The Green New Deal and the Future of Work 9780231556064

This book brings together leading experts to explore the possibilities of the Green New Deal, emphasizing the future of

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edited by craig calhoun and benjamin y. fong

Columbia University Press New York

Columbia University Press Publishers Since 1893 New York Chichester, West Sussex Copyright © 2022 Columbia University Press All rights reserved Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Calhoun, Craig J., 1952– editor. | Fong, Benjamin Y., editor. Title: The Green New Deal and the future of work / Edited by Craig Calhoun and Benjamin Y. Fong. Description: New York : Columbia University Press, [2022] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2022003662 (print) | LCCN 2022003663 (ebook) | ISBN 9780231205566 (hardback) | ISBN 9780231205573 (trade paperback) | ISBN 9780231556064 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Green New Deal. | Work—Forecasting. | Climatic changes—Economic aspects. | Labor market. | Agriculture—Environmental aspects. Classification: LCC JA75.8 .G7356 2022 (print) | LCC JA75.8 (ebook) | DDC 320.58--dc23/eng/20220218 LC record available at LC ebook record available at

Columbia University Press books are printed on permanent and durable acid-free paper. Printed in the United States of America Cover design: Elliott S. Cairns Cover illustration: Mona Caron


Introduction, by Craig Calhoun and Benjamin Y. Fong




From the New Deal to the Green New Deal, by Richard A. Walker 23


From Romance to Utilitarianism: Lessons on Work and Nature from the New Deal, by Hillary Angelo 53


A Green New Deal for Agriculture, by Raj Patel and Jim Goodman 78



A Green New Deal for Care: Revaluing the Work of Social and Ecological Reproduction, by Alyssa Battistoni 105


Another World (of Work) Is Possible, by Stephanie Luce


Time for Rabble-Rousing: Lessons from the Historic Fight for Reduced Working Hours, by Wilson Sherwin 142




Jobs for All: A Job Guarantee Puts Workers in the Driver’s Seat, by Dustin Guastella 155


Unions and the Green New Deal, by Mindy Isser 177

vi Contents


“Fancy Funeral” or Radical Rebirth? Just Transition and the Future of Work(ers) in the United States, by Todd E. Vachon 192


Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines, by Harvey Molotch




A Green New Deal for Housing, by Daniel Aldana Cohen 237


Low-Carbon, High-Speed: How a Green New Deal Can Transform the Transportation Sector, by J. Mijin Cha and Lara Skinner 255


Redesigning Political Economy: The Promise and Peril of a Green New Deal for Energy, by Clark A. Miller 270



Community Control and the Climate Crisis: Power, Governance, and Racial Capitalism, by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò 295


Rethinking the Green New Deal: From War to Work, by Harry C. Boyte and Trygve Throntveit 310


How to Create Good Jobs, a Sustainable Environment, and a Durable and Successful Left Political Alliance Through a Green New Deal, by Richard Lachmann 336 Acknowledgments 359 Index 361

Introduction craig calhoun and benjamin y. fong


ver the last fifty years, concern about damage to the environment has grown dramatically. Air pollution, toxic waste, and depleted water supplies have all captured public attention. But increasingly, the focus of alarm has been human-caused climate change. During the same period, American capitalism has undergone a wrenching, multifaceted transformation. Deindustrialization, neoliberalism, globalization, and automation are its key words. Unions have been battered. Inequality has skyrocketed. Whole towns have died. Sadly, those fighting for jobs and those fighting for the environment have typically been at odds. Each side has argued that its issue demands priority. Climate change is an existential risk. But the loss of good jobs with benefits is, for many, an even more immediate disaster: for good reason, workers often think of climate activism as a middle-class luxury. The idea of a Green New Deal (GND) is born of this tension—and of the argument that the tension is unnecessary. Conflict between those emphasizing climate and those emphasizing jobs is damaging to both sides. It is not just that both are valuable and that there should be a compromise. For advocates of a GND, no compromise is needed. Stepping outside old and ideological arguments about the role of the federal government and the limits of public investment reveals ways to advance both climate and jobs agendas. Large-scale federal investment is key. Some stop there, but others suggest that deeper transformation is also needed and requires mobilization throughout society. Climate change challenges the very future of human existence, and environmentalists are right to emphasize the dire situation we are in. But we will not meaningfully address this problem without also seriously addressing job loss and degradation. This is both a reality and a threat of damage to whole communities,

2 Introduction

jeopardizing both the fabric of society and the capacity to believe in a good future. Climate change and the crisis of work and livelihoods are both urgent. Both are potentially devastating. And yet, although both have attracted the attention of activists and policymakers, neither have received the response they demand. Too often, moreover, a focus on one has seemed to come at the expense of the other. Calls for a GND are demands to overcome this impasse. They are demands, first, for action that takes seriously the scale of each threat, the human suffering it is already creating, and the likelihood of much worse. Second, and crucially, they are calls to meet both challenges at once. Indeed, the central appeal of the GND is not the boldness with which it addresses the existential threat of climate change but rather its crucial recognition that two crises of late capitalism—a crisis of nature and a crisis of work—must be addressed together, in one and the same movement, or they will not be addressed at all.


The severity and urgency of the climate crisis are increasingly, but very unevenly, shaping public consciousness. There is no longer dissent among serious scientists to give an excuse to wider denial of climate change. But controversy over response to climate change, sadly, has been integrated into culture wars and populist politics, even without outright denial. Donald Trump made mocking wind power a staple of his campaign speeches, suggesting farcically that it would mean losing TV reception if the wind died down in the middle of a favorite show. Strong climate action has been portrayed as a central government attack on the freedom of citizens, with restrictions on pollution and fossil fuel consumption derided alongside wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus or proposals for gun control. It’s all too easy, however, for environmentalists to focus on the issue of climate denialism because then they have the ultimately more straightforward task of raising consciousness rather than strategically thinking through and overcoming the obstacles to an effective climate politics. Escalating climate disasters provide a steady drumbeat of evidence that the issue is undoubtedly real—that these are not just abstract predictions. As the New York Times put it, the evidence starts with “drought in the West fueling historic wildfires that send smoke all the way

Introduction 3

to the East Coast” and continues with “parades of tropical storms lining up across the Atlantic to march destructively toward North America.”1 But forcefully saying climate change is real is not by itself going to lead to climate action. As cataclysmic as climate change is becoming, action in response must nonetheless contend with a range of other priorities. For those who have lost work, finding a job is basic. For those unable to support their families, income is more urgent than ecology. Even for those staying tenuously afloat, the fear of sinking pushes other issues into the background. Small business owners understandably worry about going bankrupt. The coronavirus pandemic raises immediate public health concerns. And there are many other issues too: debt, crime, police violence, paying for education. Many movements suffer from a tendency to assume their issues are immediately and obviously the most important and most pressing. Committed activists commonly think those not working in close solidarity with them simply have not understood the importance of their cause. This has been a particular issue for climate activism. Since climate change poses such a basic, existential challenge to humanity, this is understandable—indeed, motivational. But it is not helpful for either formulating strategy or building alliances. Climate activists are passionate because they feel so deeply the basic ontological insecurity facing the human race.2 This has made it seem that any other view or focus for action is simply a mistake. But being unemployed or fearing material insecurity can be as profound an insecurity as facing climate change. Struggling to get by on low wages or in precarious employment is every bit as immediate a challenge as coping with environmental damage. Heat waves and environmental disasters generate alarm among environmental activists, but they’re just some of the problems that face working people. Economic transformation may produce less passion but no less suffering or risk. The last fifty years have seen devastation from deindustrialization and related economic transformations. Neoliberal reforms have undermined public services. Yet at the same time, globalization and new technologies have improved many aspects of life for professionals and the upper and middle classes. Ironically, it was in this context that climate and environmental movements have grown—primarily among educated and well-off young people. Activists often celebrated industrial transformations that took jobs from workers and killed local communities, as Mindy Isser covers in this volume (chapter 8). They saw closure of polluting factories and mines as progress and did far too little to

4 Introduction

ensure a just transition for those who had worked in them or to create alternative economic opportunities for their communities.3 This was a gift to those who benefited from low business taxes, lax environmental regulation, and weak labor unions. They have promoted the notion that a strong climate response can only be an enemy of more jobs and better pay, reinforcing the wedge between environmental and labor activists. GND advocates stress that action against climate change need not mean sacrificing every other goal or need. Climate and environmental purists have long been committed to an ethic of personal sacrifice, austerity, and collective “degrowth.” This kind of activism is a great boon to business interests, which can simply counter that strong climate action must indeed mean killing jobs. It’s time for both unions and environmentalists to definitively move beyond the jobs versus the environment trap. To do so, we need to move out of the realm of climate science and into that of political economy.


Since deindustrialization gathered momentum in the 1970s, anxieties about the future of work have been widespread. They have also ebbed and flowed in mainstream public consciousness. New technologies and automation are sometimes the focus of attention, as with “microelectronics” in the 1980s and artificial intelligence early in this century. Globalization has recurrently inspired calls for protection against “unfair” foreign trade. This was a Democratic Party issue in the 1980s; Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) was a prominent voice. It has become more a Republican theme in the era of Donald Trump. Through all of this, there has been a steady transformation in patterns and conditions of work. Mining and manufacturing sectors have shed jobs. New jobs have been created in the service sector and logistics. But this description understates the depth and extent of change. Like the long transition from agriculture to industry, the neoliberal era has involved shifts in the kinds of communities in which workers lived, their relationships with nature, and their independence.4 It was not just ideology that changed but the underlying political economy. Where the rise of industrial employment helped bring well-paid jobs, work in a deindustrialized economy has generally not been supported by unions, is not comparably well-compensated, and is less secure.

Introduction 5

Panic about automation has been recurrent. Automation increased throughout the industrial era. Deskilling was widespread. Rooted historically in the transition from craft to industrial production, with the division of labor Adam Smith praised, this accelerated in many fields as assembly lines controlled the pace of industrial work. Today automation has extended to management of long supply chains and significant parts of design processes. New technologies were an important part of industrial transformation in the late twentieth century. Robot hands replaced human hands for specific tasks, and computerized systems organized whole production processes—not just in individual factories but in supply chains managing the relations among design, production, and distribution on a global scale. This is a key reason why deals that companies struck with politicians in the name of job creation have typically been ineffective (or outright bogus). U.S. states and cities competed with each other to lure companies with tax breaks and other incentives. But the companies commonly employed far fewer workers as they ramped up investments in technology (see Harvey Molotch’s contribution on the illusory promises of job growth in chapter 10). Technology mattered, but it was a tool of capital, not simply an independent driving force. After all, decisions had to be made to invest in automation. And decisions were also made not to invest in new lines of production that might have employed high-skilled workers. This was in part a conscious choice to shed the most unionized workers and those with the most knowledge of production processes. Making it easier to lay off industrial workers increased the rate at which U.S. jobs were lost to cheaper labor in other countries. As figure I.1 shows, through the fifty years of the neoliberal era, average wages stagnated while productivity grew substantially and the income of the top 1 percent grew even more. This crisis, described in detail in Stephanie Luce’s contribution to this volume (chapter 5), is not one of masses of people out in the street but rather of the vast majority living paycheck to paycheck, grinding away at unsatisfying jobs with little hope of advancement.5 The question is not just how many jobs there are but how good those jobs are: how satisfying and how well-compensated. Of course, new jobs are always being created—and were even during years of peak deindustrialization. But overwhelmingly, these are not as well paid or secure as those lost in unionized industries. Nearly full employment masks the disappearance of well-paid working-class jobs, the hollowing out of the middle class, and the rise of a precarious “gig” economy and prevalence of hourly jobs, often without health insurance.

6 Introduction

180% 160% 140% 120% 100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0% -20% 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015 2017 Change in net productivity

Change in income for the top 1% of earners

Change in average wages

I.1 Change in productivity and income since 1979. Sources: Lawrence Mishel and Julia Wolfe, “Top 1.0 Percent Reaches Highest Wages Ever—Up 157 Percent Since 1979,” Economic Policy Institute, October 18, 2018, / blog /top-1- 0 -percent-reaches -highest-wages-ever-up-157-percent-since-1979/; and “The Productivity–Pay Gap,” Economic Policy Institute, May 2021, /productivity-pay-gap/.

These transformations are evident in the dramatic rise of the service sector, which has been reorganized by a shift from small, local businesses to larger, corporate employers. Only some of the growth in “hospitality” employment involves locally owned, nonchain restaurants. Much more is organized through chains of restaurants run by large corporations—not to mention Las Vegas resorts, casinos that have opened around the country (often to provide some revenue for otherwise excluded Indigenous populations), hotels and motels. One of the most basic, glaring, and often-ignored features of the service economy is that it employs different people from the old industrial economy, as Alyssa Battistoni details in this volume (chapter 4). To be sure, there are former steel workers now driving delivery trucks (for lower wages and sometimes no health care or pension benefits). There are former textile workers driving for Instacart (rather than, e.g., making masks to protect against COVID-19). And there are former miners working as security guards. But these jobs are not comparably well paid to those workers lost. And few former miners found new careers programming computers, despite a brief flourishing of coding bootcamps.6 But overall, the workers who lost industrial jobs—especially well-paid, unionized jobs—were disproportionately white and male, compared to the

Introduction 7

American population as a whole.7 Workers in the service and logistical sectors are more often female and people of color.8 Services are central to the growing “gig economy”—jobs that no one expects to be long-term or secure.9 The term gig suggests musicians or actors taking on engagements of unspecified duration as they ply their arts. But much more of the dramatic explosion in numbers came from driving for Uber and Lyft and working for giant corporations. The gig economy offers freedom—a chance to choose one’s hours driving for Uber so one could attend casting calls for one’s “real” career as an actor. But the real careers seldom panned out, and Uber found ways to demand more hours of work. The reality was not so much freedom as self-managed corporate exploitation. The companies successfully defined drivers not as actual employees (thus entitled to benefits) but as individual contractors.10 There is enormous growth in what might be thought of as the logistical economy—moving things and people about. This includes some relatively secure and well-paid jobs, say, in technical support for the airline industry. Some in the industry, like long-haul truck drivers, are supported by strong unions. But there are whole armies of warehouse workers and delivery drivers whose employment is more precarious even when it is not literally gig work. Some work for minimum wage, some for just a little above. Almost all are replaceable at will if they do not follow every management directive. And many receive no benefits like health insurance or pension support. In the post– COVID-19 pandemic recovery, some logistics firms, like Amazon, are being forced to pay higher wages. But they are vigorously resisting unionization. And many join in Republican complaints that workers are staying out of the job market because unemployment benefits are overly generous. Maximizing profits joins with neoliberal and antigovernment ideology to keep all but the most privileged workers in the weakest economic situation possible. There is much work to do in America—work described well in part 4 of this volume—and the capitalist employment relationship is preventing it from being done. Basic income proposals are no more than Band-Aids. Much better would be a jobs guarantee, as Dustin Guastella argues in chapter 7. This would empower workers, not merely provide for survival (not that this is a bad thing).11 And it would get needed work done. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed both the fragility of support systems and institutions and the deep inequalities on lines of both class and race that

8 Introduction

have shaped vulnerability to the virus. Attempts to contain the pandemic have brought economic upheaval: unemployment has reached dramatic levels, and— given America’s lack of a universal health care system—unemployment has meant the loss of health insurance for millions of workers and their families. Many have been thrown into crisis response mode, pursuing emergency measures without long-term thinking. Massive funding has been allocated to multiple stimulus packages, and more will likely follow. Conceived hastily, these have so far intended mostly to save or restart the pre-pandemic economy, but they could, as GND proponents suggest, be organized instead to advance green infrastructure and technologies and to support transition to sustainable employment futures. The real trauma of the pandemic is not that the world will be turned upside down but rather that, in the words of Joe Biden, “nothing will fundamentally change”—which is to say, we will continue along a trajectory of decline, although perhaps now with an accelerated pace. Only massive, forward-thinking investment in green infrastructure can alter this trajectory. Would this mean saving capitalism from itself? Perhaps. But it seems to us that the alternative is not a post-work utopia but rather the slow torturous descent into oligarchy described in such frightening terms by Wolfgang Streeck in How Will Capitalism End? Capitalist society is disintegrating, but not under the impact of an organized opposition fighting it in the name of a better social order. Rather it disintegrates from within, from the success of capitalism and the internal contradictions intensified by that success, and from capitalism having overrun its opponents and in the process become more capitalist than is good for it. Low growth, grotesque inequality and mountains of debt; the neutralization of post-war capitalism’s progress engine, democracy, and its replacement with oligarchic neo-feudalism; the clearing away by “globalization” of social barriers against the commodification of labour, land and money; and systemic disorders such as infectious corruption in the competitive struggle for ever bigger rewards for individual success, with the attendant culture of demoralization, and rapidly spreading international anarchy—all these together have profoundly destabilized the post-war capitalist way of social life, without a hint as to how stability might ever be restored.12

This is our trajectory unless an organized opposition disrupts it. The GND seeks to shape this opposition. By creating millions of jobs with true living wages that

Introduction 9

repair and modernize our crumbling infrastructure and dramatically lower carbon emissions in the process, it offers a capacious and concrete vision of a path beyond the crisis of work.


It is on this terrain—the crisis and transformation of work in America in the last fifty-some years, as well as worsening climate change—that the GND must make its historic intervention. Its core idea is simple: climate action must create good jobs. This is also a basis for mutually advantageous alliances between climate and labor activists. There is no definitive formulation of “the” GND. Of course, the same was true of the original New Deal developed in the 1930s. A basic direction of action was signaled when the slogan was deployed, but there was no clear master plan. What historians would later regard as the New Deal was shaped by popular pressure, legislative negotiations, and new programs added midstream. It unfolded over six years with dozens of separate acts of legislation creating numerous programs and agencies. So, too, the GND is a work in progress. A Green New Deal Task Force linked to the Green Party offered a U.S. plan in 2006.13 New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman used the phrase in a 2007 article.14 By 2008 it was picked up in Britain.15 But the GND really entered public consciousness a decade later, on November 13, 2018, when young activists from the Sunrise Movement occupied then–minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office demanding a GND. They were joined by newly elected representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who became a leading advocate. She and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) proposed parallel House and Senate resolutions calling on Congress to create a GND in February 2019. Although these were “messaging bills” that did not result in official policy, they gave a clear outline of what a GND might mean.16 The Ocasio-Cortez–Markey resolutions define five aims of a GND: (1) netzero greenhouse gas emissions, (2) the creation of millions of high-wage jobs, (3) investment in infrastructure, (4) material security for all, and (5) justice for “frontline and vulnerable communities.”17 Some advocates call for adding still more goals to a potential GND: universal health care, investments in pandemic resilience, and investments in education. It is true that the new deal America needs must address many issues beyond climate change and economic futures. It

10 Introduction

is open to debate whether it is more helpful to stress the singular focus on jobs and environment or the ultimate connection of all dimensions of social life and political economy. However the GND evolves, at its center will be the effort to respond jointly to climate change and employment insecurities linked to broad economic transformation. This is a matter of principle, of policy design, and of politics. The GND can succeed only if citizens and influential organizations are clear that both climate and employment are truly urgent concerns that demand immediate action and, most importantly, structural change. Individual ethical response to climate change is not enough, and, indeed, calls for alternative consumption lifestyles paper over the essential need to work together politically. The GND insists that this is less a matter of sacrifice than of building a better future. Accounts of a disastrous climate future have been repeated over and again as activists have struggled for attention and dealt with climate change deniers. But they have overwhelmed some and led many to feel that nothing they can do will matter. The combined experience of deindustrialization and loss of communities has done much the same for many workers, making it look as if there is no way to escape being the victims of economic change and political neglect rather than agents of renewal. This has fueled right-wing populism in some cases. It has also spread loss of hope. Backers of the GND seek to bring optimism to discussion of both climate and jobs. Almost all proposals for a GND frame it centrally in terms of national policy, and this book is about the United States. This is not for lack of awareness that both climate and the contemporary capitalist economy are global. It is because nation-states are crucial centers of financial and political power with capacity to act decisively. There may and should be global cooperation. Building on the Paris Climate Accords is important. So is developing global standards for the security and well-being of workers; the International Labor Organization has made significant starts. In each arena, however, global competition has tended to outstrip both solidarity and the scale of response needed. At the same time, as several chapters in this volume make clear, proposals for a GND also demand action at municipal and other subnational levels (see chapter 11 by Daniel Aldana Cohen and chapter 12 by Mijin Cha and Lara Skinner). “Bottom-up” citizen mobilizations need to inform “top-down” government action (as Harry Boyte and Trygve Throntveit discuss in chapter 15). On some dimensions, like finance, the national government has decisive advantages.

Introduction 11

But as Richard Lachmann argues in chapter 16, there are risks to neglecting local community. These are risks to both political cohesion and human welfare. It is sad for us to note the death of Richard Lachmann while this book was in production; he was an important voice for justice. Prioritizing the national over the local has also reduced voices of people of color in GND activism—one of the signal weaknesses of the movement. It is easier for better-off activists to work at a distance from their homes. It is easier for white college graduates to join a movement when it is mainly made up of white college graduates. As Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò argues in chapter 14, for people of color to have an effective voice, they need settings in which they have critical mass or even are the majority. Black and other minority activists have been more likely to mobilize around environmental justice issues in their communities, and these are not yet well-integrated into the GND campaigns.


The phrase “New Deal” actually comes from Mark Twain, who coined it in the late nineteenth century as a call to respond to rampant inequality and economic volatility.18 Franklin Roosevelt claimed it when he became president in the depths of the 1930s Depression. At first it was just a slogan, but after Roosevelt was elected, he moved fast, aided by his famous “brain trust,” to turn the slogan into action and programs. Although the New Deal is famous as an enormous effort of the federal government, it built on local and state experiments and innovations, many shaped by the Progressive movement. The New Deal was “bottom-up” as well as “top-down.” And crucially for its contemporary echo in a GND, it necessarily responded to a range of interdependent problems at once.19 As implemented, the New Deal included rural electrification; conservation; the creation of Social Security to support the aged; the Farm Security Administration to save family farms; the Public Works Administration to build roads, bridges, dams, hospitals, schools, and housing; programs for youth; programs to provide emergency help to those in need; programs to create jobs; the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission to ensure transparency and stability in the stock market; a series of acts to save the banking system—and more. The New Deal laid foundations for high levels of business-government-labor cooperation during World War II and in the boom that followed the war. Legislation to

12 Introduction

realize its program continued into the 1960s. Then, of course, during the neoliberal era that began in the 1970s, progress on this agenda was blocked and increasingly reversed. Some of Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were controversial at the time, but most commanded broad public support. Bipartisan alliances underpinned the majorities by which New Deal legislation passed in Congress. And the “organized capitalism” the New Deal helped to put in place (aided by the highly organized war effort that followed) was advanced through both Republican and Democratic administrations, with significant government economic engagement complementing agreements struck between capital and labor—and often without the need to resort to strikes. Taking their cues from the original New Deal, most visions of a GND would minimize the extent to which corporate profits, the finance industry, and asset bubbles drained resources away from both workers’ incomes and climate action. This is a matter of tax policy as much as regulation.20 GND advocates promise a new era of political mobilization that overcomes old party divisions to channel majoritarian support toward the creation of jobs and the reduction of environmental damage. Like the original New Deal, the GND is an optimistic assertion of potential American renewal. It is worth emphasizing that the New Deal was hardly an integrated package of legislation and public action. History has reinforced the sense that it was all coordinated, helped by the effective political framing done by the Roosevelt administration. But in fact, the New Deal was not simply “rolled out”; it was invented on the fly, in real time, with a pressing sense of urgency but by actors with a range of different priorities. It was a composite of dozens of different pieces of legislation, and if it is remarkable how many were passed and funded, it is also true that some failed. Some of the programs launched endure to the present day; some collapsed or faded within a couple of years. The New Deal was not produced by a master plan. Still, it was shaped by years of activism and considerable analytic effort. Likewise, there is no single master plan for a GND. Many programmatic demands will and must be made, but few if any will perfectly make their way into history. Successful action on a very large scale requires flexibility and a challenge to the traditional power structure in the United States. For this action to be democratic, it is crucial that it be open to ideas, innovations, and articulations of interests from many distinct actors. These will appear, as they did in the New

Introduction 13

Deal, at state and local levels as well as national. Some will involve collaborative planning; others will mean contentious disruption. As Raj Patel and Jim Goodman emphasize in chapter 3, one lesson of the original New Deal is that those in favor of progressive change need to mobilize not just to get new laws enacted but to resist backlash and countermobilization that seeks to undo the progress. But while the GND will share much with the original New Deal, it also needs to confront new issues and new circumstances as well as the unfortunate legacies of its predecessor. The New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which promoted conservation (not least in response to soil erosion and the Dust Bowl), and dramatically expanded national parks (see discussion in chapter 2 by Hillary Angelo). But, overall, the consumer-driven “affluent society” the New Deal helped inaugurate encouraged intensive use of natural resources and, whatever its other virtues, was not good for the environment.21 It allowed transformation of agriculture to continue in ways that are deeply problematic not only for climate and environment but for the organization of work. As Patel and Goodman suggest, agriculture needs to figure centrally in the GND. Moreover, although the New Deal created new opportunities for many Black Americans through employment in its public works programs, those same programs also suffered from segregation and discrimination in hiring. Black Americans—and many other nonwhite Americans—were blocked from proportionately reaping the benefits of the New Deal. Perhaps the most impactful of the racist decisions of the original New Deal was that of the Federal Housing Authority to refuse to insure mortgages in predominantly Black neighborhoods, a policy that led to deep geographical segregation. The GND must provide a “just transition” both for workers and frontline communities, ensuring that the racist legacies of the past are not reproduced in the present. The GND hearkens back not only to the New Deal but also to the politics of A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and the Freedom Budget. They sought to extend the gains of the civil rights movement through economic, redistributive policies that would in many ways have continued the New Deal. The Freedom Budget came in the late 1960s, at the end of the era of policies shaped by the New Deal and at the beginning of both neoliberal retrenchment and policymakers’ acceptance of increased inequality. Accordingly, it made little headway in actual policy. The Freedom Budget is a reminder of the unfinished work in comprehensive reform that remains important for a GND to achieve both economic and racial justice.

14 Introduction

For many of the reasons listed here, some activists wish to move beyond the GND frame to talk instead in new terms—for instance, the agenda outlined in the Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act—or else simply to talk about climate-related addenda to possible infrastructure bills. We believe it is essential to retain the phrase “Green New Deal” because, for all its faults, there still is no better model in American history for the transformative project we need today than the New Deal, as Richard Walker lays out quite clearly in chapter 1 of this volume. The original New Deal of the 1930s sought to create jobs as well as to create compensation for job loss. To be sure, it took a Great Depression to create the political conditions for such action and mobilization for World War II to generate full employment. But the New Deal laid the foundations for the postwar economic boom and for policies ensuring that this prosperity was relatively widely shared among all Americans. Sometimes called the era of “organized capitalism,” the American economy after World War II depended on strong roles for all of government regulation, government investment, and negotiated agreements between capital and labor. Since the 1970s the neoliberal era has featured reduction in each of these stabilizing factors. This has not resulted just from “natural” change or evolution of the economy. In its shape, speed, and extent of disruption, this has been driven by active political campaigns. The economy has been privatized, agreements between capital and labor undermined, and government institutions allowed to decay or directly cut back. Inequality, which stayed relatively low through the postwar boom, has now increased to perhaps the highest level in American history.22 Neoliberalism had been growing for years as both an ideology and a perspective on economic policy. It became dominant during the mid-1970s oil crisis. This was driven largely by dependence on foreign oil, although a range of other issues also mattered, from financing the Vietnam War through upheavals in global exchange rates. A key face of the crisis was simultaneous high inflation and economic stagnation. Faced with a choice between supporting workers and the owners of assets, the Federal Reserve made a firm choice of the latter. It raised interest rates, stabilized currency, and brought down demand—but also workers’ incomes.23 This helped bring the New Deal era to an end. Inflation is once again an issue, and some call for addressing it by limiting wage growth and curtailing investments in green infrastructure. Both are short-sighted proposals, and both underestimate the importance of large-scale government investment.24

Introduction 15


The GND challenges those versions of environmentalism that focus centrally on sacrifice, austerity, and “degrowth.” Equally, it challenges the long-standing working-class and labor union suspicion of environmentalism as a job-killer. Allusion to the New Deal initiated in the 1930s signals the importance of government leadership and funding and the necessity of simultaneous action on many related issues. Most GND advocacy centers on decarbonization, new green technologies, and reversing environmental degradation more broadly. But for those without good jobs or worried there may be none for their children, there is as much a crisis of work as of climate. Moreover, the promise of good jobs is of central political importance. If environmentalists treat it as a mere political tactic, the GND will fail. For the sake of both jobs and climate, a GND must address energy sources, distribution, and consumption (see Clark Miller’s contribution in chapter  13). This requires transforming transportation, housing, and urban design. Employment and climate impacts are both shaped by movement away from industry and extraction, transformation of agriculture, and the rise of a logistical economy and service work, especially care work. Jobs will be created both in the manufacturing and deployment of infrastructure and in the transformation of the rest of the economy. But the new jobs will not automatically all be good jobs. This depends on both workers’ organizing efforts and government policy—from minimum wage laws to a potential job guarantee. To focus on jobs raises a variety of questions. To start with, why have previous proposals to deliver jobs so often failed or been co-opted by coalitions defining economic growth in terms better for capital than for labor and communities (see Molotch, chapter 10)? And why has labor sometimes been complicit with this situation? How should it make its voice heard now (see Isser, chapter  8). How would a federal jobs program, or even a federal jobs guarantee, avoid the traditional pitfalls with the promise of jobs? What is the role of less centralized action at state or local levels and among both unions and businesses? Is a universal basic income also important? How should any effort to create jobs and transform the economy relate to new technologies, shifts among economic sectors, and the proportionate rise of very large corporations and decline of small businesses? How should proposals

16 Introduction

for a “just transition” balance jobs in older, sometimes declining industries with jobs in service, care, and logistics (see chapter 9 by Todd Vachon)? How does it matter that the declining industries (and their unions) have been historically more male and white, while service and care industries employ more women, minorities, and immigrants? It is even important to ask: should we be working more or less (see chapter 6 by Wilson Sherwin)? That is, how does the goal of creating jobs relate to the longstanding goals of shorter working hours, high enough pay to eliminate the need for second jobs, and reduction in precarious employment? Is work essential as a source of human dignity? Is it a mere necessity from which humanity should be progressively emancipated? And what counts as a “good job?” How do pay, working conditions, and security relate to each other? What is the role of union representation, and how can the GND strengthen the labor movement? Not least, it is important to pay close attention to participation and mobilization. This is not simply a matter of tactics—as climate activists may need the support of workers or vice versa. It is also a matter of vision. The GND is not likely to succeed as a technocratic project, but it can be as transformative as a democratic one. Can the political will be summoned to pass a GND? This will require moving forward on many distinct paths, not simply choosing among them. Energy infrastructure and transportation and housing are all important. So are minimum wages and support for public health, education and childcare. Debate in the United States since the 2020 election has been dispiriting. Arguments over cost and the desirability of bipartisanship have dominated over consideration of public value. Not only has national party politics become stuck in a fruitless polarization of left and right, even progressives nominally supportive of a GND have fragmented over which strand of policy to prioritize. Social movement mobilization has not yet successfully pressed legislators to agree that to be effective, GND action needs to be integrated and large-scale. There seems to be no end to the bleak period inaugurated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is increasingly common, given the broad but directionless transformations of neoliberal capitalism, to hear talk of a present “interregnum.” Antonio Gramsci’s well-known phrase from The Prison Notebooks is often invoked: “the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” The broad argument of this volume is that this moment of overlapping crises can only be overcome through large-scale public investment in long-term physical and social infrastructure that both raises

Introduction 17

living standards for working people and confronts the effects of climate change. In other words, the new can be born so long as we abandon the old, siloed forms of thinking and activism that, in a way, echo the political demobilization of the neoliberal period and instead pursue a capacious vision of economic justice that aims to rehabilitate both our planet and our democracy.





