The Green New Deal: ephemeral or enduring?
Bob Sheak, December 25, 2018
A Green New Deal
The idea of a green new deal has been brought to public attention in recent months by a draft resolution proposed by Rep-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Sunrise Movement and the left-wing political action committee Justice Democrats. Ocasio-Cortez has just been elected in November to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent New York’s 14th congressional district, including Queens and the Bronx.
They have offered a “draft text” of a green new deal for the consideration of the House leadership when Democrats take control of that branch of government in January 2019. And, as reported by Sierra Club’s Heather Smith, Ocasio-Cortez has already “participated in a sit-in at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office organized by a group of young people with the Sunrise Movement to promote the plan (https://www.sierra.org/sierra/what-green-new-deal-anyway-alexandria-ocasio-cortez). There were 150 people at the protest.
The Plan – the general and preliminary details
The crux of proposal by Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators is the creation of a “Select Committee For a Green New Deal” and the identification of broad and transformative objectives dealing with climate change and economic and social inequalities (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jxUzp9SZ6-VB-4wSm8sseIVMsqWZrSrYpYC9sIHKLzo/edit).
The select committee is to have “the authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan, or what they call the “Plan for a Green New Deal.” The Committee will be tasked to develop the plan in “consultation with experts and leaders from business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, academia and broadly civil society groups and communities.” The hoped for timeline is that the plan is to be “executed in no longer than 10 years from the start of execution of such a Plan.” So, if the House, then the Senate, and then the President would sign off by 2021 on some number of the proposals embodied in the plan, especially those related to climate change and the related employment, the goal is that they should be fully implemented by 2031, if not before.
The draft text includes sections laying out details on how the committee is to be constituted, on the procedures to be followed by the select committee, and that the committee will receive support from the staff of the House. Additionally, the committee will submit period reports to the House or any House committee deemed to be appropriate.
On the funding, the massive investment to pay for the plan, details of which are not included in the draft proposal, will come generally from: “the same ways we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs, the same way we paid for World War II and many other wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments, new public banks can be created (as in WWII) to extend credit and a combination of various taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.”
The objectives of the plan are broadly twofold, each of which involve references to multiple programs, the need for support in the legislative process, and rather large and, in some cases, unprecedented funding. One part of the plan includes objectives to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and move from fossil fuels to a sustainable energy system, which Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues refers to as “an energy transition.” The other part is to “virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.” And, as noted, the plan hopes to make major strides in these direction within ten years after the legislation stemming from the plan is approved by the federal government.
On the climate/energy section, the plan is “dramatically expand renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of the national power demand met through renewable sources”; build a national, energy-efficient “smart” grid; upgrade “every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort, and safety”; eliminate “ greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including investing in local-scale agriculture”; eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water; fund “massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases; and make “green technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States.”
With respect to economic and social justice, they identify another broad range of objectives, as follows:
#1 – “provide all members of our society, across all regions and all communities, the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage to everyone who wants one”
#2 – “diversity local regional economies, with a particular focus on communities where the fossil fuel industry holds significant control over the labor market, to ensure workers have the necessary tools, opportunities, and economic assistance to succeed during the energy transition”
#3 – “require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety, and wage standards that recognize the rights of workers to organized and unionize free of coercion, intimidation, and harassment, and creation of meaningful, quality, career employment”
#4 – “ensure a ‘just transition’ for all workers, low-income communities, communities of color, indigenous communities, rural and urban communities and the front-line communities most affected by climate change, pollution, and other environmental harm including by ensuring that local implementation of the transition is led from the community level and by prioritizing solutions that end the harms faced by front-line communities from climate change and environmental pollution”
#5 – “protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations”
#6 – “mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth….”
#7 – “include additional measures such as basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others as the select committee may deem appropriate to promote economic security, labor market flexibility and entrepreneurism”
#8 – “deeply involve national and local labor unions to take a leadership role in the process of job training and worker deployment”
Once the select committee has consulted with experts and interested parties, held hearings, submitted reports, received feed-back from other House committees and interested parties, it will “prepare draft legislation for the enactment of the plan.”
The implication is that many different legislative initiatives will be needed to advance the various parts of the plan but they will be connected by the framework of the plan, a plan that offers radical proposals aimed at transforming the society in ways to make it more environmentally sustainable by accelerating a shift from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency, to more equal in the distribution of opportunities, to the elimination of poverty, and to racial and gender equality.
