Going Green and Socialism

In response to New York City mayor Bill de Blasio's threat to make glass and steel skyscrapers "extinct" because “They have no place in our city or our Earth anymore,” the New York Post ran a cartoon depicting the mayor as Fred Flintstone presenting a building design made of rocks. A perfectly sound comment, given that those who proclaim themselves to be "progressives" are clearly rejecting the modern age and the true progress that has lifted humankind from millennia of abject poverty to abundance over the last few centuries. The process of advancement started in Western Europe with the rise of capitalism and has spread across the world. The process is not yet complete, as people even in the advanced nations still have unmet needs and desires. Indeed, the entire field of economics is based on the assumption that human wants are unlimited. The rise of the Green movement threatens to halt any further gains in material living standards and to roll back much of what has been accomplished since the Industrial Revolution.

The left has embraced the Green movement for a very simple reason. The left rejects the modern world because it was not built according to its ideology. Yet, its ideology, being pulled out of thin air, cannot build anything substantial or enduring. And most importantly, it cannot generate the kind of economic growth necessary to raise living standards across society. Most serious socialist ideologues know this. The strategy has always been, from Marx onward, that socialists would seize control of an already developed capitalist economy and then redistribute the wealth it had created in a more “equitable” manner. Creating new wealth after the revolution was known to be problematic, so the natural desire of people for more -- the motive for the development of civilization from time immemorial, has to be curtailed. A "new individual" with less ambition must be created to fit the stagnant socialist model.

The first Earth Day was held in the United States on April 22, 1970, a creation of the New Left. The radicalism of that day (which is in full resurgence today) is primarily associated with the antiwar movement. The desire to see the United States lose in Vietnam to a less-developed Marxist regime was only part of the larger aim to transform American society. A new kind of society was imagined that would abandon the culture of growth and affluence which underpinned an “imperialist” foreign policy.

In 1973 appeared E. F. Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. Schumacher argued “The optimal pattern of consumption, producing a high degree of human satisfaction by means of a relatively low rate of consumption, allows people to live without great pressure and strain.... people satisfying their needs by means of a modest means of a modest use of resources are obviously less likely to be at each other’s throats than people depending on a high rate of use.” The effort to produce such a society in the form of "hippie" communes failed as even activists grew tired of sitting in the mud.

If people could not be persuaded to give up the good life, they had to be told they had no choice in the matter. Thus was born the "limits to growth" movement which argued that the planet was running out of resources, particularly energy, so no matter how much we wanted to progress, we could not do so. The great thing about the human spirit, which the left deplores, is that when faced with a limit, people find a way beyond it. Fracking and nuclear power promise abundance, which is precisely why the left has run such massive campaigns against them. All hope for a bright future must be crushed.

People, however, are not going to vote for a permanent recession, let alone a program of regression. We see this in every election that takes place during a business downturn. So the socialists had to up the stakes. It's not the economy, stupid; it's the planet! Further growth will kill us all, in only twelve years according to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). The resources might be available, but to exploit them would destroy the planet. Already, we have come too far. Global warming (or climate change, since the latest warming phase may be waning) makes growth undesirable. And if there is to be no more growth, what is allowed to be produced must be rationed by socialist planners on an equitable basis. This is the practical meaning of "sustainable" development.

On the international scene, this has taken the form of a two-track approach to fighting climate change. In UN terminology it is called the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities.” The "overdeveloped" capitalist countries have to cut back while the emerging countries (including China) are free to move forward to get their "fair" share of the planet's limited ecological space. Another redistribution scheme to be managed by a socialist-style system of world governance. The ability of nations to advance the benefits of their own citizens beyond the "norm" is no longer legitimate.

Green is essential to Red. Environmentalism will be pushed regardless of the state of scientific knowledge because socialism requires it. It is a sin not to believe that nature commands limits be placed on human civilization, justifying the enforcement of austerity (if not poverty) by socialist vicars. Capitalism is to be condemned as destructive. It corrupts people with the suicidal lure of more.

Oddly, socialism is becoming popular among the millennials whose lifestyles are fully entangled in the products economic growth has provided during their short existence. Under capitalism, technology is accelerating. The young would be the most aroused in protest if suddenly forced to live in the boring world of Schumacher. The offer of student loan forgiveness or free health care might buy their votes in the short run, but they would not find a return to Bedrock any more acceptable than the rest of us. 

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues.