by Miro Korenha
Founder and Publisher, Our Daily Planet
When the Green New Deal resolution was announced earlier this month, it was met with questions, applause, but also pushback from those who thought it was a “Trojan horse for socialism.” While this type of rhetoric is not a surprising reaction from the right and more conservative institutions like the Chamber of Commerce, it exposed the reality that most Americans don’t really know what socialism means. On the surface, the default American mentality towards socialism is to label it a scary word from the Cold War era that created an “Us vs Them” mentality.
The slogan “better dead than red” is resurfacing in our political discourse as is the fear-mongering that somehow a government-driven program like the Green New Deal will put the United States on a fast track to mirroring Venezuela’s current government. These are inherited fears from our parents and grandparents that have been fundamentally manipulated to stroke distrust of government, support decreased regulation for corporate polluters, and ultimately chip away at the health of our democracy.
Spoiler alert: neither the government in Venezuela nor in the former Soviet Union were socialist, rather they are and were state capitalist economies claiming to be socialist. In a socialist economy workers own the means of production, distribution, and trade, and since the state had and has a stranglehold on all sectors of the economy in the former USSR and Venezuela, it’s a false equivalency to compare broad government policy in the United States to anything that has happened in those regimes.
The United States for its part is also not a pure capitalist society, if we were, there would be no public education, government regulation of food safety, police force, or even our largest government expenditure: our armed services. If you look at the history of the United States, it has been our democratic government that has stepped in to help overcome our biggest crises such as the Great Depression, the World Wars, the polio epidemic, and most recently the financial collapse of 2008. Challenges so great cannot be corrected by market forces or corporations, as the only established entity that solely serves the American people is our government.
Climate change will be added to the aforementioned list of our greatest challenges and we’re already starting to see its impacts. Right now the effects of a warming planet may still seem intangible to many, but Americans are beginning to take the threat more seriously and want their political leaders to take action. Climate change is complicated and the political mechanisms to combat it will also not be simple. What we do know, however, is that we have roughly a decade to get our emissions under control if we do not want to witness the worst ramifications of planetary warming.
This means that we will have to act more boldly than ever to transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels and rehaul our dirtiest sectors such as agriculture and transportation. And while a market-driven carbon tax can be part of that solution, it won’t be effective enough to get us to where we need to go. Plain and simple, we need the government to lead this transition and signal the urgency to the private sector. But in order to do that we need to counter the ideology and propaganda of socialism as the proverbial boogeyman.
The Green New Deal is not some battle royale of socialism vs. capitalism. In the United States, we are both. We have and will continue to rely upon both public and private resources to overcome challenges and meet our needs. We all benefit from services and assurances (like property rights!) from our government, yet the people that need government services the most are often the ones most susceptible to anti-government rhetoric. Also, nowhere in the Green New Deal does it state that all of its goals will be achieved by pure government expenditures. Even if it did, building low-carbon and climate adaptation infrastructure will require private firms to carry out the work–afterall, the U.S. government doesn’t own all the cement plants in our nation.
In this country, socialism has come to mean whatever the person uttering the word wants it to mean. Many totalitarian regimes have claimed to be socialist but at its core the political and economic theory of socialism is about empowering workers not enabling the government to have undue control over our lives. And while the Green New Deal is full of progressive ideals it still calls on American ingenuity to help build a nation that is ready for the effects of climate change and the ways in which it will alter American lives. Think about it this way: if fossil fuel companies have been federally subsidized for decades to pollute and cause climate change then why can’t those same government resources be redirected toward cleaning up the mess they’ve made?