There is no way to know now when the federal government will act in support of one or more parts of the plan. If, after the 2020 elections, Democrats control both houses of the U.S. Congress, have the means to overcome Republican filibusters, and have a progressively-minded President in the White House, then perhaps there may be some legislation with a chance of being enacted into law. However, it would be truly revolutionary if all the programs now included in the New Green Deal were approved and funded in the foreseeable future, especially knowing that the present is so darkly awash in such powerful reactionary forces.
Noah Smith offers a point of view worth considering. He thinks that “the plan as sketched out so far mentions a number of wildly ambitious and expensive ideas and goals that don’t dovetail very well with the objective of halting climate change” (https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-12-12/a-green-new-deal-isn-t-ready-for-prime-time). He adds:
“Eliminating poverty mitigating economic disparities and creating ambitious new social safety net programs are all worth aspirations. But they go far beyond the goal of stopping climate change. Yes, paying poor and working-class Americans to build green infrastructure, retrofit old buildings and create a new national smart grid will advance both goals at once. But money spent on universal basic income – which some estimates predict will cost several trillion dollars a year – would not fight climate change.”
Smith recommends this: “The best solution is to separate out purely re-distributional ideas like basic income, health care, and job guarantees from the rest of the plan, and advance those ideas separately. A Green New Deal should focus exclusively on cleaning up the environment, and on paying low-income Americans to do that work.” This is what the authors of the Green New Deal expect, but it’s worth emphasizing so as not to demoralize supporters when the whole plan is not implemented at the same time, if ever.
Some early momentum
E.A. Crunden reports for Think Progress that “a policy group is being formed to support the effort,” there is a “climate mobilization office” in the works, and a 501c(3) non-profit, called The New Consensus, has been created to support Green New Deal efforts. In addition, there is momentum in the US House and Senate (https://thinkprogress.org/green-new-deal-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-democrats-95cb356e94ca).
According to Crunden, the proposal garnered early support from at least 15 House Democrats, including Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), Rep Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Ted Lieu (D-CA), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with Reps.-elect Deb Haaland (D-NM), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Joe Neguse (D-CO), and Rep-elect Ocasio-Cortez.
And, in a more recent article for the Huffington Post, Alexander C. Kaufman reports that, by December 14, the number of Democratic representatives supporting the green new deal proposal had grown to “more than three dozen backers in the House, a half dozen Senators, including Senators Corrie Booker (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), as well as “more than 300 local and state officials [who] signed an open letter offering support for a Green New Deal” (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cory-booker-green-new-deal_us_5c1415ffe4b05d7e5d81f322).
Bernie Sanders is one whose example and record served to inspire the Green New Deal. He has long supported the need for bold policies to phase out fossil fuels in favor of renewables and energy efficiency and has been an inspiration to recently elected representatives like Ocasio-Cortez. He says that “Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet,” that 97 percent of all climate scientist have agreed that the best research documents the reality of catastrophic climate change, that it is affecting people around the world now, particularly those in low-income and minority communities, that it is exacerbating global conflict and terrorism, and that it will disproportionately harm our children and grandchildren. He has proposed a “comprehensive plan to combat climate change and make sure our planet is habitable and safe for our kids and grandkids.” The plan is like the Green New Deal, though with some further details. For example, Sanders’ plan calls for the U.S. “to cut carbon pollution [emissions] by 40 percent by 2030 and by over 80 percent by 2050 by putting a tax on carbon pollution, repealing fossil fuel subsidies and making massive investments in energy efficiency and clean, sustainable energy such as wind and solar.” His plan would create “a Clean-Energy Workforce of 10 million good-paying jobs by creating a 100% clean energy system.” You can find his analysis and proposals at: https://berniesanders.com/issues/climate-change.
Mixed responses to the Green New Deal proposal
As I’ll discuss later in this post, the plan has generated a range of responses, from enthusiastic support, with the idea that it provides a framework for the 2020 Democratic Party, to skepticism that it is naïve and unrealistic and pays no serious attention to the existing committee and authority structures of the House of Representatives, to downright rejection of it as counterproductive, if not Anti-American. We can expect that Trump, the Republicans, their corporate backers, and their compliant political base will oppose all aspects of the Green New Deal based on their unwavering support for fossil fuels and their antipathy toward any notions of economic and social justice. Nonetheless, there is evidence from polling that majorities of Americans support many of the Green New Deal proposals.
