Notes on a Green Economics Platform

Some colleagues were discussing how to write a platform plank on economics for the Green Party that reflected serious thinking about a Green economy. I offer this as a few notes on what might be in such a document:

My take on what a Green Economics platform needs to include. Greg Gerritt 4/20/19

Most people seem to approach Green Economics from a structural perspective, from an economics perspective.  They might wish to discuss monetary policy, or neoliberalism, or socialism. And use that as the starting point.  I prefer to begin with how best to achieve prosperity in a community and all communities on the finite planet Earth with its nearly 8 billion people.  

Any effort to provide guidance to the economy, on how it should be structured, what rules it should follow, the relative strength of the various factions and communities joined together in a body politic both should be directed towards creating the greatest prosperity for humans, and making sure that the rest of the residents of planet Earth are also able to make a living. It should follow the truism  “You cannot heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you cannot end poverty without healing ecosystems, and if we do not shut down the war machine we will accomplish little of value.” 

Currently economic development in most of the world is directed towards creating economic growth.  More stuff for more people.  This works quite well for a sliver of the population, but for nearly everyone else, even if they have rising incomes and are able to consume more, the costs in terms of inequality and oppression, plastic oceans, climate chaos, deforestation, chemical trespass, dead zones, and wars is beyond bearing.   It is beyond bearing for our communities, and for our planet.  

Currently humans use 1.7 times as much biological productivity to meet their needs and greeds as is produced on planet Earth each year.  Over shoot day has progressed from December 31 to August 2 in the last 50 years.  We lose 1% of the planet’s life each year, and the rate is increasing.  Wild animal populations are down 60% since 1970. 90% of the large fish are gone from the oceans. We are passing limits on deforestation, phosphorus, climate and just about any other indicator of our planets health, all of which are completely intertwined with the health of our communities. 

You cannot have infinite economic growth on a finite planet.  The ecosystems which provide fish, forests, food, fiber, clean air and water are in decay.  And as the ecosystems collapse the wealthy try to financialize and deregulate so that they can control more and more of the shrinking pie.  One of the ways, maybe the most important way the 1% seek to control more and more of the planet and its productivity for profit, is to require that to create new money it has to be borrowed from a bank at interest.  Therefore everyone is obligated to do more, use more resources, plant more crops, cut more forests, just to pay the interest on the loans that create the new money in the economy.  It basically guarantees you will be able to measure growth each year, and that ecosystems will collapse and most people get poorer despite the “growth”. All that growth will end up in just a few hands, those who control the bulk of the resources and assets.  It guarantees that wealth will flow up hill to the ownership class, in which 3 families own more than 50% of Americans. 

Currently the ever more insane task of keeping the economy humming is managed by the few who benefit the most from the current distribution of resources.  And those who the economy is failing are kept out of the conversation.

Economic development as currently practiced is in some ways a very public process, and in other ways it is almost entirely ruled by the rich.  It is the belief of the Green Party that the entire process must be opened up to community participation and that the right of communities to reject projects shall be absolute.  The greater community must be able to vote on whether a project above the very smallest is appropriate.  As a first step this will go a long way to reducing inequality and will put EJ communities in a position to much more easily defend their communities from toxics.   “Dumping in Dixie” will no longer be acceptable.

The tools of economic development have been developed by the beneficiaries.  And primarily flow from the original Euro American sin, stealing all the land from the people who already lived here.  And the control of the land is still what policy makers and practitioners think of when thinking of development.  Unfortunately using real estate as the basis of economic development simply perpetuates and exacerbates inequality.  Which then is translated into power so that the industry that underpins all of American development is highly subsidized despite a number of reputable international financial organizations stating clearly that subsidizing the rich is the least useful way to build an economy.  

The real estate development industry has an almost perfect scam.  It is exceedingly profitable because it demands subsidies. But clearly as our issues of homelessness and unaffordable housing demonstrate, the industry that underpins the banking system and the economy is completely failing our communities,.  So the second rule of development, after the rule that states communities have a right to say no, is no subsidies for the wealthy and no subsidies for private development in cities or for factories for large corporations.  When rents rise faster than wages, the industry is price gouging and the government must and shall build housing for those unable to afford private housing.  The goal shall be a sufficient quantity of housing to keep rents down.  This will require great innovation in the production of buildings.  Virgin materials and poor practices already price most folks out of proper housing.  If we cannot house people for affordable prices it is simply a reflection of a broken system and the depletion of ecosystems. The reinvention of housing will be a prime source of jobs in the future.    

Rule 3 for the 21st Century is no new fossil fuel infrastructure.  We are in a rather deep hole,  it is time to stop digging.  And we should rapidly phase out all fossil fuel power sources as we have power to replace it with, though what comes on line should be less than what is taken off due to the savings of efficiency and our need to consume less.   Leave the carbon safely underground where it does less harm.  Fossil fuels can for the most part be replaced by clean energy, but even that will be limited as turning all of the world’s forests into solar farms and wind arrays is not acceptable or smart.  We must learn to live within planetary limits, and as we do so, we will increase justice and equality.  It does not work if it is not based on justice and equality.  

Do not have any expectations of economic growth.  Chasing growth puts unacceptable strains on the natural resources of the planet, requiring us to use even more.  The dematerialization constantly talked about is a false god, it never happens if the economy grows.  We must use less, and share more so that all may thrive.  We must also learn to speak about the shrinking economy in plain English.  It is not degrowth, the economy must shrink to match planetary reality.  

