fact that some villages, towns and cities now face suddenly unaffordable plastic recycling costs and are responding by paying the lower cost of *burning* plastic. Read: don’t believe reports that say plastics that used to go to China now go into landfills. Tons of it gets burned in the U.S. nearly every day.

    I had to stop drinking soda about 12 years ago. I drank very little of it so quitting was easy, and not having to deal with empty 2-liter bottles was a benefit too. But about 18 months ago I was introduced to sucralose-sweetened, flavored carbonated water. My consumption started at two 1-liter bottles per week, but within 2-3 months I was drinking about five bottles per week. Insidious! I was drinking “healthier” fizzy water but was generating even more plastic waste than what had resulted from infrequent 2-liter soda bottles. Not acceptable.

    And another thing. That article’s statement, “It was cheaper to crush unwanted plastic into bales and send it across oceans than to transport it at home by rail or truck.”, begs the question: how did all that plastic destined for China travel to America’s sea ports, if not “transport[ed …] by rail or truck”? Magic?

    • e.a.f. says:

      What I don’t get is why provincial/state governments just don’t out law plastic bottles, go back to glass bottles, have a recycling fee on them, like we do on plastic and recycle all that glass. provides jobs and keeps the environment a bit tidier. I tend to purchase things in glass bottles, because it keeps better. Plastic, you loose the fizz faster. Maybe time to write my Green representative in the legislature. Of course corporations are going to scream, but let them scream.

  11. Bay State Librul says:

    Silent Spring reborn in the spring of 2019.

    Rachel Carson and Thomas Merton would leap from their graves and applaud the Green Deal.

    Merton writes about Silent Spring: “… it is perhaps much more timely even than you or I realize. Though you are treating of just one aspect, and a rather detailed aspect, of our technological civilization, you are, perhaps without altogether realizing, contributing a most valuable and essential piece of evidence for the diagnosis of the ills of our civilization…. Your book makes it clear to me that there is a consistent pattern running through everything that we do, through every aspect of our culture, our thought, our economy, our whole way of life.”

    • Kick the darkness says:

      In addition to Silent Spring, another environmental movement manifesto that my dad plugged me into as a kid is Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. Published in 1949, right as the sharp uptick in atmospheric CO2 was just getting underway. In a quiet way, it is perhaps the more subversive of the two books, with much of the social critique that Merton speaks of baked in. Noticing that all the plug-in spaces were already taken at work this morning, this quote came to mind: “In out attempt to make conservation easy, we have made it trivial”.

  12. ken melvin says:

    In Chicago they increased water rates to pay for civil retirements. Pre the new economy, after centuries of adjusting to the industrial revolution, the funding for infra-structure, pensions, health care, education, housing, … everything had come to be based on a industrial economy with lots of industrial workers. Who would have thought that automation, off-shoring, … would effect: infra structure, pensions, health care, education, housing, … ? Who would have thought?

    Who needs thought when we have the invisible hand? All we need do is make the requisite sacrifices to the gods market and capitalism.

  13. RWood says:

    Ed, this is excellent.

    My first thought is what it will take for this to move forward. Without a Dem, or likewise Independent, President, backed by a blue House and Senate, it will never arrive. But by rolling it out now, along with HB-1, the House are wisely giving us all a picture of what the prize will look like. If you look closely, you might just call the two proposals “Hope and Change”.

  14. ken melvin says:

    Tip of the Iceberg

    Around the world, the poorest live on marginal land; land where, whether due the shortness of the growing season, frequent flooding, lack of moisture, poor quality of the soil, temperatures, altitude …, it is difficult for them, even in the good times, to eke out a living. (The history of how is it that they come to live on these lands is the stuff of anthropology.) These marginal areas may cover large portions of a nation, whole nations, parts of many nations, … Due to lack of rainfall, much of the land mass of Asia is marginal at best, so, much of North America’s west and North Africa. In these regions, the scant populace gathers around what water is to be found.

    A marginal land area lacking normal rainfall might know years, years in a row, of above normal rainfall and see its inhabitants prosper. Such years would encourage them to hang on and keep trying in the dry years. With the advent of Climate Change, many of these areas have seen ever less rainfall. For them, it is no longer possible to eke out a living, to hang on. Cliven Bundy’s 160 acres next to a water source wasn’t big enough to run cattle. For ranching, he rented tens of thousands of acres of nearby BLM land; land where a cow might need graze as many as 35 acres in order to eke out a living. Disputing with the government agency; Bundy refused to pay the rent, didn’t even bother to remove his cattle.

