We must reduce all the emissions that are destroying the planet. However, that requires a change in lifestyle, a change in the economic model: We must go from capitalism to socialism. —Hugo Chavez
In February 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a bill known as the “Green New Deal” (GND), which proposes many sweeping legislative changes, including:
- “Providing all people of the United States with high-quality health care; affordable, safe, and adequate housing; economic security; and access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.”
- “Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible, including by expanding renewable energy manufacturing and investing in existing manufacturing and industry.”
- “Guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”
- “Providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so those communities may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization.”
If your boss came to you and said he was giving everyone at your company a Mercedes and an extra eight weeks of paid vacation, the momentary elation would likely be followed by questions such as, “How can the company afford that?” and “Will I still have a job in six months?” After all, your boss isn’t Santa Claus, and you can’t exactly pick luxury sedans off trees. So where will all of that value come from? Who’s going to pay for it?
High on the notion of “free stuff,” many have forgotten to ask this question about the GND, yet its potential consequences are far scarier than the bankruptcy of a single company. If the bill is passed, those consequences will reverberate throughout the U.S. economy, impacting the careers, aspirations, and even psychological health of every American. That’s because the answer to the question “Who will pay for all of this?” is: We, the people. We’ll pay with increased taxes and exponentially ballooning debt. But even as staggering as the financial cost would be, it should be the least of our concerns. More important, we’ll pay with fewer choices, more difficult lives, and far less freedom.
Consider government-provided health care. In both Cuba1 and the UK,2 for instance, the government dominates the health-care system—and both systems result in terrible patient outcomes. To one extent or another, in all government-run medical systems, patients have to contend with serious problems, such as months-long waiting times (if they can even be seen at all), frequent misdiagnoses, reduced or nonexistent access to many common medications, and significantly decreased survival rates for many forms of cancer and heart disease.3 Although these are serious concerns, they aren’t even the most troubling characteristics of such systems.
All goods and services—including health care—must be produced by someone. However, governments don’t produce anything. The only way for the government to “provide” health care to anyone is to compel others to provide it. Sometimes it does so directly—for instance, by forcing hospitals and physicians to treat anyone who steps into an emergency room.4 And, as we all see on our paycheck stubs, it also does so indirectly by forcing every American taxpayer to pay for other people’s medical expenses through programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
If, as the GND implies, some people have a right to the goods and services others produce, then those producers have no right to their own lives and property. The Declaration of Independence doesn’t say that some men have “certain unalienable Rights.” It correctly identifies the fact that all men do, whether farmers, engineers, or doctors. This fact is why there can be no such thing as a “right” to health care, or to any other good or service.5
The GND’s proposed “upgrades” to the American manufacturing industry are just as wrong. Consider that from 1930 to 2000, climate-related human deaths decreased 98 percent even as the global population quadrupled—as a result of technology, infrastructure, and industry powered primarily by fossil fuels.6 Yet, the GND aims to force the very industrialists who make our naturally inhospitable environment hospitable to human life to act against their judgment and expertise in order to comply with “green” energy standards. Currently, about 4.3 million people die every year from indoor air pollution generated from burning wood and dung in their homes—and indoor air pollution is just one of many problems that arise from a lack of access to fossil fuels.7 The data is clear: Fossil fuels have saved and enriched literally billions of lives, and so-called renewable energy sources can’t remotely compare.8 Moreover, if innovators are to address the relatively minor problems that arise from using fossil fuels, they need to be free to do so.
Enforcing the GND’s “green” energy standards on such a massive scale also would make it impossible for a great many businesses to continue operating in the United States, so many of the products that make our lives better and easier would have to be made elsewhere. That is, until similar regulations in other countries drive those producers out of business as well.
Millions of goods from Wilson sports equipment to MacBook Pros to the outrageously popular line of Vitamix blenders are still made right here, in the good ol’ U.S.A.9 America is also a critical supplier of components and raw materials for many products that are practically indispensable to us today. For instance, America is fourth in the world for gold production, fifth for platinum, and ninth for silver, all of which are (among other things) critical smartphone components. Further, a significant portion of smartphone and computer CPUs—the brains of such devices—are designed and manufactured right here in America.10 The GND’s proposed manufacturing “upgrades” undoubtedly would push more production overseas, would make many of these things more expensive, and would likely even lead to some of them being discontinued entirely.
