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AOC’s Green New Deal as Policy

Summary:
By Lambert Strether of Corrente. As is well known, one of the first things Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez (AOC) did when she came to Washington was to join a sit-in, in Nancy Pelosi’s office, sponsored by the Sunrise Movement, that publicized a Green New Deal (GND). Wow! @Ocasio2018 just joined @sunrisemvmt in its sit-in in Pelosi's office demanding a #GreenNewDeal pic.twitter.com/FxAjBBNzcK — jordan (@JordanUhl) November 13, 2018 The GND is obviously an enormous topic, so in this post I’m going to focus only on the GND as a policy proposal, as opposed to a pleasing slogan. (I also won’t be looking at the history of programs proposed under the GND moniker, as from the Green Party, the Data for Progress version, precursor bills introduced in Congress, or a 2008 version proposed by

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

As is well known, one of the first things Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez (AOC) did when she came to Washington was to join a sit-in, in Nancy Pelosi’s office, sponsored by the Sunrise Movement, that publicized a Green New Deal (GND).

The GND is obviously an enormous topic, so in this post I’m going to focus only on the GND as a policy proposal, as opposed to a pleasing slogan. (I also won’t be looking at the history of programs proposed under the GND moniker, as from the Green Party, the Data for Progress version, precursor bills introduced in Congress, or a 2008 version proposed by the UK’s New Economics Foundation). In a subsequent post I’ll look at the GND as politics; it does poll well (and not just the phrase, but the actual program). Amazingly enough, Indivisible supported the GND almost immediately (although they don’t support #MedicareForAll).

I got a little wrapped around the axle looking for the primary source on Ocasio’s GND, because I remembered the original version I read at https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal as a cellphone-friendly, swipe-intensive document with large type; that URL now redirects to a Google[1] Doc, here, which is the proposed rule for the establishment of a Select Committee For A Green New Deal (which Pelosi and the liberal Democrat leadership, sadly, gutted, someting I’ll talk about in the post on GND politics). I had hoped to compare what AOC originally proposed with what emerged as the proposed rule, but the Wayback Machine, sadly, honors the redirect.

In any case, the “DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES” (“Draft text”) has two parts: The proposed “Addendum,” and a “Frequently Asked Questions” section, in different fonts. In the Addendum, two “paragraphs” (legislation-ese for “section”) are key from the policy perspective: “(2) (A) LEGISLATIVE JURISDICTION” and “(6) SCOPE OF THE PLAN FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL AND THE DRAFT LEGISLATION.” Most of the FAQ is, as it should be, talking points; I think the question “How will the government pay for these investments?” is the most important. The entire document, including the FAQ, is only eleven pages long, so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee and read it.

Here are the articles I looked at as preparation for this post. I’m simply going to list them, because none of them quote anything more from the “Draft Text” than phrases, where I intend quote great slabs. In no particular order:

The Green New Deal, explained” Dave Roberts, Vox. A Vox explainer, with a respectful treatment of MMT. Well worth a read.

With a Green New Deal, Here’s What the World Could Look Like for the Next Generation” Kate Aronoff, The Intercept. A backgrounder.

Corporations See a Different Kind of ‘Green’ in Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal’” Whitney Webb, Mint Press. A critique from the left, with more close reading than most.

We Have To Make Sure the ‘Green New Deal’ Doesn’t Become Green Capitalism” In These Times. A conversation with Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson.

Meet the scholar crafting the ‘Green New Deal’ E&E News. There seem to be several; this is “The New Consensus.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Will Be The Leading Democrat On Climate Change Alexander C. Kaufman, HuffPo

First, I’ll look at the Addendum. Then, I’ll look at the FAQ. In each case, I’ll simply add comments. Since I’m not fully up to speed on climate change issues — and what individual could make such a crazy claim, anyhow? — I’ll do a lot more questioning and poking at inconsistencies than anything else. To the text!

The Addendum

Here is the first key paragraph. I’m adding comments as numbered notes in square brackets, thus: [n]:

(2) JURISDICTION; FUNCTIONS.—

(A) LEGISLATIVE JURISDICTION.—

(i) The select committee shall have authority to develop[1] a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization[2] plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become [3]greenhouse gas emissions neutral and to significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality. In furtherance of the foregoing, the Plan shall: (a) be prepared in consultation with experts and leaders from business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, academia[4] and broadly representative civil society groups and communities[5]; (b) be driven by the federal government[6], in collaboration, co-creation and partnership with business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, research institutions and civil society groups and communities; (c) be executed in no longer than 10 years[7] from the start of execution of such Plan; (d) provide opportunities for high income work, entrepreneurship and cooperative and public ownership[8]; and (e) additionally, be responsive to, and in accordance with, the goals and guidelines relating to social, economic, racial, regional and gender-based justice and equality set forth in paragraph (6)[9].

COMMENTS

[1] This is a plan to make a plan. Nothing wrong with that!

[2] “Mobilize,” as the country was mobilized during World War II, is an important word and concept. Indeed, it’s not even clear to me that a society dominated by neo-liberalism can mobilize; the ongoing Brexit omnishambles in the U.K. is a case in point.