    These BLM lands, marginal at best, had long been overgrazed (the Great Salt Lake Basin was grassland before it was overgrazed into a dessert by the early Mormon settlers. With historical rainfall, their restoration would have required years of restricted access. Restriction meant no ranch for ‘ranchers’ like Bundy. Global warming and associated Climate Change hit the BLM areas of the west hard. Increased temperatures, and decreased rain and snow falls were evident by 1950; 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade of record with more forest, brush, and grass fires. The ‘Marginal’ BLM grazing lands were no longer marginal; cattle, having to walk too far to get enough to eat, could no longer even survive on these lands. These lands were now overpopulated with cattle.

    Climate Change and drought played a major role in the Syrian uprising of 2011. The 2005-2011 drought was a result of changing rainfall/seasonal patterns. The prolonged drought, much attributable to Climate Change, brought increased focus on government policies.

    As mentioned, much of North Africa is marginal land. No accident that these areas, along with Syria, experiencing extended worst droughts in 900 years are the source of Europe’s current immigration crisis. No doubt the droughts are Climate Change related.

    In northern Asia, Mongolia, an always marginal land, is seeing decreased pastures from Climate Change induced drought. How will the traditional nomadic herdsmen adapt? What of their neighbors to the East with similar lands and lifestyles? Historically sparsely populated but in balance with the land, Mongolia was now overpopulated.

    Some 3 million people inhabit Mongolia. 1.5 billion people inhabit the deltas of the Ganges, Indus, Yangtze, Mekong, and Red Rivers of Asia; rivers directly or indirectly fed by the snow pack of the Himalayas. Long considered rich growing areas, these areas, already marginal due to overpopulation, could be more like Mongolia if Climate Change changes/reduces the rain and snow fall on the Himalayas; which it almost certainly will. Where will these billion emigrants go?

    Overpopulation can cause a land to be marginal (the other side of becoming marginal, if you will). An all too common problem in Central and Latin America. Countries like El Salvador and Haiti, and the US territory of Puerto Rico are marginal because of overpopulation. There is no way for El Salvador to support its people.

    For people facing near certain starvation, assault or murder of themselves or their children, …, any other option appeals; risking ones life is an easy decision. How do you stop people willing to risk drowning, torture, … death?

    As Europe soon discovered, the onrush of immigrants was but the tip of the iceberg; taking them in was a positive feedback loop. Society needs think again how best to deal with these desperate souls. The US spent $Billions to help Columbia stem the flow of cocaine. Why not spent a few $Billions to alleviate the poverty and social unrest produced by Climate change in El Salvador? Why not spend a few $Trillion to slow, then reverse Climate Change? We can’t afford to do less.

    Marginal lands may be paired with a marginal government; governments marginal because of the economics of the nation, of corruption, of ineptness, …; governments that might collapse if stressed. Should the UN play a role; temporarily replace failed, corrupt, inhumane, inept,… regimes?

    In 2018, more than 22 million were displaced by climate change.

    • Star_Rover says:

      The bulk of global trade in foods, raw materials and other goods (ironically also fuels) moves on ships, and every port for such traffic is constructed to operate only within the current tidal range.

      An irreversable sea level rise of several feet, perhaps much more, is already cooked into our very near future regardless of any actions taken to address climate change.

      A few locales might adjust with great effort and expense, but can the vast body of human civilization realistically weather that degree of disruption to its circulatory system?

    • e.a.f. says:

      over population is a problem and then we have idiot countries which tie medical aid to these countries to no abortions, no birth control. Then they don’t want migrants arriving. As a friend’s father used to say, welcome them now, because if you don’t they will arrive and there will be no control. A decade or so ago, British Columbia had a ship arrive from Sri Lanka with a few hundred refugees. That was some surprise and some were quite outraged. They all got to stay. Now just think if they had a few hundred of those ships coming, what would a country do? what would city do? How are you going to stop it? You can’t kill them all.

      Now it might have been better if the world did something to hold the population down to 3/4 billions, but it hasn’t and that isn’t going to turn out well for the earth. When people ask me what I did for the environment, I simply respond, didn’t have kids and neither did the siblings. Once every one stopped laughing, the first time some one got up and said, yes that really did help.