John Branch and Brad Plumer, “Climate Disruption Is Now Locked In. The Next Moves Will Be Crucial,” New York Times, September 22, 2020, /09/22/climate/climate-change-future.html?searchResultPosition=1. For Anthony Giddens, “ontological security”—a basic sense that existence has order and continuity—is essential to human life. See Anthony Giddens, Modernity and SelfIdentity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991) and later works. Ulrich Beck took up a similar argument about the ontological insecurity basic to living with and oriented to pervasive risks. See Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1992); and Ulrich Beck, Ecological Politics in the Age of Risk (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity, 1995). The idea of a “just transition” for workers facing deindustrialization stems from proposals by union leader Tony Mazzocchi to create a “superfund for workers.” Superfunds had been created for environmental cleanup, not least for removing toxic waste from closed factories. Mazzocchi’s call to require similar investments in new futures for workers was the impetus to a wider series of proposals for just transition. See discussion by Todd Vachon in chapter 6 of this volume. It has also involved recurrent disruptions. As Karl Polanyi made clear looking at the original Industrial Revolution, disruption to established communities and workplace relations is itself a cost of transformations in work, although this is ignored by most economic accounts. Classical liberals in the early nineteenth century and neoliberals in the late twentieth century treated both the transformations and the disruptions as “natural.” This ideology encouraged those with power and wealth to refuse compensatory assistance to those suffering displacement. See Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston: Beacon, 2001). The ideology matches the self-interest of those who might otherwise be taxed to pay for assistance. The common excuse is that aiding those who are suffering would only slow “progress” toward a better future and that, “in the long run,” wages will rise with new productivity. As John Maynard Keynes famously said, however, “in the long run we shall all be dead.” John Maynard Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform (London: Macmillan, 1923), 80. And the long run can be very long. Robert C. Allen has shown that it was a century before English wages rose to the levels of those displaced by new technology in the early nineteenth century. Robert C. Allen, “Engels’ Pause: Technical Change, Capital Accumulation, and Inequality in the British Industrial Revolution,” Explorations in Economic History 46 (2009): 418– 35.

18 Introduction 5.




9. 10.


12. 13.

14. 15.

Aaron Benanav argues that “the decline in the demand for labour is due not to an unprecedented leap in technological innovation, but to ongoing technical change in an environment of deepening economic stagnation,” which “manifests not as mass unemployment, but rather as mass under-employment.” Aaron Benanav, Automation and the Future of Work (London: Verso, 2020), 15. See also Zack Friedman, “78% of Workers Live Paycheck-to-Paycheck,” Forbes, January  11, 2019, /zackfriedman /2019 /01 /11 / live-paycheck-to -paycheck-government-shutdown /#4e379 2334f10. See Campbell Robertson, “They Were Promised Coding Jobs in Appalachia,” New York Times, May 12, 2019, -coding.html. Victor Tan Chen, Cut Loose: Jobless and Hopeless in an Unfair Economy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2020); and Rick Wartzman, The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America (New York: Public Affairs, 2017). Of course women and minorities lost jobs too—and minority men suffered more unemployment. But the “good” (unionized, highly paid) industrial jobs were disproportionately white and male. “Gender Differences in Sectors of Employment,” Status of Women in the United States, n.d., accessed August 1, 2021, -of-employment/; and Amy Wharton, Working in America: Continuity, Conflict, and Change in a New Economic Era (London: Routledge, 2014). Sarah Kessler, Gigged: The Gig Economy, the End of the Job and the Future of Work (New York: Random House, 2019). Michael Sainato, “ ‘I Can’t Keep Doing This’: Gig Workers Say Pay Has Fallen After California’s Prop 22,” Guardian, February  18, 2021, -news/2021/feb/18/uber-lyft-doordash-prop-22-drivers-california. Some argue that providing a universal basic income is a viable alternative. We disagree. Some universal basic income proposals could be good in themselves but fall seriously short of what a jobs guarantee would offer. See Alex Gourevitch and Lucas Stanczyk, “The Basic Income Illusion,” Catalyst 1, no.  4 (2018): /no4/the-basic-income-illusion; and Pavlina Tcherneva, The Case for a Job Guarantee (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity, 2020). Wolfgang Streeck, How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System (London: Verso, 2016), 35. The early Green Party version of a GND has itself evolved. It embraces similar goals to others but distinctively emphasizes decentralization and a preference for public sector approaches. See Andrew Stewart, “Sorry Democrats, the Green Party Came Up with the Green New Deal!,” Counterpunch, November  29, 2018, https://www.counterpunch .org /2018/11/29/sorry-democrats-the-green-party-came-up-with-the-green-new-deal/. Thomas L. Friedman, “A Warning from the Garden,” New York Times, January 19, 2007, The Green New Deal Group at Britain’s New Economics Foundation issued its own report in 2008: “A Green New Deal,” New Economics Foundation, July 20, 2008, https:// /2008/07/green-new-deal. See also Mark Lynas, “A Green New Deal,” New Statesman, July 17, 2008.

Introduction 19 16.









See, for one example, Timothy P. Carney, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse (New York: Harper, 2019), 10. Much the same is true regarding climate change. There are strong, often religious, conservative calls for better stewardship of the earth. They are not as prominent currently as more rightwing political leaders and Republican legislators. H. Res.109—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, introduced February  7, 2019, 116th  Congress, 1st  session, https://www.congress .gov/ bill/116th-congress/ house-resolution/109/text. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, where saying a new deal is needed is an indirect comment on the Gilded Age—itself first named by Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1870; repr., New York: Penguin, 2001). See Richard Walker’s chapter in this book (chapter 1), together with his website: The Living New Deal, /. Also David Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); and his short summary and discussion of more recent politics in “What the New Deal Did,” Political Science Quarterly 124:2 (2009): 251– 68. The issue is not only tax rates but the many exemptions and allowances that enable corporations to avoid taxes and the prominence of offshore tax havens and moving funds among multiple jurisdictions made possible by global finance. See Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay (New York: Norton, 2019). For a classic account, see John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1984). For a more recent consideration, see Mark Levinson, An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy (New York: Basic Books, 2016). Edward Saez and Gabriel Zucman, “The Rise of Income and Wealth Inequality in America,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 34, no. 4 (2020): 3–26. Increasing inequality has been widespread, although the United States is one of the more extreme cases; see Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st  Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014). Also, for various analytical perspectives, see David B. Grusky and Jasmine Hill, eds., Inequality in the 21st Century (London: Routledge, 2017). It is worth emphasizing that the same era brought reduction in inequality among countries largely because of growth in China and some other Asian economies. See Branko Milanovic, Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2018). Timo Walter and Leo Wanselben, “How Central Bankers Learned to Love Financialization: The Fed, the Bank, and the Enlisting of Unfettered Markets in the Conduct of Monetary Policy,” Socio-Economic Review 18, no.  3: 625– 53, /10.1093/ser /mwz011. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2016).


The New Deal and the Green New Deal

chapter 1

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal richard a. walker


he New Deal was not only successful in its time but provides an excellent model for public policy today. As in the dark days of the Great Depression, this nation is facing profound challenges that require a sweeping attack led by the federal government—the only entity with the power, money, and scale to take charge. The country needs leadership that will rise to the occasion with a bold ambition comparable to that of the Franklin Roosevelt presidency of the 1930s. The lessons of the New Deal, enumerated here, offer hope for an embattled nation and a guide to redirecting public policy after forty years of neoliberal deconstruction. The New Deal provides guidelines for how to attack the major crises of today. Climate change and economic recession get most of the attention because global warming is bearing down like a runaway train, and the economy went off a cliff in 2020. The United States faces a massive deficit of investment in infrastructure and lags behind Europe and Asia in modern public amenities. A gulf has opened up between the rich and the rest, which has precipitated a social crisis marked by underfunded education, gnawing poverty, and personal despair. Finally, the United States is in the throes of a deep political crisis that has the Republic teetering on the brink. The only way to address these challenges is with the kind of sweeping program that the Green New Deal has come to summarize. A half century of experience with neoliberalism has shown that there is no alternative to strong government action led by mass popular mobilization. The Green New Deal is not pie-in-thesky, and nothing less can save us from global warming, economic stagnation, a crumbling foundation, social malaise, concentration of power, and political disintegration.

24 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

The New Deal offers a practical, progressive agenda to move the United States forward, and it was very encouraging to see the New Deal repeatedly invoked before and after the election of President Biden in 2020.1 Progressives have led the way for a major rethinking of federal policy, but it has been valuable to see a host of mainstream liberal voices chiming in as well, and the overall effect has been to push the new administration to the left. Progressives often criticize the New Deal for what it did not do—end white supremacy, liberate women, usher in socialism—but to focus on the deficits of the Roosevelt era is to fail to appreciate the enormous amount of good it did in a single decade, which is also roughly the time we have left to deal with global warming. By comparison with the rest of American history, the New Deal was remarkably radical in the way it helped the common people, invested in the future, and refashioned the country and its politics. It is to that legacy we can turn for inspiration in the present dire circumstances.


The New Deal is a shorthand for the policies and achievements of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933–1942. It encompassed far more than the best-known programs, such as Social Security and the Works Progress Administration, involving scores of laws and programs in all. The Living New Deal is documenting that amazing decade, reviving historical memory, and rethinking deeply ingrained political tropes—because so much of the conventional wisdom about the New Deal is wrong.2 I consider the New Deal’s accomplishments in six areas: economic stabilization and recovery, employment and the working class, investment and modernization, conservation and restoration, programs for the people, and political renewal of the nation.

Economic Stabilization and Recovery The Great Depression was the greatest failure of capitalism in U.S. history and one that challenged the legitimacy of the nation’s class system, dominant ideology, and political leadership. By early 1933 U.S. output had fallen by one-third,

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 25

unemployment had risen to one-quarter of the labor force, and profits and wages had declined sharply. The newborn New Deal immediately attacked the Depression on three fronts. The first was to end financial excess and put the banking system on a new foundation. This meant shutting down bad banks, separating commercial and investment banking, and providing deposit insurance for small savings. In addition, FDR called in gold, devalued and solidified the dollar, and regulated stock markets under the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.3 A second action was the attempt to stabilize industry and agriculture. Price and output controls were tried under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), a conservative plan that was soon dropped. On the other hand, price and output controls under the Agricultural Adjustment Act became the basis of U.S. farm policy for the next fifty years.4 The one branch of the NIRA to survive, the Public Works Administration (PWA), became a pillar of federal spending, unleashing billions in federal investment on infrastructure.5 The third step was a massive relief effort that began with the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), which salvaged bankrupt state and local treasuries to keep relief payments flowing to the unemployed and ended the downward spiral of shrinking government revenues, spending, and employment. FERA also created the Civil Works Administration (CWA) in the winter of 1933–1934, which was so successful in providing relief work that Congress created a larger replacement in 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The New Deal cost roughly $650 billion in today’s dollars over a decade, or $65 billion per year. That amounted to 5.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which averaged $1.21 trillion per year over that decade (in 2012 dollars). The equivalent percentage of today’s pre-crisis $19 trillion GDP comes to $1.26 trillion6—a surprisingly modest sum compared to the $5 trillion spent in the first half of 2020 to combat the economic plunge from the COVID-19 epidemic. New Deal federal spending was paid for by rising tax revenues from economic growth, alcohol taxes from the end of Prohibition, and some new taxes on the rich. It is just as important to note that the Roosevelt administration was the first ever to tolerate peacetime federal deficits. Crucially, economic recovery came before World War II. Under the New Deal, GDP grew at an average rate of over 8 percent and had fully recovered by 1939–1940.7 Contrary to popular opinion, the war did not solve the Great Depression, although it did absorb the last of the unemployed by recruiting millions into the military.

26 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

Employment and the Working Class The second pillar of New Deal policy was aiding the working people, starting with mass work relief programs. The New Dealers may have saved capitalism, but they saved millions of people from desolation in the process. Besides the CWA and WPA, Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and FERA, which paid for the states to run their own work relief projects. Work relief programs created more than twenty million jobs over the decade, peaking at around four million in 1938. These were usually six-month or one-year posts, with reenlistment, but they were life-saving for working-class households and soul-saving for the unemployed. On average, relief work reduced unemployment by roughly 5 percent. In addition, PWA projects generated an equal number of jobs, for another 5 percent reduction.8 Employed workers did better under the New Deal, which legalized unionization, first under the NIRA and then under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935. Rising union density brought better wages, especially for the newly organized industrial unions. New Deal public works programs demanded that contractors provide fair and prevailing wages, later generalized under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In turn, greater labor organizing and unions put pressure on the administration to pass legislation and enforce the new rules.9 Furthermore, the New Deal created the first federal safety net through the unemployment insurance program of the NLRA and the pension and welfare provisions of the Social Security Act of 1935. Higher wages aided economic recovery and long-term growth, as did relief and transfer payments to households and federal aid to state and local governments—all of which stimulated aggregate consumption. Perhaps most important, the combination of greater taxation of the rich and higher incomes for the working class resulted in sharply reduced inequality, ushering in the most egalitarian period in U.S. history in the postwar era.

Investment and Modernization The New Deal was more than a short-term program of recovery and make-work projects. The federal government invested in the infrastructure of the country, or what was then called “public works.” It built tens of thousands of civic facilities,

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 27

such as city halls, schools, courthouses, sewers, and parks, as well as regional systems like dams, aqueducts and airports.10 At the heart of this effort was the PWA. Just as important, the administration pumped money into existing federal agencies, like the Bureau of Public Roads and the Bureau of Reclamation, and demanded contributions from the states. Governments at every level—federal, state, and local—were reanimated. Moreover, the feds asked the state and cities to propose projects they wanted locally and thus gained important political buy-in.11 Crucially, the New Deal walked on two legs: big regional infrastructure and small local projects. For the latter, the relief agencies were absolutely vital. The CWA, WPA, CCC, and FERA undertook local improvements numbering in the hundreds of thousands: playgrounds, recreation halls, baseball fields, picnic areas, water lines, street trees, ranger stations, park roads and trails, and many more. These, too, were projects asked for by local governments, with local financial participation.12 Almost entirely overlooked is the degree to which the New Deal modernized the United States through its massive investments in hydropower, rural electrification, airports, and highways. It aided the technological transition to electric motors and machinery, cars and trucks, airplanes, and household appliances, bringing the entire country into the twentieth century.13 The 1930s witnessed the second greatest leap in economic productivity in U.S. history after the 1920s—higher than either world war by far. This effort took foresight, and the New Dealers embraced the idea of planning, both temporally and geographically, as with the Tennessee Valley Authority. With good planning, heavy investment, and good workmanship, New Deal public works were built to last, and they continued to pay off for decades. Preparation for World War II was a benefit recognized at the time, but New Deal roads, dams, schools, and hospitals continued to function throughout the postwar era of U.S. prosperity. In fact, most are still with us.14

Conservation and Restoration An essential element of the New Deal was conservation—healing the land and resources of a continent that had been brutally exploited for two centuries: forests clear-cut, soils plundered, grasslands plowed up, and wildlife massacred. The

28 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

New Deal was nothing if not green, but this massive effort is too easily overlooked because so much of it took place far away from the great urban centers, on rivers, rangelands, woodlands, farms, marshes, and coasts. It, too, was a combination of large- and small-scale projects.15 Giant hydroelectric, flood-control, and irrigation works were built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Army Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation. Meanwhile, CCC enrollees planted three billion trees under the direction of the U.S. Forest Service, and the WPA planted street trees in towns across the nation. A massive soil conservation program was set in motion on damaged range and farmlands under the Soil Conservation Service, which built check dams, regraded hillsides, and planted windbreaks with the help of CCC labor. Grazing controls were imposed for the first time on federal lands under the new United States Grazing Service.16 Around two hundred new national wildlife refuges were established during the Roosevelt years, often at the president’s personal direction. Several new national parks and national monuments were established, and national forests were expanded. The CCC and WPA built the waterworks, roads, and campgrounds that rendered federal recreational lands usable. A new Federal Duck Stamp program channeled millions of dollars from hunters to wildlife programs. At the same time, agricultural policy paid for the withdrawal of millions of acres of farmland from production, which returned to wetlands and woodlands that aided wildlife. Much of the expansion of federal protected areas came from the purchase of degraded farmland in the Dust Bowl and bankrupt eastern farms that reforested over time.

Programs for the People An essential principle of the New Deal was universal programs with nondiscrimination clauses. This was a matter of principle, but it had the added benefit of making federal actions more popular with the public. The public works and relief programs contained nondiscrimination clauses that, while often circumvented by local officials (especially in the South), ensured millions of jobs for African Americans and other minorities. Social Security, for example, included all employers and all employees regardless of income or race in the sectors it covered.17

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 29

Perhaps the best evidence of universality was the geographical distribution of New Deal programs, from relief to education to public health. Every county in the country received federal funds for a high school, hospital, or other civic building and benefited from land restoration, recreational facilities, or farm aid. The New Deal made a point of investing in depressed regions, where local people witnessed the impact of federal policies with their own eyes, both in what was built and in who did the work.18 At the same time, the New Deal created targeted programs for the disabled, the discriminated against, and the downtrodden. It launched the first federal initiatives to meet the special needs of the handicapped. It brought a turnaround in the treatment of Native American tribes. Marginal farmers were singled out for aid as in the Farm Tenant Act and the work of the Resettlement Administration. There were programs specifically aimed at African American communities, from school lunches to public housing in both rural and urban areas.19 Last, there was a firm belief in the need to address the whole person and the needs of the public as a whole. The New Deal prioritized aid to education, from lunches and teacher’s aides to college buildings and laboratories; built up health programs from school nurses to the National Institutes of Health; and invested in recreational facilities and programs, from playgrounds to national parks. One of the most remarkable dimensions of the New Deal was its creation, en masse, of civil facilities and public art to edify and elevate the spirits of the people.20

Political Renewal of the Nation Franklin Roosevelt was a master politician and deal-maker who played his cards carefully, but he was also a true leader, coalition builder, progressive reformer, and believer in American democracy. These qualities ran deep among all the New Dealers, like Harry Hopkins, Frances Perkins, and Mary McLeod Bethune.21 Their first step was to take charge of a terrible situation with a real sense of urgency. They waded into the fray—ignoring precedent, deficits, and naysayers—to introduce legislation, issue executive orders, and draw up plans for action. There was no blueprint, just a liberal pragmatism and willingness to try anything that might work. Despite his patrician background, FDR was able to

30 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

speak to the public in a manner that restored their confidence in government and gave them hope.22 The New Dealers built a coalition broadly inclusive of class, region, and race. FDR knew that his legislative program depended on southern legislators, and he was careful not to alienate the South over race because he understood that many white populists in the southern delegation supported New Deal programs. That coalition frayed over the years, however, as southern landowners and employers reasserted their power to maintain their main cheap labor force.23 FDR was willing to bring unions on board and address the catastrophic conditions facing the working class. Conversely, his aristocratic origins gave him the confidence to stand up to the rich and the corporations when needed. He wisely sought to defang radical uprisings by meeting some of their demands, as in the case of the Townsend movement.24 A vital quality of New Deal leaders was their ethical commitment to the public good and to the welfare of the common people. They recognized the importance of work to people’s self-worth; the value of civic works in uplifting communities; and necessity of education, recreation, and the arts to the human spirit. Their devotion to public service over personal gain also meant the absence of scandal despite their agencies dispensing huge amounts of money, far and wide.25 Roosevelt and the New Dealers understood that a nation devastated by the Great Depression and left rudderless by Republican leadership needed a new sense of national purpose. The New Deal gave Americans a project of national renewal in which they could participate, feel ownership in, and witness in their everyday lives. FDR was urged by many liberals to seize emergency powers, but he refused. He was confronted by fascist movements and abandoned by the capitalist class— many of whom were fascist sympathizers and feared FDR’s alliance with the working class. Nevertheless, Roosevelt was a committed democrat who wanted, like Lincoln, to save the Republic from itself.26 The New Deal was a political earthquake in American governance. The power of the federal government grew exponentially, and the federal system was transformed. The Democrats replaced Lincoln’s Republicans as the dominant party for the next half century. And, despite many failings of the New Deal on racial grounds, there was an epochal shift of African American voters from the Republicans to the Democrats.27

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 31


Historians like to quote the adage, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”28 I prefer the reverse: those who forget the New Deal are doomed not to repeat it. Of course, the country is different from the one that the Roosevelt administration inherited, and its problems are bigger and thornier than ever. Coming up with good public policy is still a gamble in which the people have to demand answers, the experts need to offer convincing solutions, and immense political opposition has to be overcome as a dedicated administration attacks the problems before it. Nevertheless, as we face the unknown and search for answers, the lessons of the New Deal can provide guidance. This country desperately needs the kind of wide-ranging program of economic, social, and political renewal undertaken by the New Deal— quickly, forcefully, and confidently.29

Economic Stabilization and Recovery The COVID-19 crisis produced the sharpest plunge in GDP and job losses since the Great Depression. The Trump administration was utterly unprepared to respond, much like Herbert Hoover’s administration, which created an opportunity for the Democrats to respond in a significant way after their victory in late 2020. Recovery began in 2021 but has been highly uneven, and private enterprise is unable to heal all the damage done from the double whammy of the financial panic of 2008 and COVID-19.30 President Barack Obama’s response to the Great Recession fell far short of the mark. Only the Federal Reserve Bank’s crash program of low interest rates, quantitative easing, and purchases of troubled assets pulled the economy back from the brink. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 injected some $850 billion in federal spending, but it was too small and too bound by compromise to lead the way to robust growth (recovery was the slowest from any recession for which there is data). Fortunately, the Biden administration learned from that failure in its initial bold proposals. A large dose of federal aid in 2020 staved off full collapse, while a $2 trillion package in 2021 provided a valuable kick start to the post-pandemic recovery. Nevertheless, the overall economic situation was not good: uneven sectoral growth,

32 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

weak investment, stagnant wages, ghastly inequality, a shrunken labor force, and more. In the face of an implacable reality, many political shibboleths have been peeled away, such as balancing the federal budget and going small to attract support from Republicans. Dramatic steps were needed, yet the Democrats held only a slim majority in Congress, and Republicans had nothing to offer but opposition. Relieving Short-Term Pain Short-term crisis relief dominated the federal response. The COVID-19 crisis required gigantic relief and rescue operations by the government. Most of the poorly conceived and ineptly handled 2020 relief package went to business—and large corporations, at that—while failing to demand that companies keep workers on the payroll in return for government assistance. Mass unemployment was the result. The 2021 American Rescue Plan Act did a better job of sending meaningful aid to working families, such as child tax credits, and Biden has promised more. This kind of direct aid to ameliorate the worst of the pandemic’s effects is absolutely necessary, as the early New Deal demonstrated during the Depression. But mere relief did not suffice for economic recovery then, nor will it do so over coming years. President Biden said as much and called for a long-term effort through a huge Build Back Better program that included $2 trillion in infrastructure and $4 trillion in social spending, including investment in new, greener technologies. Yet only a $1 trillion infrastructure act got through Congress in 2021. Yet, what is required is a major federal push to rebuild national infrastructure, invest in modernization, lift the wages and prospects of workers, and heal the earth, forcing the economy to make the difficult transition to a new path of growth—one that is much more vigorous, just, and green, in the manner of the New Deal’s multipronged approach, as is elaborated below. Restoring Government Finances The financial impact of COVID-19 on state and local budgets was dramatic. Because government spending at all levels is necessary to countercyclical policy, the federal government has to back up lower levels of government in times of crisis through additional transfers. Only the feds can print and borrow money at will without violating the law, losing public trust, and going broke. The New Deal bailed out states and cities, while both Hoover and Trump let them dangle by a budgetary thread in the storm.31 State and local governments spend almost as much as the federal government, making them major employers and sources of contracts to private business.

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 33

Supporting state and local budgets is one of the simplest ways to revive employment and stimulate market recovery. Once again, the Federal Reserve had to step to fill the gap in federal aid with low interest rates and even purchases of municipal bonds. The lack of action by the Trump administration was so striking that even the chairman of the Fed called for stronger fiscal policy.32 The Biden White House evidently heeded that call and included aid to state and local governments in its rescue package. Taxing the Rich While policy should not be bound by the false notion that the federal government cannot run deficits, taxes are a necessary part of all government finance. Higher taxes will be needed to pay for greatly enhanced government spending, investment, and employment. This can easily be done, even if a Green New Deal program costs a trillion dollars a year. The key is greater taxation of wealthy people and corporations, as was done by the Roosevelt administration. Taxes on the rich and business are about half what they were post–New Deal era and were systematically reduced by huge cuts in the 1960s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s—mostly, but not entirely, by Republican majorities. Marginal tax rates on high incomes, wealth, and corporate profits have all be whittled down, while the overall U.S. government tax burden was shifted to the working and middle classes by a dramatic rise in local and state sales taxes and use fees.33 A Green New Deal can be easily financed by reversing the Republican tax giveaways of the last decade—let alone the last forty years.34 Furthermore, a necessary step toward redress of class inequality, which only grew worse during the pandemic, is to reduce the outrageous fortunes at the top. Therefore, a Green New Deal must be funded by raising taxes on the wealthy and big business through more progressive corporate taxes, inheritance taxes, capital gains taxes, property (real estate) taxes, and income taxes. Financial Cleansing The financial system of the country is not in good shape. After the crisis of 2007–2009, banks were forced to increase reserves, which has served them well, but bond markets, stock markets, and hedge funds were never brought to heel after the mortgage fiasco. Corporate debt ballooned in the 2010s, real estate investment trusts carried massive debts to finance their plays in property markets, and off-the-books lending by banks again led to questionable practices and shaky futures.35 Greater regulation of the financial sector is needed to put the economy back on a solid footing for future growth.

34 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

In the 2020 economic crisis the Federal Reserve stepped in to rescue big business by purchasing trillions in dubious corporate bonds. Nonetheless, higher taxes on the rich and corporations are needed to drain the financial swamp, which is flooded by their accumulation of huge surpluses. A new growth path cannot be achieved without reducing the parasitic effect of finance (extraction of rents) and reducing financial speculation in nonproductive assets: stocks, bonds, and real estate.36 Redistribution is also good for growth because stagnant working-class wages and household incomes suppress the mass consumer demand that fuels business sales.

