A long time ago, in a place far, far away, I had a friend who taught seventh-grade English. I believe he was a good teacher. I know he loved his students, and loved teaching.
He told me once that seventh-graders, twelve- and thirteen-year olds, were unique people. Their grasp of the English language was generally good. Their vocabulary was fairly extensive, and their grammar was pretty good.
The way he said the foregoing, I knew there was going to be a “but.”
The “but” was that although their speaking and writing skills were approaching adult levels, they still had the naivety of children. They still believe that people were either all good or all bad. They hadn’t yet discovered that sometimes good people do bad things for what they believe are justifiable reasons.
They’re right at the end of that time when their parents give them everything they need and a lot of what they want. They haven’t yet faced the harsh reality that everything has a cost, in terms of material, effort, and often money.
They know that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy aren’t real, but they still believe the world is governed by the philosophies those things represent.
I tell that story as a lead-in to this Commentary. My original intent was to do a serious analysis of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal that she calls a “Green New Deal.” I’ll admit I was starting with a strong bias—just the snippets that I heard here and there made it obvious it was a wholly unworkable plan.
I began my research by reading the entire twelve-page proposal her office put out. (it took twelve pages on my printer, counting footnotes. I’ve seen other commentaries describing it as anywhere from six to fourteen pages.)
After struggling thru all twelve pages—and believe me, it was a struggle—and before I read anyone else’s comments on it, I knew that a serious analysis was going to be impossible. It would have been like trying to do a serious analysis of the Irish legend that at the end of every rainbow is a leprechaun’s pot of gold.
She’s taken the text of the proposal off of her Web site, but here it is, in case you’d like to read it. I don’t recommend it (unless you need something to put you to sleep some night), but I’ll leave that decision up to you.
After much pondering, I decided I would summarize each of her five main objectives, and offer my comments on them. As we go thru this, keep in mind what my friend said about seventh-graders: their command of the language is reasonably good, but they still have the naivety of children. That’s the way this proposal strikes me. It was written—or at least conceived—by someone who knew absolutely nothing about economics—but still believed in unicorns.
PROPOSAL ONE: DO AWAY WITH BIG CORPORATIONS THAT “DRAIN OFF PROFITS TO ENRICH ABSENTEE INVESTORS” (her words). INSTEAD, THE GOVERNMENT WILL PROVIDE GRANTS AND LOANS TO LOCAL COOPERATIVES AND NON-PROFITS THAT WILL KEEP THE WEALTH CIRCULATING IN THE LOCAL COMMUNITY.
She doesn’t explain how things like automobiles, ships, MRI machines, and medicines are going to be manufactured by local cooperatives and non-profits. So we’re starting off with a major question mark.
PROPOSAL TWO: MOVE TO 100% CLEAN ENERGY BY 2030. REDIRECT RESEARCH GRANTS FROM FOSSIL FUELS AND “OTHER DEAD-END INDUSTRIES” (her words) TOWARD RESEARCH IN WIND, SOLAR, TIDAL, AND GEOTHERMAL ENERGY.
According to her proposal, this research will result in sustainable, closed-loop cycles that eliminate waste, toxic materials, and pollution, and result in sustainable organic agriculture and sustainable forestry.
This is the most sweeping of the five proposals. It’s important to understand that she’s not just demanding that all electricity be generated by clean, renewable methods. She says that generating electricity is only about one-third of our fossil-energy consumption. She also wants to do away with all internal-combustion engines.
Does she want to go back to using steam engines? No. Steam engines require coal, oil or natural gas to heat the water and generate the steam. In her proposal, everything will be powered by electric motors. Power for the motors will be furnished by solar cells, or by batteries that will be recharged from the clean, renewable electric grid.
She wants to completely do away with privately-owned automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, boats, and anything else powered by an internal-combustion engine. Local transportation will be via a system of free public transportation, with the vehicles powered by that clean electricity. People will get to and from the local metro pickup point either on foot or by riding bicycles.
She doesn’t address the fact that many of the vehicles on our roads are commercial vehicles, used to transport supplies and workers to and from job sites.
