Investment is a Win-Win for the Global Economy and Climate Change

Jan 28, 2011Jon Rynn

earth-150Following Keynes, Joseph Stiglitz proposes solutions that would heal the economy and the environment in one fell swoop.

earth-150Following Keynes, Joseph Stiglitz proposes solutions that would heal the economy and the environment in one fell swoop.

Recently Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize-winning economist and Senior Fellow and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute, gave a very interesting speech in South Africa concerning climate change and the global economy. He argued that by implementing policies that help to reverse global warming, we can also reverse the global economic downturn. Although he also pointed out many barriers to doing so, he outlined some interesting policy proposals.

For me, the most interesting part of his speech concerned the use of a Keynesian approach, not just for a single country, as is usually done, but for the entire world economy. Keynes pointed out that when the private sector is unable to generate enough demand in the economy, that is, it is unable generate enough spending from consumption and investment, then the government must step in to kickstart spending. Thus in recessions and depressions many now acknowledge that at some point it may be necessary for the government to spend more than it takes in to get the economy moving again. (See numerous articles from Marshall Auerback on this basic idea.)

There are a couple of fine points to what Keynes was saying, however, that are either often glossed over or challenged. First, he asserted that when demand is low, saving can get in the way of recovery. So -- and this is the part that is ignored -- since the rich save more than the poor, their excess income gets in the way of recovery. The horrendous implication, from the rich person’s point of view, is that they should be taxed more. The less direct way to put this, which is the way it is discussed even in much of the progressive media, is that an “unequal distribution of wealth” leads to negative economic outcomes. The important statistic for the US is that while in 1970 the top 1% of households pulled in about 10% of total income, now they receive close to 25%. Not good, from a purely Keynesian perspective.

So what does this have to do with climate change? Since he was speaking in South Africa, it was easy for him to point out that the world distribution of wealth is very unequal. Because of this inequality, it will be much harder for developing countries to create less carbon-intensive economies through large-scale investment than for developed countries. In addition, the poorer countries consume more and the richer countries save more. So an obvious policy approach is to tax financial transactions, which moves money from something that (to be charitable) involves savings into consumption and investment by developing countries. The richer countries could also simply give grants to the poorer countries. Stiglitz claimed that about $200 billion per year would be required to help developing countries make the transition to a less carbon-intensive future, which could be financed from a financial tax.

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The second implication of Keynes’ ideas is that the economy needs more investment when it is in a downturn. We certainly need a good deal of investment to create less carbon-intensive economies, and it so happens that, according to Keynes, investment, particularly in factories, is the best way to pull economies out of slumps. While he famously suggested that digging holes and filling them up again would also do the trick, he clearly preferred doing something useful with investments on the grounds that investment is generally good for a society and that it is a surer way to speed recovery than consumption.

Stiglitz argued that what we have now is an inadequate level of global aggregate demand, which is to say, there isn’t enough consumption and investment for the entire global economy to pull out of the recession. Thus, he stressed, reversing climate change is an opportunity for the economy, not a drag. We need investment for the good of the climate and we need investment for the good of the economy -- therefore what we have is a win-win situation.

But how do we encourage investment? Stiglitz’s answer is to put a price on the emission of carbon, thus stimulating investment into less carbon-intensive technologies. He thinks that eventually carbon will be priced at 80 dollars per ton, which means that it will probably be cheaper to build a wind farm than to build a coal plant. In fact, it might become more economically rational, with a price on carbon, to shut down an existing coal plant and build a new wind farm to replace it. And new wind farms mean new investment, which means increasing global aggregate demand, which means pulling out of the global recession.

Of course, there are roadblocks in the way of this process. For one thing, there is the power of the greatest emitters of carbon, the oil and coal industries, among others. Then there is the expense that a price on carbon would mean for poorer countries -- thus the need for the richer part of the world to subsidize the poorer part. Even rich countries, of course, would not take easily to a price for carbon, as we saw in last year's defeat of lukewarm cap-and-trade legislation. Stiglitz argues that for an international treaty to be effective, it needs to have enforceable sanctions, such as hitting the offending nation's exports with a price increase. But as the managing editor of South Africa’s largest newspaper argued in a generally favorable response to Stiglitz’s lecture, trade sanctions would mean that developing countries would be hurt, thus requiring some more subsidies in order to equalize the playing field.

In all, I think Stiglitz laid out the foundation of a very workable global economic strategy. I would propose another element: encouraging direct investment and construction of infrastructure on the part of governments. While Stiglitz mentioned the idea of regulation and praised mass transit as an adjunct to the general policy of pricing carbon, it was not a focus of his approach. But here is another possibility for a win-win -- if developed countries sold or gave factories to the developing countries to create the wind turbines, electric rail and cars, and solar plants that would allow them to reduce carbon emissions, it would give the developed countries a huge boost economically and the developing countries the capability to become much wealthier in a sustainable way. Think of it as a global Marshall Plan or Works Progress Administration. The developed countries could promise, say, one trillion dollars per year in machinery to the developing countries, which would be a strategic, targeted, Keynesian method for pulling the entire world economy out of its slump. And it would go far to meet what Stiglitz called the greatest challenge we have ever faced: the threat of global climate change.

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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SOTU Advice from Millennials: Invest in Our Future!

Jan 25, 2011

Those with the biggest stake in what the President says tonight are the young people who will inherit his decisions. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network shares hopes for what path our country can and should take.

