Now that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s office has published an outline of their Green New Deal agenda, and more formal draft legislation has also been released, we can highlight some of the inner contradictions in their worldview. Earlier here at IER, I had a two-part series on the Green New Deal, while Rob Bradley summarized the problems with the historical New Deal’s energy interventions.
In this post, rather than revisiting the serious problems that the Green New Deal proponents would wreak with their plans, instead I want to highlight how several of their claims contradict each other. In other words, the Green New Deal doesn’t even make sense on its own terms.
After explaining the urgent need to transition humanity away from greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible, the document from Ocasio-Cortez’s office discusses nuclear:
Is nuclear a part of this?
A Green New Deal is a massive investment in renewable energy production and would not include creating new nuclear plants. It’s unclear if we will be able to decommission every nuclear plant within 10 years, but the plan is to transition off of nuclear and all fossil fuels as soon as possible. No one has put the full 10-year plan together yet, and if it is possible to get to fully 100% renewable in 10 years, we will do that.
And so just like that, nuclear power has been rolled onto the same chopping block timeframe as coal-fired power plants. Inasmuch as nuclear power is zero-emission and doesn’t suffer from the problems of intermittency that plague wind and solar, and can be distributed anywhere geographically unlike hydro, one might have expected that nuclear would be the go-to solution for those truly worried about saving the planet within 12 years. (In 2017, nuclear accounted for 20% of U.S. electricity, while wind and solar combined only 7.6%.)
As I wrote in a previous post, imagine if a strident group of scientists were warning everybody that a killer asteroid was hurtling toward Earth. Then some people proposed using missiles or lasers to knock it off course. In response, the loud activists said, “No we don’t want to do that, because it would interfere with our messaging on gun control.” In that scenario, would you think those activists actually believe their own rhetoric about the killer asteroid?
Likewise, if Ocasio-Cortez and her staff are trying to decommission nuclear plants just as fast as coal- and natural-gas fired power plants, it should tell you this really isn’t about the negative externality from carbon dioxide emissions. This is about transforming society—as they themselves admit.
If It’s So Good for the Economy, Why Is Coercion Necessary?
The Green New Deal outline also tries to reassure us that its measures will help the economy. For example:
This is massive investment in our economy and society, not expenditure.
•We invested 40-50% of GDP into our economy during World War 2 and created the greatest middle class the US has seen.
•The interstate highway system has returned more than $6 in economic productivity for every $1 it cost
•This is massively expanding existing and building new industries at a rapid pace – growing our economy
As an aside, the “middle class” suffered tremendously in economic terms during World War 2. Using conventional government statistics, the per capita output of private-sector GDP was lower during the height of World War 2 than during the depths of the Great Depression, a decade earlier. Real resources were being diverted into tanks, bombers, and bullets, rather than cars, radios, and nylon stockings. One can argue that fighting World War 2 was a necessary expense, but it definitely made Americans poorer than if the U.S. government hadn’t made those expenditures.
Beyond their historical ignorance, the Green New Dealers are missing something pretty basic: If all of this infrastructure spending—which includes not just highways and other government property, but also revamping every single building in the country (!!)—is so economically efficient, then why does the government have to do it? The government doesn’t have real resources of its own. All it can do is transfer purchasing power (through taxing, borrowing, or the printing press) away from the private sector.
Now if the Green New Dealers come back and say, “Well, private business doesn’t take into account climate change,” fine. That’s the mainstream economics view, of someone like William Nordhaus. But at least those economists have the decency to admit that a carbon tax or other measures to limit emissions, will make Americans poorer relative to a scenario where global warming wasn’t a thing.
In contrast, the logic of the Green New Dealers’ rhetoric implies: “Phew! It’s actually a good thing there’s the existential threat of catastrophic climate change, because now we can do all these things that will create millions of jobs and produce social justice.”
Finally, I found this statement from the draft legislation to be touching yet contradictory:
(M) obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties an agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples;
Why would we allow indigenous peoples to threaten the planet? After all, the Green New Dealers aren’t getting the free, prior, and informed consent from the owners of coal-fired power plants before ruining their way of life. And it’s not merely a matter of “sovereignty” broadly defined—the Green New Dealers want “border tax adjustments” to punish those foreigners who don’t elect governments to do the same policies to themselves as the Green New Dealers want to impose on Americans. Why is it OK to use economic warfare to influence what other governments do in that way, but not when it comes to indigenous peoples here?
The obvious answer is that this has little to do with climate change, but instead is a wish-list of leftist social and economic goals. In their book, indigenous peoples are on the side of the good guys, while business owners and the Chinese people aren’t such a big deal.
In short, not only is the Green New Deal chock-full of economic absurdities and disastrous proposals, it isn’t even internally consistent. This is yet more evidence of the lack of intellectual rigor behind the proposal.