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Green New Deal? Critique From a Leftwing Point of View

Thursday 21 February 2019, by mond


A "Green New Deal" is now a central demand of a lot of leftwing groups. Many people have many ideas what this actually is and of course there is a lot of criticism from the right. Here are some thoughts about it from a leftwing, marxist perspective.

The original "New Deal" was was a series of programs and reforms done by the Government of Roosevelt (FDR) in the United States around 1933 to 1936. The ideas was to get out of the Great Depression with some government sponsored programs. This is at its core Keynesian politics.

While FDR was still rather cautious with deficit spending, but in 1941 the US joined into World War II and this caused some massive government spending in the economy.

Now the idea of the Green New Deal is to have massive public spending in order to transform our economy to renewable energy, energy efficience and but also in preparation for the coming climate change.

Scientists say that we have only about 12 Years left to turn around and prevent the worst - if it is not already too late. Climate Change will disproportionaly affect the poor: those who can not easily settle somewhere else and those who are dependent on affordable food.

So any effort that is made in the direction of making our world greener is very much welcome and absolutely necessary. From a left perspective we need to be in favor of this.

Also the good thing with the Green New Deal is that it once more shows that market economy is not working. That unregulated markets do not work for the common good. That we need democratic decision making and public intervention to get us out of the mess that capitalism has caused.

I think this is the main cause of opposition towards the Green New Deal from the right. Usually they are not opposed when the government wants to spend money - and they can make a buck out of this. The point here is that they smell socialism here. And when we need the government to fix the environment - what else do we have to replace market decision with democratic decision making.

So here is some left wing critique: Actually we are not really in a depression right now. The main tenet of the New Deal was that we need to work more and the tenet of the Green New Deal is that we need to create new jobs in green areas. And with a focus on this there is the dangerous that the real issue of the ecological mess gets overlooked and the really necessary change in our economy are also ignored.

The real issue of course is, that capitalism can only operate when there is scarcity. You can not sell sand in the desert. But we now live in age where most of the necessities of life can be created by machines with little human labour involved. Our productivity is so high that we could easily live comfortable lifes with only about 20h of work. We might have to change some of our lifestyle (e.g. cycling to work instead of driving a car - but then you would not have to book the gym). Most people would prefer this lifestyle - much more spare time with the family, etc.. But our world is not built for that. Capitalism needs to create more and more artificial scarcity in order to keep up the current mode of production.

One prominent example is advertising. Advertising only has one product: dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction with what we have in order to create demand for things we do not need. It is a prime example of an industry that creates more harm then good. But then if you look closer you see that this is not the exception but the rule. Many industries now work this way. E.g. the military and "defense". What better way is there to create new demand then to bomb down what exists? "Financial Products" where the only purpose is to make it harder for consumers to see what they get. Gambling. The piles of crap of short lived plastic products on our shelfs? Planned obsolescence. Most products could be made to last much longer and be much easier to repair. Why is it that you do not get any security updates for your cell-phones after about 1 or 2 years (and thus have to replace it even if you could otherwise still use it)? And then there is the field of so called "Intellectual Property". Something that could be shared with everyone at no additional costs will be made artificially rare by law so that it can fit into the capitalist logic of scarcity.

Sure there are still useful jobs: Nurses, teachers, researchers, etc.. But about my guess is that we are at a level of 50% bullshit jobs. With the ecological footprint factored in most of these are way more harm then good and in order to get to green economy we need to get rid of those. This of course means that we need to question the capitalist mode of production from the ground up. With the upcoming introduction of AI into the production process (self driving cars are only the beginning) this becomes an even more important problem, as capitalism would again turn the increase of productivity into artificial scarcity.

So any "Green New Deal" that is worth its name would have to take the above mentioned problem into account. We need radical reduction of the working hours and we need to go into the direction of a universal basic income (UBI). This is the only chance to go "green".

When politicians talk about the "Green New Deal" they sell it as: "Look we can create new jobs in photovoltaics, etc.." Instead what would be necessary is to explain to people that their job is most likely a bullshit job and they we need to find way that they can get payed without doing it at all. We need to get rid of the fetish of "jobs are good" and "growth is good".

As Austrian Journalist E.A.Rauter once said:

"We do not need Jobs. We need shoes, pasta, beds, apartments, music, cloth, sausages, bathtubs, artichokes, hairpins and red wine, aspirin, lorries, paintings, books and bread."

For the left, this is currently the most important task at hand: To get the fetish of jobs and growth out of peoples heads. Now to some degree this is part of what some people think of a "Green New Deal" - Unfortunately the name does not put this at the core of what needs to be done.

Franz Schäfer, February 2019

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