I’m driving down the road. I’m seeing all kinds of trucks. Many are driving food to grocery stores to put on shelves. That way, people can buy the food, take it home, and eat it as a part of living a happy life. The food was grown on land plowed by tractors that use internal combustion. Lots of it was flown in from abroad on planes that also use gasoline.
Thank goodness no crazy person is pushing for this to be abolished, by force of law.
Oh, wait a moment. Someone is. Many people are. I just read about it here.
In a couple of days, I’ll board a plane that will take me in two hours to the completion of a trip that would have required months of travel 200 years ago – if I would have made it at all.
As I prepare my things, I’m struck by what I just read from a highly celebrated member of Congress, and endorsed by many of her colleagues. Using freshly printed and taxed money, she says the government should “build out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.”
So much for visiting Europe. Actually, so much for visiting anywhere outside your local community. So much for world trade. So much for eating food not grown in your backyard.
Actually, so much for life on earth as we know it.
The end of air travel and the end of industrial farming are just two pieces of “a massive transformation of our society” proposed in the Green New Deal, which is explained in a document which reads like a nightmare fantasy of the GOP.
Some of the strangest agenda points for government to do: “upgrade or replace every building in US”; “Provide job training and education to all”; stop “using fossil fuels for energy needs,” which means ending 78% of current energy consumption; “reorient our entire economy to work off renewable energy,” like sun, like wind, like the state of nature of starvation and early death; it won’t happen because the tooth fairy will give us “economic security for all who are unable or unwilling to work,” provided we “replace every combustion-engine vehicle” and pay for it with “a carbon tax” that would only cover “a tiny part” of the necessary mass confiscation.
What could go wrong?
It’s almost hard to believe that an actual adult could produce this document without satirical intention, but there it is. What’s more, the whole thing is too easily dismissed as a nutty childish fantasy. In a Democratic Party bereft of ideas, the gigantic socialist plan, which makes the Bolsheviks seem modest, could have a huge influence on the future. Once you come to believe that the state can best manage life on earth – provided the right experts are in charge and that all the necessary resources are unlimited – there is no turning back.
And yet I actually don’t think this “plan” is that much of a danger to the modernity it proposes to abolish. Many people are critiquing the program on grounds that it is too expensive. It's true there is no magic money machine that can produce revenue without social cost. But even if such a thing existed, nothing in this delusional sheet should become operational. It would supplant market signaling and experimentation – and the consumer-driven process of discovering what should and should not be produced – with rule by an iron-fisted elite, ending anything resembling liberty.
And yet, it still raises questions, such as: why does this nonsense exist at all?
The Old New Deal
The last New Deal was much more modest. It sought to raise commodity prices, boost GDP, and reignite hiring. It didn’t work; recall that the Great Depression didn’t end until after the whole thing evaporated after World War Two.
Still, think about the state of the economy back then. From American Default: “Between 1929 and 1932, gross domestic product (GDP)...dropped almost 60 percent”; “production of durable goods, including automobiles, declined by 81 percent, and the value of agricultural production was down by 63 percent.” During the same period, “employment declined by almost 50 percent – one out of every two people who in July 1929 had a job had lost it by March 1932.” The number of unemployed: 15 million. Wages fell by 67 percent. Cash income in rural areas fell by 70 percent.
In other words, the collapse was inconceivable by today’s standards. As bad as 2008 seemed, it was a blip by comparison. It is for reasons of this calamity, experienced in people’s regular lives, that we can vaguely understand the lurch into the unknown, and the replacement of market signaling by government planning. It was a bad choice but emergencies are often the occasion for disastrous policy decisions.
Today, on the other hand, things are moving along swimmingly. The number of people employed has never been higher; the unemployment rate is rock bottom; financial markets have recovered from last year’s panic over Trump’s misbegotten trade war; new technologies are making life better; the environment is cleaner than ever.
Life is not perfect, and getting rid of the dead weight of the state would make for huge progress. But there is no sense in which a lurch into totalitarian insanity would seem justified in any respect. Not even the worst possible predictions of climate change would seem to provide an explanation or justification for utterly losing our minds.
How to account for the existence of a document – widely trumpeted by the media – which proposes that we replace modern life for totalitarian government control? My only explanation is ideology. There is no idea so nutty that it can be ruled out by reason, provided we have the overlay of dogmatic ideology to blind people to obvious historical, empirical, and theoretical reality.
Ideology can be so corrosive and intellectually debilitating that it can convince even a person who has never personally achieved anything beyond obtaining a college degree that he can redesign the world economy. Amazing but true. And if there is no other vision to compete, even the most far-flung fantasy can prevail over time. This is how 20th-century totalitarianism came to be, and why it can never be ruled out completely.
I just typed that last sentence from an airplane, which is only in the air because people such as the authors of the Green New Deal have yet to get their way.