From Anna Peterson, junior history and mathematics double-major and the Campus Network Chapter Vice-President of Policy Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

Those with the biggest stake in what the President says tonight are the young people who will inherit his decisions. The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network shares hopes for what path our country can and should take.

From Anna Peterson, junior history and mathematics double-major and the Campus Network Chapter Vice-President of Policy Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

"As he talks about investing in the future, I hope to hear the president discuss investment in education. What comes after short-term grants from the stimulus bill and Race to the Top, and how can we give schools the reliable funding they need in the long run? With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, education is bound to be on the agenda in the coming year, and I expect the president to emphasize the importance of education for economic recovery and in relation to global competition."

From Toto Martinez, first year political science major at UC Davis and a new member of the Roosevelt chapter:

"I would like to see the president echo some of the rhetoric from his 2008 presidential campaign. Specifically, he should focus on: closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, who pay a lower percentage in taxes than the average working person; fighting, at least, for a public health insurance option and applying anti-trust laws to the private health-insurance industry; campaign finance reform that bans contributions from any unions, corporations, or other special interest groups and only allows for the use of public funds that will keep candidates accountable to the American people; and a massive infrastructure program for the twentieth century that will put millions of people to work, just as Roosevelt did in the 1930s. He should not use 'compromise' as a scapegoat for all of his broken promises, but rather fight for the ideals that made the country strong in the past. He may go down fighting or he may ride a wave back to victory, but above all he must fight for our nation's democratic principles." ~

From Sahar Massachi, fourth-year student of computer science at Brandeis University and previous Summer Academy fellow with the Campus Network:

"Tonight, the Kremlinologists of Washington are expecting to pore over a careful, calibrated, and polished policy document disguised as a speech. They'll analyze every twist and turn of phrase for hints of Obama's plans for the next year. That's kind of sad; it doesn't have to be this way. Imagine a speech that teaches us what a positive and just foreign policy could be like, one that sketches out a story about what life in a progressive America could look like. Imagine a speech that speaks directly to us -- and ignores the expectations of the chattering class. I want to live in a world where Obama educates me about the world as it is, inspires me with a vision for a bright future -- and lays out a theory of how we can achieve that change together."

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A Blue-green Stimulus? The Environmental Forecast for 2011

Dec 27, 2010Jon Rynn

What's coming in 2011?  We asked thought leaders to share their perspectives on the biggest challenges for the year ahead, along with the changes they'd like to see and the hopes they cherish. Jon Rynn looks at the road ahead for the most pressing environmental issues.

What's coming in 2011?  We asked thought leaders to share their perspectives on the biggest challenges for the year ahead, along with the changes they'd like to see and the hopes they cherish. Jon Rynn looks at the road ahead for the most pressing environmental issues.

During the next year look for the incremental unfolding of the three epic environmental crises of our time -- global warming, peak resources, and ecosystem destruction (which took place more quickly in the Gulf of Mexico this year). The victories of the Republicans in 2010 probably means that little or nothng of environmental value will be passed in the next Congress. President Obama may be able to accomplish some important initial steps, like imposing some greenhouse gas emissions standards on power plants, although even in the best case regulations wouldn't take effect until 2012. It may be, however, that grim news from the environmental front could set up a wider consensus to try new approaches.

2010 was the year of extreme weather events, and 2011 should continue the trend of the widespread effects of global warming manifesting themselves, as Joe Romm has been documenting on his blog, climateprogress.com. This may make the public more open to weaning us away from oil, coal, and natural gas. The price of oil has now poked above 90 dollars per barrel, as demand for all kinds of commodities increase, noted by Paul Krugman. There seems to be more and more official acknowledgement that the end of the era of cheap oil is here, perhaps even the end of cheap coal, and the negative consequences of the recent increase in natural gas extraction may become more and more evident. Another oil price spike might concentrate our collective minds wonderfully, but progressives will be as hard put as they were in the 2008 campaign to respond to the inevitable cries of "drill, baby, drill", unless we can come up with something better.

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I hope that the realization spreads that we can move in a positive direction on global warming, the end of the era of cheap oil, and other environmental problems by directly rebuilding our transportation, energy, and urban infrastructures. For instance, the Obama administration has done a good job of supporting the resuscitation of the car battery industry, via the original stimulus. And while the President has allocated funds for high-speed rail and support for new wind farms, those investments have yet to move to a high enough level to start to turn the economy around. Perhaps President Obama and the progressive community can coalesce around a "green stimulus" plan that they can carry into the 2012 election.

Or we could call it a "blue-green" stimulus, one that rebuilds the manufacturing economy, and thus creates the economic engine for new jobs, while at the same time addressing the long-term environmental problems of our time. Such a stimulus would eliminate the need to import oil by continuing to encourage the production of electric cars, and in addition, push for a national system of electric rail. It would insist on domestic content for any government-funded infrastructure, including a national wind system, which could replace coal plants. Even if such spending added to the deficits, such a program would not be inflationary, because it would add to the country's wealth and wealth-generating capacity, and it would help to rebuild the middle class. What could more appealing to voters than that?

