Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Green New Deal: The Good, the Bad and the Nuts (II)

Now that a little more time has elapsed since the GND roll out, the responses on the left to the initiative have become clearer.
First, there are some folks--I would mention Mike Tomasky and Jonathan Chait here--who see the GND as being net negative because it's so far over the top that it discredits the Democrats and provides abundant ammunition to the GOP. Tomaksy describes it as "a home run for Mitch McConnell". Chait describes it as basically bad and a kind of anti-capitalist fever dream dressed up in green clothing.
That seems a bit harsh. Surely some credit is due for putting the general idea into play even if some of the specifics are, well, bonkers. On the other hand, another stream of left commentary is probably much too forgiving of the wackier aspects of the GND. (Examples: Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times; Maggie Koerth-Baker on 538.) The general idea here seems to be that since the basic idea is so good, we don't really need to worry about nutty ideas that are associated with it. Hey, we're moving the Overton window here, don't bother us!
This is not convincing. The possibility and desirability of moving said window does not mean that you can loudly assert whatever wish list agenda you have and expect good results. The Overton window is indeed movable, but it's not that movable. It still has to respect the underlying structure of public opinion and the state of real world politics.
Finally, there are those who are sympathetic to the general idea but recommend that a GND actually be at least somewhat economically and politically feasible and actually be targeted on climate change. I recommend here the approach of Noah Smith whose Bloomberg column on designing a GND "that isn't over the top" is well worth reading. Some excerpts:
"I propose an alternative Green New Deal, which would focus on actually defeating climate change. Some of the proposals here are included in the Green New Deal resolution; some are not.
The first pillar of an alternative Green New Deal would be green technology. If the U.S. can discover cheap ways of manufacturing cement and concrete without carbon emissions, and of reducing emissions from agriculture, it will give developing countries a way to reduce carbon output without threatening their economic growth. To this end, the U.S. should pour money into research. The budget of ARPA-E, the agency charged with leading this research, should be increased from about $300 million to $30 billion per year.
The second way to move green technology forward is to encourage the scaling of these technologies. As companies build more solar power, batteries, smart grids, low-carbon building retrofit kits and other green technologies, the costs go down. To that end, the government should provide large subsidies to green-energy companies, including solar power, batteries and electric cars, as well as mandating the replacement of fossil-fuel plants with zero-carbon plants.
Infrastructure spending is also important. The original Green New Deal’s goal of building a smart electrical grid is a good one, as is the idea to retrofit American buildings to have net zero emissions.
Technologies developed in the U.S. need to spread quickly to other countries. All ARPA-E breakthroughs should be freely transferred to other countries....
[A]n alternative Green New Deal should include proposals to make sure as little as possible of the costs of the transition fall on the economically vulnerable. Government infrastructure and retrofitting projects will naturally create many green jobs. The proceeds of a carbon tax can be rebated to low-income Americans, either as a carbon dividend, or through earned income tax credits, child tax credits, food stamps, housing vouchers and income support for the elderly and disabled. These policies combine the goals of fighting climate change and supporting the poor and working class.
In order to sweeten the deal politically, an Alternative Green New Deal should also include some economic policies that aren’t directly related to climate change — but make sure these are things that should be done anyway, and which won’t break the bank. Universal health insurance....should be included [as well as] Increased spending on public universities and trade schools in exchange for tuition reductions, and grants to help lower-income students pay for these schools,...
Finally, an alternative Green New Deal should involve progressive taxes, both to raise revenue for the spending increases and to let the nation know that the well-off are shouldering more of the burden. Wealth taxes and inheritance taxes are good ideas.....
This alternative Green New Deal has similarities to Ocasio-Cortez’s version, but also has key differences. By focusing on technological development and international assistance, it would tackle the all-important problem of global emissions [while] avoiding huge open-ended commitments like a federal job guarantee or universal basic income...Ultimately, this plan would represent the U.S.’s best shot at fighting the looming global menace of climate change while also making the country more egalitarian in a safe and sustainable way. It would be a worthy successor to the original New Deal."
This makes good sense to me. It's plenty ambitious but actually has some intellectual coherence as a GND, rather than a wish list. It would likely be more effective and certainly more salable than the original proposal. If folks are really serious about a GND, that's the direction we need to go in.
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The emphasis should be on climate change while limiting costly new entitlements.

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