The Case for a Coercive Green New Deal?

Published August 12, 2019

Social and economic crises, real and imagined, often seem to bring out the most wrongheaded thinking in matters of government policy. Following the 2008 financial crisis and with the fear of “global warming,” there has been a revival in the case for “democratic” socialism. But now its proponents are “out of the closet” with a clear cut and explicit call for forcefully imposed, authoritarian central planning of the world. 

John Feffer is affiliated with the Washington, D.C.–based Institute for Policy Studies, a “progressive” think tank that has never seen a government command or control, regulation or redistribution that they seemingly have not liked – as long as it reflects their version of preferred social engineering compared to anyone else’s, of course. He has recently made, “The Case for a Coerced Green New Deal,” on the website of The Nation magazine (July 30, 2019).

The world, he warns, has a window of perhaps 12 years to transform the way people work and live, or its curtains for the planet. Belching out the carbon dioxide by-product of using fossil fuels, the atmosphere is heating up with feared disastrous consequences for all living things on earth. For decades, people have talked and talked and talked about the dangers of global warming; but the time for talk has reached its end, Mr. Feffer declares. It’s time for concerted, planned and comprehensive action of the type proposed in the Green New Deal legislation submitted to Congress earlier in 2019.  

China as a Model for a Future Eco-Authoritarianism

He compares two lifeboats lost at sea, whose ship survivors are facing doom if they do not reach the safety of land. On one of the lifeboats, the occupants form committees to discuss and debate which direction to go and how best to manage the meager supplies they have on board. All their jabbering eats up precious time and limited resources, with no definitive decision about what to do. Here is seen the dilemma and dysfunction of indecisive democratic decision-making. 

On the other lifeboat, after some debate and discussion, a “leader” emerges and takes charge. He assigns tasks to the people in the lifeboat, he decides on a course for the boat to follow (hopefully) to reach land, and organizes how best to ration out the available supplies for the lifeboat occupants until safety has been reached. 

As far as John Feffer is concerned, the time for the delays and indecisiveness of the democratic talking shop of the first lifeboat type is now passed. America and the world must follow the authoritarian model of the second lifeboat. He greatly admires the example of modern China under President Xi Jinping. Under his clear and determined leadership, China knows where it is going, and why. Government directs and plans the overall direction of Chinese society and the economy. The global dimension to China’s role in the world is seen in its Belt and Road project to link more of the world to China’s future development. And the Chinese government has even publicly embraced the idea of an environmentally friendly future for China. (See my article, “Economic Armaments and China’s Global Ambitions”.)

So is Mr. Feffer ready to give his oath of allegiance to a world with Chinese characteristics? Alas, no. President Xi shows determined and forthright leadership, but he is, well, sort of like Donald Trump with the goal of “making China great again.” Besides, while talking clean air, China keeps building coal-burning furnaces. And the Belt and Road strategy for establishing China’s place in the global sun is not geared to bend other countries to fighting global warming, but to serve China’s national interests.

If Not China, Then America’s Green New Deal

Furthermore, Mr. Feffer declares that the problem is that China, well, is not “eco-authoritarian” enough to take on the mantle of “Climate Leviathan.” As he put is, “China is actually not Leviathan enough.” There are too many competing government ministries and regional and business interests for the sufficient and more centralized “stringent standards” needed for a China to compel the world in the direction he wants President Xi to take it. He does not say it, but we could imagine that in a sleep time dream, Mr. Feffer might very well wish for the reincarnation of an environmentally devoted Chairman Mao who would show the leadership qualities not to brook disagreement, dissent or decentralization to get in the way of a unified and fully centralized plan to save mankind from the current heat wave. 

Turning away from his wistful wish that China would lead the way, Mr. Feffer sees the national populisms cropping up in various countries to have the right sentiments to do away with the greedy capitalist exploitation from which the world suffers. But they are too nationalistically focused and too often against fighting climate change as he sees its danger. Of course, there is always the hope that the United Nations could play the role of global central planner, but the UN is bogged down in the dead end of talking head committees and unenforceable resolutions. 