      • Star_Rover says:

        The Earth’s human population must not continue to increase … nor can anything do so if a sustainble world is sought.

        The inherent flaw of capitalism is its necessity for growth (also the notion of property, but that Libertarian trope opens up too much for now) … which like cancer has only brief success.

        Sorting things out will be “weird ugly” (kudos prescient Walter_Map of the late NYT forums) … but you already knew that :·]

  15. jaango says:

    Congrats to Ed for the start of this series!

    Perhaps, I am a tad too jaded, especially when I focus on the political efforts that merge into today’s meme of “historians ignore history.” To wit, the enveloping demographics that will radically change my wonderful Sonoran Desert, will occur shortly. Hence, the next twenty years or so, and where today’s “racial and ethnics” become the “majority’ of our national population, and thusly, “fear” sells but even in a much larger measure.

    Consequently, the Department of Defense will become the gravitating feature that moves neoliberalism into its eventual demise along with the political right, and in particular the Republican Party. And in order to survive, consider that today’s 18 million military vets will come to accept the Academic-Military Draft. And had the AMD been implemented during the Bush/Cheney administration, instead of attempting to privatize Social Security, today, there would be over 30 million millennials–not only as military vets, but having accrued their four-year colleges degrees, from medicine and engineering and to law and the social sciences.

    Moreover, law enforcement stats of today, do not signify any level of crime among military vets, and thusly, incarceration facilities would be eliminated substantially, and to add to the overwhelming ‘externalities’ is that voter suppression would fall by the wayside and where “mandatory” voting would become the Hard Work, Self-Discipline and Ambition for achieving the finish line for success via self-empowerment as public policy. And until then, Chicanos and Native Americans will be waiting patiently for today’s “majority” to discard its “intentional ignorance and criminal stupidity.”

    Now, where is the Miltary Vet Movement located and which challenges today’s Neoliberalism?

  16. Joe Bob Franks says:

    I’ve been following what top-notch climate scientists have to say about energy and AGW related policy for a couple of decades. To me the interesting and odd part of the GND is that it reads more like a social justice laundry list/everything-including-the-kitchen-sink manifesto, rather than it being something that will promote action on CO2 mitigation and a rapid green energy transformation. I would much prefer to see action on CO2/Green Energy that is urgently needed, is currently supported by a large (and what will almost certainly be an increasingly large majority as CC impacts accelerate) of Americans, and which (hopefully) should be split off from the long laundry list of social justice agenda items that have next to nothing to do with the survival of modern civilization. IOW: Addressing AGW/green energy is akin to battling what is truly an existential threat that is arguably more significant and challenging than say defeating Hitler/Japan/etc. in WWII.

    These issues, each of which is part of the GND (each of which, I agree, should be addressed) aren’t nearly as pressing and certainly don’t present an existential threat for hundreds of millions, if not billions of people:
    -Wage stagnation since ~1980
    -Free secondary education for all Americans
    -Gender earnings gap
    -Decreasing power and influence of Unions and workers
    -Supporting family farming
    -Obtaining “free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect their traditional territories” (To me this explicitly requires indigenous Native Americans to consent to ANY decision made because the whole effing country is their traditional territory.)

    What is needed to mitigate CO2 is sane, forward thinking energy, environmental and transportation policy. Solar and wind power are, right now, cheaper than new coal or nuclear power generation. This while, right now, CAFE standards have been rolled back, car manufacturers are switching to making larger and less efficient vehicles, we’ve backed out of the Paris Climate deal, we have a pro-coal POTUS….so we’re talking about free college in what is supposed to be climate change legislation??? Seems to me the GND is satisfying to left wing purity fetishists and is functionally is “preaching to the choir” or for those who haven’t read the whole thing closely and believe it is exclusively a CC resolution.
    Here it is:

    (The Krugman Foreign Affairs link goes nowhere BTW)

    • Ed Walker says:

      Thanks, I’ll check the link.
      On your substantive point, I understand that position. In this post I state that in all prior economic disruptions, the costs are imposed on the working class. I assume you don’t disagree with that. From a political perspective, if we do that, we lose the support of huge numbers of citizens who will be seriously harmed. It’s just human nature to keep on rather than undergo massive and painful change. The Green New Deal rejects that approach.
      I’ll address other political reasons to support comprehensive change in future posts.

