You can tell a lot about an idea from who likes it. You can tell even more about it by who doesn’t like it. And some of America’s most obtuse pundits do not like the Green New Deal.
On Thursday, following the unveiling of the plan by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, America’s most overrepresented minority took to their keyboards and phones to bang out some quick takes on why the plan is doomed to fail, why Democrats are doomed in 2020 if they back it, and so on and so forth.
First, some background: What Ocasio-Cortez and Markey introduced yesterday is not exactly a concrete plan, but a framework for both aggressively tackling climate change and greatly expanding the social safety net so America resembles something like a 21st century society. For now, it’s a non-binding resolution, though Markey and Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement to NPR that they’ll “begin work immediately on Green New Deal bills to put the nuts and bolts on the plan described in this resolution.” They’ve got time, of course, even though the planet doesn’t: a massive expansion of government likely isn’t high on the GOP-controlled Senate’s list of priorities.
The fact that the bill is just a blueprint, however, has not stemmed the flow of disingenuous takes on the whole idea as if it was on the verge of passage. Perhaps most prominent of the naysayers was Bloomberg contributor and finance professor Noah Smith:
This was actually not the only Twitter thread Smith did yesterday, nor the most objectively embarrassing. My man had a meltdown that could register on the Richter scale.
Smith’s big overarching take on the Green New Deal is, essentially, that we don’t have the money to do all of this. That is not true; as countless others have pointed out before me, this is a question that’s rarely been asked of endless wars, subsidies for corporations, or tax cuts for the wealthy.
There’s a real debate to be had on whether the Green New Deal should be done through tax hikes or modern monetary theory (or some combination of both), but again, we have—at the very least—two years to work that out. An FAQ posted by Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday, which leaned heavily on the MMT-based argument that we can pay through all of this with deficit spending, has since been taken down; her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti said on Thursday that the congresswoman’s office would provide a new one.
Meanwhile, The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson used a dispatch from Davos (seriously) to frown that the Green New Deal doesn’t rely heavily enough upon Market-Based Solutions. Where’s all the dang entrepreneurial innovation going to come from? Surely not the government!
Yes, that’s right: The government helped create the internet, which we all use to do our bad posts on, as well as all of the technology that makes the hardware to post it on possible, plus sent people to the fucking moon, but it needs the commercial innovation of the entrepreneurial entrepreneurs at Verizon to say, “What if we made people pay for this?”
Enacting an aggressive climate-change policy faces two large obstacles. The first is that every aspect of the policy contains a multitude of knotty technocratic challenges. It entails developing programs to wring carbon emissions out of the power sector, buildings, transportation, agriculture, and changing laws at the federal, state, and local levels. The difficulties faced by the long-developing bullet train in California, a state entirely controlled by Democrats, show how challenging it can be to carry out reforms that require buy-in from lots of stakeholders.
The second problem is political. Any national-level response quickly runs into the fact that, even if Democrats gain full control of government in 2021, and even if they abolish the filibuster or find a way to design a bill that can get around it, they will need the votes of moderate or conservative Democrats from fossil-fuel-producing states. The overrepresentation of oil, gas, and coal-producing areas in the Senate helped kill a modest energy tax under Bill Clinton, and a more ambitious cap and trade program under Barack Obama.
Chait’s first point raises a valid concern; this has to be done right if it’s going to be done. But the prospect of facing “knotty technocratic challenges” should not be a dealbreaker for any potential action, let alone one where the existence of humanity is at stake. And Chait’s example of the problems plaguing high-speed rail provides one good way to avoid that: 1. Actually include those stakeholders in the process, rather than prioritizing the needs of people who make more money, and 2. Don’t rush construction when planning isn’t in place.
Chait’s second objection, however, speaks to why we had all of those debates about the left versus the center of the Democratic Party last year, and will surely be having them for the years to come. Conservative Democrats are, historically speaking, just as much of an obstacle to progress as Republicans and industry groups. They’re why a single-payer program was never seriously pursued by the Obama White House, and why we didn’t even get a public option. Joe Manchin shot a bullet through the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill, the last serious comprehensive climate bill to come before Congress. This is why the left wants to primary and replace bad Democrats!
Contrary to what the Green New Deal’s critics think, its aggressive idealism is actually its strongest feature. The aforementioned cap and trade bill bore Markey’s name and was criticized by some on the left of the Democratic Party—even in 2009—for not going far enough. What the Green New Deal proposes is that the Democratic Party stops compromising with itself before the negotiations even start. And by putting this plan out there years before it becomes legislatively viable, the necessary details can be filled in and adjustments made in order to build support for it and make it politically viable.
Where Chait has a point is that some of the roughest patches of the Green New Deal so far are due to an unwillingness to divide the left on a number of debates: MMT vs. taxation when it comes to funding; the role of nuclear power; job guarantees vs. universal basic income; and so on. But here, again, he puts the cart before the horse by labeling the reality the Green New Deal exists in as a “political fantasy world in which the ideologically median legislator is Bernie Sanders”:
While rightly insisting on the primacy of climate change, it betrays its own confidence by submerging climate policy into a broader array of priorities. It simultaneously argues that we must move with urgent speed on climate, but that we must first achieve comprehensive socialism in order to move.
Comprehensive socialism, this is not. But given that comprehensive capitalism has not only failed to solve the climate question but also created and exacerbated it, underpinning a social safety net worthy of the richest country in the world to the real sacrifices and changes this country will have to make in order to do its part in staving off the destabilization of the climate is a great start.