Jon Rynn is the author of Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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What Were They Smoking? The 10 Dumbest Stories of 2010

Dec 23, 2010Tim Price

idiotIt’s been an unpredictable year, and if our pundits and policymakers could do it all over again, there are some moments they’d probably love to take back. Unfortunately for them, the Internet never forgets, and the ND20 team has decided to look back over 2010 by counting down the dumbest headlines, decisions, and predictions.

idiotIt’s been an unpredictable year, and if our pundits and policymakers could do it all over again, there are some moments they’d probably love to take back. Unfortunately for them, the Internet never forgets, and the ND20 team has decided to look back over 2010 by counting down the dumbest headlines, decisions, and predictions. There was a lot of dumb to cover, so if you think we missed something, be sure to let us know.

10. One and done: To be a great president, Obama should not seek reelection in 2012 (WaPo)
What's the silliest part of this advice -- the idea that President Obama could achieve more by quitting his job, or the idea that two Fox News analysts have the president's best interests at heart?

9. Heritage Foundation and the "Luck" of the Irish (OurFuture.org)
Conservative economists had a lot riding on their belief that Ireland's austerity measures would save its economy, so it's not surprising that the Heritage Foundation was still touting the Celtic Tiger's strength two years into a deep recession.  That doesn't make it any less funny.

8. The Health Care Bill is Dead (Weekly Standard)
The day after Scott Brown's shocking victory in the special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, Fred Barnes declared "The health care bill, ObamaCare, is dead with not the slightest prospect of resurrection. [...] Democrats have talked up clever strategies to pass the bill in the Senate despite Brown, but they won’t fly." To be fair, many progressives agreed with him.

7. Off-Message Watch: "I Don't Know That for Sure" (Economist's View)
Austan Goolsbee brought a lot of good will with him to the Council of Economic Advisers, but when he turned out to be agnostic about the benefits of a bigger stimulus package, it made us wonder if he was off-message or if the entire administration was.

6. Robert Rubin: 'Virtually Nobody' Saw Crisis Coming, Bush Deserves Much Of The Blame (HuffPo)
Like many of the architects of the financial system that collapsed in 2008, Rubin must not have been paying very close attention if he didn't spot any signs of trouble brewing.

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5. The war recovery? (WaPo)
We're always open to innovative economic ideas, but David Broder made us wonder if Martians had invaded his body with this column speculating that war with Iran would boost growth and help President Obama in 2012. But then again, Afghanistan and Iraq have done wonders for us.

4. Christine O’Donnell TV Ad: “I’m Not a Witch… I’m You” (CBS)
Even in the year of Aqua Buddhists and chicken barterers, Christine O'Donnell was an unusual Senate candidate. When Bill Maher revealed that she had once dabbled in witchcraft, she was forced to issue a denial that perfectly captured the absurdity of the midterms and earned a place in our political lexicon.

3. President Obama: Drill, Baby, Drill (ABC)
In one of his signature attempts at bipartisan pre-concession, President Obama decided at the end of March to endorse more offshore oil drilling. Three weeks later, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. Perfect timing.

2. The Politics of Foreclosure (WSJ)
When the foreclosure scandal broke, the Wall Street Journal argued that liberals were making too big a fuss about “the pain that results when the anonymous paper pusher who kicks you out of your home is not the anonymous paper pusher who is supposed to kick you out of your home.” The editorial stated that the good folks at the Journal were “not aware of a single case so far of a substantive error.” We can think of a few.

1. Welcome to the Recovery (NY Times)
Tim Geithner probably didn’t mean for the title of his now-infamous op-ed to sound sarcastic, but as Wall Street’s profits soared and the middle class continued to sink, it was hard for anyone to take it seriously. At least he didn’t mention green shoots.

Tim Price is a Junior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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Millennials Take Matters into Their Own Hands

Dec 2, 2010

flag-150Whoever thinks today's kids are just freeloaders whose only goal in life is to text each other hasn't met those involved in The Roosevelt Institute's Campus Network. This group of millennials has put together a blueprint to "design the future that we want to inherit." Recognizing that this is no time for young people to sit on their hands, what with a Great Recession, two wars, climate change, and a whole host of other issues, they've outlined proposals to move us toward an "equal, accessible, empowered, and community-minded 2040 America." After all, they will be the workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders who define the future.

flag-150Whoever thinks today's kids are just freeloaders whose only goal in life is to text each other hasn't met those involved in The Roosevelt Institute's Campus Network. This group of millennials has put together a blueprint to "design the future that we want to inherit." Recognizing that this is no time for young people to sit on their hands, what with a Great Recession, two wars, climate change, and a whole host of other issues, they've outlined proposals to move us toward an "equal, accessible, empowered, and community-minded 2040 America." After all, they will be the workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders who define the future.

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The blueprint addresses six critical areas: Education, Energy and the Environment, The American Economy, Health Care, Social Justice and Democratic Participation, and Defense and Diplomacy. These are no lightweight issues -- as the blueprint points out, "The challenges facing our generation are arguably greater than those faced by any other in America's history." But these 20-somethings are meeting the challenge and getting their voices heard.

Make sure the check out the full text of the blueprint here.

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Schakowsky's Deficit Plan Shows How to Get Things Done

Nov 17, 2010Richard Kirsch

It's time for progressives to take the offensive on the deficit.

It's time for progressives to take the offensive on the deficit.

Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a member of the President's deficit reduction commission, put out a straight-forward plan yesterday that demonstrates what you can do if you believe that we need a strong middle class to build a strong economy. Unlike the recommendations of the commission's chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowls, which would hurt growth and long-term recovery by cutting supports to the middle class and increasing the wealth gap, the Schakowsky plan is aimed at spurring economic growth and closing our growing inequality chasm.