Employment and the Working Class The emphasis for public policy today has to be on the working people. The COVID-19 epidemic clobbered workers, with over 40 million laid off in the spring of 2020 out of a workforce of 160 million. As the upper classes sheltered in place and professionals worked at home, the pandemic stripped away the ideological veil that hides how much everyone depends on “essential workers.”37 Yet what workers are not essential? Is it the nominally better off “working middle class” who toil in factories and construction sites, schools, and offices, some of whom are unionized, skilled, and fully employed? Or is it the bottom third of the labor force who work in the most precarious, lowest status, and most poorly paid jobs, the majority of whom are women and people of color? Given the reality of a shrinking middle class and working class that has lost enormous ground over recent decades (and more during the pandemic), a Green New Deal must do three things to aid working people: create jobs, increase wages, and support labor organizing. Creating Jobs A Green New Deal needs to move quickly to salvage worker’s lives and dignity, as the New Deal did, because unemployment and underemployment will continue to be severe, despite a lot of loose talk about rapid recovery. Additionally, there is a vast amount of work to be done as part of retooling the economy, whether in health, road repair, or childcare. Mere spending cannot do the job, and a Green New Deal needs to include explicit government jobcreation programs such as a Public Health Corps, Education Corps, and the like. Progressives have suggested a Civilian Climate Corps along the lines of the

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 35

original CCC, but President Biden, like Obama, has not gone beyond general support for boosting employment.38 Job programs are needed to tackle the persistent failings of U.S. labor markets. Given widespread racial and gender bias, federal efforts must have strong antidiscrimination rules that are well enforced, and immigrants need to be included, not ignored or deported. Underemployment needs to be addressed as well because millions are working less than full time involuntarily or have dropped out of the labor force (which was not robust in the 2010s and shrank markedly in the pandemic, especially among women). In addition, there must be jobs (not “retraining”) for workers displaced by green energy and other industrial transitions.39 The ultimate goal is good jobs for all. Government programs should aim to generate better work than the private sector, to offer alternatives to precarious poverty jobs, and to lure people (especially women) back into the labor force. Jobs should be, wherever possible, full-time, secure for designated periods, and without swing shifts and on-call work.40 Raising Wages A key lesson of the New Deal was that to reduce inequality it is necessary to squeeze at both ends of the income distribution to expand the middle: raise up the bottom half and cut down the top 1 percent. The key is raising the share of national income going to the working class, which has fallen for decades. That requires the assurance of good wages and benefits for those who work, support for labor organizing, and pensions for the retired and disabled.41 The foundation for better wages is threefold, as the New Deal showed. First, the federal government must create a wage floor, which starts with a higher federal minimum wage for employers across the country, at least the fifteen dollars per hour that progressive movements are demanding. Next, there needs to be a federal living wage—adjusted for the cost of living—required of all federal contractors as well as government agencies themselves. This is effectively what the PWA required. To his credit, Biden did the latter through executive order, but Republicans and a single Democratic senator were able to cut the minimum wage out of his American Rescue Plan. Third, people of all colors, genders, and identities must be paid the same wage for similar work. Rectifying racial and gender disparities in pay is essential to the pursuit of economic justice in America. Because two-thirds of the working

36 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

class of America today is made up of women, immigrants, children of immigrants, and African Americans, economic justice and social justice are converging. Thus, putting “working people” at the center of a Green New Deal means putting people of color on the same plane as whites. Getting Organized Unionization yields higher wages and gives workers countervailing power to demand better benefits, regular work, and safer conditions. A Green New Deal must get rid of state “right to work” laws and revive federal labor laws and enforcement. Furthermore, unions are crucial to worker education, training, and political mobilization. There has to be a reciprocal development of a revived labor movement and government policy, which depends on union pressure and input (see chapter 8 by Mindy Isser, in this volume, for more on this topic).42 The geographic distribution of jobs matters, too. Justice demands government action to aid places left behind as private business continues to favor the largest urban areas. The cumulative advantages of big cities are increasing, leaving behind a wreckage of smaller cities and towns. Jobs, wages, and unions are all critical to the revival of devastated places, and the young and unskilled need education and training to participate in modern labor markets.43 In brief, employment is the chief means of restoring American lives as we pull out of the present crisis, which the New Dealers understood. Work is essential to most people’s sense of personal worth, ability to provide for their families, and feeling of contributing to their communities. A universal basic income might be useful to provide a floor under household incomes, but as Dustin Guastella also argues in this volume (chapter 7), people want to work above all else—contrary to the perverse conservative ideology that workers lack motivation without the sting of hardship.44

Rebuilding and Modernizing for a Green Future As a Green New Deal strives to reduce carbon emissions, it will have the additional task of renovating America’s dilapidated infrastructure. This will require investment, planning, and research to redirect the economy down a greener and more modern path of growth. The COVID-19 crisis has provided a real opportunity to redirect the economy along greener lines, as the original New Deal did, and the Biden administration appeared to grasp this critical point.45

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 37

Renewing Rotting Infrastructure The United States has neglected its social infrastructure for decades, under the sway of market triumphalism that let government atrophy and politicians duck responsibility for leadership. The result is a $5 trillion backlog of delayed maintenance of big infrastructure, including highways and bridges, water and sewer systems, ports and airports.46 This is why the country is plagued with foul drinking water, collapsing dams, and electric blackouts. This is not just bad growth policy but a major source of social injustice. To this end, President Biden pushed for a nearly $2 trillion infrastructure reinvestment program and a $6 trillion overall budget in 2021. Yet, to deal with the backlog, the federal government should create a well-funded equivalent of the PWA as well as ample budgets for line agencies like the Department of Transportation and Army Corps of Engineers. Moreover, as in the New Deal, infrastructure has to walk on two legs: large-scale projects complemented by smallscale public works. Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act notably failed to do this, and Biden has never articulated anything like a new WPA, which is essential both to create jobs and to deal with the fact that infrastructure comes at many scales, large and small. By definition, infrastructure is a public good, even when built and operated by private business. Government planning for infrastructure is always called for, whether at the urban, state, or regional level, and this applies to everything from rail transit to water supplies to electric grids. Government and cooperative ownership can function just as well as or better than profit-seeking management— contrary to promarket mythology—and the urgency of today’s looming climate disasters are forcing the country to take social planning seriously again.47 Reducing Carbon Emissions The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy requires curbs on coal, petroleum, and gas investments, whether arctic drilling or new pipelines. Major investment in large-scale solar and wind power generation are needed, and not just by private investors; the public sector must spur greater efforts through incentives and competition from a PWA-type of public investment program. Meanwhile, WPA-type work teams should be fanning out across the country doing smaller installations of solar panels and insulation to millions of homes and commercial buildings. Efficiency in energy use is equally important. Transportation can be improved by building more mass transit, replacing fleets of trucks, and coordinating

38 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

housing construction with transit lines. To upgrade buildings, a Green New Deal should pay for new furnaces, air conditioners, and water heaters to be installed by small-scale work teams. Better electric grids are needed as well, with more distributed supply, including small-scale wind and solar, microgrids, and better grid management. Hardened power lines, underground lines, and electric shutoffs are all needed to reduce the danger of wildfires.48 Good plans along these lines have been offered at the state level and by Green New Deal think tanks, but a few progressive states cannot do the job without serious federal involvement.49 Modernization Major investments in infrastructure must come with technical upgrades, such as faster internet, advanced water treatment, and high-speed trains. These dovetail with efforts at energy efficiency, as in the use of the internet for management of smart buildings, driverless vehicles, and bus movements. A basic upgrade is that new infrastructure must be less carbon-intensive than simply pouring concrete and laying asphalt.50 Technical change demands, in turn, investment in research, such as developing electric and lightweight cars, managing traffic flows, and automating electric grids. Just as the New Deal built up the research capacities of the U.S. Forest Service and National Institutes of Health, a Green New Deal should fund research on energy, innovative planning, and building design. The Biden administration immediately understood this, to its credit, and included serious funding for research in its infrastructure investment package. In brief, the country badly needs to invest in public infrastructure, increase energy efficiency, and support technical research while planning for the future instead of waiting for it to clobber us and hoping for miracles from the market. In this way, a Green New Deal or Build Back Better can move a retrograde economy fully into the twenty-first century in the same way that the New Deal pulled it into the twentieth.

Healing the Earth Climate change goes hand in hand with destruction of habitat, ruinous petrofarming, and lack of preparation for natural disasters. Restoration Ecology and Wildlife The land and waters of the country need a major program of rehabilitation. On top of the usual devastation left by the

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 39

timber industry, decades of monocrop tree planting, fire suppression, and pest infestations have left tens of millions of acres of spindly, overgrown, and dying forests. The worst hit is the Southwest and California, where global warming is expanding the desert zone, with more erratic rainfall, less snow, and higher summer temperatures, and the number and size of wildfires have exploded over the last decade. Not only did the CCC and WPA plant billions of trees, CCC enrollees cleared forests of dead trees and built thousands of miles of fuel breaks and access roads that aided firefighting. A Green New Deal will have to muster a new army of young people and send them out to plant billions more trees, as well as thinning long neglected forests, clearing decades of brush, helping with controlled burns, creating fuel breaks, and more. Yet even California’s fire agency has barely begun to adopt such measures, and no one in the governor’s office—let alone the White House—is yet proposing anything resembling a full- on new CCC. Nature restoration means setting aside millions of acres away from marketdriven exploitation and profiteering in order to renew forests and let wildlife recover.51 With climate change, adaptation will require more extensive land and water corridors for plants and animals to migrate to new environments. This starts with reversing Trump-era land grabs on federal territory but also needs a dramatic rethinking of public land policy. Protected lands do not all have to be parks and refuges, however. It is important to work with farmers, ranchers, and timber harvesters to improve their practices; at the same time, it is important not to regard all commercial land use as incompatible with good management. But this will take government leadership, cooperation with environmentalists, and planning. Sophisticated knowledge about ecology, habitat, and wildlife will have to be brought to bear across the country, funding science and research on a rapidly changing landscape.52 Reorienting Agriculture Today’s environmental crisis rests heavily on the failures of agriculture, just as it did in the Dust Bowl and cotton fields of the 1930s. The New Deal bailed out and stabilized agriculture and backed it up with government research and extension. Alas, it also helped usher in an agrarian revolution that has contributed to carbon emissions, land degradation, and poor nutrition through large-scale monoculture and petrofarming.

40 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

Industrial farming needs a revolutionary shift away from petrochemicals and intensive monoculture toward diversified, organic methods that restore the soil and stop the slaughter of insects, amphibians, and birds (see chapter 3 by Raj Patel and Jim Goodman, in this volume, for more). This is especially true of the mass production of meat and dairy that shifts from grazing to feedlots, pumps animals full of pharmaceuticals, and produces unhealthy meat, milk, and eggs.53 Foodways also have to change. The New Deal undertook a massive campaign of consumer education that included food preparation and diet, aimed at improving public health.54 In the same spirit, a Green New Deal ought to unfurl a campaign to encourage healthier diets, better meat and dairy, and the elimination of pesticide, hormones, and plastic contamination of foodstuffs. The Biden administration has been silent about any such green revolution in agribusiness. Responding to Natural Disasters A warming earth is generating bigger storms and floods, longer droughts and more wildfires, and inexorable sea-level rise that will inundate coastal areas. Just as the original New Deal had to cope with Mississippi floods, the Dust Bowl, and rampant forest fires, a Green New Deal must address the threat of a growing wave of natural disasters. The first step is rapid interventions on the lines of today’s Federal Emergency Management Agency but with better funding after years of neglect and more readily mobilized labor of the kind the New Deal made available through the CCC and WPA. The second step is to rebuild devastated areas like Puerto Rico and Houston, as the New Deal did for Long Beach and the Gulf Coast. A third step is better disaster planning and adaptation, which will need consistent federal backing. Flood control has to be achieved with wider floodplains, restored wetlands, and relocated buildings. Wildfire control demands better adaptation to landscape conditions, such as hardened buildings, vegetation control, and less urban sprawl. Dams, seawalls, and levees all need to be reconsidered in light of climate change. So far few states, let alone the federal government, have faced up to the enormity of what’s coming.55

Programs for the People A Green Deal New must address the welfare of the common people of America. A political platform prioritizing solutions to climate change and for economic

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 41

revival alone is too abstract; the people need to see results in their daily lives. The genius of Roosevelt and the New Dealers was to know this, and they included a host of what were called “service programs” under the WPA and other agencies. Fortunately, Joe Biden, like FDR, is an empathetic man who cares for the wellbeing of ordinary folks, and his proposals included an American Families Plan to address many of the painful hardships of working people, before and after the pandemic. But that plan has gone nowhere. Improving Public Health and Happiness Public health was a major concern of the original New Deal, and it looms even larger today. While the enormous cost and controversy over universal health care means it has to be dealt with separately from the discussion here, there are ways in which a Green New Deal can help improve the health of the country. To begin with, taxing the rich to reduce inequality will itself improve health; health researchers have shown again and again that unequal societies produce sicker people.56 Green New Deal programs to create jobs, raise wages, and provide training will help counter the epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse. Cleaning up drinking water and reducing air pollution improves general health; healing the earth and healing the people go hand in hand. There is a clear need to invest in medical facilities and train more health care workers while controlling medical costs and paying low-level health workers, like elder care staff, living wages. This is even more important in underserved areas; there should be good access to hospitals, small clinics, and mobile units even in the smallest towns and rural areas, not to mention the poorest urban neighborhoods. Here again, mobilizing a youth corps in the CCC/WPA mold would go a long way to getting better services out to the neediest.57 Beyond the basics of public health lies a vast field of potential improvements in the well-being and happiness of the American people along the lines of the New Deal. Efforts to expand parks and open spaces for the good of the earth will need to go along with providing more recreational outlets. Creating more public buildings and gathering places will help collective life flourish and build a sense of the commonwealth that can help reverse the sense of isolation. Last, but not least, art should be available for everyone and in every place, bringing murals, theater, and music to the people, embellishing public spaces with beauty and entertainment.58

42 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

Funding Public Education Public education is something the American people have fought for since the founding of the country. The New Deal contributed to the high tide of public education by building thousands of school and college buildings, playfields, and other facilities. But the neoliberals have slashed support for schools and higher education since the Reagan administration.59 Public education serves three basic purposes. One is to prepare young people for today’s workforce, given ever-rising levels of knowledge and literacy. Another is that education is essential to the realization of everyone’s potential to live a creative and fulfilled life. A third is that education is the foundation of good citizenship in a democracy, as U.S. leaders from Jefferson onward have insisted. Public education should be geographically universal. Declining areas with poor schools are haunted by the inability of their youth to compete in labor markets and to think clearly about the issues of the day. The alternative is despair, addiction, and suicide. Drug abuse is not about the number of pills pushed by pharma companies so much as it is about the need of people in pain to numb their aching and empty souls.60 Free public education at all levels is not pie-in-the-sky; we had it for decades and can still afford it.61 A Green New Deal needs to bring it back. President Biden has correctly identified better funding for public education, including free community college. To this should be added investing in new school facilities and providing money to ensure all public school teachers have decent salaries—as they have been demanding in recent years. Rebuilding Failing Places The geographic universality of the New Deal was one of its greatest contributions. A Green New Deal will need to address the plight of distressed places and help revive them. It must be seen to serve all corners of the country. Not only is geographic universality a way of promoting spatial justice; it gives people who feel abandoned by “urban elites” a direct sense of participation in renewal of their communities (as Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò argues in chapter 14 of this volume).62 To do this requires a combination of targeted investment, job creation, income support, aid to education, land restoration, and more. The key role of small-scale public works in this effort cannot be overstated. A Green New Deal will need to reinvent the equivalents of the WPA, CWA, CCC, and National Youth Administration. Such programs should not only be about building things; they ought to include community-based projects for teachers, librarians, and the

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 43

like—as the New Deal did. While the Biden infrastructure and care plans did mention the importance of rural health and recovery, only the most advanced progressive ideas about the Green New Deal touch on the vast geographic scope of the effort needed to bring the whole country into the twenty-first century. It should be pointed out that government transfer and aid programs, by their nature, tax urban areas and richer regions more heavily in order to subsidize less favored people and places; the richer areas pay more than they get back, as they should. Unfortunately, most Americans have no idea about this, even the ones benefiting (and cursing the coasts). Any Democratic administration trying to win over voters must make clear to the people how the system works—and how it can be improved upon.63

Political Renewal of the Nation The political miasma today is remarkably similar to the one that the New Dealers faced after Hoover’s abject failure to respond to the Great Depression.64 The New Deal saved the country from fascism in the 1930s, and the Green New Deal can save it from the cult of Trump today while restoring the institutions and culture of representative democracy and belief in government by and for the people. Taking Charge, Deftly Once again, the federal government must take the lead in a project of meeting the crisis head on, giving people hope, and offering national renewal and democratic restoration. The times call for a combination of urgency, ambition, and leadership. The sense of abandonment and resentment among working people is palpable, as is the attraction of reactionary fantasies offered by demagogues. Leadership means taking charge of the situation; the government must be seen to be genuinely addressing the problems of the people. Yet good leadership has to be nimble and not locked into an ideological straitjacket, showing that same pragmatism and willingness to try anything as the New Deal. Finally, leadership means shaping the narrative, appealing to the public directly and speaking clearly without dumbing down the democratic dialogue. FDR was willing to act boldly, was a great communicator via radio, and offered the people hope instead of fear.65 Biden had a much tougher job, with a razor-thin majority in Congress, and he has chosen to keep a low profile so as not to inflame

44 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

the opposition. He took the reins of government firmly, moved quickly on many fronts, and made bold proposals. But Congress curbed those ambitions. Mobilizing the People For a Green New Deal to become reality, it will take more than good ideas, good leadership, and electoral success. A key lesson of the New Deal is that a transformative regime has to engage the mass of the people, not just convince them that policymakers are working in their interest (for more, see chapter 15, Harry Boyte and Trygve Throntveit’s contribution to this volume). This means appealing to working people, not just professionalmanagerial elites, and not to isolated fractions of the working class, whether unions, women, immigrants, or the poor.66 A Green New Deal must create avenues for people to feel that they are working with the government and participating in the reconstruction of the country. Working people must feel they are contributors at every scale—saving the earth, rebuilding the nation, and fixing their communities—whether they are improving local schools, working in rural clinics, or planting trees in distant forests. Here, again, new versions of the CCC and WPA are crucial. At the same time, public mobilization must include the intermediate levels of government. The New Deal’s method of dispersing funds and choosing projects achieved buy-in from states and localities. The locals proposed, the feds disposed, and the local government had to make significant financial contributions. In the face of federal abdication on the COVID-19 crisis, most state and local governments were highly mobilized; yet some Republican-led states have made inaction and opposition into a virtue. Using federal partnerships with local authorities to loosen the deadening grip of reaction on the country is a key challenge today. Renewing the National Purpose In the end, Americans want more than slogans, but the popularity of political slogans is not just a matter of catchy phrases or voter gullibility. Slogans speak to the desire of the people to feel a part of something larger—a very general human urge. A Green New Deal offers just such an urgent campaign to restore nature, justice, and the nation. Unfortunately, Republicans have worked hard to smear the good name of the Green New Deal, leading President Biden to choose a less appealing slogan, Build Back Better. Nor did the Democrats promote their program hard enough to turn it into a popular catch phrase, as the New Deal became in its time.

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 45

A transformative regime must appeal to the best spirits of America, as the New Deal did with its leaders’ deep ethical commitment to the public good and public service. Nationalism also remains a powerful political force, and people answer its siren call, but it does not have to equate with war, conquest, and xenophobia. Americans have often been motivated by higher ideals, such as being a nation of immigrants, aiding defeated enemies, and marching for civil rights.67 That faith can be leveraged to mobilize the American people, who want to believe they are bettering the nation and leading the way for the rest of the world. President Biden embodied that kind of faith in the American project, which is a great asset—but the administration has failed to turn that into a successful call to arms. Restoring Democracy Without basic electoral reforms, it is hard to imagine a Green New Deal succeeding. It is well documented how the rich and the corporations use their money to buy elections through advertising, curry favor with legislators by campaign contributions, and influence policy through paid lobbyists. Reducing the wealth of the very rich is a key step to tamping down on the power of money over elections and legislatures. Taxing the rich more heavily is not just about abstract social justice; it is essential to the maintenance of democracy, which depends on a reasonable equality of property and means to function. And there have to be sharp limits on money in politics, with strong enforcement.68 Meanwhile, voting reforms need to be passed immediately. These should include Election Day registration, universal mail ballot voting, backup paper records, minimum distance to polling places, and so forth. The Democrats in Congress have proposed most of these reforms, but they are fiercely resisted by the Republicans in Washington and have been rolled back in states they control. This may bring the whole project of democratic renewal to a shuttering halt before it gets off the ground. The implications for the country’s future are dire.

w The time for a Green New Deal has come. Nothing less than a sweeping program of national recovery and renewal will suffice in the face of the massive crisis confronting the United States and the world. Climate disaster is upon us, severe inequality is rotting societies from within, and representative democracy is reeling from the blows of demagogues.

46 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

Only a comprehensive approach can address the gravity of the challenges facing the nation, as the New Deal proved in the 1930s. A Green New Deal must attack climate change across a broad front of programs, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and revive declining areas, put millions to work on useful projects in their communities and regions, and give the people a sense of participation in the work of reconstruction and modernization. Right-wing critics will attack a new New Deal as a “socialist wish list,” but the country is in its present parlous state precisely because the neoconservatives and neoliberals have been so successful over the last forty years in reversing the New Deal’s achievements. Their agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, voter purges, super PACs, judicial appointments, and obstruction have so weakened the federal government and democratic control that an incompetent response to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic implosion was inevitable. The only sensible response to that meltdown is a program to reverse the decay across the board. This will require practical initiative and experimentation on many fronts at once; it cannot be tentative and fearful of making mistakes because no one knows the best route out of this mess. Indeed, as the New Deal demonstrated, what is vital is a leadership inspired by a bold progressive spirit and infused with a moral commitment to serve the people and wrest control of the country back from the oligarchs of finance, industry, and party politics. The foundation of any such effort must be the demands of the American public for the government to take action on their behalf. Progress at the top can only come with militant action and protest from below, as we witnessed in 2020. Movement at the top and bottom must reverberate off each other, as they did during the New Deal years, with the American public getting organized and finding its voice, the government lending a hand and providing a sense of collective purpose, and the people feeling part of a project of national renewal that is improving their lives in tangible ways. The core of a mobilized body politic must be the working class, representing four-fifths of the nation and encompassing people of all genders, colors, and origins. Given the greater oppression and distress of people of color and working women, they are the ones who are leading the way. But popular upheaval has to be in the name of all the common people, or the demands for change will break into a thousand ineffective fragments of justice foretold.

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 47

The old New Deal had its flaws because it was a creature of politics and improvisation that looks more coherent in retrospect than it did during a time of great uncertainty and profound need. Nevertheless, it is a necessary springboard for talking about the present and a true inspiration for a Green New Deal. Not only does the New Deal provide a host of practical models for things to try out today, it also has the outstanding virtue of providing proof that a Green New Deal will work. Against all critics and naysayers is one irrefutable argument: we did it before, and we can do it again. There is no time to waste.69


2. 3. 4.

5. 6.

Kevin Baker, “We Can Do It Again: Politics, Power and the Green New Deal,” Harper’s Magazine, May  2019; Peter Canellos, “What FDR Understood About Socialism That Today’s Democrats Don’t,” Politico, August 16, 2019, /story/2019/08/16/democrats-socialism-fdr-roosevelt-227622/; David Leonhardt, “FDR Got It, Most Democrats Don’t,” New York Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.nytimes .com/2020/01/12/opinion/fdr-warren-2020.html; Editorial Board, “The Lessons for Today from FDR’s New Deal,” Financial Times, July 3, 2020, /dd302e22-bd1b-11ea-a05d-efc604854c3f; Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Biden’s New Deal and the Future of Human Capital,” New Yorker, April 1, 2021, https://www.newyorker .com /news/annals - of-populism / bidens -new- deal -and -the -future - of-human - capital; William Janeway, “What We Can Learn from the First New Deal to Make the New One Better,” Institute for New Economic Thinking, April 14, 2021, https://www.commondreams .org/views/2021/04/14/what-we-can-learn-first-new-deal-make-new-one-better; and Jamelle Bouie, “F.D.R. Didn’t Just Fix The Economy: He Saved Democracy Itself,” New York Times, April 16, 2021, See “What Was the New Deal?” The Living New Deal, n.d., /what-was-the-new-deal/. Christina Romer, “What Ended the Great Depression?” Journal of Economic History, 52, no. 4 (1992): 757– 84. Both the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act price controls were rejected by the Supreme Court, but a revised AAA was passed again in 1938. On farm policy, see Paul Conkin, A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture Since 1929 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2008). Jason Scott Smith, Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933–1956 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Price Fishback and Valentina Kachanovskaya, “The Multiplier for Federal Spending in the States During the Great Depression,” Journal of Economic History 75, no. 1 (2015): 125– 62. Adjusted GDP from “US Real GDP by Year,”, /us-gdp-inflation-adjusted/table/ by-year.

48 The New Deal and the Green New Deal 7. 8.

9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.


16. 17.



20. 21.

Romer, “What Ended the Great Depression?” Michael Darby, “Three-and-a-Half Million U.S. Employees Have Been Mislaid: Or, an Explanation of Unemployment, 1934–1941,” Journal of Political Economy 84, no. 1 (1976): 1–16. Unemployment averaged 8.8 million out of a labor force of 53 million, 1933–42, or more than 17 percent, not counting government relief work. Rhonda Levine, Class Struggle and the New Deal: Industrial Labor, Industrial Capital, and the State (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1988). Robert Leighninger, Long Run Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007). J. Kerwin Williams, Grants-in-Aid Under the Public Works Administration: A Study in Federal-State-Local Relations (New York: AMS Press, 1988). Nick Taylor, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA (New York: Bantam, 2009). Ronald Tobey, Technology as Freedom: The New Deal and the Electrical Modernization of the American Home (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998). Alexander Field, A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and US Economic Growth (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011); Smith, Building New Deal Liberalism; and Leighninger, Long Run Public Investment. Douglas Brinkley, Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America (New York: Harper Books, 2016); Benjamin Alexander, The New Deal’s Forest Army: How the Civilian Conservation Corps Worked (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018); and Sarah Phillips, This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007). There is much to be said against big dams and other conservation ideas popular at the time, of course. The Social Security Act excluded farm workers and domestics, which was standard practice in national pension programs at the time. It was, moreover, demanded by American farmers. There is little evidence that it was meant as racial discrimination, although it definitely had that effect. In any case, the omission was rectified in 1950. Larry DeWitt, “The Decision to Exclude Agricultural and Domestic Workers from the 1935 Social Security Act,” Social Security Bulletin 70, no. 4 (2010): 49– 68. Smith, Building New Deal Liberalism; Leighninger, Long Run Public Investment; Phillips, This Land, This Nation; Bruce Schulman, From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt: Federal Policy, Economic Development, and the Transformation of the South, 1938–1980 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994); and Jason Taylor, “Did New Deal and World War II Public Capital Investments Facilitate a ‘Big Push’ In The American South?” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 165, no. 2 (2009): 307–41. While the New Deal fell far short of full racial equality, it comes off relatively well in light of the draconian racial order of the time because so many of its programs were of benefit to racial minorities. Harvard Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks: The Emergence of Civil Rights as a National Issue: The Depression Decade (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Sharon Ann Musher, Democratic Art: The New Deal’s Influence on American Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). Jason Scott Smith, A Concise History of the New Deal (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 49 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30.





35. 36. 37.

William Leuchtenberg, Franklin  D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932–1940 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963). Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (New York: Liveright, 2013). Edwin Amenta, When Movements Matter: The Townsend Plan and the Rise of Social Security (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006). Smith, Building New Deal Liberalism; and Leighninger, Long Run Public Investment. Katznelson, Fear Itself. John Wallis and Wallace Oates, “The Impact of the New Deal on American Federalism,” in The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century, ed. Michael Bordo, Claudia Goldin, and Eugene White, 155– 80 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998). Usually attributed to philosopher George Santayana as, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Eric Rauchway, Why the New Deal Matters (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2021). Chris Giles, “OECD Warns of Deepest Economic Scars in Peacetime for a Century,” Financial Times, June  10, 2020, - 9953 - 022e0d7820b5. For example, see John Myers, “Coronavirus Plunges California into Worst Budget Deficit In State History,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2020, /story/2020 - 05- 07/coronavirus-california-worst-budget-deficit-state-history. Jeff Cox, “The Fed Says It Is Expanding Its Municipal Bond Buying Program,” CNBC, April  27, 2020, -municipal-bond-buying-program.html; and James Politi and Colby Smith, “Grim Jay Powell Sets Federal Reserve Up for the Long Haul,” Financial Times, April  29, 2020, -454c-8a8c-f9ae27bc2e44. Overall, the net tax rate is flat at about 28 percent for most households, dipping to 24 percent for the very rich. The system is even more regressive if health care costs are included. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay (New York: Norton, 2019). A Senate Budget Committee minority report has shown that of the $780 billion federal deficit in 2018, the Bush tax cuts were responsible for $490 billion and the Trump tax cuts for $165 billion. That’s well over $.6 trillion dollars per year readily available for Green New Deal programs. John Authers, “Beezelbub’s Telephone Directory,” Bloomberg’s Points of Return Newsletter, April 27, 2020. Nicolaus Shaxson, The Financial Curse: How Global Finance is Making Us All Poorer (New York: Grove Atlantic, 2018). On pandemic job losses, see “US Jobless Claims Pass 40 Million,” New York Times, May  28, 2020, business/unemployment-stock -market-coronavirus.html. On essential workers, see Campbell Robertson and Robert Gebeloff, “How Millions of Women Became the Most Essential Workers in America,” New York Times, April  18, 2020, -women-essential-workers.html.

50 The New Deal and the Green New Deal 38.



41. 42.

43. 44. 45.

46. 47. 48.



51. 52. 53. 54. 55.

Collin O’Mara, “7.7 Million Young People Are Unemployed. We Need A New ‘Tree Army,’ ” New York Times, May 18, 2020, /coronavirus-unemployment-youth.html. Robert Reich, “Almost 80% of US Workers Live Paycheck to Paycheck,” Guardian, July  29, 2018, -workers-paycheck-robert-reich. Carol Zabin, lead author and editor, Putting California on the High Road: A Jobs and Climate Action Plan for 2030 (Berkeley, Calif.: Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, 2020). Matthew Desmond, “Americans Want to Believe That Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty; They’re Not,” New York Times Magazine, September 11, 2018. Eleni Schirmer, “Jane McAlevey’s Vision for the Future of American Labor,” New Yorker, June 10, 2020, books/under-review/jane-mcaleveys-vision -for-the-future-of-american-labor. Michael Storper, The Keys to the City (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013). Stephen Attewell, People Must Live by Work: Direct Job Creation in America from FDR to Reagan (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). Editorial Board, “The Epidemic Provides the Chance to Do Good by the Climate,” Economist, March  26, 2020, /03/26/the-epidemic-provides-a-chance-to-do-good-by-the-climate. “Infrastructure Categories,” 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, accessed August 1, 2021, /americas-grades/. Mariana Mazzucato, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (London: Penguin, 2013). Maria Temming, “What It Will Take to Adapt the Power Grid to Higher Wildfire Risks,” Science News, November  1, 2019, /article/what-it -will-take-adapt-power-grid-higher-wildfire-risks-california. See, e.g., Jay Inslee, Evergreen Economy Plan: Good Jobs, Clean Energy, Modern Infrastructure (Inslee for President, 2020); and Sam Rickets, Bracken Hendricks, Maggie Thomas, Wes Gobar, Holmes Hummel, Julian Brave NoiseCat, and Leah Stokes, A Plan for a Clean Jumpstart to Rebuilt America’s Economy (Washington DC: Data for Progress, 2020), /memos/clean-jumpstart-policy.pdf. Lord Barker of Battle, “Post-Crisis Infrastructure Must Be Built with Low Carbon Materials,” Financial Times, May  21, 2020, -4581- 976e-88fee0e84cf3. As suggested by the head of the National Wildlife Federation to O’Mara, “7.7 Million Young People Are Unemployed.” For a good example of what is possible, see Nathan Sayre, Working Wilderness: The Malpai Borderlands Group and the Future of the Western Range (Tucson, Ariz.: Rio Nuevo, 2005). National Research Council, Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st  Century (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2010), /10.17226/12832. Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Knopf, 2003). On the problem, see Geoff O’Brien, Phil O’Keefe, Joanne Rose, and Ben Wisner, “Climate Change and Disaster Management,” Disaster 30, no. 1 (2006), https://onlinelibrary

From the New Deal to the Green New Deal 51

56. 57.



