Stop Underestimating the Green New Deal
Eleven months ago, a primary election upset rocketed a 29-year-old bartender from the Bronx to national prominence. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), became an instant sensation, the new face of the young, diverse, and stridently progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
This past April, the freshman congresswoman appeared at an MSNBC-hosted town hall to discuss her “Green New Deal.” It’s an ambitious plan to address manmade climate change, a problem she says is apocalyptic. “First of all, we’ve been here before,” she told the exuberant audience. “We’ve been here before with the Great Depression, we’ve been here before with World War II, even the Cold War. And the answer has been an ambitious and directed mobilization of the American economy to direct and solve our biggest problem.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original New Deal was a series of federal programs meant to provide relief to the unemployed, recover the U.S. economy from the Great Depression, and introduce major reforms to the financial system.
While it failed to achieve those goals (the average unemployment rate between 1933 and 1940 was 18 percent), the New Deal did expand the government’s authority over the private sector in ways unprecedented in peace time. The top marginal income tax rate increased from 25 percent to 63 percent. Corporate, estate, and gift taxes were raised, along with taxes on cars, tires, gasoline, toiletries, electric energy, luxury items, bank checks, telephones, and telegraph messages.
The New Deal’s most audacious attempt at a state-planned economy was an NRA that Ocasio-Cortez would actually like: the National Recovery Administration. Managed by a former army general, the NRA regulated American businesses through minimum wages, minimum prices, and set hours of production. Industry leaders would draft codes that Roosevelt would then impose through executive orders. If you didn’t comply with these codes, you’d be penalized.
To show their neighbors that they were in line with the program, businesses hung posters of the NRA Blue Eagle in their windows (lest those same windows be broken by street toughs). It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to see the similarities between the public pressure of the Blue Eagle campaign and the culturally enforced social justice norms of today.
The NRA, the most blatant form of economic fascism ever to originate on America’s shores, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935.
Ocasio-Cortez’s second inspiration, the command economy of World War II, continued the same trend. Basic cooking items like sugar were unavailable, while goods like meat and gasoline were rationed. The government banned the production of new cars during the war, an emissions-cutting edict that probably had Ocasio-Cortez taking notes.
The Green New Deal, more accurately described by comedian Dave Smith as the Green Leap Forward, seeks to surpass its predecessors in scope, size, and revolutionary nature.
The primary goal of the 10-year plan is to “[d]ramatically expand existing renewable power sources and deploy new production capacity with the goal of meeting 100% of national power demand through renewable sources.” This means the total abolition of coal, nuclear, natural gas, and oil-based energy over the next decade, and replacing them with wind, solar, and other green alternatives.
This would require “upgrading every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.” The economic impact would be the redesigning and rebuilding of every structure in the United States, the result of nearly four centuries of capital accumulation, in 1/40th the timeframe. The legal and philosophical impact would be the complete subversion of private property in America. When the government can dictate to a citizen that his home or business must be repurposed so it adheres to a national mobilization program, who really owns the structure? In fact, the proposal explicitly encourages the development of “cooperative and public ownership.”
Besides controlling where a person rests his head at night, the Green New Deal also seeks to “provide all members of our society, across all regions and all communities, the opportunity, training and education to be a full and equal participant in the transition, including through a job guarantee program to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one.” Every person who wants it can receive government work at a “living wage,” no matter how unproductive. This would immediately send workers from the private sector into government jobs that they can’t be fired from.
The Green New Deal also promises to “mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth (including, without limitation, ensuring that federal and other investment will be equitably distributed to historically impoverished, low income, deindustrialized or other marginalized communities in such a way that builds wealth and ownership at the community level).” Going far beyond affirmative action and quotas, this would involve a monumental transfer of wealth of the most radical nature, a policy sure to inflame and exacerbate racial tensions.
Supporters admit that private capital is wholly insufficient to fund a project of this size. Cost estimates range from $8 trillion to $93 trillion, depending on how much of the proposal is included. Compared to this, Amazon’s trillion-dollar market cap is chump change. The Green New Deal would be financed “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.” Through the fiat money system, the government would use debt and monetary expansion to cover the cost. This bunk economics has been deemed “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT), and its consequences, in inflation and resource destruction, are nigh incalculable.
“America will never be a socialist country,” promised President Trump during his State of the Union address. He’s wrong. Republicans must realize that socialism has happened here before, it can happen again, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the woman who can do it.
First, we have to accept that Ocasio-Cortez is not a mainstream progressive like Barack Obama, or even a domesticated social democrat like Bernie Sanders. She’s a dyed-in-the-wool Red, well-versed in socialist doctrine. “I do think we are in a crisis of late-stage capitalism, where people are working sixty, eighty hours a week and they can’t feed their families,” she toldThe New Yorker. “There is a lot that is economically dystopic in this country. So that’s why people are open to change.” She calls capitalism “irredeemable” and often expounds upon Karl Marx’s materialist theory of history.
She speaks with the confidence of a religious zealot. “If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue they’re missing the forest for the trees,” she told Anderson Cooper when asked about her fuzzy math. “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.” Those are the words of someone who will never be steered away from her goal.
Before the age of 30, Ocasio-Cortez has already established herself as one of the most talented politicians in the country. Roosevelt had radio, Reagan had television, and Donald Trump has Twitter. Likewise, Ocasio-Cortez has mastered every other digital communication service of the 21st century, from Instagram Live to Twitch streams. She is culturally attuned and comfortable in her own skin in a way that most politicians aren’t.
How has the Republican Party responded to this existential threat? By criticizing her clothes, complaining that the Green New Deal will ban hamburgers, and mocking her for not being able to afford an apartment in Washington, D.C. The conservative movement has become so intellectually bankrupt that it’s incapable of opposing literal socialism. This is what happens when the shoes of Russell Kirk, Robert Nisbet, and Richard Weaver are filled by the likes of Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, and Tomi Lahren.
Nor is Ocasio-Cortez alone. Multiple DSA members have been elected across the country, including Lee J. Carter to the Virginia House of Delegates and Julia Salazar to the New York State Senate. In an interview with Jacobin, Salazar explained that while her short-term platform is more realistic, her ultimate goal is to “dismantle” the capitalist system and “eventually, the abolition of private property.” Republicans ought to say, unequivocally, that Salazar’s election is as reprehensible as David Duke’s ascendance to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989.
Maybe the threat is overblown. It’s possible that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s career could mirror that of fellow New York congresswomen Elizabeth Holtzman and Bella Abzug, two progressive feminists whose stars shown bright in the 1970s only to fade quickly after just a few years in office. But would you bet your life on it?
Hunter DeRensis is a reporter for The National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.