Schakowsky's plan has three components: cutting the deficit, investing in growth immediately, and closing the long-term funding gap in Social Security. Taken together, the plan would help short-term recovery, reduce long-term budget shortfalls while encouraging growth, and assure that Social Security is in good shape for the foreseeable future.

Schakowsky would cut the deficit through a combination of actual cuts in waste and inefficiency, such as eliminating a program that helps McDonald's market overseas and introducing energy savings to federal employees' computer usage. It finds savings from elimination or reduction in 20 specific defense programs. It reduces the amount that the federal government pays for prescription drugs and includes a robust public option in health reform. It also cuts farm subsidies.

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On the revenue side, she goes after corporate tax subsidies and wealthy individuals. Her biggest proposals would discourage corporations' over-reliance on highly leveraged financing and tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income. She also includes raising revenues from cap and trade, with protections to help low-income consumers, which helps to reach another major policy goal: tackling climate change.

On Social Security, she firmly rejects proposals to cut benefits and instead proposes changes that would not only put the program on a firm financial footing for decades, but allow some benefits to be improved. She does this by raising the amount of income that is applied to Social Security and introducing a legacy tax on earnings above the cap, which would make the tax system a lot more progressive.

Finally, to help get the economy going now, Schakowsky's plan would invest in immediate job creation and protect against growth-killing cuts like shutting off unemployment compensation or federal funding to states for Medicaid.

Is her proposal dead on arrival with this deficit commission and Congress? Maybe so, but that's not the point. You can't win a debate with nothing. So next time someone says that we can't get out of this financial mess without "sacrifice," point to the Schakowsky plan and ask: Sacrifice for who? Here's a plan that will close the deficit by telling big corporations and the wealthy that it's time they pay their fair share. Plus, it will spur the economy, protect average taxpayers, keep Social Security's promise, and while we're at it, help prevent coastal cities from sinking into the ocean.

Time to take the offense. Let's run with that.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and is writing a book on the progressive campaign to enact health reform.

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Dems Can Learn from GOP to Build Interstate Transportation Systems

Nov 16, 2010Jon Rynn

train-200Want to break our addiction to oil and create jobs? Take a page from Teddy Roosevelt and Ike Eisenhower.

train-200Want to break our addiction to oil and create jobs? Take a page from Teddy Roosevelt and Ike Eisenhower.

As incredible as it sounds, Republican presidents, along with their Republican Congresses, have initiated some of the biggest public works projects in American history. Theodore Roosevelt single-mindedly pursued the construction of the Panama Canal and Calvin Coolidge signed the legislation to build what became known as the Hoover Dam. Democratic presidents continued and expanded on these accomplishments, as when FDR followed up on the Hoover Dam and built many others, including the TVA system. During his administration, the first ideas and plans for a national highway system were developed, which that great socialist Dwight David Eisenhower then pushed through in 1956.

Today there is a crying need for an interstate high-speed rail system. In 1954, only $175 million had been allocated to a national road system, clearly too little to do the job. In 1956, $25 billion was allocated for a system that wound up costing $425 billion in 2006 dollars. In the last couple of years, the Obama administration has committed $8 billion to high-speed rail, mostly for small, unconnected segments. The US High-Speed Rail Association estimates that in order to build a functional, 17,000 mile system (the Interstate Highway System is currently 48,000 miles), it would cost about $600 billion over 20 years. The New York Times recently ran an article comparing a high-speed rail network to the Interstate Highway System.

But what would motivate the construction of such a system? By the 1950s, the Big 3 car makers were reputedly saying things like "what's good for General Motors is good for the country," and that included a national road system. The suburban boom, with critical help from the federal and local governments, was in full swing, and with it, the shift from trains to cars as the main passenger vehicle. As a young lieutenant, Eisenhower had participated in the first transcontinental truck convoy. Ike then witnessed the autobahns that Germany built at the end of World War II. Even with a political environment that had barely emerged from the McCarthy-ite hysteria over communism, the political will existed to construct one of civilization's most ambitious examples of public construction.

The reasons for focusing on high-speed rail are oil, oil, and also, oil, in that order. Professor Michael T. Klare has done a good job of explaining all three. First, the supply of cheap oil is leveling off, and will probably start to decline in the near future. This is known as the "peak oil" argument. After all, the Earth does not have infinite resources, and the oil supply certainly is not infinite. While the rise in the price of oil in the summer of 2008 was probably in part the result of financial manipulation, it was mostly caused by demand overrunning supply. It was a grim reminder that even short-term fluctuations in the price of oil can have colossal economic impacts.

Second, the coming scarcity of oil will lead to major conflicts among nations, including the possibility of more wars. The Iraq War may have been a small-scale demonstration. As oil exporters use more and more of their oil for their own population and their ability to pump oil declines, the amount of exported oil will decline even quicker than the supply of oil in total. Even without wars, much of American foreign policy and part of its huge military burden is attributable to the warping effect of our dependence on oil.

Third, as we saw this summer, oil has devastating environmental effects. A Gulf oil spill equivalent takes place every year in the Nigerian delta, which according to some estimates is rich in oil. The exploitation of oil has regularly been destroying ecosystems for decades now. Even more ominously, burning oil accounts for almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as coal, about 18% of total global greenhouse gases.