60. 61. 62. 63.



66. 67.

68. 9523 .2006 .00307.x/. On the lagging effort even in supposedly green California, see California Natural Resources Agency, “2021 State Adaptation Strategy Update,” accessed August  1, 2021, /Building-Climate-Resilience/2021-State-Adaptation-Strategy-Update. Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-Being (London: Penguin, 2019). A good start is Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed CCC to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Katie Meyer, “Civilian Coronavirus Corps Aims to Get Pennsylvania Back to Work,” NPR, May 8, 2020, /sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/05/08 /852857094/civilian-coronavirus-corps-aims-to-get-pennsylvania-back-to-work. Richard Louv, The Last Child in the Woods (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin, 2005); Setha Low and Neil Smith, eds, The Politics of Public Space (New York: Routledge, 2006); and Cher Knight, Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008). Diane Ravitch, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (New York: Random House, 2013); and Erica Christakis, “Americans Have Given Up on Public Education. That’s a Mistake,” Atlantic, October 2017, https://www.theatlantic .com /magazine /archive /2017 /10 /the -war- on -public-schools /537903/. Anne Case and Agnus Deaton, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2020). The Council of UC Faculty Associations estimates that all higher education in California could be again made free for a cost of ~$75 per person per year. Robert Wuthnow, The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2018). Investment in depressed regions will need to be increased. Given forty years of cutbacks in federal grants, the only means of equalization between rich and poor states today are differences in federal taxes. Israel Malkin and Daniel Wilson, “Taxes, Transfers and State Economic Differences,” FRBSF Economic Letter, 2013- 36, December 2, 2013, /economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2013/december /taxes-transfers-redistribution-us-federal-government-states/. Eric Rauchway, Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash over the New Deal (New York: Basic Books, 2018); Eric Rauchway, “Roosevelt’s New Deal Offered Hope in Desperate Times. We Can Do the Same Now,” Guardian, May  20, 2020, https://www Leuchtenberg, Franklin  D. Roosevelt and the New Deal; and Jamelle Bouie, “DJT Is No FDR,” New York Times, March 27, 2020, /trump-coronavirus-new-deal.html. Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (New York: Metropolitan, 2018). Bernard Yack, Nationalism and the Moral Psychology of Community (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); and Robert Fleegler, Ellis Island Nation: Immigration Policy and American Identity in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of Radical Right (New York: Doubleday, 2016).

52 The New Deal and the Green New Deal 69.

The failures, as of early 2022, to enact the full measure of President Biden’s proposals for infrastructure, climate change, and social welfare has been disheartening, to say the least. The conservative wing of the Democratic Party has foiled Biden’s legislative ambitions—let alone enact a true Green New Deal—on almost every front, and the president, party, and country will pay a steep price when the reactionary Republicans take power again.

chapter 2

From Romance to Utilitarianism Lessons on Work and Nature from the New Deal hillary angelo


ow does the way humans go about working to meet their material needs (work) shape understandings of the natural environment (nature)? What real and perceived relationship do work and nature have to each other? Cultural studies classics such as Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City and E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class suggest that the organization of labor is central to the formation of environmental perceptions and attitudes and that popular understandings of both work and nature are developed through material engagements with landscape. For Thompson, work is perceived through the concept of class—or, more precisely, class consciousness—that is made, not found; for Williams, changing perceptions of country and city have to be seen in relation to “historically varied experience.”1 But where and how do perceptions of work and nature crystallize in the built environment? And how do they change over time? These are classic questions of critical social theory and ones with special urgency in the present. In the context of economic and ecological crises— accelerating climate change and deepening social inequality—there is widespread agreement that fundamental transformations in productive relations are required and that doing so successfully will depend in part on learning to think differently about both work and nature. A swift move from an extractive to a regenerative economy is critical to have any hope of slowing carbon emissions; collective will is required to leave oil in the ground, to consider alternatives to perpetual growth, to invest in good jobs in growing sectors such as renewable energy, and to improve those in existing ones.

54 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

One challenge to accomplishing these tasks stems from the two views of the relationship between work and nature that have dominated modern American thought and politics. Adherents of a “romantic” view advocate for the preservation of wild nature on the basis of its intrinsic worth and public value. Those influenced by a “utilitarian” tradition view nature instrumentally: as a resource to be conserved and distributed for the “best” human use (which, in the United States, has typically meant maximizing the growth of capital). Both are problematic in that they presume a separation between humans and the natural environment, a misunderstanding that has encouraged failures to grasp the deep and necessary relationship between work and nature. As Green New Deal proponents advance a policy platform premised on the essential link between economic and ecological goals, public responses suggest that bifurcated views of work and nature will be an obstacle to securing widespread support for the platform. The Green New Deal argues that a jobs guarantee is an essential component of addressing climate change and promises to link a transformed environmental movement and progressive labor politics. As the progressive think tank Data for Progress puts it, “A Green New Deal recognizes that. . . . the trade-off between the environment or the economy is a false one,” insisting that “these problems are inherently tied together, and the solutions should be, too.”2 But both moderate and conservative critics of the Green New Deal have struggled to understand how concerns about labor are related to environmental goals. Instead, they see the Green New Deal as an effort to force together environmental and economic policies with no intrinsic connection, and their criticisms reflect a commonsense understanding of an inherent opposition between work and nature.3 Dispatch senior editor David French, for example, has argued that the Green New Deal wrongly treats economic and environmental goals as inseparable, writing: “Why [are Americans rejecting progressive reforms of the environmental Left]? Because . . . environmentalism and progressivism are wrongly treated as fundamentally inseparable. . . . It often looks as if the climate argument is pretext for justifying a host of other progressive policies, including progressive policies that have only the most attenuated relationship (if any relationship at all) to climate change.” 4 The suggestion that jobs programs have only an attenuated relationship to climate change echoes a long history of “jobs versus environment” debates between unions and environmental movements in the United States, and it underscores that the relationship between transforming economic and ecological relationships is not intuitive in contemporary American

From Romance to Utilitarianism 55

politics. If work and nature are understood to be opposed in practice, a primary challenge of gaining public support for the Green New Deal will be overcoming the perceived opposition between these two terms. In response to such criticisms of the Green New Deal, and in the context of the present need for both ecological and economic transformation, this chapter examines changing conceptions of the relationship between work and nature. First, I explore the contemporary antagonism between the two in classic texts and constructions. I argue that while this perceived opposition is partially an artifact of modern capitalism and alienation produced through the labor process, it also reflects a narrower and more changeable sensibility. Specifically, it reflects the romantic preservation tradition that has been dominant in the United States since World War II. This romantic conception of the environment and the politics and policies that followed have naturalized the binary picture of work and nature seen in public responses to the Green New Deal’s jobs program. I then examine the New Deal as a moment during which an alternative, utilitarian conception of nature came to the fore and, in spite of the limitations of this view, as time when a different public understanding of the relationship between work and nature was visibly forged. Importantly, given contemporary challenges, New Deal planners and policymakers not only envisioned a different and more reciprocal relationship between work and nature but were able to advance it materially. And their policies, programs, and physical interventions produced landscapes and experiences that instilled that new understanding in the minds of the public. I conclude by arguing that we are in the midst of a reshuffling of perceptions of the relationship between work and nature, and in this context the Green New Deal could use similar strategies to cultivate a more radically new imagination today.


At one level, perceptions of an intrinsic conflict between work and nature that are reflected in skeptics’ public discourse are endemic to modern capitalism. For Karl Marx, as for many contemporary scholars, the perceived separation between work and nature is an expression of the basic condition of alienation that characterizes modern work. Despite the core material “relation of man to nature” in

56 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

production, wage labor under capitalism is marked by a shift from transparently direct to increasingly “estranged” or alienated relationships to nature in perceptions of that relationship. Marx articulates this contradiction in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, arguing that while humans live on “organic nature” and require appropriation of the “sensuous external world” for our survival, through modern wage labor and production processes we come to relate to that sensuous external world as “an alien world” to which we are “inimically opposed.”5 The implied contrast against this form of work is preindustrial labor that appeared “closer to nature” in both its material engagements and its temporality: an agricultural world of serfdom or self-sufficiency still governed by “human tides” and “seasonal rhythms.” 6 As wage labor has replaced sensuous working relationships with nature with apparently distant ones, nature has been instrumentalized or romanticized; first nature is destroyed or extracted while symbols of second nature proliferate.7 One consequence of these transformations of work has been an increasingly romantic attitude toward the natural environment, as Williams documents in The Country and the City in the form of nostalgia for an ever-receding rural-agrarian past. The perception of distance between work and nature has widened throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the basic fact of selling one’s labor has been compounded by the increasing “rationalization” of production processes themselves, as more and more people are enrolled in the wage economy, and as the pursuit of profits continues to drive innovations to increase productivity and efficiency.8 Although many of these innovations have been structural and managerial, workers have tended to experience these transformations through changes in technology—the machinery of industrial production in the nineteenth century; computers in the twentieth.9 These interfaces have intensified perceptions of estrangement from nature by producing workplaces where primary interactions are with assembly lines or computer screens rather than whole products or people, and by changing labor processes themselves. For blue-collar workers, such transformations, driven by production imperatives oriented toward the logic of exchange value, have also meant that it matters less and less what kind of work you are engaged in. Just as products’ physical qualities (use values) are no longer relevant, so too concrete labor—in which workers are valued for their ability to carve wood, hammer iron, craft words—gives way to the commonality of abstract labor, or “labor-power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure.”10 Such “deskilling” of working-class jobs is reflected in

From Romance to Utilitarianism 57

Paul Willis’s finding in his ethnography of the education of working-class boys, Learning to Labor, that the increasing commonality of working-class labor meant that the “lads” didn’t care what kinds of jobs they got.11 For white-collar work, these apparently inexorable trajectories reached a zenith in the late twentieth century, as the division of mental and manual labor produced a whole class of alienated laborers working in high-rise cubicles. For neither group do nature’s sensuous properties have much relevance. In this sense, then, perceived polarity between work and nature looks like the product of two centuries of rationalization and abstraction in the labor process— the logical end of a trajectory from farm to factory to office for the majority of American workers. And, indeed, well-known contemporary texts on environment and labor politics explain the fractious relationship that emerged between labor unions and environmental movements in the 1980s and 1990s in part as a result of such working conditions. Historian Richard White’s “ ‘Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?’ ” argues that those decades’ “jobs versus environment” debates were products of bourgeois environmental movements led by a professional middle class whose attitudes toward nature were shaped by just this material situation: when work appears separate from (often pristine) nature, nature becomes a space to be preserved and protected for leisure time.12 His paper is a meditation from his office—looking out at the Olympic mountains—in which he describes how separated his workplace and productive activity on his computer appear from the scenic landscape outside the window. White argues that this condition reinforces the modern society/nature binary that “celebrate[s] nature as the world of original things” separate from society as the “made” world.13 This makes it possible for him, and for many middle-class workers, to not only perceive office work as separate from nature but also to seek out nature as a respite from work in the form of weekend hikes, camping trips, and summer vacations to national parks. This romantic construction is reflected in the efforts of large environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy or the World Wildlife Fund in the late twentieth century, which focused on wilderness preservation for leisure and recreation or the conservation of charismatic species rather than addressing environmental conditions in cities or workplaces, as environmental justice movements critiqued. Such approaches reflect a sensibility that “equate[s] productive work in nature with destruction”: society comes to be perceived as the (modern) place of work and provisioning that we leave for play in nature and through which we attempt to

58 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

recreate an “original” human relationship to nature that has been ruined by work.14 From the viewpoint of (working-class) labor rather than (bourgeois) nature, “jobs versus environment” conflicts become visible when this romantic view of nature confronts the sites of natural resource extraction on which such perceptions depend. A well-known controversy of this sort took place in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s around the northern spotted owl (for more, see chapter  8 by Mindy Isser in this volume). Once listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the owls threatened the timber industry, which was logging the region’s remaining old-growth forest that was the owls’ preferred habitat. Workers anxious about losing their jobs sided with industry and against environmental movements’ attempts to prevent logging in defense of the owls and habitat conservation. As John Bellamy Foster argues, the public perception of “owls versus jobs” was created through this conflict between a working-class labor movement that understood itself to be opposed to ecological interests and a bourgeois environmental movement confronting labor as an obstacle to conservation. As a result, nature “preservationists” were cast as “enemies of the people” while workers became the “enemies of nature.”15 Foster outlines a variety of material conditions that produced this conflict, which involved changing markets, economics, and roles of the state, especially as related to national timber policy, automation, and geographic shifts in industry of the 1980s. He also describes how these transformations were left out of narratives of the conflict such that the public was “left with the distinct impression that the whole problem can be reduced to an irreconcilable conflict between workers and environmentalists, between owls and jobs—a conflict in which the state is presumably neutral and capital is notable mainly by its absence,” and the impression of naturally opposed interests was created.16 It is these core contradictions, heightened by late-twentieth-century forms of labor and environmentalism, to which the Green New Deal’s political move is a response. The insistence that economic and ecological outcomes are linked highlights the parallel exploitation of humans and nature, and the material and ideological conditions that have so often made the protection of jobs and natural environments look like contradictory goals in American labor and environmental movements. There have been important exceptions to these understandings, of course. In the 1960s and 1970s, some union leaders, influenced by early environmental works such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, extended arguments about

From Romance to Utilitarianism 59

toxicity and pollution from the “natural” environment to workplaces.17 Tony Mazzocchi encouraged the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union to ally with environmental movements around issues of chemical exposure, while Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers underscored the risks of pesticides for agricultural workers in the same decade.18 Yet, even with such exceptions, the pervasiveness of “jobs versus environment” rhetoric in contemporary responses to the Green New Deal nevertheless demonstrates the durability of this set of beliefs. It also suggests that this basic perception of opposition will have to be overcome for a Green New Deal to make sense to many Americans. But at another level, this historical trajectory reveals how even within a foundationally oppositional view, views of the environment to be saved and, more broadly, understandings of the relationship between work and nature change as actual concrete forms and experiences of work and the world around it change. Willis reminds us, for example, that the phenomenology of concrete labor remains highly variable. The commonality of abstract labor is “less clear from the point of labor”; there are real differences between window cleaning, catering, childcare, or factory work.19 And so while aspects of the perceived separation between work and nature are products of wage labor under capitalism, in another sense the political formation described above is also a snapshot of a particular romantic view of nature and of the polarity between labor and environmental movements that emerged in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. This dominance of bourgeois environmentalism and organized labor forced into anti-environmental positions was a product of a number of factors playing out at various spatial and temporal scales. These included the changes in technology, market, and state that Foster highlights but also conceptions of nature that were a result of the Enlightenment, new experiences of nature as leisure that emerged through nineteenth-century industrial urbanization, and a specific idea of domination over nature—tamed and put to use through large-scale infrastructure projects, or preserved and commodified for recreation—that is in many ways a legacy of Fordism.20 Environmental movements’ attitudes also reflect growing public awareness about pollution thanks to books such as Carson’s Silent Spring as well as firsthand experiences with toxic residential environments such as the disaster of Love Canal, a planned community in Niagara Falls, New York, constructed on a former landfill. The legal landscape of the 1970s also contributed, as federal statutes such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered

60 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

Species Act produced forms of environmentalism driven by large nongovernmental organizations and focused on “elite forms of advocacy, like litigation and high-level lobbying” rather than grassroots efforts.21 And these attitudes also reflected a specific preservation tradition represented paradigmatically by the likes of Frederick Law Olmsted and John Muir and driven by the idea of sublime, unspoiled nature as an antidote to degraded society. The particularities of this historical formation thus raise the question: how do changing cultural, material, and experiential aspects of modern life produce various understandings of the relationship between work and nature even within conditions of alienated wage labor?


Let’s return to the original New Deal with this question in mind. When Green New Deal advocates invoke the New Deal today, it is generally to uphold it as a model of significant commitment of public resources, as an intervention at the scale and speed required to deal with climate change, and as a demonstration of the power of the federal government to lead social transformation. Another important thing the New Deal offers is a historical example of a moment where a different utilitarian understanding of the relationship between work and nature was forged. Rather than the romantic constructions of nature visible in recent “jobs versus environment” debates, New Deal policymakers drew on equally old utilitarian arguments about nature’s instrumental value and gave them a new and positive twist. New Deal jobs programs, investments in conservation and recreation, and agricultural and industrial policy took up such frameworks to offer a vision of work and nature as intertwined and of the fate of natural and human resources as interconnected. Their efforts also offer a model for how this idea was reproduced in the minds of the public through public policy, institutions, and infrastructure that created new experiences and physical engagements in the landscape. Like the present, the New Deal era was a moment of ecological and economic crisis, occurring within the alienating logics of a capitalist economy. But the specifics of the crises of work and nature were different. The United States had first become a predominantly urban nation in the 1920s, with half of the population living in cities for the first time as both new immigrants and rural migrants

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sought higher wages, access to goods and markets, and improved quality of life.22 Meanwhile, conditions were deteriorating in the countryside. In the Northeast, rural communities struggled as residents left to seek jobs in the city. The desertion of small farms hollowed out the local tax base and made it difficult for small towns to maintain roads and other services.23 In the Southeast, isolated mountain communities lived without power, in poor conditions, eking out a subsistence living by farming exhausted land, which they supplemented by hunting and gathering in the Appalachian Mountains—their rural poverty a growing contrast to the relative wealth and comfort of city life.24 Out West, the settlement of the Great Plains continued. World War I had increased demand for American wheat, boosting prices and leading to an optimistic expansion of farming on dry, fragile land. Once the war ended, demand and prices fell just as a drought hit the plains. By 1930 the Great Depression was impoverishing the urban workforce while the Dust Bowl ravaged family farms. Roosevelt was elected in 1932 with overwhelming popular support based on his promise to respond to both of these crises through large-scale public intervention. As historian Neil  M. Maher highlights in his Nature’s New Deal, one of the notable things about the Roosevelt administration’s response is that their New Deal policies were premised on the interrelationship between economic and ecological goals. Rather than the romantic nature paradigm characteristic of latetwentieth-century American environmentalism (which also drove Theodore Roosevelt’s national park and land conservation efforts earlier in the century), New Deal conservation programs and policies produced a very different “political and physical manifestation” of the relationship between work and nature.25 It was one in which ecological and economic rehabilitation appeared to be complementary, related projects; where work happened in nature rather than being synonymous with the destruction of nature; where that work took the form of government jobs provided by a welfare state; and in which leisure nature was accessible to everyone. It offered a vision of the active conservation of natural and, eventually, human resources as linked to each other.26 Maher treats Gifford Pinchot—chief of forestry under Roosevelt—as the central embodiment of this tradition. Pinchot is perhaps best known today from his famous definition of conservation as “the greatest good, for the greatest number, in the long run.” Pinchot was also the originator of the phrase “wise use,” which reflected New Deal’s projects’ conservationist rather than preservationist— utilitarian rather than romantic—attitudes toward the environment; only later

62 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

was the phrase taken up by the antiregulation and commodification-oriented wise-use movement that mimics environmental discourse to block environmental legislation.27 Maher contrasts Pinchot’s utilitarian vision of conservation—in which land is actively managed in the public good—to the romantic preservation impulses of Olmsted and John Muir. If the history of environmentalism in the United States has been a tug-of-war between these two ideals, since the 1960s Muir’s preservationist standpoint has been a clear favorite in both liberal policy and historical interpretation. Pinchot, by contrast, came to represent the destruction and exploitation of nature in the name of “development.”28 (Such characterizations may themselves reflect the historical dominance of a romantic preservation consciousness.) But recent reappraisals have been more sympathetic to Pinchot, instead arguing that he represents a vision of active management and “permanent agriculture” that aimed to stabilize rural livelihoods and that conceptualized agriculture, rural planning, and outdoor recreation as interlinked goals— not unlike contemporary conceptions of “sustainability.” 29 Unlike the late twentieth century’s polarized environment and labor politics, New Deal conservationists saw economic and ecological crises as “interconnected natural and human disasters,” and “they sought to use state power to . . . conserve both humans and nature through federal land management programs,” much as Green New Deal advocates argue for today.30 But where did this alternative conception of nature and labor come from? And how did “dual concerns over unemployment and a degraded natural environment” come to be intertwined not only in Roosevelt’s early New Deal thinking but also in the public imagination?31 This conservation vision was not Pinchot’s alone but a product of commingling of expertise in the first decades of the twentieth century regarding issues of rural livelihoods, natural resource conservation, and urban growth. Landscape historians have argued that “whereas farming, forestry, and recreation are generally portrayed as separate issues . . . these three aspects of land management were frequently intertwined within the policy arena during the early 20th century” in the form of commitments to the public domain (associated with the national parks system), conservation of resources (the national forest system), and planned agricultural production (through statesponsored research in agricultural economics at land grant colleges, government experiment stations, and the new Extension Service).32 Others have described a 1920s “New Conservation” comprising two main groups that both “linked social with environmental goals” and saw connections between floundering urban

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economies and the agricultural crisis: eastern planners, including Pinchot and Louis Mumford, who focused on addressing rural poverty through electrification, the decentralization of industry, and reclassification of land uses, and economists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who argued for stabilizing and strengthening agricultural economies through tariffs and more appropriate land uses.33 The New Deal’s conservation and planning and its physical projects were shaped by these men and their respective fields of expertise. For New Deal conservationists, the celebrated moral landscape was not sublime national parks and untouched nature but a balanced regional landscape of highways, roads, parks, and leisure facilities.34 As a result, New Deal parks and conservation projects did not take the form of pristine wildernesses antithetical to labor but “middle landscapes” in which the federal government played an active role and in which their labor and management were visible to users—aesthetically, they suggested a “meeting of society and nature: nonhuman nature altered by human labor.”35 This holistic conservation paradigm was reflected in New Deal institution building and policy. The major legislation of Roosevelt’s first hundred days established a reciprocal relationship between work and nature through conservation, agriculture, industrial, and labor policy. Programs such as the Soil Conservation Service (1933), which provided technical assistance to farmers; the Civilian Conservation Corps (1933), a public work relief program; the Tennessee Valley Authority (1933), a publicly owned utility provider and economic development agency; and the Resettlement Administration (1935), which aimed to return land to its proper uses by resettling farmers from marginal land offered the most obvious connections to New Conservation thought. All “worked to stabilize both people and land” simultaneously by intervening in urban employment, agricultural production, and natural resource management.36 But industrial, agricultural, and labor policy also established these connections at an economic and structural level and by changing the landscape of organized labor. The putative failure of New Deal industrial policy and the success of its agricultural policy produced an uneven landscape of government regulation across the two sectors, strengthening labor in industry and weakening it in agriculture.37 The 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), which aimed to boost crop prices by reducing surplus on commercial farms, benefited land owners and large-scale farmers while denying benefits to tenants and sharecroppers, hastening their transformation into landless laborers.38 Meanwhile, the goals of the 1933 National

64 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

Recovery Administration were to stabilize industry through government oversight of production and workers’ wages and hours and to guarantee the right to collective bargaining. But after it was declared unconstitutional and dissolved in 1935, the National Labor Relations Act formally guaranteed workers’ right to engage in collective bargaining and collective action and banned company unions. This was a paradigm shift in the federal government’s attitude toward labor—from “repression to recognition”—in industrial production.39 While the American Federation of Labor (AFL) continued to represent skilled workers in mining and construction, the more radical Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was formed in 1935. Initially an internal opposition movement, the CIO was expelled and became independent in 1936.40 As CIO unions organized across race, class, and gender, they radicalized and strengthened industrial unions in cities relative to the AFL and even attempted to organize Black and Mexican agricultural workers in the West and South.41 For millions of Americans, concrete experiences in farm, city, and forest produced a view of work and nature as complementary and symbiotic as New Deal policies touched down in individual lives. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) communicated its utilitarian vision to a sickly, impoverished urban workforce through corporeal work experience. For city residents who would have otherwise been employed in factories, the CCC provided an opportunity to labor in nature. CCC jobs such as trail clearing, forest restoration, and road and facilities construction physically transformed skinny city boys into strong, confident men. CCC workers gained an average of twelve pounds in their first month on the job, “thus reinforcing the point that the physical restoration of the people, as well as the land, was a primary ambition of the corps program.” 42 After six months in the Vermont CCC camps, the commissioner of forestry observed that the 2,600 men had gained 35,000 pounds of “good solid flesh, . . . been taught how to work, and . . . are now on their way to learning a trade.” 43 The training these men received eventually led many to pursue careers as conservation and forestry professionals. Urban parents, meanwhile, witnessed their sons’ physical transformations and happily accepted their paychecks. CCC projects also gave city residents, mainly unemployed industrial workers, new access to leisure nature. As the WPA massively expanded public leisure landscapes in cities such as New York through park, pool, and beach construction, the CCC established state and national parks as well as associated roads and facilities that made the mass consumption of nature possible for a newly urbanized

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workforce that found itself unemployed, with little money, and lots of leisure time.44 CCC efforts enabled a “Great Depression nature craze” in which national park visits exploded by 600 percent, jumping from less than 3.5 million in 1934 to 21 million in 1941.45 These projects, investments, and infrastructure not only benefited urban labor but also improved the welfare of rural communities that might not otherwise have seen their fate as linked to jobs programs. Again, a core tenet of New Deal policy was a holistic approach to problems of struggling rural economies, ecological degradation, and job loss in cities. The CCC’s windbreak, forest maintenance, and soil erosion projects helped stabilize ecological conditions in rural and agricultural communities, while the presence of CCC camps and the infrastructure and amenities constructed for park access provided indirect economic benefits to small towns by transforming local landscapes and local economic conditions.46 In concert with the CCC’s conservation projects, and as the AAA stabilized large-scale commercial farmers who were pleased to see the benefits of a government hand in nature, the TVA and eventually the Resettlement Administration (RA) led a concerted effort to shift from “subsistence farms to managed wilderness” on “submarginal” or “suboptimal” land.47 The RA applied “sophisticated ideas about centralized planning to the nation’s most challenging landscapes.” 48 Its goal was to move rural residents from land that was being used for the wrong things—farmed instead of forested in the East, or instead of being used for grazing in the West—to more accessible and productive locations enriched with decentralized industry and electrification, where they could transition to wage labor or more sustainable forms of agriculture. Relocation, it was thought, would help rural communities garner more wages to address problems of rural underconsumption while producing a federally managed public landscape for conservation and recreation on newly vacated land. These relocation efforts were not without conflict. In Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, the RA successfully moved relatively isolated and unorganized rural communities in accordance with their plans and established the Shenandoah National Park, but in Vermont, better-organized communities’ desire to retain local control and keep land open to the private market eventually prevailed over RA plans to create a Green Mountain Parkway.49 In the West, farmers acknowledged the problem of drought but resisted relocating and were loath to conclude that farming was inherently the wrong land use for the plains. As a result, the New Dealers eventually shifted strategy from land purchase to conservation assistance—helping

66 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

people stay in place through electrification, soil conservation, water control, and other strategies to make western agriculture sustainable.50 Meanwhile, in the forests of the Pacific Northwest that would later become the poster child for “jobs versus nature” conflicts, New Deal legislation produced an environment out of which a pro-conservation labor movement emerged, led by the International Woodworkers of America (IWA), the first union in the United States to make natural resource planning central to their policy position.51 While the International Workers of the World had successfully organized timber workers as radical Wobblies earlier in the century, the AFL had helped facilitate official repression of International Workers of the World such that in the early 1930s timber workers and loggers had become members of the politically conservative United Brotherhood of Carpenters that failed to grant them full union rights. At the same time, Pacific Northwest forests and workers were struggling with a corporate timber industry with a “cut-out and get-out attitude, resistance to reforestation, and indifference to the region’s long-term future.”52 By 1937 the conditions for labor and environmental management New Deal legislation created made it possible for a radical timber workers’ union, the CIOaffiliated IWA, to form and assert its independence. The IWA “combined the radicalism of left-leaning labor unions with conservationists’ critique of corporate despoliation of natural resources in order to fight for community stability in an ecosystem threatened by rapacious private forestry” as they “attempted to make forest policy serve the Northwest’s working class.”53 Unlike in the 1980s, when the invisibility of state and capital created the impression of naturally opposed interests between work and nature—between timber workers and the spotted owl—the economic and community decline that resulted from deforestation made it clear that the fates of workers and forests were intertwined and that the recovery of nature and jobs were interlinked goals. In this context, the union president articulated “an IWA vision for forestry that explicitly connected the work humans did in the forest and the work forests did for humans” and “made alliances with conservationists that lasted for decades, including union support for early wilderness legislation,” such as the formation of Olympic National Park.54 As the union put it to its members in 1938, “we shall unite in every honest effort to save the forests. Real conservation, selective logging, sustained yield, reforestation, fire preventions—coupled with union recognition, union wage scales, means sustained prosperity in the lumber industry for all!”55

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Each of these examples of how work and nature were intertwined in New Deal thinking are also evidence of how “public policies can restructure politics and social relations” through everyday experience.56 Much as E.  P. Thompson describes the “making” of class consciousness, New Deal programs and policies mediated productive relations in ways that produced specific understandings of work and nature.57 Maher argues that experiences of the CCC programs— reforestation and soil conservation projects and the creation of trails, roads, and campgrounds for public access to state and national parks—“physically represent[ed] the material benefits of the welfare state to all Americans” and literally changed public understandings of work, of nature, and of the relationship between them, in this case creating a view of both being actively conserved and managed by federal government.58 He writes: “While the public works of the CCC introduced conservation to the nation, altering the conservation movement in the process, the work relief of the Corps presented the welfare state to the American people, and in doing so helped raise broad geographic support for the New Deal.”59 So too did analogous experiences of work and labor produced through agricultural and industrial policy. The argument that such experiences were powerful enough to produce major shifts in public opinion is consistent with other histories of the New Deal era. Lizabeth Cohen’s history of industrial workers in Chicago, for instance, argues that “material realities and subjective experiences” produced through engagement with two new institutions—the national Democratic Party and the CIO—changed working-class Americans’ political alliances, voting patterns, and conceptions of the state, producing measurable “attitudinal changes” toward government in general and specifically with regard to jobs programs.60 Through changing experiences of work, consumption, ethnicity, race, and citizenship, she traces a shift in industrial workers’ view of the social world and social relationships from one dominated by welfare capitalism (in which employers provide health care, retirement, and other benefits) and local ethnic community organizations (e.g., immigrant organizations and the Catholic Church) to one oriented toward a national welfare state and national party politics. Across race and ethnicity, Cohen documents workers coming to expect support from the federal government, turning to Roosevelt as a father figure, and becoming Democratic voters. Maher argues that in the end the utilitarian New Deal vision of work and nature fell apart, replaced in the postwar era by a romantic one. He illustrates

68 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

this by contrasting the outcomes of two dam projects: California’s beautiful Hetch Hetchy valley, which was filled as a reservoir in 1912 (a decision said to have killed John Muir, who fought hard to preserve it) versus Colorado’s proposed Echo Park dam project in the 1950s, in which activists and citizens’ groups successfully opposed the project and prevented the valley from being drowned. Maher treats the different fates of these two valleys as an allegory of the legacy of the New Deal and post–World War II environmentalism, with Hetch Hetchy representing Pinchot’s utilitarian conservation vision and Echo Park Muir’s postwar, preservation-oriented romanticism. He argues that with Roosevelt’s failure to centralize and institutionalize New Deal programs, Pinchot’s vision of “total conservation” receded and fragmented. Instead the federal government came to espouse a narrower understanding of the preservation of western and working landscapes as presided over by “experts,” while the romantic ethos drove environmental movements of the 1960s. This contributed to producing bourgeois environmentalism later in the century and set the stage for the “jobs versus environment” conflicts that would subsequently emerge as fragile labor– environment coalitions fractured into bourgeois environmental movements focused on wilderness preservation at the expense of labor and unions increasingly sided with industry against environmental protections. Maher describes the failed Echo Park dam project as “foreshadowing” contemporary environmentalism in the victory of preservation of leisure nature over calls for efficient resource use. We might also see this as the story of a specific antagonistic conception of work and nature winning out over a relatively more intertwined one.