      • Troutwaxer says:

        I think the big deal here is that we need our focus to be on the “Green” part of the Green New Deal. The rest of it is because we need to have LGBT rights, fair Labor laws, fair taxation, ending racism etc., NOT BE part of the focus. So we fix all those issues at once, then go about saving the planet. We set strong LGBT rights (for example) in stone, in the same legislation which gives us the “Green” part. Then we stop worrying about those rights, because they exist now and aren’t going anywhere.

        Now we can worry about the Green parts to the exclusion of all else, because we’d like to have our species survive.

  17. Richard says:

    Block, Fred L., and Margaret R. Somers. The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. Harvard University Press, April 2014.

    • bmaz says:

      And what in the world does THAT mean?

      Do not just blithely drop links here without explaining them and giving context. Just do not do that, ever.

  18. gmoke says:

    The fastest growing job in the USA is solar installer. The second fastest growing job is wind energy technician. Neither of those jobs can be exported to another country as renewable energy is, be definition, local production or, Gandhi called it, swadeshi. (It is my firm belief that there is a solar swadeshi that could become the heart of satyagraha, soul force, in a nonviolent economy, a Gandhian economy but that’s a much longer conversation.)

    Why the Green New Deal backers are not trumpeting solar and wind job creation as a fact on the ground NOW is beyond me. There are also jobs in renovating old buildings to higher energy standards, the net zero energy building codes that are coming into law NOW in CA and the EU. A Dutch company, Energiesprong, has developed a method of net zero energy retrofit using factory-produced insulation panels for the walls and solar roofing panels for the roofs which they’ve installed in over 4000 houses in the Netherlands, over 600 houses in France, and have started programs in Italy, German, and now NY state. These, again, are jobs that are local and unexportable.

    Incidentally, Jimmy Carter’s energy plan in 1978 was to provide 20% of our energy from renewables by the year 2000 and to do energy upgrades on 90% of our houses by 1985. This was not on the basis of climate change but for energy independence. By completely quashing Carter’s energy impetus in 1980 Reagan killed us.

    Today, renewables, including hydro, comprise about 18% of USA energy. We are only about 20 years behind Carter’s schedule.

    PS: I have been working with two Harvard Business School alumni who have been trying for YEARS to get HBS to mobilize their alumni, their faculty, their students to do something much more effective on climate. This Spring, in conjunction with local radio station WBUR, the B School is doing a series of four events on climate change and business. Next year, they are planning a large conference on the subject. However, it is like moving frozen molasses to get them to do something real.

    I publish a free weekly listing of Energy (and Other) Events around Cambridge, MA that covers these things as listserv and webpage ( if anybody is interested.

    • P J Evans says:

      I think they’re assuming that everyone (but the far right and Tr*mp) sees the need for more renewable energy. (Besides which, what’s out there now as GND is proposals, not actual plans.)

      • gmoke says:

        “I think they’re assuming that everyone (but the far right and Tr*mp) sees the need for more renewable energy.”

        Not everybody, by a loooong shot, knows that solar installer and wind tech are the two fastest growing jobs in the USA and have been for the last few years. By publicizing this fact, supporters can cut the “Green New Deal is a job destroyer” critics off at the knees.

        “(Besides which, what’s out there now as GND is proposals, not actual plans.)”

        I think of the Green New Deal, so far, as less than proposals and more like a deadline but that’s just me. Pointing out that renewables as a job creation engine is already happening “bigly” (or big league) allows proponents to ground their proposals and lead towards actual plans.

  19. Joe Stewart says:

    I’ve been reading Joseph Stiglitz’ The Price of Inequality ( and his chapters explaining how we arrived at this state of gross inequality are well reasoned and well documented (he provides copious footnotes). I share the view that we need another New Deal but I’m aware of my own tendencies (confirmation bias, can’t stand people who spout off about trickle-down, etc), and worry that others on the opposite side of my point of view have far more money and are perfectly happy to spend that money electing like-minded people, slaves to trickle-down. I used to think I was an optimistic person, but now, not so much….

