Remember when the business section of your local paper had several pages of stock quotes from the various stock exchanges, the options market, etc.? Wait, perhaps I should take a step back...remember when we still had newspapers?
With our digital subscription, we receive the print edition of the Houston Chronicle every Sunday, and it's kind of sad. With a cover price of US $4.00, it is pretty skimpy compared to the 50-cent Sunday editions I remember from my youth. And half of its thickness is blow-in advertising supplements. (Since our subscription costs $14.00 a month, that price is reduced to $3.50 per issue in a typical four-Sunday month. It also includes the online edition, which has been troublesome lately, but that's a story for another time.)
In my youth, the only real reason I ever looked at the business section of the paper was to see the share price of companies I found interesting, such as my stepfather's employer. I certainly didn't pick it to read the articles, which were chloroform in print.
But now I'm older and harder to put to sleep with mere words.
I like reading the works of the Chronicle's business columnist Chris Tomlinson. He frequently makes points with which I agree. I find that weird, but encouraging. Tomlinson is certainly no flaming lefty, more of a common-sense conservative: In almost every column, he displays an uncanny ability to NOT spout orthodox classical econ talking points and base his punditry on actual facts.
Therefore, Tomlinson's column from yesterday's edition didn't merely disappoint me. It infuriated me.
See if you can find the phrase in the first two paragraphs that infuriated me the most:
The United States needs a Green New Deal, but totalitarian environmentalists with little comprehension of free-market economics or energy industry realities should not dictate the terms.
If you guessed "totalitarian environmentalists," treat yourself to a full-body massage.
While I agree with the second paragraph in its entirety, it overlooks something important: THE GREEN NEW DEAL IS VERY MUCH ABOUT "ADDRESSING INCOME INEQUALITY," YOU OTHERWISE REASONABLE AND KNOWLEDGEABLE PERSON!!! We can and must transition to renewable energy and the other aspects of the GND (e.g., localized urban food webs) both swiftly and justly, which includes providing employment and training for everyone who can and wants to work.
This paragraph beggars belief, illustrating as it does that Mr. Tomlinson Just. Doesn't. Get. It:
These groups also want a Green New Deal that keeps fossil fuels in the ground, bans the export of fossil fuels and pursues "a managed decline of fossil fuel production.” Apparently, the hundreds of thousands of families that depend on the $715 billion spent annually on oil and natural gas do not matter.
There's a reason for using the phrase "managed decline" rather than "immediate cessation." Tomlinson falls into a common rhetorical pit here, whining that all those gigawatts of fossil power will be lost, never to be replaced with power from renewable sources or conservation—as if the big energy companies could never be mobilized to develop renewables. As for whether fossil-fuel families matter to climate activists, wanting to maintain a habitable world for all earthlings beyond 2030 reflects that they do indeed.
It gives us lefties no great joy to know that we have a dozen years or so to bring about a massive reduction in fossil fuel extraction and consumption, that this can only be accomplished by opening entire cases of whoop-ass on our corporate overlords, and that ordinary people may be hurt as a result of the process of saving the world. Re-creating systems to make big business more accountable to People and Planet is not totalitarianism; it is liberation.
A big lesson we learn from our socialist view of history is that the state must do what the private sector cannot or will not. Apart from protecting us from stupidity and greed, whether that of others or our own, that is the state's main purpose.
Tomlinson goes on to mention how Thomas Friedman put the phrase Green New Deal into common parlance via a column he wrote way back in 2007. Yes, that's a solid four years before the phrase became part of Jill Stein's first presidential run began. While Stein may have appropriated the phrase, wittingly or not, her version of the GND looks very different. Tomlinson bows to mainstream-media orthodoxy by not even mentioning that the GND was the basis of two successive Green Party presidential campaign.
Such omissions have already become so common that they scarcely bother me any more. But professional analysts should stop pretending (a) that Democrats invented it, and (b) that groups like the Sunrise Movement have no understanding of how legislation and the economy work in the real world. The main problem with both our Congress and our economy is that they don't work for ordinary people.
I invite Tomlinson, and anyone else, to peruse the Green New Deal page of Stein's campaign website for a primer on how this program works in the world we envision.
I have gone back and read Friedman's seminal column on that topic, and it's exactly what we've come to expect from Ol' Tom: neo-liberal dreck. He was—and, I believe, still is—convinced that corporate behemoths will take climate science seriously, recognize that they cannot continue making money extracting fuels from an overheated and uninhabitable planet, and do the right thing out of the goodness of their teeny-tiny hearts. Oh, and the government should encourage their such altruistic behavior through a combination of tasty carrots and gently applied sticks.
What was it that Upton Sinclair said about when a person's salary depends on not understanding something? I believe that the aphorism applies as much to establishment propagandists like Friedman as to the CEO of ExxonMobil.
Naomi Klein has devoted several books and a sizable chunk of her career to demonstrating that the free market is never really free and can seldom be counted on to do what is best for People and Planet. It needs a very non-Invisible Hand to guide it. This is not to say that Klein, Richard Wolff, and other progressive big-thinkers are indisputably correct in their conclusions, but it would do the Tomlinsons and Friedmans of the world a great deal of good to read and understand their theories and the reasoning beneath them. If mainstream columnists care to critique those writings, they'll have to do much better than saying, "This doesn't square with the prevailing economic paradigm, so it must be wrong."
Perhaps then Tomlinson, Friedman, et al would understand why the Sunrisers are pushing the GND with such urgency: They know the stakes. And they know that the current system is not just ineffective, but is in fact standing in the way of world-saving reforms.
Meanwhile, if anybody knows of a business-section columnist for a metropolitan daily who writes from a perspective not steeped in orthodox pro-capitalist dogma, please throw some links my way. I'm not giving up on Tomlinson yet, but overcoming that dogma isn't easy.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
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