The “Green New Deal”: Not Green, Not New, and Not Much of a Deal

The Green Party carries some fond associations for me. It was originally the party of small-scale production and relocalized economies. I have an increasingly difficult time remembering that, in the face of things like Green Presidential nominee Jill Stein’s “Green New Deal” slogan and Vice Presidential nominee Cheri Honkala’s “Turn the Rust Belt into a Green Belt” tour. The Green Party, whose industrial vision once sounded a lot like that of Ralph Borsodi and Murray Bookchin, sounds Michael Mooreish.

The original New Deal, after all, was tailored to the terminal crises of mass-production capitalism. It presupposed an economy of gargantuan, enormously expensive, capital-intensive production facilities, requiring an authoritarian distribution system to guarantee they could dispose of their output at full speed. For me, that’s about the least libertarian form of economic organization imaginable — like something out of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”

Like the first New Deal, Stein’s Green New Deal is essentially Hamiltonian, aimed at preventing deflation. Not only does she propose solving the problem of underutilized mass-production facilities with Michael Moore’s expedient of retooling underutilized GM factories to produce high-speed trains, but she calls for an official “full employment” policy based on direct government creation of jobs on a counter-cyclical basis. At present that would mean government creating 25 million public sector jobs, with hiring administered through local employment centers, to guarantee full employment at a living wage.

This Hamiltonian approach is just the kind of thing genuine greens used to object to. It works on exactly the same principles as planned obsolescence and the permanent war economy — that is, it generates enough waste production to guarantee the existing stock of labor and capital will be fully utilized at a target price.

Such proposals are just a greenwashed version of mid-20th century, mass-production capitalism.

Capitalism’s chronic tendency toward underutilized capital and underemployment has been made far worse in recent years by technologies of ephemeralization that reduce the amount of labor and capital required to produce a given standard of living. But that’s a problem of capitalism — a system based on imposing artificial scarcity and inefficiency, and erecting barriers against competition from more effficient alternatives, in order to extract rents — itself.

The proper approach is not to generate waste production or to make production inefficient enough to soak up all the labor and capital you’ve got lying around. It’s to reduce the average work week to reflect the amount of labor it takes to produce our current standard of living, and to make sure all the productivity gains from new technology are passed on to workers and consumers rather than enclosed as a source of rent.

As for those high-speed bullet trains, the way to deal with the age of Peak Oil is not to assume existing scales of production and market areas, and replace less efficient with more efficient forms of long-distance shipping. It’s not to assume the existing model of suburban monoculture and sprawl, and sell everyone electric cars. The proper approach, rather, is to reduce reliance on transportation inputs altogether.

High-speed bullet passenger trains may be a more economical way of doing what the airlines presently do in the case of travel for pleasure (the family that visits relatives across the country every year, or goes to Disneyland every few years). But for the vast majority of long-distance travel, the real solution is to replace the movement of people with the movement of information (e.g. video teleconferencing instead of business travel).

General Motors symbolizes everything most bureaucratic and pathological about the mid-20th century model of industrial capitalism. The Green Party, increasingly, seems to be adopting Michael Moore’s nostalgic vision in which it’s good for half the economy to be owned by GM — so long as everyone belongs to a UAW local.

Instead of a Rube Goldberg economy where the government hires enough people to run in hamster wheels or dig holes and fill them back in to keep everyone employed forty hours a week, how about eliminating the part of the price of goods and services that reflects embedded rents and waste (planned obsolescence, patents and copyrights, inefficient overly-centralized production methods, etc.) so that the average person can enjoy her current standard of living with a 15-hour week?

Instead of perpetuating the job culture and relying on inefficiency to keep us all employed, how about moving to a competitive market economy where all of us — instead of just a few rentier capitalists — share the gains from efficiency?

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