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The imperative of a Green New Deal

On March 15 in 125 countries, 1.4 million children marched from their classrooms holding rallies to save the air we breathe. Since the demise of the USSR, the Milton Friedmans and Ayn Rands of the world love quoting economist Robert Heilbronner, who stated: “capitalism has been as unmistakable a success as socialism has been a failure.” Heilbronner is also quoted saying that “capitalism organizes the material affairs of humankind more satisfactorily than socialism.”

These cherry-picked quotes ignore the prescient warning Heilbronner’s alleged “concession” contained: “despite the rout of centralized planning, one would have to be very incautious to assume that capitalism will now find itself rid of its propensity to generate both inflation and recession, cured of its intermittent speculative fevers, or free of threatening international economic problems ... Capitalism is a social order built upon a deeply embedded and widely believed principle expressed in the actions and beliefs of its most important representatives” (Italics mine.) Quick translation: Capitalism is an exclusionary form of socialism, “central planning” for the few. Since the 2010 Citizens United decision it is the wealthy few that increasingly control our republic.

Sixty years ago John Kenneth Gailbraith warned that a democratic republic must have a balance between capitalism and socialism if it is to survive. The country’s founders understood that the needs of the individual must be balanced with promoting “the general welfare” and securing “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” enter the Green New Deal.

The GND is a resolution introduced to congress by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s a foundation for future legislation to address the harmful effects of the climate crisis. While it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero and meet 100 percent of our power demands through clean, renewable, zero-emission energy by 2030, the GND also addresses related major issues of our failing system: jobs, labor, unions, trade rules, a living wage, the racial and gender gaps, retirement, health care, housing, education, supporting indigenous peoples, infrastructure, clean energy manufacturing, transportation, environmental protections, clean air and water, reforestation, energy efficiency, family farms and food access.

Ignoring any moral imperative toward the protection of future generations, opponents of the GND question its “economic feasibility” as if the economic costs of inaction are not already upon us (think Deepwater Horizon, Fukushima, wildfires, and Midwest floods). This is what Heilbronner was referring to when he warned of capitalism’s propensity for “threatening economic problems.” While many advanced industrial nations have awakened to the physical and fiscal costs of unbridled capitalism, our big banks and corporate oligarchs continue to game our system as they suppress a truly free market and privatize and exploit our commons (think bottled water) achieving “success” at the expense of “frontline” communities (think Flint, Michigan). Their greed and a mandate to please their shareholders blinds them to the fact that unbridled capitalism, like a metastasized cancer, eventually devours its host.

We need large-scale, public investments that will lead to greater economic prosperity for greater numbers of people. That requires, like Roosevelt’s New Deal, a swing of the pendulum back toward central planning that benefits the majority, i.e. the egalitarianism promoted by The Green New Deal.

Mary Christina Wood, University of Oregon environmental-law professor, conceived the idea of an “atmospheric trust.” That concept, similar to public trusts protecting our water and endangered species, is the basis for the Our Children’s Trust suit, pending before the Supreme Court. The suit is based on the case of Juliana v. United States where U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken affirmed that “a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

All but four senators voted “present” on Tuesday, preventing Mitch McConnell from forcing a vote for political reasons. Please tell Rep. Greg Walden to support HR 109.

Andy Seles of Ashland is chairman of the Planning and Advisory Committee for Our Revolution Southern Oregon.

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