For all of these reasons, we need to shift the transportation system from a 99% dependence on oil to at least a 90% dependence on electricity. Electricity can be generated in a renewable, pollution-free manner, as I have argued previously. The US can supply all of its own electricity, forever.

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It took from the beginning of the 20th century to after World War II to switch from electricity and coal to petroleum, so it will take decades to switch back to electricity. So the sooner we start, the better. The powers-that-be in 1900 were streetcar operators and railroads; now the oil companies and car companies, plus suburban real estate interests, have an even larger voice in government. They will surely fund groups that claim that the government should stay out of what it was once involved in: spending the equivalent of trillions of dollars to transform the transportation system and urban structure. It will take an educated public, hopefully worried about the long-term future, to push the government to spend trillions in moving to a system based on electric trains.

Trains are the best way to use electricity for a transportation vehicle. This is because trains can use an overhead electrical wiring system (or in the case of subways and some light rail, an underground one). That is, they can obtain their energy from outside the vehicle. They don't have to drag around their energy in a fuel tank. They can also tap into the continental electrical grid, which can be fed by many different sources.

According to Chris Steiner in his book "$20 Per Gallon", at $8 per gallon airline flights under 350 miles will no longer be profitable, and at $12 per gallon flights under 500 miles won't be either. Europe, China, and Japan are feverishly working to create major high-speed rail routes over just these lengths with trains that run at least 200 mph.

However, in order to move away from oil, we will also have to move most freight with trains instead of long-haul trucks. The Millennium Institute estimates that transferring freight to electric rail, including at least part of a passenger rail system, would cost between $250 and 500 billion. But the bigger problem would be that much of the commercial infrastructure of the country, including the big box stores like WalMart and hundreds of suburban malls, would probably have to relocate to more dense city regions in order to take advantage of an electric rail system.

Which brings us to the biggest problem of all: replacing oil-dependent cars. Robert Bryce and Kris De Decker argue that electric cars have always been over-hyped and that there is no reason to think that they will ever replace the large, high-speed, long-distance automobiles that we have now. So let's assume that they are right and that electric cars will always be slow, say with a maximum speed of 30 mph, fairly small, and with a range of about 50 miles. As the City of New York is now informing its residents, that speed would actually decrease the likelihood of death from accidents to only 20% -- and driving at 20 mph has even more beneficial effects.

But this would only be practical if three very far-reaching changes were made. First, most people, even in suburbs, would have to live about 10 miles away from a town center. Second, those town centers would have to be tied together and linked to a city center by an extensive and rider-friendly electric train system. Third, the city centers would have to incorporate buildings at a high density and transit systems large enough to avoid the need to use nonelectric cars.

There is another good reason to build these systems besides not using oil: if the high-speed trains and subways and electric cars and high-rise buildings were built using goods manufactured in the U.S., then the manufacturing economy of the U.S. could recover, and with it, the middle class and the long-term prosperity of the country.

If the Republican Party can make big changes, why not the Democratic Party?

Jon Rynn is the author of the book Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class, available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.

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Green Work is Women's Work

Nov 3, 2010Amy Norquist

green-jobs-150After the crash, the downturn was dubbed a "mancession." As the meme continues to circulate, we asked leading thinkers to help us sort fact from fiction. Are men suffering more than women in a weak economy? Is Washington doing enough to address female unemployment?

green-jobs-150After the crash, the downturn was dubbed a "mancession." As the meme continues to circulate, we asked leading thinkers to help us sort fact from fiction. Are men suffering more than women in a weak economy? Is Washington doing enough to address female unemployment? How do we ensure a jobs agenda that's fair and equitable? In the eighth part of our ongoing series, "The Myth of the Mancession? Women & the Jobs Crisis", Amy Norquist calls on the green sector to include women from the beginning.

The federal stimulus package earmarks billions of dollars in green technology, primarily renewable energy, for projects that will take place over the next several years. The effectiveness of the funding is still debatable, as it remains the slowest draw down of any category in the stimulus. The White House estimates that close to 200,000 new jobs were created as a result of the funding, but the Department of Energy puts that number at closer to 80,000.

Are women being left out of this sector? I think there is little doubt that women are not being hired in large numbers through this particular focus on the energy sector. But in fact, even though green jobs tend to fall into categories of non-traditional options for women such as engineering, science, and construction, there is far greater opportunity for the inclusion of women in significant numbers than in the past. That's because green jobs are much broader than the energy sector. They are defined as those that provide goods and services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

So how is it that non-traditional jobs in the green sector can somehow be more accessible to women than jobs past? There are more women CEOs in green business -- largely entrepreneurs -- than in traditional construction, and they tend to value authenticity and transparency, which disables the old boys network. Green businesses have the element of being mission-driven and focusing on the triple bottom line: social, economic, environmental. This is appealing to women, and it provides an alternative structure within the construction industry in particular.

Furthermore, new technologies and new industries often don't require particular previous  job skills. (A Berkeley study focused on green employers, for example, found that 86 percent of the green business owners interviewed and hired workers who had no previous direct experience.) This also removes barriers for women entering traditionally male-dominated fields.

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And there are programs out there that focus on training women for green jobs. There is a non-profit called NEW in New York City, which trains women in non-traditional fields but also offers a program called "ReNEW" for green jobs. (Two-thirds of minimum wage jobs in NYC belong to women.) The program does a good job of educating students about what jobs are even available and gives them exposure to these new technologies, industries, and employers.