If the bill is passed and you’re one of the twelve million Americans who work in manufacturing—whether you produce airplane engines or Vermont teddy bears, Maglite flashlights or Crayola crayons—I hope you don’t like your job, because chances are good that it won’t exist for long.
Not to worry. Thanks to the GND’s job “guarantee,” you’ll likely be assigned a new one. Such a guarantee undoubtedly would make it even more difficult for employers to fire underperforming employees, so those with no relevant skills and no ambition to learn them will be able to coast on the efforts of their coworkers. And if such employees do manage to get themselves fired, they can always head back to Ocasio-Cortez’s “Bureau of Employment” (or whatever it might be called) to get a new assignment, once the government gets around to forcing another employer to hire them. Alternatively, politicians might just “create” a pointless and unfulfilling job for them a la an FDR-style make-work initiative, such as those recently proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.11
It isn’t only job creators and productive employees who suffer when jobs are “guaranteed.” Workers hired into jobs because of government mandates also will suffer (they are arguably the most victimized in such situations). Human beings have a fundamental and inescapable need for self-esteem.12 Self-esteem is a form of confidence attained by achieving your goals as a result of careful thought and effort. It is the knowledge, supported by evidence, that you have what it takes to succeed in the world. Self-esteem cannot be “given” to you by another person or by a government agency; it must be earned by your own effort.
Further government intrusion into medicine and industry would be bad enough, but government’s negative impacts on education already are horrendous and would be even worse under the GND.13 Consider the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Regardless of its intended outcome, its actual outcome has been a school system in which students are “taught” to achieve arbitrary scores on arbitrary government-approved tests that do little to prepare them for adult life.14
Total government spending on K–12 education on a per-student basis has more than doubled since 1970, yet a large and ever-growing number of high school graduates are unprepared for college—and for life.15 Since the federal government took nearly complete control of all student loans in 2010, student loan debt has ballooned out of control at an ever-increasing rate. College graduates are increasingly dissatisfied with their college experience and unprepared to join the workforce. All of this despite the fact that—by almost any measure—America spends more government dollars on education than any other country.16 Clearly, throwing more money at the problem isn’t working.
From kindergarten through university, there’s a clear, causal pattern: As government continues to restrict choices in education, students suffer intellectually, and all of us suffer financially.17 As with health care and manufacturing, when government steps in to dictate how education is run, the knowledge of actual experts within the field, the desires of their customers, and the experts’ proven abilities to satisfy those desires all proportionally cease to matter. Charter schools perform much better than regular public schools in terms of students’ grades, their attitudes toward education, and attrition rates, but the experts who run them so effectively will be less free to do so if the government restricts choices in education even further.18 (And charter schools are only somewhat freer than regular public schools—imagine the results a truly free market in education could produce).19 In fact, any thoughts, feelings, or preferences you might have about your or your children’s education cease to matter when your choices are severely limited or negated entirely.
At this time, it’s not clear exactly how Ocasio-Cortez and her allies plan to “provide” education to “frontline and vulnerable communities,” but the very vagueness of the language that appears throughout the GND is part of what makes its proposals so ominous.20 The vaguer the language of legislation, the more broadly—and arbitrarily—politicians can enforce it.21 As we’ve seen over and over and over throughout history, freedom, not more unchecked government power, is the only way to dramatically increase both the quality and affordability of anything22—and education is no exception. The GND would instead entrench unchecked government power even further into American politics.
All of these proposals have in common their attempt to replace freedom with “security.” Note that various forms of the word “protect” appear seven times in the full text of the bill, but not one instance refers, even obliquely, to protecting the individual rights of all Americans.23 Instead, the GND’s implicit view of “the pursuit of happiness” is: “Stop worrying about living your own life and let the government take care of everything for you.” Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk believe that Americans aren’t intelligent or forward-thinking enough to run our own lives. She believes that it’s her job—even her right—to prevent us from hurting ourselves, which she seems to believe we’d do inevitably if allowed to make our own choices in pursuit of our own values.
America flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It did so not in spite of—but rather because of—the near-total absence of government regulations, safety nets, entitlement programs, and wealth redistribution schemes.24 Dirt-poor immigrants with no skills or assets to speak of rapidly lifted themselves out of poverty and into a burgeoning middle class by relying on only two things—their own minds and an explicit promise that the government would protect their rights to act on their own judgment, pursue their own values, and dispose of their own property—however vast or modest.