Today climate change is requiring fundamental transformations in human relationships to work and nature. One aspect of those transformations is material: remaking our economy and ways of life around non-fossil-fuel-based energy sources to cut carbon emissions fast. New Deal history sensitizes us to another aspect that is cultural: for the past fifty years, a romantic conception of the environment that polarizes work and nature has been dominant in American thought. This understanding has shaped public discourse and environmental and labor politics. It has contributed to a fetishization of symbolic spaces of

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nature at the expense of more complex ecological relationships—for example, a love of national parks and inattention to workplace toxins among environmental organizations—as well as political polarization, such as between bourgeois environmental movements and anti-environmental unions. Because a successful Green New Deal will require an engaged American public pushing for the reallocation of funding, voting sympathetic political leaders into office, and becoming willing participants in new ways of living and working, building a public constituency for whom the relationship between work and nature is comprehensible will be crucial. The New Deal offers an example of such a vision and a blueprint for how that environmental consciousness was cultivated in the mind of the public. In its emphasis on democratic access, commingling of work and nature, and holistic treatment of labor and environmental concerns, it is similar to that of today’s Green New Deal advocates. And, even more importantly, its architects conveyed that vision to the public not simply rhetorically but through programs that tackled interlinked ecological and economic crises within one frame and with significant physical investments that produced positive experiences and, subsequently, new understandings of these relationships for many Americans. The good news for the Green New Deal is that, as in 1930, economic and ecological crises are reshuffling understandings of work and nature in ways that make the present moment ripe for breaking out of current paradigms. In terms of work, rather than industrialization and the strengthening of organized labor that was occurring in the 1930s, now is a time of deindustrialization, financialization, and the casualization of employment. Globally, a “greater share of the world’s population than ever before depends on selling its labour or the simple products of its labour to survive.” 61 Domestically, manufacturing jobs have been declining and service sector jobs growing since the 1950s.62 Unlike in the New Deal era, during which workers were moving from low-productivity jobs (such as in agriculture) to high ones (industry), now in the context of deindustrialization “the reverse of this process takes place, as workers pool increasingly in lowproductivity jobs in the service sector”—such as health aides, restaurant work, cleaning, and hospitality.63 Outcomes of deindustrialization have included labor market polarization, with jobs collecting at the top and bottom at the expense of the middle, as well as changes in the gender and racial structure of the U.S. labor market as undesirable-but-essential service jobs are filled primarily by Black and Hispanic women.64 And since the Great Recession of 2008 we have

70 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

also seen the rise of platform capitalism and the gig economy. Now companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb replicate this bifurcated labor structure by employing a small number of skilled tech, finance, and creative workers to produce those platforms and populate them with content while relying on a large number of contingent employees in unskilled service jobs.65 Well-educated people have increasingly been taking on work traditionally done by those of lower educational attainment, such as driving and cleaning, as they seek flexible sources of income to compensate for instability in traditional labor markets.66 The result has been entrepreneurialism for a few and a “digital cage” for many.67 Meanwhile, this world of work is intersecting with nature in new ways. For White, writing in the mid-1990s, academic labor was a perfect example of the apparent separation between work and nature: typing away in his office, looking out at the beautiful mountains. In addition to the increasing rarity of such forms of employment in the hyperflexible gig economy, contemporary ecological crises showcase connections between work and nature in even the remaining whitecollar offices. My own work life, for instance, has been interrupted by two recent socioecological events. I wrote the first half of this chapter at a friend’s house, having been displaced from my own home by California wildfires in 2019, and the second half under strict “shelter in place” orders during COVID-19 in 2020— along with a third of the world’s population. Not one word was produced under the ideal conditions of rumination from one’s office that Richard White describes. These events have also highlighted intersections between work and nature elsewhere in the labor market. COVID-19’s impact on Black and Latinx communities revealed (and exacerbated) economic disparities and differences in exposure as those who filled the service, care, and sanitation jobs bore the risks of working in public. Gig workers, with earnings not reflected in traditional W-2s, struggled to apply for and receive unemployment benefits. In recent years, droughts, floods, storm surges, and forced relocations have all highlighted the relationship between economic security and ecological outcomes, the disproportionate vulnerability of racialized and insecure workers, and the disproportionate protections that wealth affords. As a “jobs versus the environment” common sense that was sustained by experiences of work and nature in the 1990s rings less true for more people today, popular media suggests that a new understanding of economic and ecological interconnection may already be emergent. Consider the following:

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I am intrinsically linked to my environment. (We all are, which is why we find ourselves discussing the weather so often with strangers and loved ones.) But the nation’s economy is equally linked to the environment, in ways that have become increasingly obvious in recent years. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria together caused $265 billion in damages in 2017 alone. . . . Climate change will hurt poor people the most and further widen the wealth gap between the upper and lower classes in the U.S.68

Such discourses of interconnection take different forms in different fields. Apocalyptic narratives focus on nature’s revenge on society. More utopic versions describe “rewilding” or nature’s return. There is a well-developed discourse of “socionature” and green urbanism in policy and scholarship. Each of these formulations offers a sharp contrast to the quote offered at the beginning—that “progressive policies have only the most attenuated relationship (if any relationship at all) to climate change”—which suggests that there is no inherent relationship between the two. As scholarship by Marx, Thompson, and Williams suggests, these changing cultural tropes are not just free-floating trends but are linked to changing material relationships and disruptions in ecological experience. Specifically, they may highlight a rupture in the romantic environmental consciousness that emerged in the post–World War II era and that has remained more or less undisturbed in the popular imagination since, even as middle-class wealth has eroded, as the climate has changed, and as inequality has grown. What could the Green New Deal do to channel these sentiments and experiences to cultivate a new environmental sensibility and orient it politically in this moment? The New Deal suggests that the answer is to be found, at least in part, in new forms of material engagement with the environment. In a similar context of crisis and uncertainty, New Deal programs provided positive experiences of work and nature that changed lives and shaped public consciousness. The CCC’s national park development not only restored ecological systems and provided jobs but produced a new public landscape. Both urbanites who made use of these new public resources and rural communities that benefited from the economic development in their neighborhoods developed a new political consciousness through engagements with these spaces. But national parks themselves were so impactful only because they were part of the New Deal’s larger agricultural, industrial, and labor policy environment. The RA, TVA, NRA, and AAA

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contributed to changing labor and environmental experience by creating the conditions for living and working well that made it possible for people to use and enjoy those public landscapes in the first place. Rather than a narrow focus on just one sector, one subset of workers, or one geographic location, New Deal programs touched agricultural and industrial work, focused on leisure opportunities as well as labor interventions, and advanced conservation agendas for forest, plains, and mountains as part of holistic conservation vision with farreaching programs and policy engagements. And it was just this expansiveness— across sectors and forms of expertise—that made the New Deal so publicly successful and politically transformative by ensuring that national parks were created and that working people had the time, money, and transport to access them. Such policies not only fulfilled a civic or normative goal of improving people’s lives but were a key part of building a political constituency. Experiences produced through government responses to ecological and economic crises in the 1930s created new faith in government and the public sector and coalesced in popular support for Roosevelt that helped him handily win reelection in 1936. Self-described proponents of a “radical” Green New Deal understand the significance of material engagement. They are already focused on making decarbonization concrete, writing, “For decades, climate politics revolved around abstract plans that named targets like ‘80 by 50’—meaning 80 percent decarbonization by 2050. . . . By contrast, we think fighting for a new world starts with imagining it viscerally.” 69 But what are the key locations for new forms of material engagement and political imagination today? One obvious corollary to the CCC and its national park projects are the 610 million acres of federally managed public lands that comprise almost 25 percent of the land in the United States and that, in 2014, were responsible for 18.6 percent of U.S. emissions thanks to leases for private coal, oil, and gas production.70 Public lands include familiar national parks and monuments, but the majority are national forests and conservation land managed by the Bureau of Land Management under a “multiple use” mandate. And, unlike national parks, which have been firmly rooted in Muir’s romantic nature tradition since their formation and are still preserved as leisure landscapes today, since the 1970s these other types of public lands have been open for livestock grazing, energy development, wildlife management, and timber harvesting as well as recreation. Also unlike national parks, these lands, like Pinchot’s “wise use” concept itself, have

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overwhelmingly been neglected by the left and left instead to libertarian, right populist, and reactionary sentiment and citizens. Now is a transitional moment in public lands’ constituencies and uses. As President Biden’s 2021 executive order pausing oil and gas leasing on public lands suggests, these will be key sites for phasing out fossil fuels and advancing alternative wind and solar projects as part of the national response to climate change. For this and other reasons they are now gaining attention from progressive and traditionally urban populations: advocates for alternative energy development, conservationists concerned about resulting habitat loss, and a new, more diverse generation of Americans seeking opportunities for low-cost recreation. But several recent high-profile public land conflicts have also highlighted the material and symbolic significance of these lands for a variety of stakeholders and their openness to either progressive or reactionary interpretations. These include the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, ongoing conflicts surrounding Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, and the recent appointment of Debra Haaland, the first Native American to serve in the federal cabinet, for Secretary of the Interior. The New Deal is a reminder that such changes in land use occasion renegotiations of the meanings of publicness and stewardship in the public good. Its history suggests that public lands can and should be claimed as sites for the formation of progressive political consciousness as part of the expansive transformations in social life produced through large-scale investments in job programs, infrastructure, and energy for which the Green New Deal calls. But, importantly, the New Deal’s holistic approach also highlights the necessity of applying the same principles beyond apparently “natural” landscapes. In care work, urban jobs programs, agricultural policy, and infrastructure investment, programs and policies establish material engagements with the landscape and powerfully shape public understandings of social and ecological life. In this sense, the New Deal’s success in advancing a new public vision of work and nature offers a model for channeling and directing sentiments and experiences that can be emulated today. None of this is to suggest that New Deal utilitarianism is an adequate socioenvironmental sensibility for the present. It isn’t, in at least two key ways. First, if development projects are also racial and gendered projects, the New Deal’s were exclusionary in ways that reflected the racism and sexism of the time. Pinchot was a eugenicist; the CCC was just for men; the Tennessee Valley Authority

74 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

discriminated against African American families in its relocation policies; and the AAA’s bias toward landowners actually worsened the conditions of Black southern and western agricultural workers.71 A central ambition of the Green New Deal is racial as well as economic justice, although questions remain about how such coalitions will be formed and maintained. Second, this is also arguably a moment in which deeper transformations are required. The New Deal vision was internal to a modernist society/nature binary and to capitalist social relationships. Despite their differences, both Pinchot’s utilitarian and Muir’s romantic conservation visions reflect an idea of society separate from nature and assume an economy based on fossil fuels, wage labor, and perpetual growth that the climate crisis makes increasingly untenable. It remains to be seen if today’s social and political movements will successfully advance a more radical vision of work and nature or how much socioecological transformation can occur and be sustained within capitalism. But even if the New Deal’s utilitarian view is not adequate for contemporary challenges, in a context in which emergent sensibilities are still up for grabs, its success in changing public perception offers a useful place to start.





5. 6. 7.

E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1966); and Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 2. Greg Carlock, “A Green New Deal,” Data for Progress, September  2018, http:// /pdfs/Green_New_Deal.pdf; and Michael Grunwald, “The Trouble with the ‘Green New Deal,’ ” Politico, January 15, 2019, /story/2019/01/15/the-trouble-with-the-green-new-deal-223977. E.g., Jeremy Engle, “Learning With: ‘Nine Key Questions about the Green New Deal,’ ” New York Times, March 8, 2019, /learning -with-nine-key-questions-about-the-green-new-deal.html. David French, “The Green New Deal Is Everything That’s Wrong with Progressive Environmentalism,” National Review, February 7, 2019, /02/green-new-deal-is-everything-thats-wrong-with-progressive-environmentalism/. Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,” The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert Tucker (New York: Norton), 72. E. P. Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism,” Past & Present 38 (1967): 79, 91. Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010); and Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).

From Romance to Utilitarianism 75 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

13. 14. 15.

16. 17. 18.

19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30.

On the rationalization of production processes, see Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley, University of California Press: 1978). Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 1998). Karl Marx, Capital, Vol.  1, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Friedrich Engels (New York: Dover Thrift Editions, 2019), 45. Paul Willis, Learning to Labor: How Working-Class Kids Get Working-Class Jobs (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 134– 36. Richard White, “ ‘A re You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?’: Work and Nature,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon, 171– 85 (New York: Norton, 1996). White, “ ‘A re You an Environmentalist’,” 173. White, “ ‘A re You an Environmentalist’,” 171, 175. John Bellamy Foster, “The Limits of Environmentalism without Class: Lessons from the Ancient Forest Struggle in the Pacific Northwest,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 4, no. 1 (1993): 12. Foster, “The Limits of Environmentalism,” 21. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (New York: First Mariner, 2002). On the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, see Robert Gordon, “ ‘Shell No!’: OCAW and the Labor-Environmental Alliance,” Environmental History 3, no. 4 (1998): 460– 87; and Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2005). On the United Farm Workers, see Robert Gordon, “Poisons in the Fields: The United Farm Workers, Pesticides, and Environmental Politics,” Pacific Historical Review 68, no. 1 (1999): 51– 77. Willis, Learning to Labor, 134. Margaret Fitzsimmons, “The Matter of Nature,” Antipode 21, no. 2 (1989): 106–20; Hillary Angelo, “The Greening Imaginary,” Theory and Society 48, no. 5 (2019): 645– 69; and David E. Nye, American Technological Sublime (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996). Jedediah Purdy, This Land Is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2019), 107– 9. Phoebe Cutler, The Public Landscape of the New Deal (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), 50. Sara M. Gregg, Managing the Mountains: Land Use Planning, the New Deal, and the Creation of a Federal Landscape in Appalachia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010), 51–53. Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 15–19. Neil M. Maher, Nature’s New Deal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 57. Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 8, 105. Jennifer A. Peeples, “Aggressive Mimicry: The Rhetoric of Wise Use and the Environmental Movement,” Environmental Communication Yearbook 2, no.  1 (2005); and James McCarthy, “First World Political Ecology: Lessons from the Wise Use Movement,” Environment and Planning A 34, no. 7 (2002). Sarah T. Phillips, This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 8. Phillips, This Land, This Nation, 9, 13. Erik Loomis, Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 91.

76 The New Deal and the Green New Deal 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41.

42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59.

60. 61. 62. 63. 64.

Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 20. Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 78, 82. Phillips, This Land, This Nation, 22– 23. Cutler, The Public Landscape of the New Deal, 75, 148. Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 6. Cutler, The Public Landscape of the New Deal, 91. Kenneth Finegold and Theda Skocpol, State and Party in America’s New Deal (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995). Finegold and Skocpol, State and Party, 21. Finegold and Skocpol, State and Party, 115. Robin  D.  G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 139. Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939, 2nd  ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 300, 333; Finegold and Skocpol, State and Party; and Kelley, Hammer and Hoe. Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 128–29. Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 160. Cutler, The Public Landscape of the New Deal. Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 67, 73. Maher, Nature’s New Deal. Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 38. Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 177. Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 177. Phillips, This Land, This Nation, 25– 32. Loomis, Empire of Timber, 89– 90. Loomis, Empire of Timber, 90. Loomis, Empire of Timber, 92. Loomis, Empire of Timber, 90, 100. Quoted in Loomis, Empire of Timber, 95. Finegold and Skocpol, State and Party, 115. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class. Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 75. Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 11. An argument he has also made more recently in Neil M. Maher, “The Keys to Ensuring That a Green New Deal Succeeds,” Washington Post, August 7, 2019, -green-new-deal-proposals/. Cohen, Making a New Deal, 289, 278. Aaron Benanav, “Demography and Dispossession: Explaining the Growth of the Global Informal Workforce, 1950– 2000,” Social Science History (2019): 15. Greta  R. Krippner, “The Financialization of the American Economy,” Socio-Economic Review 3 (2005): 173–208. Aaron Benanav, “Automation and the Future of Work—1,” New Left Review 119 (September– October 2019): 35. David H. Autor, Lawrence F. Katz, and Melissa S. Kearney, “The Polarization of the US Labor Market,” American Economic Review 96, no. 2 (2006): 189– 94; and Rachel E. Dwyer,

From Romance to Utilitarianism 77

65. 66.

67. 68.

69. 70.


“The Care Economy? Gender, Economic Restructuring, and Job Polarization in the US Labor Market,” American Sociological Review 78, no. 3 (2013): 390–416. Juliet Schor, After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2020). Juliet Schor and Mehmet Cansoy, “The Sharing Economy,” The Oxford Handbook of Consumption, ed. Frederick F. Wherry and Ian Woodward, 51–74 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019); and Jonathan  V. Hall and Alan  B. Krueger. “An Analysis of the Labor Market for Uber’s Driver-Partners in the United States,” ILR Review 71, no.  3 (2018): 705– 32. Steven Vallas and Juliet Schor, “What Do Platforms Do? Understanding the Gig Economy,” Annual Review of Sociology 46 (2020). Sharon Zhang, “Why the Social Policies in the Green New Deal Are Essential to Its Success,” Pacific Standard, February  27, 2019, -policies-in-the-green-new-deal-are-essential-to-its-success. Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (New York: Verso, 2019), 173. Matthew D. Merrill, Benjamin M. Sleeter, Philip A. Freeman, Jinxun Liu, Peter D. Warwick, and Bradley  C. Reed. Federal Lands Greenhouse Emissions and Sequestration in the United States—Estimates for 2005–14, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report (2018), /10.3133/sir20185131. Purdy, This Land Is Our Land; Melissa Walker, “African Americans and TVA Reservoir Property Removal: Race in a New Deal Program,” Agricultural History 72, no. 2 (1998): 417– 28; and Kelley, Hammer and Hoe.

chapter 3

A Green New Deal for Agriculture raj patel and jim goodman


he food system is breaking the planet. Nearly a quarter of anthropogenic greenhouse gases are driven by how we eat, and it is impossible to tackle climate change without transforming agriculture. The Green New Deal is wise to call for “a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s proposal for a Green New Deal includes a call to work “collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector.”1 This has the makings of a bonanza for rural America. Healthy food costs more and is harder to access than processed food. Under a Green New Deal that helps Americans eat better, more money might flow back to the land. If the federal government were paying more for better food, and if it were to understand that well-managed soil can sequester carbon, sustainable farming might be a way to end America’s rural poverty. Yet almost as soon as the Green New Deal was released, members of the American Farm Bureau criticized the proposal as misguided and uninformed.2 Early in March the National Farmers Union, one of the more left-leaning of the large farm organizations, snubbed the Green New Deal for not recognizing “the essential contribution of rural America.”3 Why the haters in farm country? Of course, not all farmers are against the Green New Deal. Many farmers and others active in America’s rural social movements have written enthusiastically about the Green New Deal and its possibilities for family farms as well as how it might spur things like rural repopulation, new farm pricing models, and climatefriendly agriculture.4 But those ideas are written against what the Antonio Gramsci called “hegemony.”

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 79

There are many different interpretations of hegemony, but for our purposes, we emphasize the idea of a historic bloc, a coalition that licenses and polices a dominant social order.5 The power within that bloc extends beyond brute force—it tries to establish dominance at the level of “common sense,” styling ideas of what’s socially acceptable and what’s unthinkable. The dominant historic bloc in the United States today is an assembly of property owners, fossil fuel corporations, war-makers, tech giants, media outlets, health care management firms, industrialists, monopolists, and financiers, but it also involves cultural leadership from some workers and farmers. The reflexive criticism of the Green New Deal, before its details have even been hashed out, is an indicator of the bloc’s hegemony. The Green New Deal’s success depends on refashioning this common sense. To rewrite common sense is to unpick the alliances that the current bloc works to maintain, to find the fault lines that can pry that bloc apart, and to develop the organizational links that can build a counterhegemonic bloc. To do that, it’s worth understanding the source of some of the most important alliances in the current configuration of forces in America’s food system: the first New Deal. The original New Deal today appears as a miracle, an incredible moment in which the nation stood united behind Keynesian policy to accomplish big things. Yet they were achieved not because the nation united behind them but because the nation was profoundly divided.6 The New Deal was a project precipitated by class struggle and is best understood as a series of victories and defeats in the management of that struggle by an anxious bourgeoisie across rural and urban America.


Labor militancy in the United States is on the upswing. In 2018 there were twenty major strikes involving 485,000 workers (a little more than 0.1 percent of the U.S. population), led by an inspirational series of education worker walkouts (figure 3.1).7 But compared to the unrest that produced the original New Deal, we have a way to go. In the 1910s and 1920s, strikes and labor activism in America reached a zenith (figure 3.2). In 1919 there were 3,630 strikes involving 4,160,000 workers, or about 4 percent of the country’s total population.8 Rural America, where nearly half of Americans lived in 1920, was both a battleground and prize in that struggle.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.












3.1 Strikes in the United States since 1947.

Number of strikes

1947 1949 1951 1953 1955 1957 1959 1961 1963 1965 1967 1969 1971 1973 1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015 2017

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.












3.2 Strikes in the United States since 1919.

Number of strikes

1919 1921 1923 1925 1927 1929 1931 1933 1935 1937 1939 1941 1943 1945 1947 1949 1951 1953 1955 1957 1959 1961 1963 1965 1967 1969 1971 1973 1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015 2017

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The  U.S. government, through slavery, warfare, and its attendant political ecology, largely succeeded in banishing indigenous people and their foodways from the land. The nineteenth century established the foundations of capitalist agriculture. America’s twentieth-century battles were over the security of those foundations, with militant farmers and farm workers pitted against the owners and operators of agricultural industry. Class struggles in the early 1900s incubated the idea among the ruling class that part of the American agricultural project lay in cultivating the right kind of farmer: white, conservative, and— above all—a man of business. That farmer could be given the right kind of education to become the right kind of American entrepreneur invested in the normal functioning of markets and governments. Agricultural extension services, which date to the foundation of land grant universities in the early 1860s, were key to producing both commodity crops and conservative farmers.9 The original agricultural extension services were supported by the Chambers of Commerce and the General Education Board, funded by John D. Rockefeller.10 Extension classes turned into national lobbying organizations for farmers who saw farming neither as a front line in class struggle, as some farmers unions did, nor as a keystone to broader community transformation and freedom from monopoly, as the Granger movement did, but rather as a bulwark against rural insurrection.11 These conservative farmers had their own organizational form: the American Farm Bureau, the spawn of the Chamber of Commerce, alongside the Chamber’s Roads and Alleys Bureau and Protection Bureau.12 George Naylor, a farmer and member of Family Farm Defenders, describes the New Deal’s prehistory like this: “The big push to organize Farm Bureaus in the teens and twenties from Kansas on up through Iowa and north was intended to blunt the progress of the Socialist Party, Non-Partisan League, and Farmer-Labor organizing in the Dakotas and Minnesota.”13 In the late 1940s, Naylor continues, “the Farm Bureau took a hard turn to the right and joined in the mantra that the government should get out of agriculture. But Americans were fighting the fascists at home before we fought them in Europe and Asia.”14 Fascism romanticizes and transforms the heartland. European fascists spun stories of blood and soil while simultaneously breeding crops and animals to reflect their visions of national purity.15 In rural America, the state and private sector had laid the basis for a kindred approach—that the right

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 83

kinds of commodities and the right kinds of people to bring them to market might build the nation. Today the Farm Bureau has around six million member families.16 The number of farms in the United States is around two million.17 The claim to be “the voice of the American farmer” rings hollow when most Farm Bureau members don’t actually farm. The membership numbers are goosed up by the bureau’s main revenue streams: insurance. This isn’t crop insurance for farmers but auto, home, health, and life insurance for anyone who becomes a “member.” In order to benefit from discounts, you have to join. It’s a rich irony. Climate change is speared into the heartland through climate catastrophe and the politics of its payouts. And one of the ways climate change effects will continue to be mitigated is through the partisan politics of federal crop insurance. Farmers would not risk planting thousands of acres of monoculture crops in a market where prices are driven down by overproduction without the knowledge that—on average—they might turn a profit. Climate change reduces the average. Subsidized crop insurance moves the average back up so that farming practices that promote climate change are effectively encouraged. The Farm Bureau’s membership is also swelled by the interests that make up the large-scale industrial agricultural supply chain, like industrial hog farms— interests deeply opposed to the Green New Deal. The Farm Bureau has opposed unions and Medicare—indeed, the Medicare fight in the early 1960s saw the Farm Bureau side with the insurance industry and Chambers of Commerce against the Farmers Union and Socialist Party.18 More recently the Farm Bureau has been at the front lines of opposition to the Waxman–Markey climate change bill.19 If the Green New Deal wants to avoid defeat, it’ll have to outsmart the Farm Bureau.


What sort of politics can take on the complex of industrial farmers, large-scale processors, and the chemical industry that supports them? Again, the original New Deal’s class forces offer some instruction. The agricultural elements of the New Deal were the much-delayed response to a chronic farm crisis that had begun at the end of World War I.20 Political

84 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

activism among farmers generated the farmer–labor politics of the Conference for Progressive Political Action in 1922, whose candidate for the U.S. presidency, Robert La Follette, won Wisconsin in 1924 with socialist support. The history of these farmer-worker alliances against monopolies and “plutocrats” offers a signal lesson for the Green New Deal. Farmer-agitators in the 1920s and 1930s knew well that the fattest of the fat cats were to be found in finance. The Farmers’ Holiday movement, which shared leadership with the Iowa Farmers Union, knew their enemies to be the Chicago grain traders, Wall Street financiers, and railroad monopolies.21 In their 1932 Union Farmer newspaper, they called for a strike against those interests: We can’t continue longer now Upon our weary way We’re forced to halt upon life’s trail And call a “holiday.” Let’s call a Farmer’s Holiday A Holiday let’s hold We’ll eat our wheat and ham and eggs, And let them eat their gold. Iowa Union Farmer, February 27, 193222

After all, the logic ran, if banks could have a holiday, why couldn’t farmers take a day off, withhold their output from the market, and see what the city swells would eat if they couldn’t eat greenbacks? It was tactics like these, deployed by militants in the Iowa Farmers Union, that helped push agricultural policies into the New Deal. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), the first agricultural arm of the New Deal, was aimed at paying farmers higher prices in exchange for reducing production.23 It was a triumph of a new coalition in which the Farm Bureau’s president, Ed O’Neal, earned special thanks from Secretary of Agriculture Henry  A. Wallace for his work “so unceasingly to heal the ancient breach between the Democratic farmers of the South and the Republican farmers of the Middle West.”24 For many farmers, the AAA was a victory. As Naylor points out, the early New Deal efforts saved many family farms from bankruptcy. My dad, who came to this farm one hundred years ago, age thirteen, and farmed

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 85

until 1962, would be emotional when recounting his neighbors losing their farms. He would tell you that the recovery of prices helped bring that to a halt. Even though the seeds of good policy were sown in the New Deal, the balance of political power at the time always limited the best provisions and implementation.25

Many family farms made it through the 1930s because of the AAA, a program whose ultimate benefits weren’t fully achieved until the early 1940s. Again, it doesn’t make sense to see the AAA as the permanent triumph of a particular group but as a moment in the making of a bloc, one that was itself the result of a process of struggle. The bloc was even given a name by a correspondent to one of FDR’s advisers: “There are no parties left. Farmers are members of the Roosevelt party.”26 But the effects of the New Deal were never homogenous, and not all were members of the Roosevelt party. There were stark divisions along lines of race and gender. By delegating certain disbursements from federal to the state level, the New Deal furthered a notion of citizenship segregated by gender.27 For farmers who worked for a landlord, and particularly those who sold their agricultural labor in the South, the story was different too. By design, the AAA reduced crop production. That meant less land under production for tenant farmers. The payments made to Southern plantation owners were supposed to trickle down to the tenant farmers who actually did the work. Yet when the law required payments to renter-farmers, landlords downgraded their status from tenant to worker, thus evading the need to pay out federal funds. In response, socialist organizers worked in Arkansas with white and Black sharecroppers to form the first local of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU) with the vision “to establish a co-operative order of society by legal and peaceable methods.”28 This put them in a pitched battle with Arkansas planters and “public officials who [were] firmly convinced that unless they [took] drastic steps, white supremacy, Christianity, the American flag and the sanctity of home and family will be overthrown by agents of the Soviet Union.”29 This is why Howard Kester, an organizer with the STFU, characterized the AAA as “that economic monstrosity and bastard child of a decadent capitalism and a youthful fascism.”30 But if the STFU was a critic of federal relief for landowners, it also fought the government for wage increases—which it achieved. In the end, the STFU came

86 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

undone both by the increasing number of conservatives at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and by their subsumption under a far less militant CIO union.31 The STFU’s critique of the New Deal matters today. They were correct that the benefits of the Agricultural Adjustment Act favored landowners over laborers.32 And they were right to see the shortcomings of the New Deal that grew out of the Democrats’ dependence on southern white supremacist legislators. In one of the largest lawsuits in U.S. history, Pigford v. Glickman, a class of Black farmers who had been systematically excluded from the federal government’s agricultural largesse successfully sued the USDA.33 But the settlement, in excess of $1 billion, hasn’t addressed the deeper structural problems of USDA policy. The Green New Deal is an opportunity to organize through these social histories, histories that inform today’s understandings of what’s common sense and what’s absurd, in rural America.


