A Green New Deal?

The idea of a “Green New Deal” seems to be everywhere, quite suddenly, although Wikipedia suggests it has been around for quite a while and that the phrase was coined by the ubiquitous Tom Friedman. There’s quite a good summary of the various versions by David Roberts at Vox (for those who don’t know him, an excellent source on climate issues in general).

The fuzziness of the term is, in a sense, unsurprising. It seems obvious that any progressive policy for the US must fit this description in broad terms. That is, it must be a modernized version of the New Deal and it must imply a shift to an environmentally sustainable economy. So, I’m going to put up my own version, without claiming that it is the One True GND.

As far as the “Green” part is concerned, it’s urgently necessary to decarbonize the economy, shifting to a fully renewable electricity system and electrifying the transport system. The time when this could be achieved by a price-based policy (carbon tax or emissions permits alone) has passed. A carbon price is needed, but so is systematic regulatory intervention.

Compared to politics as usual, this is a big deal, involving trillions of dollars in investment a complete restructuring of the energy sector, and radical changes to transport systems. It also has the potential for substantial net gains in employment – solar energy already employs three times as many US workers as coal.

But relative to the US or world economy as a whole, a transformation of the energy and transport sectors is not a big enough deal to form the basis of a New Deal. Energy and transport together account for around 10 per cent of the economy, and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy in this 10 per cent is not going to make a fundamental difference to the operation of capitalism.

Quite a few ideas involving more radical economic changes have been proposed, including a Job Guarantee and Universal Basic Income. I’ve argued for a combination of these. In the specific context of a Green New Deal, the most important demand should be a reduction in working hours, with no offsetting change in wages. That amounts to taking the benefits of increased productivity, and progressive redistribution, in the form of increased leisure rather than increased consumption. It goes along with research findings suggesting that experiences, rather than material goods, are a better source of lasting happiness. To make the argument work completely, we need the further proviso that experiences arising from participation in family and community activities are more genuine than those offered by commercial providers such as tourism operators. I’d be interested to know if there is evidence on this point.

I’m at an early stage on this, so I’ll stop here and leave it open for discussion.

28 thoughts on “A Green New Deal?

  1. @Ikonoclast
    At the risk of being accused of trolliing, I suspect your claim to be losing your illusions is an illusion. 😉
    The pundits at The Australian are mostly well past middle age, but appear to be clinging as tenaciously to their illusions as a person can possibly cling. On the other hand, it’s also possible that they are utterly cynical and don’t really believe a word they write.

    More seriously though, I do agree that the process of getting older is in many respects a process of losing one’s illusions, but it seems to me it’s more of a lifelong process rather than one that starts later in life. One could argue that it begins in earnest when one stops believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy (at least for those fortunate enough not to have suffered early trauma).

    According to this article people tend to get happier overall in old age. The lowest period is generally middle age. Maybe losing one’s illusions is ultimately a liberating experience.

  2. Tim,

    Speaking of illusions, I have come to the tentative conclusion that the feeling of free will is very likely an illusion. Of course, to question the possibility of free will puts one on the outer with just about everyone. The religionists and the humanists almost all oppose this view and even the person in the street, relying on his “common sense”, will oppose it. It seems obvious to almost everyone that we have free will and that the assumption of it is necessary to support ethics and morality. I am always at my most sceptical when views seem both obvious and necessary to almost everyone.

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