Summary: The Green New Deal, most recently advocated by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, could start the biggest decade for government projects since the 1960’s Great Society & Apollo. Big beyond most people’s imagination. But it has received little critical analysis (other than calling it “socialism”). Here is a brief look at it, analytical, not political. This is a brief first cut at it. Please circulate if you find it useful, and post links in the comments to other analyses.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) shows America’s 21st century politics at work. Our two major parties are in many ways mirror images of one another (same dynamics, but reversed). The GOP elected Trump: a bright and charismatic advocate of standard right-wing policies, unconcerned with facts and details. The Democrats respond with former bartender Ocasio-Cortez, a bright and charismatic advocate of standard left-wing policies, unconcerned with facts and details. They are mirror images, produced by needs of America’s public.
For example, on “60 Minutes” she said “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” Even the WaPo’s fact checkers are forced to agree she has low concern for facts (e.g., here and here). That’s bad news in a leader, whose misunderstanding of facts and language can have horrific consequences.
Her advocacy of a Green New Deal shows her other similarities with Trump. It is a superficially appealing proposal built on weak foundations. Much like Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and his proposals to “make America great” by crushing unions, cutting access to health care, increasing military spending, and reducing environmental regulation. That has brought larger deficits, more debt, and cash for GOP-friendly special interests.
There is one big difference between her and Trump: the Left has larger dreams than the Right. Which brings us to the Green New Deal.
The original New Deal
“Extreme remedies are appropriate for extreme diseases.”
— From Hippocrates’ Aphorisms.
They were desperate times requiring desperate remedies. The banking system was in ruins. There was massive unemployment (nobody knows how many, roughly a quarter of the workforce). Businesses were falling like dominoes. Germany showed what might happen here: in the 1930 election the Nazi Party got 18% of the votes, the Communist Party got 13%. In January 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor (FDR took office in March).
The need for immediate action forced use of unconventional and untested methods. The unused economic capacity of America, both plant and people, meant that even fantastically large fiscal and monetary stimulus would cause no inflation. Of course, Americans did not know that in 1932. The first thorough explanation was published in 1936: Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. It was a gamble, done by an alliance of progressives and populists. We won.
But that does not mean that gamblers always win, or that high stakes gambles should be made in normal times.
Incite panic to begin a Green New Deal
“Let’s stipulate right now that America is in the midst of overlapping crises that are worse, arguably, than anything we’ve seen since 1861 …”
— January 20 article by Will Bunch, nationally syndicated columnist.
“What to Care About When Everything Is Terrible.”
— NYT op-ed by Quinta Jurecic (managing director of Lawfare).
The Left wants to copy aspects of the New Deal, despite our very different circumstances. First, they have to create panic – convincing America that we have emergencies only they can solve. Since that is false, they must rely on propaganda. The barrage of warnings that Trump will end democracy is one such campaign (despite its absurdity after two years). “Donald Trump’s War on Democracy” by John Feffer at The Nation. “Is Donald Trump Ending American Democracy” – about Brian Klaas’ book, The Despot’s Apprentice: Donald Trump’s Attack on Democracy. “This Is How American Democracy Ends” by Bill Blum at Common Dreams. “The Suffocation of Democracy” by Christopher R. Browning at the NY Review of Books. “Does Trump win mark the end for liberal democracy?“, a BBC news story by Ben Wright. Plus the many hysterical columns by Paul Krugman (e.g., here, here, and here).
The use of questions in headlines to arouse irrational fears is the basis of Betteridge’s Law: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”
Another campaign seeks to arouse panic about global warming. The latest phase has abandoned the consensus of scientists, as represented by the IPCC and major climate agencies. As in the July 2017 article by David Wallace-Wells in NY Magazine: “The Uninhabitable Earth” (expanded into a book: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming). Climate scientists seldom criticize even the most outrageous exaggerations and misrepresentations of their work by alarmists. But this went too far. Some spoke out, such as those quoted in this WaPo article – and especially this FB post by Michael Mann. His summary…
“The article argues that climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it.”
But the NY Mag article went viral, becoming their most successful article ever. So imitators multiplied. NakedCapitalism’s valuable daily links (a guide to the Left’s perspective on events, which I read every morning) cites such articles several times per week). The common elements of these…
(1) A lack of context. Historical – present vs. the past. Quantitative: big numbers to scare, such as gigatons of ice – not mentioning the percent of the ice cap or time required for significant melting. And outright misleading: ocean warming in Joules not degrees (e.g., the ocean heat content of the top 700 meters warmed by 10^22 Joules over 1955 to 2008 – which is 0.17°C).
(2) An exclusive focus on highly improbable worst-case scenarios, often presented as likely. The most frequent example is RCP8.5, a well-designed worst-case scenario in the IPCC’s AR5. It describes a horrific scenario, and the large changes in long-standing trends required for this to happen. For example, the given path to RCP8.5 requires fertility no longer dropping with industrialization (esp. in Africa), although this has been so everywhere else (and doomsters now warn about the coming population crash). And technological progress slowing to a crawl, although it appears to be accelerating (perhaps beginning another industrial revolution). The result: a crowded world in the late 21st century in which coal is again the primary power source (as it was in the late 19th century). Alarmists describe these incredible trend changes as “business as usual.” That’s a lie. For more information, see these posts about RCP8.5 and climate scenarios.
