Friday, February 8, 2019

More on the "Nuts" Part of the Green New Deal Proposal

A GND of some kind is a great idea but it shouldn't be confused with a sudden and complete social democratic makeover of the United States. Kevin Drum helpfully provides this list of thirty (30!) items called for in the GND resolution:
1. Commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions within ten years
2. Provide “millions” of good, high-wage jobs
3. Repair and upgrade US infrastructure
4. Provide everyone with access to clean air and clean water
5. Repair historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth
6. Protect against extreme weather events
7. Eliminate pollution and greenhouse gases “as much as technologically feasible”
8. Meet 100 percent of power demand via renewable and zero-emission sources
9. Upgrade to smart grids
10. Upgrade all existing buildings for maximum energy efficiency
11. Invest in public transit and high-speed rail
12. Mitigate the long-term health effects of pollution and climate change
13. Restore fragile ecosystems
14. Clean up hazardous waste sites
15. Provide higher education to all
16. Invest in R&D of new energy technologies
17. Build wealth, community ownership, and good jobs in marginalized communities
18. Create union jobs that pay prevailing wages
19. Guarantee living wage to everyone
20. Guarantee family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to everyone
21. Improve union bargaining strength
22. Strengthen labor and workplace safety standards
23. Enact trade rules that increase jobs but don’t transfer pollution overseas
24. Reform the use of eminent domain
25. Ensure that all business are free from unfair competition
26. Provide all people of the United States with high-quality health care
27. Provide all people of the United States with good housing
28. Provide all people of the United States with economic security
29. Provide all people of the United States with healthy and affordable food
30. Provide all people of the United States with access to nature
Some of these things belong in a GND. Many others are things the left supports but have no logical reason to be in a GND. A GND will be hard to enough to pass and implement without loading it down with extraneous programs, no matter how worthy.
Noah Smith's column at Bloomberg captures this problem crisply:
"[A]lthough the Green New Deal bills itself primarily as an environmental policy and jobs program, the most expensive items are enormous new entitlements paid for by unlimited deficit spending.
First, to be fair, it’s important to discuss the good ideas in the plan. The Green New Deal would retrofit all American buildings and factories to be carbon-neutral, electrify all transportation, and switch the entire electrical grid to carbon-neutral energy sources. These goals are highly ambitious, but they’re good targets. Ocasio-Cortez’s plan correctly recognizes that carbon taxes wouldn’t be enough to prompt private companies to do all these things on their own, and that large-scale government-funded infrastructure is required. Furthermore, a focus on scaling up clean energy would push the technology forward. That would help other countries — where most of the world’s carbon emissions are produced — to follow in the U.S’s footsteps.
But these environmental policies, as sweeping as they would be, wouldn’t be the most costly items on the list.....The plan...appears to combine a federal job guarantee, free college and single-payer health care. Depending on how one interprets [a] guarantee of “economic security” to all those who are “unwilling to work,” it might also include a universal basic income."
Smith costs out all the items included in the GND resolution and comes up with over $6 trillion a year. As Everett Dirksen might have put it, now you're talking about real money! And no, simply appealing to MMT (modern monetary theory for you uninitiates) does not solve the problem, either politically or economically, of how all this is to be paid for.
Personally, I believe we will, in fact, spend a lot of money on these various social programs over time, I just don't think it'll happen all at once. That will a long struggle with many twists and turns. It's highly unlikely we will be able to skip that process by just relabeling all our programs as component parts of a GND.
But a GND that's tightly focused on the energy transformation of the United States is a worthy goal to put into play. It will be immense accomplishment if we can just do that.
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