But don’t completely lose a positive attitude, because Mr. Feffer sees salvation in the Green New Deal (GND):

To achieve the GND’s global goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the United States would have to lead the way with its own eco-version of Belt and Road initiative, a massive infrastructure development project that would involve high-speed rail, the energy retrofitting of buildings, and huge investments in renewable energy (as well as the creation of staggering numbers of jobs) . . .

Think of it as a potential future Apollo-11-type green moonshot; a focused mobilization of investment, construction, and administrative resolve to achieve what has hitherto been considered impossible . . .

To push through a Green New Deal in the United States, for instance, a non-Republican Congress would have to coerce a range of powerful interests [in the private sector] to fall into line. And for any global pact that implements something similar, an international authority like the UN would have to coerce recalcitrant or non-compliant countries to do the same.

Looking at things through Mr. Feffer’s eyes, we can see America as the focal point and enforcer of a Green New Deal United States of the World. All of humanity confined within and coerced to conform to one overarching environmental central plan from which no corner of the Earth would be exempt or could be resistant. Maybe John Feffer has sugarplum dreams dancing in his head of himself whispering in the ear of the One-World Fuhrer – oh, I mean democratic socialist leader. All hail the anti-global warming “progressive” Caesar! (See my articles, “The Green New Dealers and the New Socialism” and “The Nightmare Fairyland of the Green New Dealers”.”

Mr. Feffer admits “coercion” is “not exactly a sexy campaign slogan.” But unless it’s  his environmentally friendly future is not imposed through the force of concentrated and imposed government paternalistic planning in the form of the Green New Deal, some other form of authoritarianism less attractive than his will be humanity’s destiny. Oh, no, “progressivism’s” collectivist evil twin – a Donald Trump type!

Un-Democratic Street Violence for a Green New Deal

So how does Mr. Feffer propose to bring this change about in the current climate of democratic discourse and disagreement that only frustrates his desire for strict and centralized planning through authoritarian controls that many people in American society and around the world are not willing to accept and obey? 

It is necessary to go outside of the polite and legitimate avenues of political change, he says. Determined and radical cadres of anti-global warming warriors must take to the streets, organize mass strikes, and shut down sectors of the economy that are viewed as the centers of opposition to a Green New Deal future. In Mr. Feffer’s own words: 

Major change of this sort could only come from a far more basic form of democracy: people in the streets engaged in actions like school strikes and coal mine blockades. This is the kind of pressure that progressive legislators could then use to push through a mutually agreed-upon Green New Deal capable of building a powerful administrative force that might convince or coerce everyone into preserving the global commons.

Let’s be clear: Mr. Feffer is so certain that he is right about the dimensions and dangers of presumed global warming that he is willing to see the implementation of thuggery and mob action. In his mind, the time for persuasion is over. It is time to disrupt society, halt some of the wheels of production and industry through violence (that is what “blockades” mean), and pressure the political change that many if not most in the country may have no belief in or desire for. 

All Collectivisms are Premised on Coercion

Let us also be clear: These are the same tactics used in the past by Nazis and communists to disrupt society, shut down opposition and resistance, and compel the wider society to acquiesce and conform to the demands of a minority determined to introduce their own collectivist conception of desired social engineering on everyone one else.

No doubt, at this point Mr. Feffer and others like him would accuse me of “red-baiting” and “below the belt” name calling by linking them with anything to do with the Nazis.  What is common to all of them, the Nazi and communist tactics of the past in coming to power and Mr. Feffer’s call for violent and disruptive direct action, is the premise of the legitimacy of non-peaceful and non-persuading methods of bringing about political and social change, regardless of the ideology guiding it. 