(3) Attributing all extreme weather to climate change. The most mindless example is the recent California wildfires (see the analysis by climate scientist Cliff Mass of the Camp Fire). The US Southwest had a century of grossly inappropriate fire suppression followed by building in nature fire zones – in a region in which fires and long droughts are natural. No anthropogenic climate change necessary to produce this disaster – and the ones to come.
Panicking the American public is a smart tactic. It has worked before.
“Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare the hell out of the country.”
— Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about starting the Cold War. Truman did so in his famous speech on 12 March 1947. From Put yourself in Marshall’s place by James Warburg (he helped develop the US WWII propaganda programs).
- Requiem for fear. Let’s learn from failed predictions to have confidence in ourselves & our future.
- Threats come & go, leaving us in perpetual fear & forgetful of the past.
- Dreams of apocalypses show the brotherhood of America’s Left & Right.
- Collapsitarians and their doomster porn.
- We love scary stories. The reason why reveals a secret about America.
- Our fears make us weak and easily manipulated.
- America suffers from the Crisis Crisis, making us weak.
Problems with the Green New Deal (GND)
Inflation and debt.
Most measures suggest that the US economy is running at or near capacity. Another massive fiscal stimulus might spark inflation, as the combination of the Vietnam War and Great Society did in the 1960s. That becomes especially likely since some versions of the GND advocate Fed action to suppress interest rates. Spending cuts – such as to DoD – could offset this. But US history suggests that such grand plans seldom pass when combined with such measures.
Advocates often point to the many workers not in the labor force. But that is a mirage. First, many lack the skills needed to fill jobs created by the green energy industry. Second, there are not that many of them. Many of those not in the labor force are retired or disabled. One measure is the number of people not in the labor force but looking for work: putting them to work would increase the labor force by 1%. Click the graph to enlarge.
Second, this is a bad time to boost the federal deficit. Keynes recommended running fiscal deficits during recessions and paying down that debt during expansions. That hard won wisdom has been successfully used many times.
Massive debt was incurred – correctly – during the Great Recession. Now we should be paying it down. Ahead lies another recession (timing and size unknowable). More importantly, we will run massive deficits as the Boomers retire from Social Security, Medicare, the various Federal pension plans, and the inevitable bankruptcies of corporate pension plans (the Federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s multi-employer plan will go broke by 2026). America can easily manage this demographic transition by borrowing, assuming we do not run up too much debt now.
Building uneconomic infrastructure.
Programs like the GND tend to result in massive construction of uneconomic infrastructure as everyone jumps on the gravy train. Enthusiasm and dreams provide opportunities for tapping the taxpayers for billions or more.
Worse, many of the Greens promises are based on flawed accounting. Most seriously, they calculate the cost of wind and solar (intermittent sources) without including the cost of upgrading the power grid to handle their fluctuations – and the back-up power sources required when they falter. The physicist and energy expert Robert Hirsch described these problems 13 years ago (“Electric Power from Renewable Energy: Practical Realities for Policy-makers” in The Journal of Fusion Energy, gated) – and Greens often ignore it today.
Words to fear.
“It’s inevitable that we’re gonna create industry and it’s inevitable that we can use the transition to a 100% renewable energy as the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic social and racial justice in the United States. This is going to be the Great Society, the moonshot, the civil rights movement of our generation. That is the scale of the ambition that this movement is going to require. …
“It’s important to also talk about the fact that this is not just an economic solution is that this is how we this is the mechanism through which we can really deliver justice to communities that have been underserved. The water in Flint is still dirty. We’ve got children that are that are choking on the smoke in California. …Children in Puerto Rico are choking on the fungal spores because we have not recuperated from the crisis, and the mold from the floods is taking up all of these people’s homes. Those injustices are concentrated in front-line communities and indigenous, black, and brown communities. They’re the ones that experience the greatest depths of this injustice.”
— Ocasio-Cortez during a panel discussion with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and activist Bill McKibben (See YouTube).
The size and scope of the Green New Deal has grown over time, becoming a Trojan Horse for a panoply of Leftist dreams. They plan a restructuring of America’s economy and society, fueled by what they see as limitless government spending. They have dreamed about this moment for generations. The proposal combines commonsense infrastructure upgrades (never done because not a priority for either party), speculative drastic changes to the energy infrastructure, and a growing list of social engineer programs.
They are offering all good things, promising that it won’t cost the public a dime. Experienced people see this as a once per generation pot of gold. Unsurprisingly, the polls show strong bipartisan support.
History is littered with similar stories. Most end badly. Her analogy to the “moonshot” is apt, as Apollo was twenty billion dollars burned for almost no benefit to America. Enthusiasm for the GND reminds of Athens just before it launched the Sicilian Expedition. Its people saw the fantastic benefits of success but closed their eyes to the cost – and the risk. Like most such projects, it ended badly.
Listen to Ocasio-Cortez. Hear the certainty in her voice. What is its source? Not her personal experience with public policy, social or civil engineering. But with ideology. She and her cohorts will roar ahead with the enthusiasm of fanatics. Many or most of the GND’s designers are professors. My guess is that this will be another big bold Leftist experiment in social engineering – with us as lab rats – and will end as badly as the others.
“I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.”
— William Buckley on “Meet the Press”, 17 October 1965.