She also wants to eliminate airplanes. Long distance travel will be via a network of high-speed trains that will criss-cross the nation. She doesn’t address how we’re going to get to places like Hawaii, Australia, Europe, and Asia, except to acknowledge that “we may not be able to get rid of all the airplanes by 2030.”
By the way, one of my research sources estimated that the aircraft industry and the air-travel industry combined employ about 1.2 million people. The Green New Deal would push all those people into unemployment.
She wants the 155 million buildings in the U.S. to be either torn down and replaced, or upgraded to modern energy-efficient standards. She admits that the vast majority of these buildings would have to be torn down and replaced. That would be cheaper than trying to upgrade them.
I’ve got to admit—I’d kinda like to be there when the bulldozers show up at the farm in Alabama or Mississippi, and the crews tell the owner they’re there to knock down the farmhouse where five generations of the owner’s family were born. That’s when the armed revolution will start.
Oh, and like any good liberal, she isn’t willing to let the existing nuclear power plants, the cleanest, cheapest, most pollution-free method of generating electricity currently possible, continue to operate. She wants them all decommissioned by 2030.
PROPOSAL THREE: CREATE A NEW GOVERNMENT AGENCY, TO BE KNOWN AS THE “COMMISSION FOR ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY.”
The description of exactly what this Commission is going to do is a little vague. Its purpose is to “…strengthen democracy via participatory budgeting and institutions that encourage local initiative and democratic decision-making.” My reaction is…say what?
PROPOSAL FOUR: CREATE A NEW GOVERNMENT AGENCY, TO BE KNOWN AS THE “RENEWABLE ENERGY ADMINISTRATION.”
Ah, another government agency. Why do I get the feeling this is a liberal, big-government program?
Patterned after the Rural Electrification Administration of the Nineteen Thirties, the purpose of this one will be to “…provide technical support, financing, and coordination…with eco-friendly energy sources.” In other words, a federal government agency to make sure everyone stays on the plan.
PROPOSAL FIVE: END UNEMPLOYMENT IN AMERICA…BY GUARANTEEING A JOB AT A LIVING WAGE FOR EVERY AMERICAN WILLING AND ABLE TO WORK. SAID JOBS WILL INCLUDE FREE HEALTH CARE, SICK LEAVE, FAMILY LEAVE, HOLIDAYS, VACATIONS, AND A SECURE RETIREMENT. A LIVING WAGE WILL BE PROVIDED FOR EVERYONE UNABLE OR UNWILLING TO WORK.
I read this section slowly and carefully. Twice. I’m satisfied that she did not explain how any of this relates to climate change or saving the planet.
But let’s skip over that and ask the obvious question: where are all those jobs going to come from? Look back at Proposal Two. Think about all the thousands of miles of high-speed train track that will have to be built, not to mention building and operating the trains themselves.
Think about those 155 million buildings that are going to be torn down and rebuilt. That’s going to require tens of thousands of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and other construction tradesmen, plus several billion board-feet of lumber, thousands of miles of pipe and wiring, thousands of windows, probably a trillion nails, and lots of other stuff.
Over the past two years, President Trump’s policies have resulted in the creation of 5.3 million jobs. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez says her plan will result in the creation of twenty million jobs.
By the way, all these jobs will be union jobs. The unions will make sure the workers get the benefits the Green New Deal promises.
She specifies that the government will be what she calls “an employer of last resort,” stepping in where necessary to provide jobs in “…community-identified needs.”
My thought: once those thousands of miles of train track are built, and the 155 million buildings are torn down and rebuilt, many of those twenty million people are going to be unemployed again. She doesn’t appear to have thought of that.
I wonder if there’s going to be an age limit on the people “unwilling to work?” If not, and depending on how much they pay, I might be willing to come out of retirement and join the ranks of those unwilling to work.
Now we come to that thorny question that always seems to come up in discussions like this—how are we, or the government, or somebody going to pay for all this? Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has a number of suggestions, most of which are straight out of the Talking Points for Liberals manual. First is that old liberal standard, “tax the rich.” After all, they’re the absentee investors who skimmed off all that profit the large corporations made. It’s only fair that they give some of it back.
Giving credit where credit is due, she admits that even if we confiscated all the assets of the nation’s billionaires, it wouldn’t be enough. But never fear. She has other ideas.