As the owner of a women-owned green roofing business, called Greensulate, I can say that my company has benefited in significant ways from the stimulus act and from growing awareness of the value of green jobs and the green industry among supporters. The direct benefit to Greensulate came through training funds (using funding from the stimulus act) from NYC Small Business Solutions. This funding enabled us to train and hire 10 people this year.

And the private sector is picking up the slack -- unlike in other male-dominated construction industries -- when it comes to supporting women. Greensulate was recently selected into a program, Growth Opportunity Loan and Services Program (GOLS), sponsored by The Clinton Foundation, Booz & Co., Goldman Sachs, NYU Stern, and SEEDCO Financial. The program provides loan funding for growth (which we were unable to get through our bank) and significant management consulting and mentoring.

I can say that as a green construction industry, green roofing brings women into the fold of some of the few green and white collar jobs available. For my first few years, I was the only woman up on the roof. Now I'm joined by other "greensualtors" -- one of whom is a graduate of the NEW ReNEW program. We are now 35% female, in a non-traditional field for women.

The key to beginning and continuing the trend of hiring women for green collar positions is being continually vigilant in educating women about the opportunities available. And it begins with the value of inclusion. Even in programs whose focus is training women and placing them in currently non-traditional arenas, one still sees quotes like, "It is satisfying doing men's work". Green jobs are not "men's work." They are good work, and there is a chance to integrate parity from the beginning. Emerging industries have the responsibility -- because they are emerging industries -- to break the mold.

Amy Norquist is the President and CEO of the green roofing company Greensulate.

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Third Gubernatorial Option for NY: A Green New Deal?

Oct 18, 2010Bryce Covert

howie-hawkinsHowie Hawkins is the Green Party candidate running for New York State governor against Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino. I got a chance to sit down with him to discuss his ideas for a Green New Deal.

howie-hawkinsHowie Hawkins is the Green Party candidate running for New York State governor against Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino. I got a chance to sit down with him to discuss his ideas for a Green New Deal. He told me how his plans will create jobs, address climate issues, and base our economy on real production -- not speculation.

Bryce Covert: You're running on what you call a Green New Deal. Will you explain what you envision?

Howie Hawkins: We are emphasizing this because the Democratic leadership has abandoned the New Deal legacy. I think people support the majority of things in the New Deal. There's evidence in polls for support of funded schools, higher wages, the single payer option. We adopted the New Deal to appeal to the rank and file, the little guy. Today's politicians talk Left and walk Right once they're in office. They respond to their funders -- telecom, defense, oil. And now Social Security is in the sights of fiscal commission. We have to defend the idea that in a recession we need fiscal stimulus. It's basic macroeconomics.

I'm focused on three areas: full employment, national health insurance, and public enterprise.

Full employment: In the original Social Security Act there was employment assurance. It generalized the WPA program. It had centralized taxes but decentralized distribution. Counties planned public works and services and the Federal and state governments funded the jobs. I want to bring this back, particularly now in the jobs crisis, with the "new normal", and a slow recovery. It's fiscal stimulus itself -- people with jobs go spend money.

Public health insurance: It was taken it off the table. We're continuing a system where profits go to the private sector and the poor go to public services. Taxpayers pay for that. This would be particularly significant in New York because in upstate New York it makes up for over half of the county budget. The most powerful move would be the state taking over Medicaid through a single payer system. The state's own study said that compared to the individual mandate, the single payer system would save New Yorkers $10 billion per year. You get better health care at lower cost.

Public enterprise: You can use the TVA as a yardstick. There was racial discrimination, but the principle was that public enterprise can step in when the private sector fails and set a standard. This can happen in health care, energy -- municipals and co-ops provide cheaper power with less perks and corporate compensation.

BC: Why is it important to not only put people back to work, but also to focus on the energy industry?

HH: New York had been a very diverse manufacturer in the 20s. After WWII they sold that out. It made the city less stable in this economy. It's a one-crop economy: financial services.

We have excess capacity in so many industries, and it's not sustainable how much CO2 we're spewing into the air. We need a World War Two-scale mobilization to convert to a green economy. What stands in the way is the incumbent energy industries: oil, gas and nuclear.

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It could function as a public jobs program. Local officials would work with the state agency and say, "What needs do we have here?" Maybe it's building repairs, services, childcare, elder care, parks revamped, infrastructure repair. The sewer and water systems are old and leaky. In Syracuse it will cost $2 billion to fix the sewer and water system, and the city can't finance it. It requires state and Federal aid. Officials could look at their communicates and see what's needed and then create jobs. The WPA was about public works.

One area that fits in is building green and efficient buildings, retrofitting buildings, conducting audits, and adding solar panels, even on homes. I used to do this in the 70s and 80s in Vermont. Those jobs require training but they should be a part of the public works. You can set the wage at a minimum wage to compete with the private sector. People can get the training from the public works program and then go get a private sector job.

I'd like to see 7 million energy efficient homes in 10 years. A public jobs program could spawn the business that would do that.

BC: How would you finance your plans for a green economy and public works programs?

HH: I would create a state bank like the Bank of North Dakota [a state-owned bank]. The problem with the huge financial industry is that it's mostly speculation, not investment by banks. They're focused on M&A and derivatives -- it's all about rearranging paper entitlements to existing income from an existing means of production. The theory of giving money to the wealthy was they would invest in new production and employ people. That hasn't happened. If you don't make things that add value it won't be self-sustaining. You can only do so many back-door deals.

