Prospects for a Green New Deal


in Economics, Politics, The environment

A frequent criticism of climate change policies like the Leap Manifesto and the Green New Deal which seek to accomplish a number of labour and social justice objectives alongside controlling climate change is that the policies don’t have a logical relationship with one another, framing the effort this way reduces the emphasis on climate change specifically, and taking this approach will create barriers to political success. The Economist‘s online Democracy in America column recently argued:

Such objections are thought unsportsmanlike by the proposal’s backers. The Green New Deal has people excited in ways think-tank white papers on cap-and-trade schemes never did. Boosters argue that it moves the “Overton window” of political dialogue: towards taking serious action on climate change. The little details, like how to pay for universal health care and a federal jobs guarantee can be dealt with later. Perhaps the Green New Deal will galvanise the youth vote, or help elect environmentally minded Democrats. Perhaps it is good politics to yoke environmentalism to other economic policies that could be popular.

Yet it seems rather more likely that the politics of the Green New Deal will backfire for Democrats. Republican strategists have stymied progress on climate change by caricaturing Democratic ideas as pie-in-the-sky efforts that would result in massive tax increases. Their parody now seems reality. The next Democratic nominee may well be someone who has endorsed the idea of the Green New Deal.

There is little wonder that Nancy Pelosi, who cares about climate change but also retains shrewd political instincts, has been so public in her doubting of the proposal. “The ‘green dream’ or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is but they’re for it, right?” she told Politico. The bold plan could make the party unelectable in conservative-leaning states, ensuring that Republicans retain control over one chamber of Congress or even the White House and then stymie all climate legislation—whether sensible or not—for years to come.

There’s certainly a counter-argument. People may care somewhat about climate change, but it’s never their top priority in comparison to personal welfare issues like health, education, or taxes. Also, people have many financial concerns about climate change action. Conceivably, a broad-based policy could tie climate change protection to other tasks of more immediate political interest to people, and mitigate concerns that decarbonization will be economically damaging.

There’s cause to the skeptical about that enthusiasm, however. If a package consists of a bunch of objectives with relatively appealing short-term benefits, along with decarbonization policies which are largely about enduring near-term costs to avoid long-term catastrophe, it’s quite possible that the climate parts will be dropped, diluted, or counteracted. One virtue of an approach that focuses narrowly on decarbonization and climate protection is that it could be made compatible with a range of ideologies and party platforms. That is to say, there may be a lower chance that it will just be scrapped by the next non-progressive government to be elected.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

anon February 12, 2019 at 3:35 pm

Perhaps the greatest failing of the political left is mistaking their own enthusiasm for a policy as a strategy for getting it done. That promotes a narrowing of thinking as activists insist that maintaining enthusiasm is the key thing and that asking questions about accepted truths and strategies is disloyal.

. June 11, 2019 at 1:25 pm

The Green New Deal has two problems. The first is that it is only skeletally sketched, with handwaving in lieu of details for the massive economic reorganisation it envisages. The second is that it includes a gratuitous list of progressive measures—including a federal jobs guarantee, a universal basic income, and universal health insurance—only tangentially related to climate policy

. June 11, 2019 at 9:02 pm

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