Figure 3.3, showing the trend in farm size and number from 1850 to 2017, depicts the change with which most farmers are intimately familiar: the number of farms has declined and their size has increased. Trends in land size reflect shifts in ownership. More and more farmers, with farms large and small, are renters and their landlords are either farmers or, increasingly, out-of-state rentiers who have found in farmland an asset class “like gold with yield.”34 Farmers have become factors of production along with their land. In that commercial ecology, it’s no accident that larger farms have more of everything: credit, capital, insurance, relief, government favor, and, at the end of the day, profit. The market share of sales by the largest 5 percent of producers steadily increased from 38.3 percent in 1939 to 54.5 percent by 1987 (figure 3.4).35 America’s largest farms—with a gross sales value of over $1 million, representing 4 percent of all farms—made a net average of $515,000 in 2018. The poorest, with gross sales less than $100,000, representing 80 percent of all farms, lost $1,300 in 2018 (figure 3.5).36 As Ocasio-Cortez has also noted, there may be nothing wrong with automation if it reduces drudgery and promotes freedom.37 It’s certainly true that

3.3 Farms, land in farms, and average acres per farm, 1850–2017. Source: USDA, Economic Research Service using data from USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Census of Agriculture (through 2012) and Farms and Land in Farms: 2017 Summary.

3.4 Average U.S. farm real estate value, nominal and real (inflation adjusted), 1968–2018. Source: “Farmland Value,” USDA, November 2, 2020, /land-use-land-value-tenure/farmland-value/.

Farm-level average net cash income in thousands of dollars

88 The New Deal and the Green New Deal

900 800 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0 -100 2010









Farm size by gross sales value $1,000,000 or more $500,000–999,999 $250,000–499,999 $100,000–249,999 Less than $100,000

3.5 Farm-level average net cash income by sales class and typology, 2010–2018 ($1,000 per farm, nominal $). Source: “Farm-level average net cash income,” USDA, February 4, 2022, .aspx?ID=17841.

capitalist technology has always driven peasants out of agriculture. The number of self-employed and family farm workers on U.S. farms went from 7.60 million in 1950 to 2.06 million in 2000, but since then has remained relatively stable (figure  3.6).38 Outside the heavy mechanization of commodity crops of corn, wheat, rice, and soy, the U.S. continues to rely on farm workers (usually poorly paid) for “specialty crops.”39 In 2015–2016, two-thirds of all farm workers were from Mexico, and 49 percent of all farm workers were undocumented.40 Those workers were often driven by the displacement caused by the devastation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and, more recently, the Central

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 89

3.6 Employment in agriculture and support activities, 2000–2016. Source: USDA, Economic Research Service using data from Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table SA27N. Directly hired farm wage and salary employment is found on line 70; wage and salary employment in “support activities for agriculture and forestry” is line 103.

America Free Trade Agreement.41 Robots may soon pick apples or strawberries from fields that have more or less completed their transformation into factories, a final twist of the knife for those who were once peasants in the Global South, displaced by U.S. economic policy.


The push toward robots in the fields highlights one of the biggest conceptual challenges for a Green New Deal. The financial arithmetic of a modern food system—from land ownership to insurance to the futures market—depends on a permanent exploitation of soil, atmosphere, and labor. Today those who want to farm with dignity in the web of life plead a case for which there is no business logic. To pay workers well, to grow a polyculture of crops that can help sequester carbon and battle the sixth extinction, to farm without chemicals that poison

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workers, air, and water—all are militated against by the arrangements of payments that currently prevail.42 It’s rarely profitable to farm agroecologically when the rules of the game reward ecological devastation, worker exploitation, and monoculture. Corroborating evidence that the food industry is premised on destruction comes from an unlikely source. A 2012 report by KPMG singled out the food industry as the most environmentally damaging of any sector, with conservatively calculated externalities equaling 224 percent of the food industry’s revenues (figure 3.7).43 This is the kind of result that ought to give defenders of the current food system pause. If this data is correct—and at a conference of donors in 2015 a senior Nestlé executive suggested that these ratios accurately reflected the findings of an internal audit at his corporation—then there’s only one conclusion: there’s no such thing as a sustainable food industry. Either the industry is profitable by dint of its externalities, or it stops making food and money. What’s the alternative to industrial agriculture? Smaller-scale farms (fewer than twenty hectares) produce more than 75 percent of most food commodities in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and China, with comparatively high yields on smaller farms reflecting the return to the skill and work of the farmers managing that land.44 One landmark report, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, suggested that for a sustainable future, the world would need more urban and peri-urban farming with sustainable farming systems.45 In the United States, large farms dominate, but the latest agricultural census, from 2012 (the 2017 census release has been delayed by the pandemic shutdown), points to growth in farms with irrigation and fewer than ten acres.46 The twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-old farmer demographic grew from 2007 to 2012. And although some farmers under forty-five are conservative, there are reasons for qualified optimism. A survey by the National Young Farmers Coalition suggests that there’s a generation of young people who want to farm sustainably, organically, and as a part of a robust local food system.47 Their main concerns are an inability to afford land, student debt, poor health care, and a shortfall of skilled farm labor. Readers in urban areas may recognize some of these concerns as their own. This offers an opportunity for the Green New Deal to build a bloc that might counter the dominant one.


















84 43%




2010 EBITDA (billions of USD)


100 71%

Industrial metals


59% Marine transportation





2010 Total environmental costs as percentage of EBITDA

Food producers



Source: KPMG International, “Expect the Unexpected: Building business value in a changing world,” 2012.

3.7 2010 EBITDA versus external environmental costs.

USD (billions)


Oil and gas producers


2.5% Telecommunications and internet


92 The New Deal and the Green New Deal


When we think about how a Green New Deal might transform the food system, we’ve got no answers, but we do have a process. For years the international peasant movement La Via Campesina has advocated the idea of food sovereignty, a demand that everyone has the right to have a say in what their food system looks like.48 Although this might sound like a milquetoast call for participation, food sovereignty takes questions of power and inequality seriously: one practical consequence emerging from the subsequent discussions around what food sovereignty might be has been an active battle against patriarchy. La Via Campesina’s process—of discussion, research, teaching, and organizing— takes time and struggles with complex politics across class and gender.49 But that’s what building a bloc involves. No Green New Deal can emerge perfectly formed from the head of a single individual or organization. If it works, it’ll work because the process of articulating it will also be the process of building the alliances it needs to succeed as a counterhegemonic policy. And if it works, we submit that the Green New Deal will have managed to answer questions that, for now, we can address only speculatively. First, what issues might bind a front of farmers, farmworkers, and others to win a Green New Deal? From a farming perspective, there’s nothing that brings farmers together quite like a loathing of monopoly. From the Populists to the present, farmers have been shafted by concentrated market power and have sometimes managed to fight back and win. When the Federal Trade Commission was tasked during World War I with breaking the market collusion between meatpackers and railroads, it saw no way to achieve “fundamental improvements” without the federal government making a public service out of the rail distribution networks.50 Unfortunately, the government didn’t nationalize the railroads. The 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act was the compromise. It was designed to police food monopolies and stockyards and has been the target of industry attack ever since. Although the early Obama administration promised to use its power to regulate food monopolies, little came of it. Under Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue, the Trump administration’s USDA made regulators accountable to those whom they regulate, and the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration offers dwindling protection for farmers against corporate power.51

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Today that power is projected through the draconian monopsony of the meat industry. There have been successful rebellions against some of America’s monopolies and the demands they make on the social purse. What might it look like if urban campaigns against subsidies to Amazon / Whole Foods were linked to resistance against the order promoted by Tyson and Purdue? Another issue that binds rural and urban constituencies is around cheap food. It’s easy to satirize the coastal elite preoccupation with organic food as bourgeois and hugely out of touch with working America. Although we know through our own work that working poor families would love to eat organic food, it’s too expensive.52 Cheap food is the corollary of low-wage cheap work.53 There is potential for farmer–labor organizing that builds on the lessons of the last New Deal and on the reconfigurations of power through the 1960s and 1970s that allowed food stamps to enter the Farm Bill in 1977.54 For a rural Green New Deal to work in the twenty-first century, everyone’s incomes need to increase. Growing food justly and sustainably is expensive. Instead of driving down the costs of farming to make food cheap enough for urban workers to buy on stagnating wages, all workers must make enough to afford food that’s produced sustainably. Consumers must be able to pay for the knowledge embedded in, and the carbon sequestered through, sustainable agriculture: through low-input, sophisticated agroecological farming; renewable energy; unprocessed fresh food; and farms run by all those who want to work the land. And, of course, farmers and farm workers must be paid fairly and appreciated for their work. The New Deal offered the makings of a system that allowed farmers to survive, and the Texas Farmers Union has recently been asking what a new one might look like.55 Without getting too deep into the weeds, the idea is that farmers have a floor price for grain—sometimes called “parity” and based on the costs of production—with the government buying and storing excess production up to a set limit and then paying farmers to reduce their acreage and plant cover crops like alfalfa or tillage radish that can sequester carbon on land used for commodity crop production. Variants of this parity pricing system provide farmers a fair price for their crop, one that can be adjusted to include the costs of good ecological management.56 In other words, parity pricing can pay farmers to do right by the ecology on which they depend. Public grain storage is also a useful way of smoothing out the fluctuations in basic crop availability caused by extreme weather fluctuations and the

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speculative frenzy on the global commodity markets that can accompany them.57 With more extreme weather on the way, a public grain storage system can shortcircuit the wild fluctuations that might otherwise drive food prices sky high after a harvest failure. But public grain storage has a downside for the existing agricultural order. The abundance of cut-price feed crops like corn and soy make concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) economically competitive. CAFOs exist because of the subsidies they receive through low commodity prices, prices that are manipulated downward by monopolies far larger than the waste-lagoons into which CAFO shit drains. A parity price system would make CAFOs uneconomical. This will thrill neither CAFO owners nor lovers of cheap meat, but it’s absolutely in line with the dietary changes that need to be made for a net-zero carbon future.58 Parity pricing will mean an end to “cheap food,” and that’s only thinkable in tandem with the end of cheap work. A front that brings unions and the urban antihunger lobby together with the right parts of the farming community could make this happen. But it’s hard to imagine CAFOs being a part of that bloc. The impossibility of CAFOs under in a green economy raises a deeper question: what does an economic system that values labor, life, and carbon look like? American corn farmers know what it’s like to transition toward renewable energy, but their experience has happened in ways that maintain the hegemony of the dominant bloc. Because of deals between the fossil fuel, industrial agricultural, and farm lobbies, more U.S. corn goes toward ethanol than any other use.59 Renewable isn’t, however, the same thing as sustainable, and ethanol production in the United States is far from a winning ecological strategy. Any Green New Deal would need to embrace a far more comprehensive accounting for energy, biodiversity, land, water, and carbon flows than ethanol’s political calculus allows.60 We know the outlines of what an energy future might look like, and even one for housing (as Daniel Aldana Cohen outlines in chapter 11 of this volume).61 We know what it might look like to supplant industrial agriculture to more sustainable food systems.62 We even know what it might be like to have a unified food and agriculture policy that’s mindful of climate change.63 But plenty of work remains around the process that gets us there and around, in particular, what the new financial and credit systems will be that we use in order to invest in that transformed future. Our third question looks beyond the United States: How will the U.S. movement for a Green New Deal act in concert with similar movements elsewhere in

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 95

the world? Greenhouse gases don’t care where they’re emitted, so the Green New Deal has to involve international engagement. American industrial agriculture has been justified by the claim that “America is feeding the world.” But the world can feed itself, if America lets it. The United States has for decades used its power in the Global North and South to make markets for its agricultural surpluses, dumping cheap grain and undermining local agriculture.64 U.S. power has operated through the world food system, rewarding and punishing states through investment, market access, and technology for cooperation with the U.S. national interest. More broadly, the fossil fuel economy from which the Global North has profited for centuries leaves agriculture in the Global South far more vulnerable to the ecosystem state-shifts ahead.65 Large parts of the Global South were eviscerated in the nineteenth century through the militarized operations of a liberal food system.66 One calculation puts the bill for Britain’s 173-year colonization of India at £9 trillion.67 A Green New Deal has to be reparative, both domestically and globally.68 Reparation isn’t a one-off payment but a reconstruction. As Max Ajl and Stan Cox have observed, that reconstruction cannot merely involve “Walmart with solar panels” but a revolutionary transformation away from colonial capitalism.69 Which points us to the last question—and the most fraught, the question of the land itself.70 Suzan Erem, a former Service Employees International Union organizer and now executive director at the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, asks: “Do we have the courage to face the original sin on which this country was premised: land theft?” 71 It’s barely been 150 years since the Plains Wars and the conversion of bison rangeland to cattle territory. The United States is a settler colony, and when land was enclosed, capital was always at the frontier, paying for arms and the cheap nature they secured. There is a reckoning long overdue that recognizes how the United States was colonized, the claims of the descendants of those indigenous whom the United States wanted to exterminate, and the role of capitalism in settling the “heartland.”

w Just as during the New Deal, we live in a time of incipient fascism, racism, and class division.72 The Green New Deal can learn from its antecedent’s successes and failures, which provided a dramatic economic shift in rural America—not as dramatic as we might have wished for, nor as long-lasting as we would have liked,

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nor as egalitarian as it should have been. Yet the New Deal did make the case that environmental protection and paying people fairly for their work might go a long way toward limiting the power of corporations and creating a fair society for everyone. Hindsight should inform the Green New Deal. This time sustainable farmers need not be forced to choose between responsibility to the land and the communities of which they are part. Better living through farming can’t happen without canny political alliance-building, stitching together a bloc that addresses hunger, poverty, malnutrition, and inequities in wealth and wages, both in the countryside and city. The logic of building a counterhegemonic bloc demands a militant rural presence. Not everyone will buy in, but there are farmers and farmworkers who are ready to fight to make a fossil-fuel free world a new kind of common sense.






This chapter has been adapted from an essay published in Jacobin ( H. Res.109—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, introduced February  7, 2019, 116th  Congress, 1st  session, https://www.congress .gov/ bill/116th-congress/ house-resolution/109/text. Nebraska Farm Bureau, “Statement from Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson Regarding Congress ‘Green New Deal,’ ” February  8, 2019, /20190722165502/ /newsroom/news-releases/1462 -statement-from -nebraska-farm-bureau-president-steve-nelson-regarding-congress-green-new-deal. Jerry Hagstrom and Chris Clayton, “NFU Says No to Green New Deal,” Progressive Farmer, March  11, 2019, /livestock/article /2019/03/11/climate-plan-proposed-democrats. Art Cullen, “Rural America Is Ready for Some Sort of a New Deal, Preferably Green,” Guardian, March  15, 2019, /rural-america-is-ready-for-some-sort-of-a-new-deal-preferably-green; Randy Dugger, “The Green New Deal Would Benefit Independent Family Farmers,” The Hill, February  18, 2019, -would-benefit-independent-family-farmers; Jim Goodman, “The Green New Deal Could Change the Way Society Eats,” Cap Times, February  25, 2019, https://madison . com /ct /opinion /column /jim - goodman -the - green -new - deal - could - change -the -way /article_5a3877d8 -f160 -5634-ae3d- 6760f94f6cf1.html; Elizabeth Henderson, “Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal,” Independent Science News for Food and Agriculture, January 14, 2019, / health /why-sustainable-agriculture-should-support-a-green-new-deal/; and Fred Lutzi and Robert Jensen, “Growing a Green New Deal: Agriculture’s Role in Economic Justice

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 97


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and Ecological Sustainability,” Resilience, February 13, 2019, /stories/2019 - 02 -13 /growing -a-green -new- deal -agricultures -role-in - economic-justice -and-ecological-sustainability/. Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Robert W. Cox, “Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: An Essay in Method,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 12, no.  2 (1983): 162– 75; Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (London: Verso, 1994); Donald V. Kurtz, “Hegemony and Anthropology: Gramsci, Exegeses, Reinterpretations,” Critique of Anthropology 16, no. 2 (1996): 103– 35; and Danika M. Brown, “Hegemony and the Discourse of the Land Grant Movement: Historicizing as a Point of Departure,” JAC 23, no. 2 (2003): 319–49. Sheila D. Collins and Gertrude S. Goldberg, When Government Helped: Learning from the Successes and Failures of the New Deal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Eight Major Work Stoppages in Educational Services in 2018,” March  7, 2019, -in-educational-services-in-2018 .htm. U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970 Bicentennial Edition, Part 2,” September 1975, history /pdf/ histstats-colonial-1970.pdf. Everett  M. Rogers, “The Intellectual Foundation and History of the Agricultural Extension Model,” Knowledge 9, no. 4 (1988): 492– 510. Emmett P. Fiske, “From Rolling Stones to Cornerstones: Anchoring Land-Grant Education in the Counties Through the Smith-Lever Act of 1914,” Rural Sociologist 9, no. 4 (1989): 7–14. Patrick H. Mooney and Theo J. Majka, Farmers’ and Farm Workers’ Movements: Social Protest in American Agriculture (Oxford: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1995); and James Dabney McCabe, History of the Grange Movement; Or, the Farmer’s War Against Monopolies (New York: A. M. Kelley, 1969). Rogers, “The Intellectual Foundation,” 496. George Naylor, personal correspondence with authors, April 10, 2019. Naylor, personal correspondence with authors, April 10, 2019. Tiago Saraiva, Fascist Pigs: Technoscientific Objects and the History of Fascism (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2016). American Farm Bureau, “AFBF Surpasses Membership Quota Goal for 2016,” accessed May 5, 2019, /news/afbf-surpasses-membership-quota-goal-for-2016. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2017 Census of Agriculture: Summary and State Data, vol. 1, Geographic Area Series, part 51, April 2019, /AgCensus/2017/Full_Report/ Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/usv1.pdf. Theodore  R. Marmor, The Politics of Medicare, 2nd  ed. Social Institutions and Social Change (New York: A. de Gruyter, 2000). Kyle Meng and Ashwin Rode, “The Social Cost of Lobbying Over Climate Policy,” Nature Climate Change 9, no. 6 (2019): 472– 76. Kenneth Finegold, “From Agrarianism to Adjustment: The Political Origins of New Deal Agricultural Policy,” Politics & Society 11, no. 1 (1982): 1–27.

98 The New Deal and the Green New Deal 21. 22.


24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.

30. 31.






John  L. Shover, “The Farmers’ Holiday Association Strike, August  1932,” Agricultural History 39, no. 4 (1965): 196– 203. Quoted in Shannon Victoria Stevens, “ ‘Revolution in the Countryside’: Shifting Financial Paradigms amid the Rhetoric of the ‘Farm Crisis,’ 1925–1933” (PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 2014), 109. Garrett Graddy-Lovelace and Adam Diamond, “From Supply Management to Agricultural Subsidies-and Back Again? The U.S. Farm Bill & Agrarian (in)viability,” Journal of Rural Studies 50 (2017): 70– 83. Lauren Soth, “Henry Wallace and the Farm Crisis of the 1920s and 1930s,” Annals of Iowa 47 (1983): 207. Naylor, personal correspondence with authors, April 10, 2019. Gilbert C. Fite, “Farmer Opinion and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, 1933,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 48, no. 4 (1962): 660. Suzanne Mettler, Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998). Jerold  S. Auerbach, “Southern Tenant Farmers: Socialist Critics of the New Deal,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1968): 118. F. Raymond Daniell, “AAA Piles Misery on Share Croppers; Cotton Program Cuts Their Meager Incomes as Federal Cash Benefits Landlords,” New York Times, April  15, 1935, https://www.nytimes .com /1935 /04 /15 /archives /aaa -piles -misery - on - share - croppers -cotton-program-cuts-their-meager.html. Howard Kester, Revolt Among the Sharecroppers (New York: Covici, 1936), 26. Joseph A. McCartin, “Industrial Unionism as Liberator or Leash? The Limits of ‘Rankand-Filism’ in American Labor Historiography,” Journal of Social History 31, no. 3 (1998): 701–10. Price V. Fishback, William C. Horrace, and Shawn Kantor, “Did New Deal Grant Programs Stimulate Local Economies? A Study of Federal Grants and Retail Sales During the Great Depression,” Journal of Economic History 65, no. 1 (2005): 36– 71. Tadlock Cowan and Jody Feder, “The Pigford Cases: USDA Settlement of Discrimination Suits by Black Farmers,” Congressional Research Service, May  29, 2013, http:// /wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/RS20430.pdf. Michael Duffy, “The Current Situation on Farmland Values and Ownership,” Choices, 2nd  quarter, 2011, /choices-magazine/theme-articles /farmland-values/the-current-situation-on-farmland-values-and-ownership; Madeleine Fairbairn, “ ‘Like Gold with Yield:’ Evolving Intersections Between Farmland and Finance,” Journal of Peasant Studies (2014): 1–19; Andrew Gunnoe, “The Political Economy of Institutional Landownership: Neorentier Society and the Financialization of Land,” Rural Sociology 79, no. 4 (2014): 478– 504; and Wendong Zhang, “Who Owns and Rents Iowa’s Farmland?,” Ag Decision Maker, December  2015, https://www.extension 78 .pdf. Linda Lobao and Katherine Meyer, “The Great Agricultural Transition: Crisis, Change, and Social Consequences of Twentieth Century Us Farming,” Annual Review of Sociology 27 (2001): 103– 24. U.S. Department of Agriculture, “2017 Census of Agriculture.”

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 99 37.

38. 39.











Adi Robertson, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Says ‘We Should Be Excited About Automation,’ ” The Verge, March  10, 2019, /alexandria-ocasio-cortez-automation-sxsw-2019. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “Farm Labor,” n.d., accessed May 5, 2019, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Agricultural Workers,” in Occupational Outlook Handbook, n.d., accessed May 5, 2019, /agricultural-workers.htm. Trish Hernandez and Susan Gabbard, Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2015–2016: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farmworkers, Research Report No.  13, JBS International, January  2018, /research/FullText_Documents/ETAOP_2019 - 01_NAWS_Research_Report_2013 .pdf. Samuel A. Morley and Valeria Piñeiro, The Impact of CAFTA on Employment, Production and Poverty in El Salvador, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, August 1, 2008, / handle/11362/25857; and Gerardo Otero, “Neoliberal Globalization, NAFTA, and Migration: Mexico’s Loss of Food and Labor Sovereignty,” Journal of Poverty 15, no. 4 (2011): 384–402. On the sixth extinction, see Anthony D. Barnosky, Nicholas Matzke, Susumu Tomiya, Guinevere O. U. Wogan, Brian Swartz, Tiago B. Quental, Charles Marshall, et al., “Has the Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?,” Nature 471 (2011): 51– 57. KPMG International Cooperative, Expect the Unexpected: Building Business Value in a Changing World, June  1, 2012, building-business-value-part-1.pdf. Mario Herrero, Philip K. Thornton, Brendan Power, Jessica R. Bogard, Roseline Remans, Steffen Fritz, James S. Gerber, et al., “Farming and the Geography of Nutrient Production for Human Use: A Transdisciplinary Analysis,” Lancet Planetary Health 1, no. 1 (2017): e33–e42; and Douglas Gollin, “Farm Size and Productivity: Lessons from Recent Literature,” IFAD Research Series No. 34, January 23, 2018, “Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report,” International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science & Technology for Development, April 2008, /docs /SR_Exec_Sum_280508_English.htm. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farms and Land in Farms: 2018 Summary, April 2019, https://downloads .usda .library.cornell .edu /usda - esmis /files /5712m6524 /j098zk725 /9z903749k/fnlo0419 .pdf. Sophie Ackoff, Andrew Bahrenburg, and Lindsey Lusher Shute, Building a Future with Farmers II: Results and Recommendations from the National Young Farmer Survey, National Young Farmers Coalition, November 23, 2017, /resource / building-a-future-with-farmers-ii/. Raj Patel, “Food Sovereignty,” Journal of Peasant Studies 36, no. 3 (2009): 663–706; and María Elena Martínez-Torres and Peter M. Rosset, “La Vía Campesina: The Birth and Evolution of a Transnational Social Movement,” Journal of Peasant Studies 37, no. 1 (2010): 149– 75. Raj C. Patel, “Food Sovereignty: Power, Gender, and the Right to Food,” PLOS Medicine 9, no. 6 (2012): e1001223.

100 The New Deal and the Green New Deal 50. 51.



54. 55. 56.

57. 58.

59. 60.

61. 62.




Federal Trade Commission, Report of the Federal Trade Commission on the Meatpacking Industry: Summary and Part I (1919), 76– 77. Ben Lilliston, “The State of the USDA: A Quiet Dismantling,” Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, February  4, 2019, / blog /201902/state-usda-quiet -dismantling. Rebecca Riffkin, “Forty-Five Percent of Americans Seek out Organic Foods,” Gallup, August 7, 2014, -organic-foods.aspx. Jason W. Moore, “Cheap Food & Bad Money: Food, Frontiers, and Financialization in the Rise and Demise of Neoliberalism,” Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 33, no. 2– 3 (2010): 225– 61. Sam Rosenfeld, “Fed by Reform: Congressional Politics, Partisan Change, and the Food Stamp Program, 1961–1981,” Journal of Policy History 22, no. 4 (2010): 474– 507. Harwood D. Schaffer and Darryll E. Ray, “A Farm Program That Addresses the Root Problem: Policy Pennings Column 891,” MidAmerica Farmer Grower 37 (2017): 137. Brad Wilson, “Fact Sheet: Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill,” Z Blogs, May 11, 2012, /zblogs/fact-sheet-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill -by-brad-wilson/. Matthias Kalkuhl, Joachim Von Braun, and Maximo Torero Cullen, Food Price Volatility and Its Implications for Food Security and Policy (Cham: Springer Open, 2016). Walter Willett, Johan Rockström, Brent Loken, Marco Springmann, Tim Lang, Sonja Vermeulen, Tara Garnett, et  al. 2019, “Food in the Anthropocene: The Eat-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems,” Lancet 393 (2019): 447– 92. Nadine Lehrer, “(Bio)Fueling Farm Policy: The Biofuels Boom and the 2008 Farm Bill,” Agriculture and Human Values 27, no. 4 (2010): 427–44. Fred Magdoff, “The Political Economy and Ecology of Biofuels,” Monthly Review 60, no. 3 (2008), /2008/07/01/the-political-economy-and-ecology-of -biofuels/. Carlo E. Sica, “For a Radical Green New Deal: Energy, the Means of Production, and the Capitalist State,” Capitalism Nature Socialism (2019): 1–18. Steve Gliessman, Nick Jacobs, Chantal Clément, and Janina Grabs, Breaking Away from Industrial Food and Farming Systems: Seven Case Studies of Agroecological Transition: Seven Case Studies of Agroecological Transition, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, October 2018, Olivier De Schutter, Nick Jacobs, Chantal Clément, Francesco Ajena, and Ipes Food, “Towards a Common Food Policy for the European Union: The Policy Reform and Realignment That Is Required to Build Sustainable Food Systems in Europe,” International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, February 2019, http://www.ipes /_img /upload/files/CFP_FullReport.pdf. Walden Bello, with Shea Cunningham and Bill Rau, Dark Victory: The United States, Structural Adjustment, and Global Poverty (London: Pluto, 1994); and Peter Rosset, Food Is Different: Why We Must Get the WTO out of Agriculture (London: Zed, 2006). J. D. Berteaux Samson, B. J. McGill, and M. M. Humphries, “Geographic Disparities and Moral Hazards in the Predicted Impacts of Climate Change on Human Populations,” Global Ecology and Biogeography 20, no. 4 (2011): 532–44.

A Green New Deal for Agriculture 101 66. 67.

68. 69.


71. 72.

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (New York: Verso, 2001). Utsa Patnaik, “Revisiting the ‘Drain,’ or Transfers From India to Britain in the Context of Global Diffusion of Capitalism,” in Agrarian and Other Histories: Essays for Binay Bhushan Chaudhuri, ed. Shubhra Chakrabarti and Utsa Patnaik, 277– 318 (Delhi: Tulika, 2017). Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (London: Verso, 2019). Stan Cox, The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (San Francisco: City Lights, 2020); and Max Ajl, A People’s Green New Deal (London: Pluto, 2021). Justine M. Williams and Eric Holt-Giménez, Land Justice: Re-Imagining Land, Food, and the Commons in the United States (Oakland, Calif.: Food First Books, Institute for Food and Development Policy, 2017). Suzan Erem, personal communication with the authors, March 4, 2019. Rajeev Patel and Philip McMichael, “Third Worldism and the Lineages of Global Fascism: The Regrouping of the Global South in the Neo-Liberal Era,” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 1 (2004): 231– 54.