The state bank can give the public a measure of control in terms of economic development and how to get to a sustainable green economic recovery. Through taxation you can take a portion of the wealth in speculation and run it through the public sector and put it to better use. It relates to the stock transfer tax. That tax took in $15 billion and it was all given back. That would have led to $7 million in surplus. They deny they've heard of it but the forms are easy to find.

Obama and Andrew Cuomo have versions of an infrastructure bank, but the investment goes to the private sector and it will attach debt to assets we're creating rather than having the interest paid to the public and owned by the public. This bank could be organized as a worker co-op. When I did this it was a co-op. I worked in construction, and it was the best of both worlds. You share, work regular hours and get the full fruit of your labor. There are 100,000 of these in Europe.

BC: How do you view our current political system?

HH: Liberals have to realize that the Democratic Party is a complete dead end. Obama is all image but not policy substance. If you look closely, he's really corporate and conservative. Cuomo is the lesser evil. He says he will slash everything. He's all about fiscal austerity. I say have austerity with Cuomo or Paladino or prosperity with the Greens.

Progressive social movements -- labor and ethnic movements, the women's movement, environmental, peace -- it's time to understand that you're being taken for granted if your vote is in the Democrats' pocket. These movements are Charlie Brown and the Democrats are Lucy. The movements ask to hold the football, they say can I get reform, and Democrats say we'll hold the ball. The movements go out and campaign and they kick the football and it's not there. We need an independent movement. Labor could fund it -- they've spent $15 billion on Democrats since 1980. Imagine that spent on an independent party. You could have a labor newspaper, talk radio, a labor party organizer in every county.

Democrats and Republicans outbid each other on how much they say they'll cut in spending. They say they will create jobs, but I say it'll only create a depression. Only public spending can raise demand. As for the underlying problem of excess capacity and overproduction, I argue that we need to build a new system. We can get the economy going and get on a green path.

BC: Women hold a fraction of green construction jobs. Do you have plans to address their needs in this recession?

HH: This is part of the reason I'm including services and not just focusing on construction. It excludes women, blacks and Latinos who are fighting to get into those trades. If you focus only on construction you won't help all the same. You won't help women and racial groups.

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Jonathan Schell: The Nuclear Paradox

Oct 18, 2010Lynn Parramore

jonathan-schellThis is the fifth installment of "The Influencers," a six-part interview series that Lynn Parramore is conducting in partnership with Salon.

jonathan-schellThis is the fifth installment of "The Influencers," a six-part interview series that Lynn Parramore is conducting in partnership with Salon. She sat down with Jonathan Schell, author of "The Fate of the Earth," Fellow at the Nation Institute and Distinguished Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, to talk about nuclear disarmament. They discussed America's conflicted stance, the obstacles to nonproliferation and the connection with global warming.

Lynn Parramore: Where are we today in terms of nuclear nonproliferation?

Jonathan Schell: I think you have two contending waves. On the one side you have President Obama's new commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons, although he says that's not going to happen in his lifetime. He's framed that very much as a kind of weapon to use against proliferation -- most specifically against proliferation by Iran and North Korea. But on the other side you have a kind of counter-movement against that commitment within the U.S. government. And there are people in the woodwork of the bureaucracies who have struck back. The vehicle for doing that was the Nuclear Posture Review (a process that determines U.S. nuclear weapons strategy), and, to a certain extent, the new agreement with Russia.

Each has good things in it. I'm glad the numbers are coming down. I'm glad they've promised not to make any new nuclear weapons or have any new nuclear missions. But on the other hand, there are some things which are very disappointing and which do not really reflect at all Obama's commitment. In the Nuclear Posture Review there was a refusal to have a thorough-going renunciation of what's called "first use" -- in other words, refusing to have a no-first-use policy. What that means is that the United States still reserves the right in certain circumstances to use nuclear weapons -- even when nuclear weapons are not used or threatened against it.

If this country, with all its conventional superiority and so on, thinks that it can't be safe in the world without a threat to use nuclear weapons -- even against conventionally armed countries -- then what country in the world could say to itself, by that standard, "well, we're safe without nuclear weapons?" And most particularly, if you're a North Korean, or if you're an Iranian, and you're facing a very hostile and angry United States, you might well decide, "we need these things, too." So there's a kind of contradiction that's built in there. On the one hand, the United States is saying: "we're ready to do without nuclear weapons over some long term." But on the other hand, "we need them now, and we even need them against countries that don't have nuclear weapons." So in the contention between those two points of view, some direction will eventually emerge. But in my opinion, it hasn't really emerged yet.

Of course, I should have said, there are really three waves, because you also have proliferation itself. You have countries who are looking a little bit more interested in nuclear weapons. It takes the form of an interest in nuclear power. There are almost a dozen countries in the Middle East who are suddenly saying, "we're really interested in nuclear power." That's a way of keeping your options open for nuclear weapons. And so whether Obama's commitment to disarmament is going to be enough to bring to the table with the countries that are potential proliferators is very much open to doubt at this point.

What is your earliest recollection of nuclear danger?