Human beings don’t need handouts. Above all, human beings need to be left free—free to act on their own judgment, to reap the rewards of their own productive endeavors, and to develop skills in fields of their choosing. Humans must be free to rely on their minds to live—to come up with creative solutions to difficult problems—solutions that are compatible with their particular, rational needs and values—solutions that no bureaucrat should ever be allowed to standardize.
Despite the bill’s obnoxiously repetitive claims to the contrary, Ocasio-Cortez’s basic motive for the proposals contained in the GND is not concern for the poor and helpless.25 If she truly cared about everyone having reliable access to health care, water, education, and technology, she would simply get out of the way and let businessmen provide those things as only they can. If she truly cared about promoting safe and sustainable energy, she would shout passionately from the rooftops in favor of nuclear power—without using her political power to subsidize it or to restrict fossil fuel usage.26 If she truly cared about every American having a job, she would acknowledge the mountains of evidence that show that laissez-faire capitalism is the only effective—and moral—way to achieve that goal.27
Either we have inalienable rights to pursue our own happiness, or we don’t. Ocasio-Cortez and her allies believe that it’s acceptable for the government to initiate force against some individuals on (the alleged) behalf of others. The results of taking that idea seriously are plain to see in Europe’s failing socialized health-care systems, in America’s failing public classrooms—and in the mountains of corpses that socialism leaves in its wake every time it’s tried.28
The Green New Deal would prevent Americans from acting on their own judgment in countless ways. Its negative consequences would be far reaching and are difficult to overstate. Anyone concerned with human flourishing should reject Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal—and all statist policies—and instead advocate the only thing that truly leads to widespread prosperity: a fully free, fully rights-respecting social system.29
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1. Hadley Heath Manning, “Think the Cuban Healthcare System is Ideal? No Cigar. Not Even Close,” Washington Examiner, November 29, 2016, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/think-the-cuban-healthcare-system-is-ideal-no-cigar-not-even-close.
2. Paul Gallagher, “NHS: UK Now Has One of the Worst Healthcare Systems in the Developed World, According to OECD Report,” Independent, November 4, 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/nhs-uk-now-has-one-of-the-worst-healthcare-systems-in-the-developed-world-according-to-oecd-report-a6721401.html.
3. Sally C. Pipes, “Socialized Medicine a Global Failure,” Pacific Research Institute, January 4, 2016, https://www.pacificresearch.org/socialized-medicine-a-global-failure/.
4. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA),” https://www.cms.gov/regulations-and-guidance/legislation/emtala/.
5. Jon Hersey, “Why a ‘Right’ to Health Care is a Moral Travesty,” The Objective Standard 14, no. 1 (Spring 2019), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2018/12/why-a-right-to-health-care-is-a-moral-travesty/.
6. Craig Biddle, “Alex Epstein on How Fossil Fuels Make the Environment Cleaner and Safer,” The Objective Standard, April 21, 2016, https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2016/04/alex-epstein-fossil-fuels-make-environment-cleaner-safer/.
7. Bjorn Lomborg, “Saving Lives with Fossil Fuels,” Forbes, August 22, 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/bjornlomborg/2014/08/22/saving-lives-with-fossil-fuels/#43bfa08e3105.
8. Michael Shellenberger, “Why Renewables Can’t Save the Planet,” Quillette, February 27, 2019, https://quillette.com/2019/02/27/why-renewables-cant-save-the-planet/.
9. Brian Murray Jr. and Sally Kaplan, “75 Amazing Products That Are Made in America,” April 24, 2019, https://www.bestproducts.com/lifestyle/g2841/products-made-in-the-usa/.
10. Exact data on the manufacturing locations of electronic components is difficult to compile, but it’s worth noting that Qualcomm and Intel—the biggest chip designer and second-biggest chip manufacturer, respectively—are both American companies. They outsource some portion of their design and manufacturing work overseas but also do a lot of both here in America.
11. David Edwin Harrell et al., Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2005), 902; Elizabeth Warren, “A Plan for Economic Patriotism,” Medium, June 4, 2019, https://medium.com/@teamwarren/a-plan-for-economic-patriotism-13b879f4cfc7.
12. Edwin A. Locke, “The Educational, Psychological, and Philosophical Assault on Self-Esteem,” The Objective Standard 1, no. 4 (Winter 2006), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-winter/assault-on-self-esteem/.
13. Andrew Bernstein, “Heroes and Villains in American Education,” The Objective Standard 13, no. 3 (Fall 2018), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2018/08/heroes-and-villains-in-american-education/.