What Is the Crisis of Work?

chapter 4

A Green New Deal for Care Revaluing the Work of Social and Ecological Reproduction alyssa battistoni


hat exactly the Green New Deal means depends on who you ask. At a minimum, however, it stands for an energy transition from carbon-intensive fossil fuels to carbon-free energy sources, achieved by means of industrial policy oriented toward retrofitting and remaking American energy infrastructure and increasing American production of clean energy technologies like solar panels and wind turbines. This energy transition, proponents suggest, will create a huge number of “green jobs” to replace those lost in the fossil fuel industry, substituting one kind of “blue-collar” job (e.g., building solar panels and wind turbines) for another (e.g., the extraction of oil and coal). In 2008, for example, amid a previous wave of interest in the Green New Deal, Barack Obama adviser Van Jones described green jobs as “the 2.0 version of old-fashioned blue-collar jobs, upgraded to respect the Earth and meet the challenges of today.”1 Green jobs, Jones claims, reflect not a high-tech futurist vision but the restoration of a golden past: “think of Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to fix America. Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts for hybrid buses or wind turbines.”2 Over a decade later, the vision of industrial revitalization remains the central plank of most Green New Deal plans. President Joe Biden’s proposal for a “Clean Energy Revolution,” for example, calls for making the United States “the world’s clean energy superpower,” figuring green energy as a way to rebuild American manufacturing capacity, restore American manufacturing jobs, and export green technology around the world.3 A focus on energy technology also animates many Green New Deal visions to Biden’s Left: in the New Left Review, for

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example, Robert Pollin argues that “the core feature of the Green New Deal needs to be a worldwide program to invest between 1.5 and 2 per cent of global GDP every year to raise energy-efficiency standards and expand clean renewableenergy supplies.” 4 Bill McKibben, meanwhile, invokes World War II mobilization, calling for building “a hell of a lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields, and millions and millions of electric cars and buses.”5 It is imperative to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, of course, and doing so will require large-scale industrial production that will create a huge number of jobs—at least in the short term. But producing solar panels and wind turbines on the scale required for a rapid energy transition is not a viable long-term strategy for either economic or ecological sustainability. Truly remaking the economy requires thinking more broadly about the purpose of economic activity rather than suggesting that a return to the growth rates of the postwar era is either possible or desirable. Wealthy countries like the United States need to transition away from an economy oriented around increasing production and consumption, even of green technologies, and toward living well while reducing resource use. After all, energy use alone does not make a good life. Although the United States uses more energy per capita than almost any country in the world, huge numbers of people struggle to meet their basic needs. These needs are particularly glaring in the form of what Nancy Fraser describes as a “crisis of care.” 6 To give just a few examples: People without health insurance are forced to raise money for urgent health procedures on online platforms like GoFundMe.7 The United States has among the highest rates of infant mortality in the developed world, driven largely by the disproportionate deaths of Black babies; Black mothers are 3.5 times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth than white ones.8 The mortality rate of white Americans has been rising for the first time in decades, driven in large part by the opiate crisis. Between 2008 and 2016, the suicide rate increased 16 percent; and the overdose rate by 66 percent.9 The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn the curtain back still further on existing inequalities in access to care: nearly eight hundred thousand Americans have died at the time of writing, with disproportionate death rates among people of color.10 In this chapter, I argue that the Green New Deal can and should address both the crisis of care and the climate crisis by supporting the work of care for people and ecosystems: work that improves the quality of people’s lives in low-carbon,

A Green New Deal for Care 107

non-resource-intensive ways. These kinds of green jobs include teaching and nursing, caring for those who need it, growing and preparing sustainable food—work often described in terms of “social reproduction,” defined by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser as the “activities that sustain human beings as embodied social beings who must not only eat and sleep but also raise their children, care for their families, and maintain their communities, all while pursuing their hopes for the future.”11 This work of “people-making” is often unpaid and disregarded by capitalist imperatives toward profit-making. A Green New Deal should also attend to the “planet-making” activities of ecological regeneration— work that restores vital ecosystems and helps keep our planet habitable. A Green New Deal for Care offers a way of simultaneously tackling concurrent crises of climate change and care while also addressing long-standing inequities stemming from a deeply gendered and racialized division of labor. It also offers a different political vision, one that recognizes the existing American working class rather than invoking a nostalgic image of the postwar past and that has the potential to broaden the Green New Deal coalition to include a wider range of workers and the communities they serve.


Proposals to institute environmental protections have long been posited as a threat to blue-collar jobs in extractive industries. Decades of deindustrialization and lost jobs have only rendered these threats more plausible: proposals to transition away from fossil fuels appear to threaten the few good blue-collar jobs remaining. Political anxiety about alienating such workers has only intensified in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 election. As Robert Brenner argues, “rightwing nationalist-cum-populist forces have been able to capitalize on the profound distress and disaffection of working people far more effectively than has the radical left” by appealing to constituencies long-ignored by center-left parties, “notably factory workers and miners hard hit by economic stagnation, technological advance, and globalization.”12 It was this disaffection to which Trump appealed in his speech announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Accords, the Obama administration’s signature achievement on climate change: “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump declared, in a clear signal to his supporters in the Rust Belt.

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Pittsburgh, of course, is famous as a steel town. Yet most jobs in Pittsburgh today are not in coal, steel, or manufacturing but in a sector colloquially referred to as “eds and meds”: health care and education. Changing patterns of employment in Pittsburgh illustrate a broader trend.13 As Gabriel Winant argues, “to imagine that we should look for ‘class’ and see hard-hats mistakes a particular historical manifestation—the industrial working class—for a general category whose ranks are always changing.”14 Although the hard-hat vision of the working class retains a surprisingly tight grip on political imaginations, as evidenced by the green jobs debate, the fastest growing sectors of the U.S. economy today are in sectors characterized by what is often referred to as “pink-collar” labor—areas like nursing, teaching, and service work.15 Green jobs boosters often note that there are more jobs in solar-panel installation than coal mining—but there are also more teachers, home health aides, and childcare providers. Care work, in particular, represents a rapidly growing sector of the economy, one that will only continue to expand as the American population ages. Under any circumstances, organizing these workers would be the way forward for the Left. But in the face of the climate crisis, it is particularly essential to recognize that the work they do is crucial not only to a just and decent society but an ecologically viable one in which quality of life is prioritized over quantity of goods. Labor movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries insisted that workers had built the world in the most literal sense. The labor movement of the twenty-first century needs to foreground the workers who will make it possible for us to live in it for generations to come. Pink-collar jobs are green jobs. The idea that care work represents a form of green jobs has begun to gain traction, particularly among job guarantee advocates. Economist Stephanie Kelton has argued that a job guarantee program should focus on “delivering public goods, aimed broadly at three areas: caring for people, caring for the planet, and caring for communities,” while economist and job guarantee advocate Pavlina Tcherneva has similarly called for a job guarantee program to be designed as a “National Care Act,” again foregrounding care for the environment, people, and communities.16 I therefore focus on the challenges presented by such proposals. Recognizing care work as a form of green jobs means rethinking what work is, who does it, and how it is valued. Transitioning to an economy centered around care will require a reckoning with the ways that care work has been devalued by capitalism and shaped by a gendered and racialized division of labor.

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To begin with, the kinds of green jobs that are traditionally envisioned and the ones I have just outlined are done by almost entirely different groups of people, divided most obviously along lines of gender. Both jobs in extractive industries and in green sectors as traditionally conceived are dominated by men. Men represent about 87.5 percent of extractive industry workers; over 70 percent of manufacturing jobs; 95 percent of “installation, maintenance, and repair workers, including wind turbine technicians”; 95 percent of “natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations”; and 98 percent of electricians and pipelayers.17 A recent Brookings Institute report observes that “the clean energy economy workforce is older, dominated by male workers, and lacks racial diversity when compared to all occupations nationally.” One in five workers in clean energy production and energy efficiency are women, and fewer than one in ten are Black.18 The work of “people-making,” meanwhile, is also intensely gendered, as the term pink collar suggests. Women make up nearly 75 percent of education workers, 66 percent of “community and social workers,” and 75 percent of health care workers—a number that goes up to 90 percent if restricted only to nurses and health aides.19 The fact that jobs making beds and washing the elderly exist doesn’t mean that the mostly male workers who have spent decades working in factories, on oil rigs, or in coal mines will be able, or willing, to do them.20 The gendered division of labor is in part a matter of socialization, stigma, and stereotypes. Perceptions of women as naturally nurturing and caring mean that they are considered “suited” to these jobs—and, crucially, men are seen as not suited to them. As Kathi Weeks argues, “gender identities are coordinated with work identities in ways that can sometimes alienate workers from their job and at other times bind them more tightly to it.” 21 Yet qualities of nurturing and caring are inherent neither to gender nor to kinds of work. The idea of what kinds of skills different jobs require is fluid: nursing, for example, used to be seen as a job requiring manly courage and now is thought to require feminine nurturing. Moreover, when skills are understood as natural characteristics of certain kinds of people, jobs that use them are classified as “unskilled” work and, thus, pay less. Care is skilled work—but it is skilled work that women are disproportionately trained to do. The ostensibly cultural aspects of gendered labor are inseparable from economic ones. “Feminized labor” describes not the prevalence of women in a workforce or cultural connotations associated with a kind of work but the condition of irregular, often part-time work that is paid less than a living wage, reflecting a

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historical expectation that women work to provide an income secondary to the “breadwinner” income earned by their husbands. Such conditions are prevalent in the care-work sector. While care jobs that require advanced degrees, like those of doctors and nurse practitioners, pay well, care work is generally among the lowest-paying jobs in the United States. Most health care “support” jobs pay in the range of $30,000– $40,000 annually; home health aides make just $26,000 annually.22 In 2018, 76 percent of women working in adult home care earned less than $15 per hour.23 Low-wage jobs are stratified by race as well as gender, offering further evidence that economic imperatives are more operative than cultural stigma. Black men are three times more likely to take lower-rung health jobs than white men; other men of color are also significantly more likely to take health care jobs in the lower levels, as nurses or aides rather than doctors. Many of the worst-paid jobs—like those of home health aides and domestic workers— are done by women of color, often immigrants.24 Similar dynamics obtain in education. Teaching, like care work more generally, is deeply gendered and racialized: 98  percent of pre-K and kindergarten teachers and 80 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are women; 82 percent of primary and secondary educators are white.25 Because education funding is linked to local property taxes, support for public education is wildly disparate across communities, stratified along lines of race and class. Teachers’ salaries, while generally higher than salaries of low-wage care workers, have stagnated and in some instances declined, and teachers themselves increasingly bear the burden of underfunded education budgets: 94 percent of teachers report that they have purchased school supplies with their own money. This is a problem for the people currently doing these jobs, who often struggle to support themselves and their families, but also for a Green New Deal for Care. It is already a challenge to ensure that green jobs are as good as the ones they promise to replace. The average annual pay for coal mining is above $86,000, and workers in oil and gas are often paid more. Skilled work on renewable energy is much lower: solar installers and turbine technicians are paid approximately $46,000 and $57,000, respectively.26 Care workers are paid even less. Although the projected growth in home health aide jobs from 2016 to 2026 is estimated to be eighty-six times the growth in wind turbine service technicians, for example, the latter are paid, on average, twice the salaries of the former, who make just $24,000 annually. In fact, in many places a transition from extractive industries to the care sector is already under way: in Letcher County, Kentucky, for example,

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the gender balance of the workforce has shifted drastically in the past decade as coal mining jobs have disappeared and women have become family breadwinners. But because the jobs that women get, largely in health care, pay less than extractive industry work, household incomes have suffered.27 For working conditions and pay to improve, workers themselves will have to demand recognition and compensation for their work. I discuss the potential of organizing care and education workers in more detail in the final section.


Like the work of social reproduction, the “life support systems” of planet earth— the carbon cycle, water purification, soil fertility, and many other processes often referred to as “ecosystem services”—have often been treated as background conditions against which the formal economy can function. But they are crucial to maintaining a habitable planet and a livable human future on it. Our understanding of the crisis of care, then, should encompass the multispecies relationships necessary for sustaining life on earth. The web of life on which we depend is breaking down: it needs care, repair, and maintenance. We need to support and expand forms of work oriented toward caring for the ecosystems that keep the earth habitable. The New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is one potential model of a green jobs program focused on care for the earth and reveals both possibilities and challenges. CCC workers performed a wide array of tasks, including forest and soil conservation, the construction of hiking trails and recreational facilities, flood control, and disaster relief. This work, too, was deeply gendered: the CCC was all male, and the work itself—mostly manual labor, often aimed as much at transforming ecosystems as maintaining them—was understood as ruggedly masculine, explicitly intended to make unemployed boys into strapping and independent men. (One slogan declared “The CCC-A Builder of Men.”28) Its militaristic inspiration was reflected in the description of the program as a “corps” and those who participated as “soil soldiers”; workers lived in barracks and obeyed military discipline. Meanwhile, a short-lived women’s CCC, championed by Eleanor Roosevelt and known informally as the “She-She-She,” met with resistance from those who thought women should not work outdoors and was ultimately deemed too expensive to continue. Even the male CCC members,

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however, were expected to work on the cheap: Franklin Roosevelt told Congress that “more important . . . than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.” Pay was lower than the standard union wage, garnering criticism from labor leaders; like other New Deal–era jobs programs, it was temporary. A renewed, permanent version of the CCC could create new hiking trails, campgrounds, and nature reserves in rural areas. In places like West Virginia and Wyoming, former coal miners could turn abandoned coal mines into national parks dedicated to labor and environmental history. In cities, CCC workers could support the creation and maintenance of new city parks and community gardens; they could plant trees to combat the effect of concrete “heat islands” and make cities more livable even in the face of rising temperatures. Workers could restore areas that have long been damaged by fossil fuel extraction and subjected to the costs of industrial production, attacking the long legacy of environmental racism. Yet today most conservation work is still done on the cheap, often by young people on service years, as in the California Conservation Corps (motto: “hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more!”). National parks currently employ only about 20,000 paid workers while using 315,000 volunteers annually.29 Incarcerated people also frequently serve as a lowcost source of ecological labor: they make up one-third of California’s firefighting force and perform other conservation tasks like clearing brush and fallen trees, maintaining parks, and undertaking reforestation. For these kinds of work to be viable livelihoods, they, too, would have to be better paid and treated as necessary and permanent jobs rather than stopgaps. Another promising sector for ecological care work is agriculture, which is deeply dependent on ecological processes under threat from climate change. But contemporary American agriculture does not take much care for the earth, nor for those who work it. Instead, industrial agriculture aims to produce as much as possible as cheaply as possible, pushing both workers and soil to exhaustion. Integrating care for the earth into the American agricultural system will thus require reckoning with the exploitation of farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. The National Agricultural Workers Survey, conducted by the Department of Labor, suggests that nearly 75  percent of farmworkers are immigrants, mostly from Central America; an estimated 49 percent are undocumented.30 Their immigration status renders farmworkers vulnerable to intense exploitation: farmworkers are among the most exploited workers in

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the country, working brutally long hours for low pay, and are still excluded from many forms of labor protections. Beyond a small number of conservation jobs, ecological care work is not a recognized or paid form of work in the contemporary American economy. Programs for ecological restoration and maintenance will have to be intentionally created and should draw on the insight of Indigenous communities who have long performed the labor of ecological stewardship. As Indigenous scholar Nick Estes argues, “the relationship Indigenous caretakers have with the land, water, air, and nonhuman world is typically not viewed as productive. . . . Like unwaged caregiving work, land defense and water protection are undervalued but necessary for the continuation of life on a planet teetering on collapse.”31


The COVID-19 pandemic has cast the crisis of care into particularly stark relief. Caregivers, both waged and unwaged, have endured the most of underinvestment in public health and public caregiving. Health care workers have been stretched thin responding to waves of infection and have themselves been disproportionately subject to COVID-19 infection.32 The closure of schools and daycares, meanwhile, has driven millions of women, particularly working-class women and women of color, to drop out of the labor force in order to meet family caregiving needs.33 The pandemic has also served to highlight the importance of a political project that can tackle the crisis of care and the climate crisis at the same time—particularly since climate change itself will drive the emergence of new diseases as wildlife habitation and migration patterns change and intersect with human activities in new ways. Industrial agriculture, too, is a major source of novel pathogens: preventing future pandemics thus requires not only attending to public health but improving animal welfare and making farming more ecologically sustainable.34 More generally, climate change is likely to increase the need for care in response to climate-fueled disasters and deteriorating environmental conditions. Yet while the need for such projects may be clearer than ever, we should not underestimate the political challenges they will face. A Green New Deal that expands access to care would represent a reversal of the trends of the past several decades. As Cedric Johnson points out, what was “exceptional” about the New

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Deal is that “capital was forced to take responsibility for the costs of social reproduction of labor.”35 But today, after decades of neoliberal decimation of the welfare state, even its relatively mild goals seem radical. Even the moderate welfare state of social democracy instituted by the New Deal was ultimately deemed unaffordable. The decline of living standards in the past few decades is the direct result of increased global competition that has forced corporations to drive down prices and wages. Under these circumstances, forcing capital to pay for the reproduction even of its own workers will be challenging enough; forcing capital to pay for ways of living that do not serve capital directly—for universal public services and ecological care—will be even more difficult. Where will the leverage to command such major concessions come from? The scale of transformation that the Green New Deal represents will require a broader social base than extractive industry workers alone. Workers performing the work of social and ecological reproduction are workers who can form part of the political coalition for the Green New Deal—and they can bring the communities they serve with them. These workers have already begun to organize their workplaces and the broader communities in which they are embedded. Workers in the fields of care and education have been among the most militant in recent years: in 2018 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported twenty “major work stoppages” involving 485,000 workers, with education, health care, and “social assistance” industries accounting for over 90  percent of workers on strike. The Bureau also reports that “between 2009 and 2018 the educational services and health care and social assistance industries accounted for nearly one half of all major work stoppages.”36 Many of these strikes have also taken on a distinctive form. As Jane McAlevey argues, unions win when they do “whole-worker organizing”—organizing that sees workers as connected to broader communities and that organizes communities alongside them.37 These kinds of organizing are particularly crucial in fields where workers who strike are often charged with harming their students or patients: bosses win when they can pit the public against workers. So using a framework known as “Bargaining for the Common Good,” teachers and nurses have rejected the division between workplace and community, organizing with and alongside students, parents, and community members to win victories around both community and teacher demands (for more, see chapter 14 by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò in this volume). As one Chicago Teachers Union slogan puts it, “Our working conditions are their learning conditions.” Amid the 2018 wave

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of teachers’ strikes known as #REDforED, teachers in Los Angeles and Arizona brought thousands of community members into the streets to support teachers’ action in the workplace. Workers in these sectors have organized alongside movements pushing for the decommodification of social services and insisting that industries that have long offloaded their environmental costs onto the public finally pay what they owe. In New York City such coalitions have produced free pre-K for all; the Chicago Teacher’s Union fought former mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school closures. In places like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, meanwhile, teachers have fought to make the fossil fuel industry pay more in taxes to fund schools and teachers’ salaries.38 As Sarah Jaffe writes, teachers in West Virginia echo the struggles of coal miners before them in “demanding that the energy barons who have so much power in the state government as well as in its economy—the governor is a second-generation coal billionaire—pay more to those they have exploited.”39 Organizing beyond the workplace is also important for winning struggles within it; at the same time, the workplace can serve as an anchor for organizing broader political struggles and building working-class power. Such expansive approaches to organizing are essential for addressing climate change: climate change is embedded in the patterns of daily life, and class struggle must be, too. Many of the signal political struggles of the contemporary moment, from Standing Rock to Fight for $15, from Black Lives Matter to RED for ED, have combined critiques of economic and racial inequality with attention to the conditions of life both within and beyond the workplace. The uprisings following the police murder of George Floyd represent the most recent set of struggles around the conditions of life itself—and Black life in particular. Activists have outlined a divest-invest platform that calls for defunding police and funding crucial social services: the 8toAbolition platform, for example, calls for “building up life-sustaining systems that reduce, prevent, and better address harm” by, among other things, investing in “care, not cops.” 40 Such calls are entirely compatible with the vision of a Green New Deal for Care that I have outlined here and suggest the potential for new forms of solidarity. The Green New Deal for Care suggests that we need to change more than our energy sources. The desire for such transformation is already latent in contemporary struggles—in demands for Medicare for All and public childcare, in struggles to improve wages and working conditions for care workers, in calls for “care not cops.” A Green New Deal for Care can help bring these struggles

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together, demanding a new way of organizing both social and ecological reproduction in service of a future where everyone has what they need to live a healthy and fulfilling life on a habitable planet.


1. 2. 3. 4.

5. 6. 7.



10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

15. 16.

This chapter is adapted from an essay published in Socialist Register ( Van Jones, The Green-Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 17. Jones, Green-Collar Economy, 16. “Joe’s Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice,” Biden–Harris campaign website, n.d., accessed June 28, 2020, Robert Pollin, “De-Growth Versus a Green New Deal,” New Left Review 112 (July– August 2018), /issues/ii112/articles/robert-pollin-de-growth-vs -a-green-new-deal. Bill McKibben, “A World at War,” New Republic, August 15, 2016, https://newrepublic .com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii. Nancy Fraser, “Contradictions of Capital and Care,” New Left Review 100 (July– August 2016). Constance Gustke, “Managing Health Care Costs with Crowdfunding,” New York Times, January 30, 2015, business/managing-health-costs -with-crowdfunding.html. Linda Villarosa, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” New York Times, April  11, 2018, / black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html. Cynthia Koons and John Tozzi, “As Suicides Rise, Insurers Find Ways to Deny Mental Health Coverage,” Bloomberg Businessweek, May  16, 2019, /news/features/2019 - 05-16/insurance-covers-mental-health-but-good-luck-using-it. Youyou Zhou and Julia Belluz, “Who Has Died from Covid-19 in the US?” Vox, February 16. 2021, -deaths-us-who-died. Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (New York: Verso, 2019). Robert Brenner, “Introducing Catalyst,” Catalyst, no. 1. Gabriel Winant, The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2021). Gabriel Winant, “The New Working Class,” Dissent, June  27, 2017, https://www /online_articles/new-working-class -precarity-race-gender-demo crats. The somewhat retrograde term pink collar denotes a historically female workforce. Kelton, quoted in Kate Aronoff, “A Guaranteed ‘Jobs for All’ Program Is Gaining Traction Among Democratic Hopefuls,” Intercept, April  1, 2018, /2018/04/01/federal-job-guaranteed-jobs-program; and Pavlina  R. Tcherneva, “Job

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17. 18.

19. 20.

21. 22. 23.

24. 25.

26. 27.

28. 29. 30.


Guarantee: Design, Jobs, and Implementation,” Working Paper 902 (Annandale-onHudson: Levy Economics Institute, 2018). Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey,” January 18, 2019, Mark Muro, Adie Tomer, Ranjitha Shivaram, and Joseph Kane, “Advancing Inclusion Through Clean Energy Jobs,” Brookings Institute, April 2019, / wp - content /uploads /2019 /04 /2019 . 04_metro_Clean - Energy -Jobs_Report_Muro -Tomer-Shivaran-Kane_updated.pdf. BLS, “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey,” January 18, 2019. Claire Cain Miller, “Why Men Don’t Want the Jobs Done Mostly by Women,” New York Times, January 4, 2017, -the-jobs-done-mostly-by-women.html. Kathi Weeks, The Problem with Work: Marxism, Feminism, and Postwork Imaginaries (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), 10. BLS, “National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates,” May  2019, https:// 0000. Amanda Novello and Greg Carlock, “Redefining Green Jobs for a Sustainable Economy,” Century Foundation, December 2, 2019, /content/report/redefining -green-jobs-sustainable-economy/. Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, eds., Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy (New York: Holt, 2003). Novello and Carlock, “Redefining Green Jobs”; and U.S. Department of Education, “The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2016), http://www2 highered/racial -diversity/state-racial-diversity-workforce.pdf. In the higher-status, higher-paid realm of higher education, this inverts: Only 45  percent of full-time college faculty and 26  percent of tenured faculty are women. See  J. McFarland, B. Hussar, C. de Brey, T. Snyder, X. Wang, S. Wilkinson-Flicker, S. Gebrekristos, et  al., “The Condition of Education 2017,” Report for the US Department of Education (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). Novello and Carlock, “Redefining Green Jobs.” Campbell Robertson, “In Coal Country, the Mines Shut Down, the Women Went to Work, and the World Quietly Changed,” New York Times, September 14, 2019, https:// Jeffrey Ryan Suzik, “ ‘Building Better Men’: The CCC Boy and the Changing Social Ideal of Manliness,” Men and Masculinities 2, no. 2 (1999). BLS, “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018,” n.d., accessed October 9, 2019, Trish Hernandez and Susan Gabbard, Findings from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 2015–2016: A Demographic and Employment Profile of United States Farmworkers, Research Report No.  13, JBS International, January  2018, /research/FullText_Documents/ETAOP_2019 - 01_NAWS_Research_Report_2013 .pdf. Nick Estes, “Indigenous People Are Already Working “Green Jobs”—but They’re Unrecognized and Unpaid,” Intercept, September 23, 2019, /23/indigenous-climate-green-new-deal/.

118 What Is the Crisis of Work? 32.

33. 34.

35. 36. 37. 38.



Andrew Jacobs, “A Parallel Pandemic Hits Health Care Workers: Trauma and Exhaustion,” New York Times, February 4, 2021, health / health-care-workers-burned-out-quitting.html; and Ed Yong, “No One Is Listening to Us,” Atlantic, November 13, 2020, health/archive/2020/11 /third-surge-breaking-healthcare-workers/617091/. Sarah Jaffe, “Who Cares?” Baffler 27, May 2021, -jaffe. Rob Wallace, Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Influenza, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016); Mike Davis, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu (New York: New Press, 2005); Adam Tooze, “We Are Living Through the First Economic Crisis of the Anthropocene,” Guardian, May 7, 2020, https://www.theguardian .com / books/2020 /may/07/we -are -living -through -the -first -economic-crisis-of-the-anthropocene; and Jan Dutkiewicz, Astra Taylor, and Troy Vettese, “The Covid-19 Pandemic Shows We Must Transform the Global Food System,” Guardian, April  16, 2020, /coronavirus-covid-19 -pandemic-food-animals. Cedric Johnson, “Coming to Terms with Actually-Existing Black Life,” New Politics, April 9, 2019, /coming-to-terms-with-actually-existing-black-life/. BLS, “Work Stoppages Summary,” February 8, 2019, /wkstp.nr0.htm. Jane F. McAlevey, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). Natasha Geiling, “You Can’t Talk About Teacher Strikes Without Talking About the Fossil Fuel Industry,” ThinkProgress, April  12, 2018, /fossil-fuel-industry-tax-cuts-teacher-strikes- 6e0e82ec3ba6/. Sarah Jaffe, “The Rising Ghosts of Labor in the West Virginia Teacher Strike,” New York Times, March 5, 2018, -teacher-strike.html. “#8toAbolition: Abolitionist Policy Changes to Demand from Your City Officials,” 8toAbolition website, n.d., .pdf.

chapter 5

Another World (of Work) Is Possible stephanie luce


he Green New Deal comes at the right time. The world is facing both a drastic climate crisis and an economic upheaval. The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing recession have exacerbated the problem of unemployment, but even before this recession hit, we were facing a crisis of work: growing job insecurity, stagnant wages, and a host of alienating and dehumanizing conditions. There are many versions of a Green New Deal. The current versions on the table include President Biden’s American Jobs Plan and the similar but more ambitious THRIVE Act, which aims to create fifteen million jobs.1 In this time of crisis there is tension between wanting to formulate realistic policy proposals and the need for some bigger visionary thinking. Jobs are essential and must be a priority of any Green New Deal. But a time of crisis is also a time for big ideas, and we should use the space created by the Green New Deal to dream about the future of work at the same time that we think about creating those new jobs. We need to get concrete, to formulate achievable demands. But we also need to see this as a space for ideological struggle and education. So while we call for a public jobs program, we should also question the nature of work. Historian Joel Suarez and others going back at least as far as Marx point out the paradox of work under capitalism: work as a source of domination; work as a source of liberation— both in an individual sense of fulfillment and dignity and in the larger sense as the basis of transformative collective struggle. Because work is a site of domination and a potential site of liberation, he argues, transformations in the world of work entail transformations in the experience of domination, which in turn produce new articulations of and yearnings for freedom.2 We are living in a

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transformative moment, and it is time to once again debate the meaning of work and of freedom. Our dreams of freedom have shrunk over the years. In the 1800s workers still fought the very notion of wage labor. The early “living wage” campaigns were a concession to the idea of wage labor itself. If workers could not win the right to control their own labor, they then asserted that if they must work for a wage, it should at least be for a living wage. But even that dream was shrunk over time to our current demands for wages of $15 an hour—surely not a living wage in many parts of the country. We have this moment, so let’s ask: What is work for? And can work be a source of liberation?