[3] Greenhouse gases are indeed the object of policy, but “carbon” (dioxide) is by no means the only greenhouse gas; the only early version I’ve been able to find shows that the writers of the draft actually adjusted their text to meet this objection! (The FAQ still uses the phrase “carbon neutral,” which, along with the two different fonts for each part of the documents, suggests a hasty process, making the deliverable all the more impressive.

[4] Where the family blog is the Oxford Comma?

[5] I didn’t list the WSWS article on the GND in my bibliography above, because I felt it was, well, doctrinaire. They write: “Everything is phrased as part of consultation with “business” leaders.” Well, no. Business leaders have “a seat at the table.” That’s politics. And the Estates General began with all three orders of the realm attending, after all. Then things changed.

[6] The Federal government is the driver, overturning the Reagan revolution (“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem“).

[7] The latest IPCC report, if nothing else, has been effective in setting a deadline.

[8] GND mobilization produces a mixed economy, like the original New Deal but (see note [5]) more mixed than what we presently have. It’s not clear to me that entrepreneurship includes rentiers (finance capital). It had better not, otherwise their rake-off will cripple the program.

[9] I’ll have more to say about “social, economic, racial, regional and gender-based justice and equality” when I get to politics.

Here is the second key paragraph:

(6) SCOPE OF THE PLAN FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL AND THE DRAFT LEGISLATION.—

(A) The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall be developed with the objective[1] of reaching the following outcomes within the target window of 10 years from the start of execution of the Plan:

Dramatically expand existing renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources;

building a national, energy-efficient, “smart” grid;[2]

upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety[3];

eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture[4] in communities across the country;

eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from, repairing and improving transportation and other infrastructure, and upgrading water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water[5];

funding massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases;

making “green” technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely greenhouse gas neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal[6].

COMMENTS

[1] Objectives should be measurable. If each of these subparagraphs represents a tranche of greenhouse gas reduction, then we should quantify the reduction for each tranche; how else are we to set priorities or make trade-offs? Now, this is a plan to have a plan, so it shouldn’t include metrics as such; but the plan to have a plan should have a requirement to develop metrics.

[2] I would want to look into the assumptions behind that, especially if decentralizing power production is a good idea.

[3] I’m not sure why “comfort” is important, unless we’re talking about home heating and cooling. It cost me upwards of $60K to get the enormous old Maine house in order, and I funded a lot of highly skilled workers in the town to do it. Seems like a lot multiplied out, but it’s nothing compared to an F-35, which doesn’t send any local children to college, either.

[4] Soil and biodiversity should be mentioned explicitly; in general, I see a slight cognitive bias toward the technical. A “smart grid” (there’s that word, “smart”) is mentioned explicitly, but reforestation, a proven carbon capture solution, is not.

[5] In general, the issue of who owns these improvements seems a little hazy. Are they all public works? Evidently not, if private homes are to be (for example) weatherized. As usual, I don’t like the word “access.” I’m sure Nestlé would be very happy to privatize every municipal water system as the “universal” water provider!

[6] Presumably, at the very least, a Marshall Plan manner, and not as our rentier class would prefer.

The FAQ

Paragraph (C) of the Draft Text covers financing, but I’m going to quote the FAQ because it’s more reflective of the public mind:

How will the government pay for these investments?

Many will say, “Massive government investment! How in the world can we pay for this?” The answer is: in the same ways that we paid for the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs, the same ways we paid for World War II and many other wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments, new public banks can be created (as in WWII) to extend credit and a combination of various taxation tools (including taxes on carbon and other emissions and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.

In addition to traditional debt tools, there is also a space for the government to take an equity role in projects, as several government and government-affiliated institutions already do.

The Dave Roberts article gives a lot of space to MMT, but when I read paragraph (C) and the FAQ, I see less MMT rigor than I would like. Perhaps “Why not #MintTheCoin and have done with it!” is not a politically viable approach, but none of this reads like the draft text authors sat down with an MMT economist and developed detailed wording that’s really bulletproof against the assaults that will surely come. Yes, the answer to “How did we pay for World War II?” is “We printed money!”, and that’s directionally correct, but even a plan to have a plan needs more rigor than that. Sadly, the paragraph also outright says that Federal taxes fund Federal spending (“various taxation tools”). That cannot stand.

Conclusion

If we think of the “Draft Text” of this GND not so much as a text, but as a space in which to mobilize, I think that AOC did a very good job, and in a very short time with virtually no resources, too. That’s impressive. If I pull my nose back from the grindstone of close reading, it seems to me that there are four areas where improvements could be made: (1) Clarifying the role (hopefully, zero) that finance capital will play in the process; (2) more focus on “natural” approaches like soil and reforestation: (3) introduce a requirement for metrics; (4) straighten out the funding language a la straight-up MMT. L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!

NOTE

[1] Continuing to whinge: It would be helpful if AOC’s staff put up a PDF version; I tried several methods of converting Google’s horrid HTML markup to PDF, so I could embed the document here, and failed. (Maybe Google Docs has this functionality, but I wouldn’t know, because I don’t have an account. Perhaps on Genius.com, or some other annotation platform? UPDATE See below.

APPENDIX

Here is the PDF, courtesy of alert reader Phillip Allen:

AOC_Green_New_Deal

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