I was always under the impression that wars were fought because of ideological, economic, or religious disagreements. According to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, that’s wrong. Wars are fought over access to oil and food.
Once we have an ample supply of clean, renewable energy, and an ample supply of food is guaranteed by sustainable organic farming and sustainable forestry, there will be no more need for wars. World peace, the goal that has eluded mankind for countless millennia, will finally be achieved.
We’ll be able to close all those bases overseas and bring our military people home. We won’t need to spend all those billions of dollars on weapons systems and armaments. That means we can cut our defense budget to almost nothing.
She also proposes the creation of what she calls an Oil Legacy Fund. It will be paid for by a tax on the assets of oil and gas companies. Part of the money would be used in the transition to a low-carbon economy, and part would be used to pay interim energy costs for low-income households.
Finally, she proposes a “carbon tax” on the continued use of fossil fuels by either individuals or companies. Sort of a “punishment tax” on people who don’t want to give up their yachts and private jets.
There’s an old saying that, “You can’t railroad until it’s time to railroad.” Leonardo da Vinci foresaw the helicopter in the Sixteenth Century although he called it an “airscrew.” He described it and even drew a sketch of it. But he never tried to build one. Why?
Because the necessary technology didn’t exist during his lifetime. He didn’t have the materials, like high-strength steel and aluminum, or manufacturing processes like welding and machining. He didn’t have an engine powerful enough to power it. Those things wouldn’t exist until four hundred years later, when Igor Sikorsky succeeded in building the first helicopter.
The biggest problem with the entire Green New Deal concept is that the technology to implement it doesn’t exist. It might exist by 2030, but today, in 2019, it doesn’t. It’s not even on the far horizon.
The biggest problem is battery technology. Batteries have come a long way in the past twenty or thirty years, but they still have a weight-to-power problem. A battery capable of storing enough amperage to power an electric car for two hundred miles would weigh half as much as the car. A battery capable of powering a car from New York to California would weigh substantially more than the car.
Electric-powered airplanes are currently impossible because of the battery-weight problem. An electric ship with enough battery amperage to reach from California to Japan or Australia would be so heavy that it couldn’t carry any cargo.
The diesel-electric submarines of the WW2 era could go about forty miles on one battery charge. Then they had to surface and recharge the batteries—with the diesel engine driving the generators.
Modern diesel-electric submarines, using current battery technology, can go somewhat more than 100 miles without recharging. That’s less than 2% of the distance from California to Japan. So our most modern diesel-electric submarines couldn’t get anywhere near Japan on one battery charge, and there probably won’t be any charging stations in the Pacific Ocean.
Anywhere in the U.S. there are days when the sun doesn’t shine. There are days the wind doesn’t blow. The infamous Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) sees to it that those days are often the days when demand for electricity is at a peak, for heating or air conditioning. The only way the electric demand can be met on those days is from batteries. Lots and lots of very expensive batteries.
I’ve seen estimates that if we tried to build a grid of clean, renewable electricity using today’s technology, the average household electric bill would be more than $1000 a month—and there’s no guarantee there wouldn’t be days when no power was available.
The problem with liberals has always been that they live in a dream world—a world where anything is possible. Free, high-quality health care. A job for every American. A guaranteed income sufficient to meet everyone’s needs. Clean, renewable energy in unlimited amounts. Electric cars that will go from New York to California without recharging.
They dream these things up, then promise them to the American voters. When their opponents on the other side of the aisle say, “Ahhh…how do you propose to pay for these things?” or “How do you propose to make this work?” they just shrug and say, “We’ve got to do it somehow.” That’s basically what this proposal amounts to—“We’ve got to do it somehow.”
But my overarching thought in all of this is to wonder how anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of economics could look at this proposal and not realize that it would destroy the economy of the U.S. It’s like a man making $80,000 a year and already $100,000 in debt, trying to live a lifestyle that costs $120,000 a year to maintain. Does he really think the banks are going to loan him another $40,000 a year, year after year, decade after decade?
Yes, I realize there are people like that. The bankruptcy courts are full of them every day. Unfortunately, there are no bankruptcy courts for nations—just hunger, humiliation, and third-world status, like Cuba and Venezuela. Is that really what Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters want for us?