Miles Kampt-Lassin points to recent polls: “When it comes to Medicare for All, 70 percent are on board. Student debt relief is widely supported. Three-quarters of Americans are behind raising taxes on the wealthy. And when it comes to a Green New Deal, Data for Progress found that among eligible and enthusiastic voters, more than half ‘said they would be more likely to support a candidate running on a green job guarantee,” which is one of the central provisions of the New Green Deal (http://inthesetimes.com/article/21615/bernie-sanders-ocasio-cortez-climate-town-hall-green-new-deal).
There are not many historical precedents for such a transformative agenda. Aside from wartime, there is the inter-state highway, the 1960s space program. But the 1930s New Deal programs advanced by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration’s responses to the economic depression of the 1930s stand out as one. There is no doubt the original New Deal created programs and regulations that laid the legislative and programmatic foundations for reducing inequality and poverty, for reducing bank failures, for advancing progressive labor laws, and for generally encouraging an active role for government in the society. If the New Deal did not end the Depression, it did relieve significantly the suffering of millions of people and laid the foundation for an unprecedented social-welfare state and government regulation of the banks and industry, even public ownership, legitimated industrial unionization, put millions of people to work on government projects, and supported conservation projects. Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein give a informative summary of what was accomplished by the first New Deal not in one swoop but in separate government actions during the 1930s (http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/21634/labor_green_new_deal_ocasio_cortez_sunrise_movement_unions).
I quote them here.
“In the depths of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal—a set of government programs to provide employment and social security, reform tax policies and business practices, and stimulate the economy. It included the building of homes, hospitals, school, roads, dams and electrical grids. The New Deal put millions of people to work and created a new policy framework for American democracy.
“New Deal programs included public employment (Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps); farm price supports (Agricultural Adjustment Act); environmental restoration (reforestation and land conservation); labor rights (Wagner Act); minimum wages and standards (National Recovery Act and Fair Labor Standards Act); cooperative enterprises (Works Progress Administration support for self-help); public infrastructure development (TVA and rural electrification); subsidized basic necessities (food commodity programs and Federal Housing Act); construction of schools, parks, and housing (Civil Works Administration); and income maintenance (Social Security Act).
“Besides its famous “alphabet soup” of Federal government agencies, the New Deal was part of a larger process of social change that included experimentation at a state, regional and local level; organization among labor, unemployed, urban, the elderly and other grassroots constituencies; and lively debate on future alternatives that went far beyond the policies actually implemented.”
One of the similarities between now and then is that there are great and rising inequalities in both periods that the corporate-dominated economy and those allied with the Republican Party are unwilling to address. And there are differences, most prominently, the increasingly catastrophic, existentially-threatening climate changes that are unfolding today were not a factor in the politics of the 1930s. There is no question when one’s view is influenced by the verifiable facts that, more than ever, there is a need for a contemporary and expanded Green New Deal. But there are questions about strategy and tactics, especially about how to prioritize the host of programs that are now associated with the present version of the Green New Deal.
Some arguments advanced by supporters of the Green New Deal
The climate crisis must be addressed now
The article written by Miles Kampf-Lassin (referred to above) focuses on the “national” town hall meeting “Solving Our Climate Crisis” held on December 3-7 and sponsored by the organization Our Revolution, with the help of Green Peace, 350.org, Sun Rise, Dream Corps, Friends of the Earth, and other environmental organizations. The event was streamed live by TYT, Now This, ACT TV, Guardian, Intercept, and CNN, among others (https://citizentruth.org/bernie-sanders-solving-our-climate-crisis-town-hall-wrap-up).
There was much discussion at the town hall “about the dangers and potential solutions to the climate crisis,” with references to the recent reports by UN International Panel on Climate Change and the US National Climate Assessment for 2018. Both of which are based on extensive and authoritative documentation of the rapidly unfolding climate crisis. Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel spoke at the town meeting and described the major finding of the IPPC report in these terms: “Climate change is not some problem in the distant future: It is here, it is now, and it is happening in every part of the country.” She gave the example of how rising temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels are destabilizing the West Antarctic ice sheet and the prospect that it will cause “massive sea level rise,” affecting millions of people who live near coastlines and resulting in the “mass migration of people.” These outcomes can be avoided by significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, enough so that the global temperature does not rise from the 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels where it is now to not more than another 0.5 degrees. The proposed Green New Deal proposals on climate change are what is needed – and soon.