14. Valerie Strauss, “No Child Left Behind: What Standardized Test Scores Reveal About its Legacy,” Washington Post, March 10, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/10/no-child-left-behind-what-standardized-test-scores-reveal-about-its-legacy/?utm_term=.a1f966f66c9d.
15. Neal McCluskey, “Show Me the (Education) Money!,” Cato Institute, April 20, 2018, https://www.cato.org/blog/show-me-education-money; Sarah Butrymowicz, “Most Colleges Enroll Many Students Who Aren’t Prepared for Higher Education,” Hechinger Report, January 30, 2017, https://hechingerreport.org/colleges-enroll-students-arent-prepared-higher-education/.
16. Bloomberg, “America’s Student Loan Debt Crisis is About to Get Much Worse,” Fortune, October 17, 2018, http://fortune.com/2018/10/17/student-loan-debt-crisis/; Paul Fain, “Second Thoughts About Higher Education Decisions,” Inside Higher Ed, June 1, 2017, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/01/survey-finds-regrets-among-most-former-college-students-belief-quality-their; “What Country Spends the Most on Education?,” Investopedia, August 17, 2018, https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/020915/what-country-spends-most-education.asp.
17. C. Bradley Thompson, “The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of Our Time,” The Objective Standard 7, no. 4 (Winter 2012), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2012-winter/new-abolition/#_ednbt8.
18. John Stossel and Maxim Lott, “Stossel: Saving Kids from Government Schools,” Reason, January 23, 2018, https://reason.com/video/stossel-saving-kids-from-government-scho.
19. C. Bradley Thompson, “Education in a Free Society,” The Objective Standard 8, no. 4 (Winter 2013), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2013-winter/education-in-a-free-society/#what_a_free_market_in_education_would_look_like.
20. Jeremy Bloom, “Here’s the Full Text of Congress’ Green New Deal Resolution, introduced by Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez,” Clean Technica, February 8, 2019, https://cleantechnica.com/2019/02/08/heres-the-full-text-of-congress-green-new-deal-resolution-introduced-by-rep-alexandra-ocasio-cortez/.
21. Eric Daniels, “Antitrust with a Vengeance: The Obama Administration’s Anti-Business Cudgel,” The Objective Standard 4, no. 4 (Winter 2009), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2009-winter/obama-antitrust/.
22. C. Bradley Thompson, “Why Marxism—Evil Laid Bare,” The Objective Standard 7, no. 2 (Summer 2012), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2012-summer/why-marxism/; Alex Epstein, “Vindicating Capitalism: The Real History of the Standard Oil Company,” The Objective Standard 3, no. 2 (Summer 2008), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2008-summer/standard-oil-company/; Michael Dahlen, “The British Industrial Revolution: A Tribute to Freedom and Human Potential,” The Objective Standard 5, no. 3 (Fall 2010), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2010-fall/british-industrial-revolution/.
23. Craig Biddle, “How Would Government Be Funded in a Free Society,” The Objective Standard 7, no. 2 (Summer 2012), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2012-summer/how-would-govt/#the-nature-need-and-proper-functions-of-government.
24. Jon Hersey, “RooseveltCare: How Social Security is Sabotaging the Land of Self-Reliance by Don Watkins,” The Objective Standard, January 24, 2018, https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2018/01/rooseveltcare-social-security-sabotaging-land-self-reliance-don-watkins/.
25. Craig Biddle, “The Poor, Disabled, and Helpless Under Capitalism,” The Objective Standard, April 26, 2017, https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/2017/04/the-poor-disabled-and-helpless-under-capitalism/.
26. Thomas J. Eiden, “Nuclear Energy: The Safe, Clean, Cost-Effective Alternative,” The Objective Standard 8, no. 3 (Fall 2013), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2013-fall/nuclear-energy-safe-clean-cost-effective/.
27. Craig Biddle, “Capitalism and the Moral High Ground,” The Objective Standard 3, no. 4 (Winter 2008), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2008-winter/capitalism-moral-high-ground/.
28. Andrew Bernstein, “The Socialist Holocaust and its American Deniers,” The Objective Standard 11, no. 3 (Fall 2016), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2016-fall/the-socialist-holocaust-and-its-american-deniers/.
29. Craig Biddle, “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society,” The Objective Standard 6, no. 3 (Fall 2011), https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2011-fall/ayn-rand-theory-rights/.