I began my life as a writer as a reporter in the Vietnam War. That was way back in 1966. And the experience of being in Vietnam certainly set me on the path that eventually led me to thinking about nuclear weapons. When I arrived in Vietnam I really didn't know anything about the war. I didn't know the history and so on. But just from what I saw with my own two eyes it became apparent in the first day that this was a massive governmental enterprise that was absolutely making no sense of its own terms. It was radically and 100% mistaken. Shockingly so. It was self-defeat, which you could see every day, every hour of that war.

So it was the fallibility of government that struck you?

Precisely. It opened my mind to the idea that there could be vast governmental enterprises that most people were saying were sensible but were actually chaotic and made no sense whatever. I still believe that about the presence of nuclear weapons in our world. That was one way that I arrived at it. The other way was that when you looked into the reasons that the United States had got into the war in Vietnam, and, more particularly, the reasons why it couldn't get out -- the whole arena of nuclear strategy began to loom large. The way that worked, to say it very quickly, is that Vietnam was conceived as a so-called limited war. There was actually a "Bureau of Limited War" in the Kennedy White House before there was ever any major intervention in Vietnam. Well, what was limited war? What was the opposite of limited war? General war? That was nuclear war. So in a certain way, the fighting in Vietnam was an escape from the paralysis of the unfightability of the general war, which meant a nuclear war. Now these two things were joined at the hip in a paradoxical way, so it led me to think about it. That was a pathway into thinking about it.

How does attitude towards nuclear weapons reflect our evolution as human beings?

I now think that the nuclear dilemma is the first in an array of dilemmas that have arisen in which we discover the self-destructive potential of human life is unlimited. We've seen that most notably through global warming, but also through a whole other array of ecological threats including the incredible acceleration in the extinction of species in the rain forest and elsewhere around the world, and in the depletion of fish stocks and the whole multi-dimensional ecological crisis. So what we are finding is -- and again it goes back to my experience in Vietnam -- that many of the activities that seem to be our salvation or that seem to be positive turn out to have an unlimited dark side to them. They have their positive side, too, industrialization being an example, or the use of fossil fuels. It's great: We can sit here and have this conversation because we have a tape recorder that's fueled by fossil fuels, and so on -- your computer and all the rest. But to state what's now becoming clearer in an array of fields -- these sources of hope and betterment have turned out to have a dark side that really is without limit.

A nuclear holocaust is often described as "unthinkable." How do the limits of our imagination impact our ability to prevent such a catastrophe?

Well, it's a problem with many levels. I don't think that we have succeeded yet, collectively, to apprehend what is at stake here. After all, in some ultimate sense, it is the survival of the species that is at stake. That was put on the table in 1945; it became very acute during the Cold War. Now it's receded quite a bit, although the technical means are still in place. One problem -- and the whole arena is full of paradoxes -- is that with nuclear weapons present, you can't really fight a major power war. Well, that's a great thing -- not to fight a great power war. But one result of it is that you have no experience of nuclear destruction since Nagasaki. And so thought is given little to chew on. We're left with a lot of theory, and all nuclear strategizing is pure theory. Military strategizing used to be based on actual experience -- millennia of experience of war. But nuclear strategy is quite otherwise because there's never been a nuclear war. The Japanese didn't have nuclear weapons, so that wasn't a nuclear war.

So nuclear holocausts are relegated to science fiction movies?

Well, that's right. And now, we don't even have the Cold War. And yet the dilemma is there. These things are deeply embedded in our world. And we can see from the resistance that Obama gets -- or anyone gets -- who actually talks about eliminating nuclear weapons. They've become part of the furniture of the world. They've become domesticated and deeply lodged in our institutions and our thinking, and so on. And yet, they rarely are brought into consciousness.

On the flip side of that domestication is the romance of the idea of this world-destroying weapon. Do you think that's part of our attachment?

When the H-bomb was invented, they called it "The Super," and I think it was this use of "super" that put the word "super" in "superpower." So, the weapon is associated very deeply and primally with holding immense power. And that's of course a legacy of war itself traditionally throughout the millennia. The countries that had the best weapons and the best militaries and so forth were the most powerful. They could fight these wars and win them. It's no longer true with nuclear weapons. They turn out in actual practice to be rather a paralyzing influence than an enabling one. But I think that that deep association that's left over inappropriately from the whole tradition of warfare. Psychologically, it means that people still hold tight to these instruments of seeming supreme power even though they are nothing of the kind in reality or in experience.

What is the most dangerous illusion that we cling to with regard to nuclear weapons?

The idea that we can hold onto nuclear weapons while at the same time stopping their proliferation to other countries. That is an absolutely unworkable proposition. It just cannot happen in the real world. And that's why I think that Obama's pledge, or his commitment, that the United States is ready to surrender its nuclear weapons has to become something that's active and real in our world now. It's the only way we're going to be able to stop proliferation, including proliferation conceivably to a terrorist group.

Can human beings create policies big enough to deal with a threat as huge as nuclear weapons?

I think that in a whole array of areas, there really are new stakes on the table in politics. And the essence of it is the threat to the natural world. Only a part of it is the threat of the extinction or mutilation of our own species. So, really there's a new framework in which you have to consider political actions and political thinking -- and the nuclear weapon really was the first expression of that, the first manifestation of this new crisis, which is a crisis of the natural order, as I say. But now others have appeared. And so I don't know whether we'll find out whether we're able to act on that scale -- whether we're able to step up to the level of danger that we now live with.

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