  20. fpo says:

    “The Habitable Planet” is an online resource for educators and others interested in environmental sciences. It includes sections devoted to Human Population Dynamics, Agriculture, Pollution and Climate Change, among others. It is an excellent primer – and more – for those who might benefit from getting up to speed on various aspects of this very complicated issue. Link here:

    Check the list of contributing scientists for a better sense of what’s available – the interviews are particularly helpful and informative. Link here:

  21. Badger Robert says:

    On the other hand 25% of the labor is not unemployed and none of these politicians advocating the GND is comparable to FDR. Roosevelt’s New Deal was not a walk in the park either. It took a long time to get the courts to accept the basics, and then the reaction set in as soon as Truman left office.

  22. Callender says:

    Congratulations to Ed on a good start. I look forward to the continuation. The “working class” term is an interesting point. As a former UAW member and official, and a son of an international representative, I can say that capitalists love to make people believe they aren’t “working class” when in fact they manifestly are.

    The fact that somewhere around 70 percent of Americans characterize their status as “middle class” is a good argument the middle class and working class don’t recognize their respective status. When 40 percent of Americans can’t raise $400 without extraordinary efforts we can infer the working class is larger and middle class smaller than people self identify. The point made upstream here about teachers being confused about their working class status is a well-made one.

    I can also testify the perils of globalization go back much further than NAFTA. I can remember the UAW fighting the Big 3 automakers on off shoring domestic auto manufacturing as far back as the middle 60s. We argued (accurately) that farming out the manufacture of an automobile at GM to Mexico, where pay was approximately 1/10 of prevailing North American UAW wages, DID NOT lower the selling price of the Mexican-made auto at all, much less 90 percent! We argued (accurately then and now) that fixed labor costs were in fact going down as far back as the early 60s, but retail costs weren’t. In other words labor costs as a percentage of overall costs were essentially a non-factor in the final sales cost – and the auto makers were fully prepared to gouge as much as possible. Learning this one fact was my hint I needed to find a new career.

    The past is prologue.

    One huge impact on the UAW agricultural implement industry was the Reagan 80-81 recession, the results of which cost me my job, displaced many thousands of my fellow UAW members through plant closings and lay offs. This industry wide disaster goes largely unreported even today. One big factor in this agricultural implement depression was the major impact on the farmers – who suffered through Volker’s high interest rates in the interest of holding down inflation (another way capitalists always win – inflation always takes precedence over job growth!

    Radical conditions warrant radical solutions. If republicans hate the GND as much as they hated (and still hate) FDR’s original, then fasten your seat belts.

    Thanks again, Ed.

  23. Tom says:

    I sometimes wonder how much air pollution & C02 emissions could be eliminated if we simply banned drive-thru banks, drugstores, coffee & doughnut joints, etc.

  24. Thomas says:

    The socialism that we have benefits the capitalism that we have. This is true of Social Security, food stamps, public education, and infrastructure spending, to give some examples.

    The Green New Deal really just updates this relationship and improves it, broadly speaking.

    The problem in our society is not capitalism or socialism, but rather, anti-republican and anti-democratic oligarchy. The corporate system is not capitalist, strictly speaking. It’s an anti-free market system that preserves aristocratic economic, legal, and political privileges for a tiny group of people who do not work to earn the massive fortunes they hoard.

    The 1% and even, arguably, the 10% would have to work thousands of lifetimes to earn the money they take from enterprises. They are stealing the money. If they are taking it and not earning it, they are stealing it.

    No corporation is a “private business.” No corporation exists without a government issued charter. Corporations are quasi governmental organizations.

    Over time, the false premise that individual persons or small groups “own” government power has crept into our culture, our laws, and our public institutions.

    Worse, two generations of this tiny elite have embraced the false conviction that they they have “right” to own government powers. This is the very essence of aristocratic oligarchy.

    Capitalism should be understood in terms of economic principles, and not anti-republican entitlement which is fundamentally unconstitutional in the USA.

  25. Eureka says:

    Thank you, Ed, for starting this GND series– and for framing it like the giant sigh of relief it would be for the people and planet to live, instead of perennially bearing the brunt.

    Peterr’s comment re externalities and Callender’s comment re manufacturing jobs vanishing in the Reagan ’80s (with failed job ‘re-training’ programs) also resonate with what I’ve seen in some industrial areas. Towns spoiled by industrial waste and gutted by factory closings now host many who are most susceptible to and supportive of Trumpian memes and propaganda.

    Hopefully the GND or its elements can help them transition out of the Fox-hole; I am optimistic by the polling numbers for ‘universal health care’ and ‘addressing climate change’ that at least some of the message will get through, or will be perceived as having been heard.

Comments are closed.