The Green New Deal gives us a reason to be optimistic
Author and journalist Naomi Klein says that the Green New Deal proposal makes her “feel more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years” (https://theintercept.com/2018/11/27/green-new-deal-congress-climate-chances). She gives this reason: “For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer.” Klein thinks we are still very far from that pathway. But she believes that the proposal provides a multi-issue agenda that will bring groups with different priorities to see how their various foci can be integrated into a larger coordinated effort. She writes: “By giving the [select] committee a mandate that connects the dots between energy, transportation, hosing and construction, as well as health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee, and the urgent imperative to battle racial and gender injustice, the Green New Deal plan would be mapping precisely” “the far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
She likes the 2020 target date for finishing the preparatory organization, research, consultations, hearings, and the production of blueprint legislation as significant. On this point, she writes:
“That early 2020 deadline is important – it means that the contours of the Green New Deal would be complete by the next U.S. election cycle, and any politician wanting to be taken seriously as a progressive champion would need to adopt it as the centerpiece of their platform. If that happened, and the party running on a sweeping Green New Deal retook the White House and the Senate in November 2020, then there would actually be time left on the climate clock to meet the harsh targets laid out in the recent IPCC report, which told us that we have a mere twelve years to cut fossil fuel emissions by a head-spinning 45 percent.”
Klein emphasizes that nothing about the plan “is certain or even likely.” The Democrats may not take back the White House and Senate in 2020. Even if they do, more centrist minded Democrats may stymie efforts to advance legislation related to the Green New Deal because they see them as too radical. But the congressional, political, and education work in support of a Green New Deal between now and 2020 will, Klein thinks, will have something that until now has been sorely missing: “a concrete plan on the table, complete with a science-based timeline, that is not only coming from social movements on the outside of government, but which also has a sizeable (and growing) bloc of committed champions inside the House of Representatives.”
Unions and workers will benefit from a Green New Deal and should take a leading role in making it happen
Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein offer 12 reasons for why labor should demand a Green New Deal (http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/21634/labor_green_new_deal_ocasio_cortez_sunrise_movement_unions).
They view the Green New Deal as a visionary program for labor and favor moving ahead on all aspects of this program, with particular emphasis on programs that address climate change, the green jobs that will be associated with such programs, a full employment plank, and reforms that strengthen collective bargaining. They do not think that it is “far-fetched,” but rather it embodies “plans for a public works programs, the expansion of human rights and new entitlement programs…. with organized labor playing a leading role.” It is a plan the aims at “protecting humanity from climate catastrophe,” while also unifying “the political forces needed to meet labor’s demands for jobs, union rights, economic security, full employment, and worker empowerment.” Based on these understandings, they give “12 reasons for why labor should get on board with this Green New Deal.” Here I quote them.
1. Avert climate catastrophe: We are in a climate emergency. The current threat to humanity rivals that of Nazi armies that once threatened to establish a “thousand-year Reich” whose master race would rule the world. Millions of workers mobilized to build the tanks, planes and ammunition that defeated the Nazis. Today we need a mobilization that similarly puts millions to work building the windmills, solar collectors, grids and other tools needed to defeat climate change. Working people have no greater collective interest.
2. Provide jobs for all: The production of equipment and construction of infrastructure for the new climate-safe economy will provide manufacturing and construction jobs for millions of workers. The Climate Jobs Guarantee contained within the Green New Deal would provide jobs for all who want them at a base wage of $15, including healthcare and other benefits. The ongoing conversion to a sustainable economy will continue to provide good jobs for generations.
3. Abolish poverty: In addition to a jobs guarantee providing wages that will lift workers out of poverty, the Green New Deal will also include basic income programs and universal health care for those who are not in the workforce.
4. Rebuild the labor movement: Put simply, a Green New Deal can help rebuild the U.S. labor movement. With input from labor, the plan can guarantee the right to organize, bargain collectively, engage in concerted action and retain basic Constitutional rights on the job for all workers.
5. Unite the working class: President Donald Trump, the Republican Party and corporate America have been working overtime to divide the working class. The Green New Deal embodies the common interests of all working people in climate protection, jobs for all and greater equality. At the same time, it addresses the legacy of race, gender, and other forms of discrimination and injustice. And it expresses human values that recognize the equal worth and common fate of all people.
6. Win wide popular support for a labor-friendly program: Public opinion polling shows that the programs of the Green New Deal are extraordinarily popular. A recent poll shows that over half of voting-eligible adults said they would be more likely to support a candidate running on a Green Job Guarantee, including 35 percent of Trump voters. And young people are far more likely to support a candidate running on a platform of 100 percent renewable energy and Green jobs.
7. Build a powerful labor-friendly coalition: The original New Deal coalition brought together diverse constituencies including labor, African Americans, city dwellers and farmers. That coalition was a dominant force in American politics for more than 40 years. The Green New Deal similarly provides the basis for a broad, long-lasting coalition that can again transform American politics and society. By helping lead that coalition, organized labor can secure the rights and well-being of all workers.
