Tuesday, February 12, 2019

It's Green and it's New

Harold Lloyd, Royal Slyness (1920), via somebody's Pinterest.

Tom Friedman's 2007 idea of a Green New Deal (adopted, as he points out, in the 2008 Obama campaign, but melting after the financial collapse and the Obama election into the $800-billion vastness of the American Recovery and Readjustment Act, of which it formed a very successful $90-billion component but didn't seem anything like a full-blown New Deal any more) is moving out of the realm of Friedmanian fever dream and into the world of maybe, and I'm starting to believe it could really happen, judging from the panic with which it is being greeted by David Brooks ("How the Left Embraced Elitism"):
Under the Green New Deal, the government would provide a job to any person who wanted one. The government would oversee the renovation of every building in America. The government would put sector after sector under partial or complete federal control: the energy sector, the transportation system, the farm economy, capital markets, the health care system.
The authors liken their plan to the New Deal, but the real parallel is to World War II. It is the state mobilizing as many of society’s resources as possible to wage a war on global warming and other ills. The document is notably coy about how all this would be implemented. Exactly which agency would inspect and oversee the renovation of every building in America? Exactly which agency would hire every worker?
I can answer about the renovation of every building: that would be overseen by the same state agencies that enforce the energy efficiency building codes that already exist and report to the federal DOE. Brooksy picturing this unforgiving federal servant on every building site, carrying a clipboard no doubt, is imagining things. The plan will grow state governments more than it does the federal one.

The way the job guarantee works is probably that envisaged in the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978, by direct presidential action (though the 1978 law applies only if unemployment is above 3% and the job guarantee part was never in fact implemented) through any and all cabinet departments and agencies:
To the extent that individuals aged sixteen and over and able, willing, and seeking to work are not and in the judgment of the President cannot be provided with private job opportunities or job opportunities under other programs and actions in existence, in accord with the goals and timetables set forth in the Employment Act of 1946 [15 U.S.C. 1021 et seq.], the President shall, as may be authorized by law, establish reservoirs of public employment and private nonprofit employment projects, to be approved by the Secretary of Labor, through expansion of activities under title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act [29 U.S.C. 3111 et seq.] and other existing employment and training projects or through such new programs as are determined necessary by the President or through both such projects and such programs.
Although the secretary of labor has some pretty stringent requirements to certify according to the Ocasio-Markey text:

If it's got to be a real job, that will be more of a lift, for sure.

In any case, the energy sector, the transportation system, the farm economy, capital markets, the health care system, are under a good deal of federal control already, sometimes in relatively wacky and conflicting ways (the classic example is the way the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP—is run to benefit agribusiness and to feed people only secondarily). One of the things that looks really new in this proposal is the degree to which Ocasio and Markey counterbalance governmental expansion with an insistence on really intense participation not by state governments but local stakeholders:
Funny Brooks the famous communitarian doesn't like that. Of course recognizing it would spoil his headline about the "embrace of elitism" (where by "elitism" he means, as usual, not rule by the élite like himself—the original French word was a reference to the Calvinian concept of the Elect, installed in their positions not for any personal merit but through the mysterious operations of Divine Grace—but rather rule by people who are qualified for their jobs, something to which he has an acute sensitivity for some reason).

The authors liken their plan to the New Deal and World War II, explicitly, on the grounds that (a) global warming is a threat to national security (as the Pentagon first explained in 2014 and repeated in recent Worldwide Threat Assessments in spite of the Trump White House dislike for such things):

and (b) World War II is a pretty good example of how one can do good by doing well instead of the traditional but tedious other way around:

One of the things about this document that is not getting enough attention from the press, still less from the Republicans, is that it is not a bill,  but a nonbinding Sense of the House resolution, whose relationship to any future legislation enacting a Green New Deal is pretty indirect. This is why it seems pretty vague on a number of points, in particular organization, and silent on funding, because that's just not part of the authors' purpose. (Congress's December 1941 declaration of war against Japan doesn't say anything about funding either, though it does promise not to be stingy, "to bring the conflict to a successful termination, all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States." I imagine some bright spark understood that the deficit spending on real economic activity would trigger fabulous growth rates, too, but it wasn't appropriate to talk about it at the moment.)

It is, rather, the formulation of a set of goals, of a typically Democratic set of goals ranging all over the place, in fact, from jobs for everybody to honoring obligations to the continent's indigenous peoples, but structured in a remarkably original departure from the typical Bill Clinton hour-and-a-half laundry list (the kind of thing of which Brooks offers a pallid echo: "simple attempts to realign incentives, like the carbon tax, would be more effective"); structured around one singular overriding goal, of coping with climate change, arresting it before it gets worse and mitigating the effects we're already too late to stop, with all the other goals folded organically in.

I think it's perhaps this aspect of the thing that has the right wing in such a tizzy (that and the presence of Ocasio-Córtez, who has made them all nuts to begin with, as you know). The points themselves are pretty familiar, as I tried to suggest at the top, some of them more or less in the law already, but this version shows how they belong together in the broad environmental agenda (a little the way civil rights and women's rights belonged, in principle, to World War II, though it was a long time after the war before anybody quite understood that). It's so clear and limpid that even the conservatives can see how coherent it is, as a call for large-scale social and economic transformation with which society as a whole is on board, and to those who don't want any part of it it must look scary indeed.

Read it—it's only 14 pages—and tell me if I've got that right.

No comments:

Post a Comment