How to Combat the Green New Deal

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal is well positioned to fend off the many powerful objections being raised against its practicality.  Here is why.

The Green New Deal offers a unifying sense of purpose to the two youngest generations in this country at a time when organized religion has been largely stripped of its authority and spirituality alone lacks direction.  Virtually all people yearn for a some sort of socially accepted vision of what might be called a "better world."  If the vision is cast in morally uplifting terms, it will appeal to that divine side of human nature.  As individuals, we the people are flawed, but if we have a shared vision for the future that transcends individual failure and creates a sense of common purpose, then we feel worthy of being in this world.  This is an enormously attractive prospect for anyone and is hard to combat using negative ideas like impracticality and impossibility.

The Green New Deal is impractical, but for those to whom it appeals, a critique on such grounds magnifies the sense that it is a heroic undertaking.  All of us would like to be a part of a heroic undertaking because it gives importance to our lives.  To emphasize impossibility and impracticality will only strengthen the resolve of those who have already attached themselves to the environmental creed.

The most powerful antidote for a flawed vision is an alternative vision simple enough and intuitive enough that people will be motivated to choose it rather than socialism.  We know that capitalism and individual freedom are a historically proven formula for achieving prosperity, and our task is to present these dynamics in a morally positive way.

Capitalism is by its nature an economic project and thus gets tarred with being materialistic rather than uplifting.  Ironically, socialism is equally materialistic, since it concerns itself with the distribution of earthly things, but its aficionados have managed to cast it as being moral because it strives for "equitable" distribution of everything.

We need to avoid speaking in purely economic terms and instead explain to everybody why individualism and capitalism offer a more profound morality than does socialism.  In particular, we must emphasize that individual work — personal enterprise — combined with the freedom to make one's own choices regarding the form of that striving can create a world in which people realize a personally defined sense of purpose.  We must present capitalism and individualism as ideals toward which a person can move only by making the required effort.  We must cast our case in moralistic terms rather than materialistic ones.


The good news is that history is on our side.  Capitalism and individualism worked as springboards to personal satisfaction.  That they created material wealth is not the main point.  The main point is that capitalism was midwife to political principles that allowed each individual to live a personally meaningful life in spite of the differences in power and wealth that inevitably define all complex societies.  True capitalism encouraged each person to shoulder the responsibility of being a productive member of society while leaving every other person free to do the same.  To this end, we must define a political platform that enshrines a handful of value-laden principles that drive government policies.

The stereotypical capitalist is a big-bellied man of middle age with Napoleonic carriage and an unlined face indicative of no concern with such trivialities as ethics and morals.  The underlying message is that capitalists are consumed with making money to the exclusion of all else.  In the minds of some, this subliminal message is highlighted by the simultaneous presence of lean and troubled workers whose withered frames and stooped postures telegraph exploitation.  Material exploitation — by the man with the big belly and the carefree face.

Republicans are aware of the stereotype but dismiss it as unrealistic.  For socialists and anti-capitalists in general, however, the stereotype is easily evoked and conveys a certain degree of universal truth.  If Republicans wish to persuade the growing body of anti-capitalists that government policies based on capitalist principles are more likely to improve life for Americans, it would be wise to not talk money since its very mention can trigger the stereotype — the specter of which is more powerful than any logic.

Capitalism owns the money argument, and virtually everybody knows it.  Republicans should, therefore, avoid raising the topic.  Since money is essential to any new proposed government program, Democrats need it far more than Republicans do.  Every element of the Green New Deal will require great gobs of public money.  So will free education or universal health care or subsidized child care or universal basic income.  Republicans, keep your traps shut; breathe not a word about money.

But be ready: sooner or later, Democrats will have to put meat on the bones.  When they do be ready to counter-punch.  They cannot win the money argument when the government is $21 trillion in debt, but sooner or later, they will have to raise the issue.  Your sledgehammer may be in hand and cocked, but don't dream of unleashing it until the Democrats suggest a budget.

Until then, counter a materialistic utopia with an alternative one that stresses character, values, and principles. Imagine a world in which American's are energy self-sufficient, in which American families are healthy and strong and growing, in which self-respect is a higher priority than respect for strangers.  Imagine the freedom and security associated with being debt-free, the strength and vitality associated with being drug-free (booze included).  In other words, design policies that appeal to human values.  In the process of doing this, the principles of capitalism will flourish as if by magic, and the worth of individualism will reassert itself as an unmitigated good.

Image: Corey Torpie via Wikimedia Commons.

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