8. Unify environmental and labor forces in the Democratic Party: Labor and environmentalists have too often been at loggerheads in the Democratic Party. This has undermined both the protection of the environment and of workers. A Green New Deal can become a common program unifying the environmental and labor constituencies of the Democratic Party. By making protecting the climate the way to provide jobs for all, it puts an end to the phony conflict between “jobs and the environment.”
9. Challenge corporate dominance of the Democratic Party: For far too long, the Democrats’ corporate wing, representing the interests of the wealthy, has dominated the party. Even when Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, the corporate wing of the party helped stymie both labor law reform and effective climate protection—screwing workers twice. The Green New Deal provides a program that represents the views of the great majority of Democrats that can allow the party’s rank-and-file to take control and advance both workers’ rights and climate protection.
10. Strengthen workers bargaining power: The tremendous demand for labor created by the transition to a fossil-free economy, combined with the Climate Jobs Guarantee, will eliminate that “long line of workers at the gate” that employers use to strengthen their hands in negotiations. The Climate Jobs Guarantee will set a new floor for wages and benefits that all employers will need to exceed if they wish to sustain a workforce.
11. Expand union apprenticeship and training: As with the economic mobilization for World War II, climate mobilization will require training a new workforce. The Green New Deal defines union apprenticeships and other training programs as a central way to do so. That will provide both a major source of financial support for unions and a chance to show the benefits of unionization to millions of workers entering the workforce or being retrained for new jobs.
12. Establish a standard for those who claim to be labor’s friends: One reason for organized labor’s declining clout has been the lack of a clear standard for those who seek labor’s support. The Green New Deal provides a clear statement of how candidates and organizations can show support for labor—and therefore what politicians must fight for if they want labor’s support.
Rural communities would benefit from a Green New Deal
The benefits of a green economy are not limited to industrial workers and urban/suburban populations.
In an article for Inside Climate News, Dan Gearino refers to evidence from a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council that “shows the extent to which clean energy is [already] contributing to jobs [in] the rural economies of 12 Midwestern states” (https://insideclimatenews.org/07122018/rural-jobs-clean-energy-wind-power-energy-efficiency-renewable-vs-fossil-fuels-climate-change). One implication of this finding is that the parts of the Green New Deal that focus on support for renewables would add to the employment opportunities in these rural areas.
Here are some specific examples of the evidence from the NRDC study. In 10 of the rural areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, the percentage of total employment in clean energy were greater than the percentage of jobs in fossil fuels. “The exceptions,” according to the NRDC research, “are North Dakota, which has the Bakken oil field, and Kansas, where the numbers are close.” One striking fact is this one: “In 2017, the Midwest added 31 gigawatts of wind and solar power plants, 24 gigawatts of which are located in rural areas, according to government data cited by NRDC.” The research finds that “Clean energy jobs include those related to renewable energy power generation, clean transportation and energy efficiency.” The clean energy boon is creating jobs, income for farmers and tax revenues for communities.”
There are at least two implication of the NRDC research for the Green New Deal. One is that this evidence of the growth of renewables and efficient energy, reflected in “building design, energy efficiency upgrades and other aspects of reducing energy,” in parts of the country that may sometimes be overlooked. And, notably, there is an energy transition already underway. Secondly, it is an indication of how all segments and geographical areas of the society may eventually benefit from a Green New Deal.
Funding the Green New Deal
This will be one of the most challenging aspects of the proposed Green New Deal, one that requires substantial government funding.
The draft resolution for a Green New Deal does not include the detailed costs associated with the possible future implementation involved in the massive replacement of fossil fuels with renewable and efficient energy sources, the jobs’ guarantees, and other subjects, required by the plan. This is something that Ocasio-Cortez and her allies hope to see worked out by the Select Committee in its various consultations with academics, experts, social movement groups, communities, and various other congressional committees over time. However, the outline of the Green New Deal, details of which I have included earlier in this post, refers in very general ways to the expected sources of such funding. I’ll quote the relevant words again here, namely, that the Green New Deal will be paid for:
“the same ways we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs, the same way we paid for World War II and many other wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments, new public banks can be created (as in WWII) to extend credit and a combination of various taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.”