The method itself is a broader ideological presumption: that the threat or the use of force and violence are justified in the arena of human relationships in the name of remaking people and society into different forms, even when many or a large number of the human objects of such remaking disagree with and oppose being remolded and straight-jacketed into such social patterns not of their own choice and desire. 

The Tyranny of the Socially Self-Righteous

We are faced with the tyranny of the socially self-righteous. The only difference between such righteous ideologues is the content and purpose the imposed economic dictatorship is to serve. They may fiercely fight each other for control of the government apparatus of coercion, but there is one common characteristic of all of them: they oppose and detest free market liberalism. Nothing is worse than the opponent of all forms of collectivism, because if such a liberalism were to win, the means to politically compel other people in act otherwise than they would peacefully agree to would be taken away. And nothing is worse for all collectivists than having the power to use force on others in society taken out of their hands. 

It should not be too surprising that someone like Mr. Feffer, who is so convinced that he knows how the rest of humanity should live, work, and interact in the name of “saving the planet,” should find a model for the authoritarian Leviathan he craves in the boundaries of modern China. Let us not forget, China is a one-party political state imposed by the Chinese Communist Party under Chairman Mao’s firm leadership after the Second World War. 

Let us not forget that President Xi, good communist that, no doubt, he is, follows in the Great Helmsman’s footsteps in arresting, imprisoning and executing dissidents of any and all types; as well as throwing perhaps up to a million members of an ethnic minority group into “re-education” camps for opposing the political dogma of the Chinese state. President Xi and his government assure “consensus” through censorship, surveillance, and the neighborhood spying system that he inherited from Chairman Mao. 

With comprehensive government planning comes complete political control over virtually every facet of people’s lives. How could it be otherwise, when what is produced, as well as where and how, is dictated by the government? When every job and employment opportunity is directly or indirectly connected with serving and obeying the direction set by the government’s central plan? 

But, but, but . . . this is not what I would plan, not what I would impose, it’s not what I would do, no doubt, Mr. Feffer would declare with a tone of being offended by any such suggestion. But it is, whether he believes and admits it or not. He uses the word “coercion” without hesitation or embarrassment. He knows he is right, the future of the world is at stake, and “something has to be done,” through government enforcement of the Green New Deal central plan. 

The Fallacy of “Scientific” Predictions to Justify Planning

Mr. Feffer might also say, but this a real danger. This is “science” telling us that something has to be done! Oh, you mean like the “real science” that guided many in the early decades of the 20th century, including many of the leading American “progressives” during that time, that eugenics taught us the superiorities and inferiorities of different racial groups, and the need for “race hygiene” through forced sterilization of those making up biologically and socially undesirable groups? (See my review of, “The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism”.)

Or the type of frequent predictions over the last one hundred years that the world was going to run out of fossil fuels, including such forecasts in the 1970s and 1980s? Or the famous wager between Paul Ehrlich, who in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb believed that by 1990s more of the world’s population would be starving because of insufficient food and resource supplies, and Julian Simon, who said the opposite would be the case in the decades leading up to the 21st century? The general “scientific” consensus was that Ehrlich was right; Simon won the bet. 

The funny thing about predicted “scientific” trends in both the natural and social sciences is that they often stop at some point, and even go in totally different directions. John Maynard Keynes, in a biographical essay on the 19th century economist, William Stanley Jevons, recounts that Jevons – a scientifically-oriented economist who was persuaded that Sunspots were the primary cause for the business cycle – was so certain that all the forests of Great Britain would soon be gone, that he hoarded huge amounts of paper bags; decades after his death, his relatives were still using them up. 

The socially and ideologically self-righteous are, equally, so certain that they know the shape-of-things-to-come, unless they are in charge to set the world right, that they have neither hesitation or patience with any delay in their having the power and authority to command the changes that they believe are essential to save some part or even all of humanity from its short-sighted, ignorant, and uninformed ways. 