Taxes must be progressive, offshore hidden accounts shall be more completely banned and confiscated, 

Instead of borrowing money to fund killing people around the world, the United States should shut the war machine and save a trillion dollars a year.  We could fund an adequate national defense for less than 1/3 of current spending.  Then instead of borrowing money from the banks that we bailed out after the recession, the government should simply spend money into existence to build and rebuild infrastructure and make our communities more resilient and less polluting in the 21st Century.  

The bankers will scream, but it has regularly been demonstrated that governments, if they responsibly create money by spending on useful and efficient infrastructure, can do it without excessive inflation.  In fact if the government did not keep borrowing money to keep taxes on the rich low and fund the war machine, and our whole economy was not a house of cards built on borrowing based on real estate,  American consumption would be much lower, and our communities much more livable, equitable, and just as well as much less toxic. 

There are ways for regulations to be excessive, and they can be fixed, but the standard of harm that is unacceptable must be zero.  In other words, no emissions, not toxic releases , no polluting water or air, no increases in erosion and sedimentation, no displacements without true compensation and the approval of the people being displaced.  Regulations based on zero emissions are easy to enforce and must be met by building in clean systems.  You do not get to emit what you do not want your kids to absorb. 

Right  now community leaders pay more attention to the business climate rather than the actual climate.  We are told climate change is a hoax and that the business climate is the bomb, but the reverse is actually true.  There are no studies that have demonstrated that highly rated business climates increase economic growth rates, only that they increase inequality.  There is no evidence that low tax rates increase growth rates, only that they increase inequality, and there is no evidence that slackening off on environmental, health, and consumer protections increases growth rates, only that the community suffers when it is foisted upon them by the polluters.  

If you want to explain the economic growth rate of the different states, the last thing to look at is taxation rates and regulatory climates.  Nearly all of the highest ranking states in any quarter or year are  states that are more heavily weighted economically to natural resource industries, in other words all the fast growth in the USA is in places destroying ecosystems.  

Here is a quote to ponder: 


January 6, 2016 10:48 P

“ No serious person would suggest that state fiscal and regulatory policies are the most important factors affecting state economies, or even that they are large enough to swamp other factors when seeking to explain state-by-state differences in economic performance. Natural resources, geography, climate, and international trading patterns are clearly important.”

In other parts of the world high economic growth rates are correlated with rapidly industrializing neighborhoods that are importing labor by the train load of people being displaced from agriculture, just the people Trump and the racists are trying to keep out of the USA.  They search in vain for growth, for stupendously huge record growth, but cut off the people who make it possible.  About as smart as all their other policies. 

Most of the financial industries need to be dramatically reconfigured , and many sectors of the financial industries need to be shut down as they primarily facilitate stealing by the rich.  

Using the medical industrial complex to grow the economy shall be banned.  Basic research is already funded by the government and non profits.  Therefore prices need to be based on what the community can properly pay and royalties should be paid to the government based on the funding of the initial research.  When the medical industrial complex is used to grow the economy, the simple result is health care becomes unaffordable.  Community based health care, along with prevention and protecting people from toxic substances will dramatically reduce costs.  It almost goes without saying that as single payer health care system covering EVERYONE would be less expensive and provide vast community benefits in terms of reduced pressure on people, better nutrition, healthier children, and less chronic illness in adults.   Another way for the economy to shrink while improving the general welfare. We can retrain insurance company employees. 

Much of the money for the changes we need will come from dramatically scaling back the military industrial complex and shutting down the empire.  The military is the most wasteful industry on the planet and few things cause more immediate and localized harm to communities and ecosystems than war. A country that spends more on war than schools has lost its mind.  A country that claims to stand for freedom cannot run an empire without losing its soul, bankrupting the people, and eliminating real democracy.  Closing foreign bases will provide billions for renewable energy, good nutrition, clean water, and housing and healthcare for all.    Shrinking the prison industrial complex also fits here, and needs special recognition as it is how the ruling clique disenfranchises lower income and POC citizens/voters so as to maintain their power. We can use money from closing bases to retrain all of the military personnel who are no longer needed for war for jobs of the 21st century.  

If there are no jobs due to AI and other similar phenomena, they we shall need to provide a basic income for everyone as well as lifelong learning.

Food must be returned to the heart of the economy.  Cheap food policies have destroyed much of farming and lead to a vast consolidation rather than a nation of small family farms.  The quantity of bad food goes up in the current system, whereas we need better food, fresher food, food grown closer to home with a much smaller carbon footprint.  All food scrap needs to be composted so that the fertility can be returned to the soil rather than end up in landfills, up in the atmosphere, or at the bottom of the ocean.  

We face a climate emergency, and inequality emergency, ecosystem collapse, deforestation, obesity and hunger, two sides of the community food security destroying corporate food system, a housing crisis, and perpetual infinite ever growing war.  Our first move must be to stop making the hole deeper. Stop, breath, and reduce consumption of harmful things.  Take on the climate emergency with a massive transformation and rebuild of our infrastructure with money removed from the war machine and the insurance and finance industries.  

Replace economic development by the rich with a community based process where the community decides what investments are needed, what kinds of jobs are needed for the people who already live here and are coming in the future. We need to rebuild education as lifelong learning, including retraining everyone in industries that have to close to keep our communities healthy.  

The resistance by the powerful and conservative will be massive.  If that resistance wins, civilizations dies.  If the people win, we have half a chance to tame the climate beast and create a just and bountiful economy.