To clarify these words, would require some digging into what quantitative easing entails and the history of how we did pay for wars. On the latter point, U.S. wars have been paid for with deficit spending by Congress and now represent a significant portion of the $21+ trillion national debt. Whatever, these are issues that require supporters of the plan to delve more deeply into the subject. Only time will tell, of course, whether parts of the plan and the requisite funding are ever approved by the US Congress and signed by a sitting president.
In the meantime, there are at least two experts who have said that the funding aspects of Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal are technically reasonable. Ellen Brown, an expert on public banking and related issues, thinks that the funding ideas of Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues are operationally doable and, in an ideal political situation, could be implemented and pay the costs for the Green New Deal programs, at least for some of them (http://truthdig.com/articles/this-radical-plan-to-fund-the-green-new-deal-just-might-work). Brown’s key point is that, the Federal Reserve has the authority to fund any program Congress wants, and it can do so without spurring inflation, if there are surplus workers available for employment, there are materials and businesses available to meet the increased demand, and the added money reaches consumers. She writes:
“The Fed showed what it could do with ‘quantitative easing’ when it created the funds to buy $2.46 trillion in federal debt and $1.77 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, all without inflating consumer prices. The Fed could use the same tool to buy bonds earmarked for a Green New Deal, and because it returns its profits to the Treasury after deducting its costs, the bonds would be nearly interest-free. If they were rolled over from year to year, the government, in effect, would be issuing new money.”
Stephanie Kelton, a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and former economic adviser to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, has authored an article for the Huffington Post, in which she maintains that “we can pay for a Green New Deal” (https://huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-green-new-deal-cost-us-5c0042b2e4b027f1097bda5b). She writes:
“Anything that is technically feasible is financially affordable. And it won’t be a drag on the economy – unlike the climate crisis itself, which will cause tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage to American homes, communities and infrastructure each year. A Green New Deal will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done.”
Kelton also writes: “The federal government can spend money on public priorities without raising revenue, and it won’t wreck the nation’s economy to do so. That may sound radical, but it’s not. It’s how the U.S. economy has been functioning for nearly half a century. That’s the power of the purse.”
In its current version, the Green New Deal lays out a most ambitious plan for the transformation of not only the energy sector but of one that includes programs that would usher in full employment, income guarantees large enough to ensure no one is poor, universal health care, a buttressed public-school system, affordable if not free higher education, and more. It represents ideologically and programmatically the antithesis of the current dominate right-wing political-economic ideology that promotes less government intervention in the market, less support for programs that benefit ordinary people, less regulation, more privatization, lower taxes, the rampant externalization of the costs associated with the damage corporations and other enterprises do to the environment. And all this is further buttressed by the view that the rich and powerful in society are superior to the rest of us, deserve their wealth and power because they are the “job creators,” and that, without them, the society would fall into chaos and deprivation (see Nancy MacLean’s masterful book on these issues titled Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of The Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America).
Of course, there would be enormous opposition from the corporate world and the huge resources they allocate to influencing the political and legislative processes. Fossil fuel corporations would virulently oppose a Green New Deal that would threaten to phase them out. Corporate CEOs would not welcome the emphasis on reforming and strengthening unionization. Insurance companies would continue to oppose universal health care proposals. The corporations would overall be opposed to such an extensive government plan that would threaten to undermine and limit their power over the economy. Some in the higher corporate strata might be willing to support a weak carbon tax or other inadequate and relatively inexpensive programs to address the climate crisis, but that’s all they will tolerate – and it would not be sufficient.
With all this, along with the predictable opposition of tens of millions of Americans who reject science and facts and seem steadfast in their support of Trump, will the proposed Green New Deal inspire an unprecedented welling up of support among a majority of Americans, will they be effectively mobilized, and will they turn out to vote for progressive candidates in 2020? In the meantime, will Democratic leaders in the U.S. House and Senate support a strong and independent “select committee” authorized to gather information, hold hearings, release reports, and propose legislation? There are some indications that a committee will be created, but that it may not be given the resources by the Democratic leadership to accomplish much (https://truthdig.com/articles/are-democrats-attempting-to-kneecap-the-green-new-deal).
There are a lot of questions. A lot of reasons to be skeptical. Some reasons to be hopeful, as Naomi Klein thinks. The central questions are these: Will the Green New Deal represent only a momentary demand from the left, one that will dissipate in the sound a fury of the dysfunctional politics that beset us, without leading to the significant changes we need. Or will this lofty plan gather momentum, pull masses of people together, and, in the short time we have, yield some, probably not all, of the desperately needed radical changes that our current situation requires? It doesn’t seem there is a middle ground or much time for half measures, especially when it comes to the accelerating catastrophic climate change.