The Costs of a Green New Deal

Mr. Feffer, like many of the proponents of the Green New Deal talk about all the nice things they imagine will be forthcoming from this implementation of central planning to recreate how we all live and work. What they too often shunt aside is what it will all cost, besides the loss of many of our individual personal freedoms to manage and direct our own lives, and interact with others as we peacefully and honestly would desire to. 

Even the “conservative” estimates run into the tens of trillions of dollars looking over the next several decades. The Green New Dealers just wave this all away. The rich “one-percent” will pay, or corporations will have more of their earnings siphoned off to cover the expenses. The fact is, the bulk of those in society will have to financially bear the burdens of the Green New Deal, because “the rich” do not possess the means to pay for all the central planning dreams in Mr. Peffer’s head. 

On this point, it is perhaps appropriate to quote from Edwin L. Godkin (1831-1902), a generally classical liberal journalist who was the founder and long-time first editor of The Nation magazine (1865- 1899), the publication in which Mr. Feffer has recently made his case for coerced Green New Deal central planning. 

In his book, Modern Problems of Democracy (1896), Mr. Godkin asked “Who Will Pay the Bills of Socialism” (pp. 225-248), and reminded his readers that the government has no sources of money to do all those wonderful things other than to tax most of the members of society, and that there is a widely held delusion on the part of the socialist planners that there are waiting in the wings all-knowing and wise social engineers who possess the ability to set it all right for all of us. As Mr. Godkin expressed it: 

The State has no money which it does not wring from the hard earnings of sorely pressed people . . . The notion that there is a reservoir of wealth somewhere, either in the possession of the Government or the rich, which might be made to diffuse “plenty through a smiling land,” is a delusion which nearly all the writings of the ethical [“progressive”] economists tend to spread, and it is probably the most mischievous delusion which has ever taken hold on the popular mind. 

It affects indirectly large numbers of persons, who, if it were presented to them boldly and without drapery, would probably repudiate it. But it steals into their brains through sermons, speeches, pamphlets, Fabian essays, and Bellamy Utopias, and disposes them, on humanitarian grounds, to great public extravagances, in buildings, in relief work, in pensions, in schools, in high State wages, and philanthropic undertakings which promise at no distant day to land the modem world in bankruptcy . . .

It is diffusing through the working class of all countries, also, more and more every day, not only envy and hatred of the rich, but an increasing disinclination to steady industry, and an increasing disposition to rely on politics for the bettering of their condition. 

Next in importance to the delusion that there is somewhere a great reservoir of wealth, which can still be drawn on for the general good, is the delusion that there is somewhere a reservoir of wisdom still untapped which can be drawn on for the execution of a new law of distribution. Not only is this current, but some of the philosophers have got into their heads that if our politicians had more money to spend, and more places to bestow, they would become purer and nobler and more public-spirited. 

This theory is so much opposed to the experience of the human race that we are hardly more called on to argue against it than against the assertion that there will be no winter next year. We must take it for granted that what is meant is that there is somewhere a class of men whose services are now lost to the world, who would come into the field for the work of production and distribution under the new regime, and display a talent and discretion and judgment, which now cannot be had either for love or money, for the ordinary work of the world.   

Well, there is no sign of such men at present. Nobody knows of their existence. The opportunities for display of their talents even now are immense, and yet they do not appear. Nobody says he has ever seen them. Nobody pretends that they could be found, except the ethical [“progressive”] economists, and they never mention their names or habitat. In fact, as in Bellamy’s case, the writers of the social romances are compelled to make them unnecessary by predicting a change in human nature, which will make us all wise, just, industrious, and self- denying.

If only the current senior editors of The Nation magazine were to take heed to the criticisms and questions that almost 125 years ago were already made by their own founding editor, Edwin Godkin, about the disinformation and delusions of the type of socialist thinking underlying the idea of a Green New Deal, we might have been saved the misplaced and misguided thinking of John Feffer, with his dream of coercing mankind into his fairyland of a new climate change-free world. 

[Originally Published at AIER]