By late 2019 it had appeared to some observers that the labor market had improved for the average person since the 2008 crisis. After peaking at 10 percent in 2009, unemployment had dropped to 3.6 percent and underemployment had dropped from a peak of 16.7 to 7.3.3 Six months later the economy was in a completely different state. Amid the pandemic, we experienced record-breaking unemployment. The United States lost 22 million jobs in March and April of 2020. Many of these jobs have come back, but as of April 2021, the net result was still a loss of 8 million jobs and an official unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. More than one of every ten workers is either unemployed or underemployed. More concerning is the fact that while the pandemic was a trigger for the current economic crisis, it was not the cause. The U.S. job market was already showing troubling symptoms of underlying economic problems. Despite claims of a robust labor market, 12 million people were unemployed or underemployed before the pandemic. A further disconcerting sign was that from 2000 to February 2020, 10 million workers dropped out of the labor force, bringing the labor force participation rate down to about 63 percent (another 3.5 million have dropped out since the pandemic began). The decline in labor force participation can be found across almost all demographic groups, with the largest decline among young workers. Women and men aged 25– 54 without a college degree also saw a more significant

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decline.4 At the same time, labor force participation among men and women aged 65 or older has been steadily increasing since 2000. This is particularly true for men without a high school diploma and women with an associate degree.5 The reasons people are leaving the labor force vary: some of the exit is from baby boomers hitting retirement age. Some is due to rising school enrollment, and some because of increased care demands (even before the pandemic there was a shortage of home health aides). But the drop is also connected to the nature of jobs in the labor market. According to economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger, over 94 percent of all jobs added to the labor market from 2000 to 2015 were “alternative work arrangements”— temporary workers, independent contractors, on-call positions, and freelancers.6 The pandemic appears to have exacerbated these trends. Workers without college degrees suffered more job loss in the pandemic relative to the general workforce, and they have been more likely to drop out of the labor force in the past decade. Their labor force participation rate now stands at just 56 percent.7 These workers may have joined others who simply cannot find work at all or work that pays a living wage. Median weekly earnings have been stagnant overall for almost forty years, despite constant growth in labor productivity (see figure 5.1).8 Wage inequality has been increasing, particularly between workers with a college degree and those without. One bright spot is that wages for low-wage workers have gone up somewhat in the past few years in states that have increased the minimum wage. However, that is not enough to erase decades of wage stagnation. A 2019 Brookings Institute analysis found that 44 percent of all workers in the country earn low-wages, with a median hourly wage of $10.22 and $18,000 in annual earnings.9 Pay is an important part of job quality, but other dimensions are just as important. In addition to the growing gap between productivity and wages, there has been a fairly persistent race and gender wage gap.10 In fact, the race wage gap has grown since 1979 and holds for workers at every education level.11 A wage gap can be explained by some factors that can be measured and some that cannot. For example, some of the wage gap is explained by differences in occupation, industry, and full-time status. But the gap also includes an “unexplained” component: the residual amount left over after adding in all kinds of control variables. This is what economists say is likely due to outright discrimination. Not only has the total racial wage gap grown since 1979, but the share that is “unexplained” has grown too. (Note that structural racism is a factor in the

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5.1 The gap between productivity and a typical worker’s compensation has increased dramatically since 1979. Source: Lawrence Mishel, “Growing inequalities, reflecting growing employer power, have generated a productivity–pay gap since 1979,” Economic Policy Institute, September 2, 2021, -power-have-generated-a-productivity-pay-gap-since-1979-productivity-has-grown-3-5 -times-as-much-as-pay-for-the-typical-worker/.

“explained” component as well, as it influences access to higher education, career networks, and so on). These trends suggest that people may be leaving the formal labor market altogether because they struggle to find steady work or work that pays enough to be worth it. With the costs of childcare, transportation, and work clothes, a lowwage worker with a young child may end up losing money by working.12 In addition, a significant number of those in the labor market face the problem of overwork or underwork and a general lack of control over their schedule. The majority of workers report a conflict between work and family life.13 Regarding worker fulfillment, only 39 percent of U.S. workers say they are engaged at work, according to Gallup polls that measure the degree to which workers are “highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”14 Their findings show most workers do not feel their opinions matter at work and, further, most do not think the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel important. Almost 70 percent believe they are overqualified for the work they do.15 Not only is work often unfulfilling, work is dangerous. There were 5,333 fatal work injuries and 2.8 million nonfatal injuries and illnesses in private sector workplaces in 2019.16 Work does not have to be as dangerous as it is: comparative

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statistics show that industry and fatality rates are higher in the United States than in Europe, even accounting for differences between industries.17 This is perhaps in part because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is woefully understaffed, with only 875 inspectors in charge of monitoring nine million workplaces.18 The administration’s investigations can take a long time, and average penalties are low. Furthermore, economist Alan Krueger points out that about half of the prime-age men not in the labor force “may have a serious health condition that is a barrier to working.” Surveys show high rates of prescription pain medicine usage among this group.19 Why are jobs so bad? According to David Weil, a major reason is that financialization has resulted in massive corporate restructuring. Workplaces have become “fissured”: capital market pressures have pushed companies to focus on their “core competencies”—the ones that produce the greatest return. The rest of the work has been outsourced, offshored, and moved to temporary workers and independent contractors. As a result, there are many types of employment relationships involved in producing any one good or service. Workers may not even know who their actual employer is. There is a downward pressure on wages, benefits, and compliance with labor standards, but because workers do not even have information about what coworkers earn, there is no standard understanding of what is “fair.”20 Another reason jobs have become so bad is the decline in union density. Only one out of ten workers belong to a union today. In the private sector, density is just around 6 percent. However, union members consistently earn higher wages than their counterparts who are not union members or covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and they are far more likely to have benefits such as health insurance or pensions. Having a union contract is one of the only forms of protection workers have against arbitrary dismissal or punishment. Further, research shows that when workers have a union, they are more likely to report health and safety violations—and likely other violations—because they are less afraid to speak out.21


People need jobs, and there is much work to be done to transition our economy away from carbon. The THRIVE Agenda, for example, calls for creating fifteen million new jobs to repair the country’s infrastructure, build clean public

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transit, replace lead pipes, expand solar and wind power, protect and restore wetlands and forests, and expand clean manufacturing technologies. University of Massachusetts economists estimate that the THRIVE Agenda would create over fifteen million jobs in a range of sectors, including indirect job creation in related industries.22 But given the deterioration in the quality of work, it is not enough just to focus on job creation. Work itself needs to change in many ways, and since the exploration of imaginative reinventions of work is possible through a public workers program in a way that it is not through the private sphere, proponents of the Green New Deal ought to be envisioning both more work and better work. Here are at least four specific ways that should happen.

Take Care of One Another The Green New Deal is about environmental sustainability, but it should also be about sustaining human life. Environmental scientist Eli Dueker points out, “This [crisis] isn’t about ‘saving the planet.’ The planet will survive in the end. We need to focus on learning to take care of each other. And if we do that, if we start to prioritize collective care, it will also have positive side-effects for the planet.” 23 Green New Deal proposals focus on creating jobs to save the planet and workers’ livelihoods, but we also need jobs to save ourselves from alienation and to take care of another. A Green New Deal should create care jobs. A growing number of commentators, such as Alyssa Battistoni (chapter  4, this volume) and Naomi Klein, are calling to expand our definition of “green jobs” to include the kinds of work that service the whole range of human need: social reproduction, health care, education, and social work.24 We need to take care of the sick and the elderly, counsel those suffering climate depression and trauma, and rebuild our communities. Care work is also an effective way to think about job creation. Some cities and states have begun to pass variations of “green” legislation that focus on construction work. For example, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo pushed a version of his Green New Deal, which would provide $1.5 billion for funding to support large solar, wind, and energy storage projects in the state. This is projected to provide renewable energy for 550,000 homes and create 2,600 short- and long-term jobs.25

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New York City, under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, passed a bill that mandates environmental retrofitting of all private sector buildings occupying over 25,000 square feet over the next ten years. This is expected to create over 26,000 jobs.26 This is a good start. But compare these 2,600 construction jobs created by the New York State Green New Deal and the 26,000 in New York City with the job needs in the care sector. There are almost 880,000 jobs in the state’s care sector (including health and education) where the median wage is less than $40,000 annually. And in many of these jobs, even the wage for experienced workers is less than $40,000 annually. At the national level, there are over 11 million workers in low-wage care occupations (see table 5.1). Home health care is the fastest-growing occupation in the country, and according to the National Employment Law Project, almost half of the workers in this occupation rely on public assistance to survive.27 The Green New Deal should have an expansive definition of sustainability and the kinds of jobs needed to deal with climate crisis and human need. We should demand higher wages for personal care workers, home health aides, teacher assistants, and childcare workers. We should also demand investment to greatly increase the number of workers in these occupations.

In Search of Fulfilling Work Work should be about serving the collective need, but work should also be fulfilling. Work should be a place to develop human capacity. One of Marx’s main critiques of work under capitalism is that it deforms human beings. He argued that capitalism produces not a rich human being but an impoverished one, that “the more value he creates, the more worthless he becomes; the more his product is shaped, the more misshapen the worker.” 28 Workers should have freedom not just from want but from soul crushing, deforming labor. As economist Michael Lebowitz argues, work should be about producing the goods and services we need to survive but also about developing ourselves.29 How do we foster this? Our goal should be to de-commodify work. People should not have to depend on a paycheck to survive. We must find ways so people have more choice over how they spend their time, choice about how to develop their capacity. This won’t be easy, but there are steps we can take to move in that direction.

126 What Is the Crisis of Work? TABLE 5.1

Employment in Low-Wage Caring Occupations

Occupation Home health and personal care aides Nursing assistants Teaching assistants, except postsecondary Medical assistants Substitute teachers, short-term Childcare workers Preschool teachers, except special education Pharmacy technicians Social and human service assistants Recreation workers Tutors and teachers and instructors, and educators not classified elsewhere Emergency medical technicians and paramedics Self-enrichment teachers Teaching assistants, postsecondary Phlebotomists Rehabilitation counselors Health care support workers, and health workers not classified elsewhere Psychiatric technicians Opticians, dispensing Ophthalmic medical technicians Psychiatric aides Physical therapist aides Orderlies Pharmacy aides Occupational therapy aides Total

Total Employment

Median Annual Salary ($)

3,161,500 1,419,920 1,346,910 712,430 587,120 561,520 431,350 417,780 404,450 358,750 320,250

25,280 29,660 27,920 34,800 28,790 24,230 30,520 33,950 35,060 26,350 39,350

260,600 252,780 137,500 128,290 109,040 93,270

35,400 39,190 32,080 35,510 35,950 38,460

78,470 72,330 58,600 55,020 49,270 46,990 37,280 7,560 11,108,980

33,780 37,840 36,940 31,110 27,000 28,980 27,850 29,230

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019, https://www.bls .gov/oes/tables.htm.

The pandemic lockdown gave a glimmer of an alternative. First, millions of people stepped up, looking to help. Whether it is because they are now unemployed and have more time on their hands or because, as Rebecca Solnit has observed, assisting others gives them joy, we are seeing people all over the world participate in mutual aid networks and solidaristic activities in their

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communities.30 Of course, others retreated from community and turned on their neighbors, but early studies show an increase in volunteering overall during the pandemic, which is consistent with findings from other times of crisis.31 Second, the lockdown brought to light the enormous creativity and skill set that already exists among us. Bakers, gardeners, computer programmers, lawyers, house cleaners, teachers, and more all stepped up to offer their services to those in need. Others quickly learned new skills: with more time to spare in lockdown, they could pursue interests that seemed impossible only months earlier. People taught one another, and our collective skill set grew. This means some people have a moment to pursue meaningful work—if not for a paycheck, then in the service of our collective human development.32 Instead of a system that deforms us, we are enriched through pursuing our passions. Of course, it isn’t just in a pandemic that people are creative. Scratch the surface in any workplace and you will learn the incredible range of hobbies and skills that workers have off the job. In her recent memoir of her time as a steelworker, Eliese Colette Goldbach wrote, “Many of my coworkers possessed a creative side. . . . There was a man who made stained-glass windows, and there was a woman who made jewelry out of animal bones. Some people built furniture and gazebos for their families, and there was one crane operator who made elaborate sculptures out of recycled silverware.”33 Finally, the pandemic exposed the reality of “essential work”: what we really need to do in society to take care of ourselves. We need food and shelter, health care, education, and social work. This includes service work as well as construction, manufacturing, and transit. And taking care of ourselves includes recreation, music, and arts. We need purpose, and we need space and time to pursue our passions. Many of the workers who serve our basic needs, such as farmworkers, grocery store workers, nurse’s aides, home care workers, delivery workers, and emergency medical technicians are not rewarded by a capitalist labor market, leaving them to rely on charity or public services to make ends meet. In a differently organized society, we could start with making sure these kinds of jobs are adequately staffed and that those who do them are treated justly. And “essential work” is also that which allows us to develop our collective human capacity. All workers are essential, but under capitalism the only real essential work is that which makes a profit. For work to become a way to help one another, to pursue our passions, and to build our communities, it must be decommodified. There are a number of ways to move in this direction. By reducing living expenses, people become less desperate

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to take any job and are able to afford more choice in work. This could be done through programs including Medicare for All, expanded affordable housing, universal child tax credits, and free or reduced fare public transit. The child tax credit attached to the 2021 American Rescue Plan was a good start, but it only lasted a year, ending December 31, 2021; it should be restored indefinitely. Another proposal is a universal basic income (UBI), which would provide a cash grant to all adults. The UBI concept can be easily co-opted by conservative forces using it to cut social programs and advance individualism. In Finland, the center-right government launched a modified UBI experiment in 2017 on the hopes of getting unemployed people into jobs. That did not work, although participants did report an increase in life satisfaction and mental well-being.34 Critics note that the Finnish experiment was flawed to begin with for a variety of reasons, including the low grant level. The U.S. federal government gave out a number of cash grants as part of the pandemic stimulus packages in 2020 and 2021 but so far has failed to pass any structural reforms that alter the balance of power toward workers, such as the PRO Act or Biden’s Jobs Act. A true UBI, progressive advocates argue, would be given to everyone—not just unemployed people. Rather than a tool to improve work ethic, a properly designed UBI would allow people to choose a job based on what they found interesting or rewarding rather than what they needed to do to survive. One advantage of a UBI is that it is a collective solution to a collective problem as it pools resources and redistributes to all.

Reduce and Localize Work A growing number of analysts have been raising alarms about the future of work given developments in technology—particularly artificial intelligence. Take, for example, a recent Brookings Institute report that found 25 percent of jobs will face “high exposure to automation,” and another 36 percent will face medium exposure in coming decades.35 These alarmist projections are misleading in part because, under capitalism, jobs are always under threat of mechanization. Textile workers were fighting new technologies in the 1700s, and we have seen employers attempt to mechanize and replace workers ever since.36 The type of automation and technology takes new forms, but it does not change the underlying power struggle between employers and workers about how new technologies are introduced.

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Also unhelpful are the ways in which analysts pose technology as a threat to workers. Technology could make work safer and more interesting. We could use it to allow for a shorter workday or workweek, periods off for education, or early retirement. We should use new technologies to bring true flexibility to work schedules (not neoliberal employer-driven “flexibility.”) New technologies might reduce our carbon emissions directly—and indirectly—if it results in fewer hours worked per week and more conscious decisions about what kind of work we do. We can, and must, cut back on the kinds of jobs capitalism requires for profit maximization but harm the environment and do nothing for meeting human needs. We can no longer afford a world in which people drive an hour each way to produce or sell things we don’t need. One way to do that is to abandon the commitment to a forty-hour workweek. Sociologist Leah Vosko argues that the whole concept of the “standard workweek”—five days a week, forty hours of work—never worked well for many workers, particularly women and those with care duties.37 The 9-to-5 workday is not compatible with school schedules, and for many parents work locations are far from school or daycare locations. In countries with strong unions, retail workers were able to win strong protections on their workday. Shops were open limited hours and closed on Sundays. While this model was good for retail workers, it made it almost impossible for a family with two working parents to get groceries. The system relied on having either a stay-at-home “housewife” or hiring a domestic worker (commodifying more of the household labor). A shorter workweek allows people to do errands without 24/7 commerce. A growing number of countries and companies are experimenting or discussing a four-day workweek, and the Spanish government agreed to launch a small pilot program by providing grants to two hundred companies that agree to implement a four-day, thirty-two-hour workweek for three years.38 The pandemic lockdown also showed us that it might not be necessary for so many people to commute to work each day. Working from home might not be the answer for all kinds of work or all people. (In fact, it can dangerously offload the costs of office upkeep onto employees and extend work hours.) But clearly there is room for more flexibility and creative work arrangements, which could benefit the environment as well as work/life balance. The Green New Deal pushes us to get smarter about not just our commutes but our jobs themselves. As Michael Goodwin writes in his comic on climate

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economics, “Yes, we need to find greener ways to commute, but we also need to ask where we’re all going every morning.”39

Educate and Train for Liberation Another way to create the conditions so people can develop human capacity has to do with education and training. Some Green New Deal proposals promote vocational training for those people who work in fossil fuel industries to help them train to make the transition to new jobs. And, further, some training is oriented toward bringing underemployed and unemployed communities into renewable energy sectors: giving skills to get jobs. Some versions of the Green New Deal call for free higher education. But here is another tension—a possible danger. In capitalist labor markets, employers use credentials and notions of skill to divide workers. Workers might accept this credentialing and skilling because it is one of the few sources of power they have. “Skilled work” is a socially constructed concept. All work is skilled, but some skills (and credentials) are more scarce than others or take longer to acquire. The skills we pay more for are those that are more necessary for profit making— not necessarily for meeting human need. And often the skilled work we pay more for are in fields where some groups of workers have won enough power to keep other workers out. We want to demand access to training and education, but the goal is not to access credentials in order to find wage labor and survive. Many supposedly progressive platforms focus on increasing opportunities for more people to earn a credential, which is misplaced. The goal is lifelong learning, which would include access to noncredit and nondegree education as well. People should have the chance to learn throughout their lifetime—to have access to education and training that interests them. This is a component of the Latin American concept of buen vivir. According to one of the foundational thinkers, Eduardo Gudynas, “Buen vivir wouldn’t design education programmes as forms of investment in human capital, but rather it would design them so that people become more illustrados [enlightened].” 40 In addition, we cannot treat education and training as a tool for individuals to get ahead. Developing human capacity is actually a collective project. Again from Gudynas: “With buen vivir, the subject of wellbeing is not [about the]

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individual, but the individual in the social context of their community and in a unique environmental situation.” 41 The goal is harmonious, collective development. This requires us to develop the skills of collective problem-solving, decision-making, and governance.42 We must find spaces to promote training in cooperation: how to work together, make decisions together, function collectively. Education and training must be tools for liberation rather than for exacerbating inequality.


I have laid out an ambitious program. Creating fifteen million new jobs will be difficult enough. How can the Green New Deal accomplish that plus reshape work itself? The Green New Deal is not just a set of policies but an ideological intervention. We should make policy demands from the state, but we should also approach the Green New Deal as a framework for other programmatic changes. Changing the nature of work will require rethinking on many levels.

Policy Some Green New Deal proposals move in the right direction. Although Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren did not win the presidential nomination, we can still look to some of their policy proposals. For example, Sanders calls for supporting cooperative enterprises, including a demand for investing $14.7 billion in cooperative and community-owned grocery stores.43 Such a plan would support jobs and bring grocery stores to food deserts. Sanders argues that local and co-op groceries are also more likely to buy local products, thus reducing strain on the environment. The Sanders plan also calls for $150 billion in grants and technical assistance for cities and states to build “publicly owned and democratically controlled, cooperative, or open access broadband networks.” The plan justifies that communications infrastructure is vital to share information in the wake of climate disasters. In order to foster skills in democratic and cooperative practice, the Green New Deal could include subsidies for people to take classes from nonprofits like

132 What Is the Crisis of Work?

the California Center for Cooperative Development and the Green Worker CoOp Academy or could even directly fund and offer training through cities the way New York City has begun offering training and services to worker co-ops. Green New Deal plans should also incorporate demands to expand the number of care jobs and improve wages and working conditions for care workers. The THRIVE Agenda calls for $10 trillion in spending over ten years, which would include about 775 billion toward care jobs, resulting in over 2 million total jobs per year (including direct, indirect and induced jobs).44 It is a good start but could go further, particularly if the country shifted spending priorities. For example, the National Priorities Partnership estimates that 10  percent of the 2021 military budget could instead be used to create over 900,000 new elementary school teacher jobs.45 Some state legislatures are considering pay increases for home health aides. While states have raised minimum wages, home health aides are paid through agencies that get funded through Medicaid reimbursements. Those reimbursement rates have not gone up at the pace of the minimum wage increase, leaving agencies strapped for cash to raise wages.46 States are looking for solutions. For example, Pennsylvania legislators recently approved a 2 percent increase for Medicaid reimbursements in order to allow agencies to raise home care worker pay.47 New York passed the Wage Parity Law, raising minimum compensation and benefits for Medicaid-funded home care workers.48 We should give close attention to policy that impacts small businesses and the self-employed, particularly as self-employment often increases during recessions because people cannot find regular employment. The CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act provided some relief to small businesses (defined as five hundred or fewer employees), but the amount was inadequate and far less than relief provided to large corporations. A Green New Deal could require more tax fairness for businesses. Since large corporations are often able to find subsidies, tax loopholes, and tax havens, their effective tax rate is low—and far lower than that paid by small businesses. President Biden has proposed steps in the right direction, but a Green New Deal should take more radical steps, along with pushing for greater transparency in corporate finances, such as requiring them to report all subsidies in their public financial statements. A Green New Deal could focus loan and grant programs for businesses based on certain criteria, prioritizing small and local firms, firms that hire from their

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local community, and firms that pay a living wage.49 Small-business owners report that they often pay higher than the minimum wage and want to pay a living wage; turnover is costly for them, and they prefer to keep employees on for the long term. But that makes it hard to compete with large corporations that have a low-wage/high-turnover model. A Green New Deal should work to remedy this by giving support to small businesses to pay higher wages, such as in the form of tax credits.

Unions, Worker Centers, and Community Organizations Unions have tended to focus on raising wages and protecting the jobs of their members, which is understandable given the harsh attacks they have faced from employers and public policy. Unfortunately it is not enough. Unions must be visionaries: they must prioritize achieving wages and contracts but also advancing the purpose of work and quality of life on the job, as Mindy Isser also argues in this volume (see chapter 8). The Green New Deal is a ripe opportunity to reorient. Unions must fight for a say in how new jobs are shaped, how old jobs are transitioned out, how new technologies are adopted, and how work hours are shaped. This is necessary to ensure worker interests are accounted for in the transition. But it is also necessary because part of the goal is the democratic process itself. Of course, there are tensions within the labor movement about the Green New Deal. Some unions, like the Service Employees International Union, Association of Flight Attendants, National Nurses United, and the American Federation of Teachers, have endorsed the Green New Deal. The Massachusetts National Education Association has perhaps offered the strongest endorsement, calling for a national teacher strike in support of the Green New Deal, despite the fact that it is illegal for teachers to strike in Massachusetts and in many other states.50 (A similar resolution was introduced at the National Education Association convention but failed.) But other unions and the American Federation of Labor– Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) have opposed the Green New Deal or remained silent.51 Some have suggested it would harm their members; others seem to think it is not relevant to their industries. The labor movement has always been and continues to be a complicated site of struggle. Given that an estimated 40 percent of voters from union households voted for Donald Trump, some unions are treading lightly around what they think may be a divisive issue.

134 What Is the Crisis of Work?

In addition, union membership has been in decline and unions have lost a lot of power over several decades. Other working-class organizations like worker centers, labor-community coalitions, and labor-faith networks must also mobilize for a Green New Deal and help reimagine work. Sean Sweeney and John Treat of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy argue that a just transition must keep workers’ needs at the forefront but at the same time fight for systemic change. To do this will require more cooperation and planning. They write, “It is clear that the current crisis, if it is to be addressed, will require levels of cooperation and knowledge sharing beyond anything seen in modern times.” This will require, they add, “a decisive expansion of economic democracy, social ownership, and participatory planning at all levels of the economy.”52 The bargaining for the common good network offers a seed of how unions, worker centers, and community organizations might move us toward a more cooperative, democratic form of planning, and the network is already a vehicle to advance a Green New Deal agenda. Under the bargaining for the common good framework, unions work with community partners to shape their contract campaigns to include demands that benefit a broader set of stakeholders.53 For example, teachers’ unions have pushed for gains to benefit students and parents, such as smaller class sizes, more school nurses, and green space in schoolyards. City workers organize with community stakeholders to improve funding for public services, from transit to trash collection. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, SEIU Local 26 brought together janitors and environmentalists to bargain with largebuilding owners that were responsible for keeping down janitorial wages and serious carbon emissions.54 Bargaining for the common good unites a broad group of stakeholders together to demand public funding for “common goods” and helps create an infrastructure through which Green New Deal demands could be generated and pursued. It is interesting to note that some of the caring professions—teaching and health care—are where we have seen many of the bargaining for the common good campaigns and strikes (see chapter 14 by Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, in this volume, for more on bargaining for the common good). Unions also have a key role to play in how technology is adopted and used. A recent report issued by the AFL-CIO on the future of work states, “Real worker bargaining power not only will allow working people to capture our fair share of the benefits of technological change but also will help determine the course of technological change itself. Stronger worker bargaining power will help drive

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policy decisions regarding innovation that are more beneficial to the broad majority of working people.”55 Unions have long bargained over the introduction of new technology. In fact, many unions have their origins in workers coming together to save jobs in the face of automation. Many unions have primarily bargained over protecting jobs, but there are some exceptions. The Graphic Arts International Union created a fund and training programs to allow members to learn new technologies as they were adopted in the printing industry.56 In some industries, new technologies have created new jobs and new skills. Rather than deskilling, the new technologies can help create better jobs with more autonomy and less surveillance. Some locals of the International Association of Machinists fought management to make sure that new jobs and skills created with the introduction of new technology would be part of the bargaining unit.57 In Western Europe, some unions have won the right to advance notice for technological change in the workplace as well as employee participation in the planning process for technology adoption. These have been won through national legislation and implemented through collective bargaining arrangements.58 Much innovation comes via public policy and public funding, so this creates a role for public oversight into what is developed and how it is implemented. A report by the AFL-CIO notes that new technologies could result in the possibility for shorter work hours. It states, Our commission’s Service and Retail and the Federal Sector Subcommittees recommend strengthening the labor movement by mobilizing around such big issues as shorter work days and workweeks with no reduction in pay for workers. Work hours can be reduced by bargaining or legislating a four-day workweek; earlier retirement; stronger overtime protections; paid holidays; paid vacations; partial unemployment benefits for workers whose hours are reduced (“short-time compensation”); and the “right to disconnect” from digital devices and work. Most of these policies would redistribute work hours to those who have too little work.59

Again, the Bargaining for the Common Good approach could bring together workers, consumers, clients, and other stakeholders to bargain over ways technology could be used to make services and products more accessible for end users and consumers and reduce environmental impacts without any negative

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impact on jobs. For example, online teaching could benefit students with disabilities, but it must be introduced so that teachers do not bear the costs. Technology should be implemented to make jobs safer and to allow more flexibility in work arrangements to reduce commutes and improve opportunities for care. Related to this, unions and worker advocates should not fall into the trap of accepting job training as a substitute for job creation or as a substitute for lifelong learning programs. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, the Labor Council and over a dozen unions from a wide range of sectors have come together to form the New Brookwood Labor College, open to union and nonunion workers, “to serve students who are interested in building a radical and inclusive labor movement.” They offer nondegree classes with no grades or diplomas. They state that they are not a training program; rather, New Brookwood Labor College draws on the traditions of liberal arts education and exists to engage students in deep thought and discussion about the labor movement and the working class. We anticipate offering some classes that will engage students in specific organizing, bargaining, and enforcement tactics, and that organizing tactics will be present in our work but this is not our primary purpose.60

Some worker centers have developed political education for members. Organizers want workers to understand the history of immigration and globalization, worker rights, and political economy in addition to skills training. For example, Make the Road created a leadership school that provides six weeks of training in political education and organizing skills.

w There is always tension between organizing around concrete policies that have a realistic chance of winning and dreaming of more transformative change. The Green New Deal allows us to do both: envision a bold, sustainable, and just future while at the same time organizing for winnable demands. Policymakers at the local and state levels have already begun proposing and sometimes passing pieces of Green New Deal–inspired legislation. We should continue to advocate for policies and bargaining strategies that advance a broad Green New Deal agenda.

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A Green New Deal can help create tens of millions of jobs that could bring people into the labor market and fulfill crucial social functions. At the same time, the Green New Deal offers space for an ideological intervention to reshape the common sense about work. In 1967 André Gorz wrote in A Strategy for Labor that unions needed to fight not for what is possible but for what people need.61 What people need now is a way to deal with a climate crisis that will take a devastating toll on much of humanity. They also need affordable and accessible food, housing, transportation, childcare, and health care that is produced in a way that helps sustain the planet and human life. This can be done in a way that centers human development rather than profit maximization. This moment of economic, political, and ecological crisis opens up a moment to reimagine work. We are not what we earn but how we live.


2. 3.


5. 6.



“A Bold Plan for Economic Renewal,” Thrive Agenda website, accessed August 1, 2021,; and The White House, “The American Jobs Plan,” March  31, 2021, /31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/. Joel Suarez, Work and the American Moral Imagination, 1865–2000 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey,” accessed August 1, 2021,; and BLS, “Alternative Measures of Labor Underutilization: U- 6 Rates,” accessed August 1, 2021, https://www.bls .gov/lau/stalt.htm. BLS, “Labor Force Participation: What Has Happened Since the Peak?,” September  2016, -happened-since-the-peak.htm. BLS, “Labor Force Participation.” Lawrence  F. Katz and Alan  B. Krueger, “The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995– 2015,” NBER Working Paper 22667 (September 2016), /system/files/working_papers/w22667/w22667.pdf. Cody Parkinson, “COVID-19, Educational Attainment, and the Impact on American Workers,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2020, /2020 / beyond -bls /covid - 19 - educational - attainment- and -the -impact- on - american -workers.htm; and BLS, “Table A-4. Employment Status of the Civilian Population 25 Years and over by Educational Attainment,” January 2022, .release/empsit.t04 .htm. Elise Gould, “State of Working America Wages 2018” (Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, February 20, 2019).

138 What Is the Crisis of Work? 9. 10. 11.


13. 14.

15. 16.

17. 18.


20. 21. 22.

23. 24. 25.

Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman, “Meet the Low-Wage Workforce,” Brookings Institution, November 7, 2019, Gould, “State of Working America Wages 2018.” Mary  C. Daly, Bart Hobijn, and Joseph  H. Pedtke, “Disappointing Facts About the Black-White Wage Gap,” FRBSF Economic Letter, 2017-26, September 5, 2017, https:// www. frbsf . org /economic - research /publications /economic -letter /2017 /september /disappointing-facts-about-black-white-wage-gap/. Simon Workman and Steven Jessen-Howard, “Understanding the True Cost of Child Care for Infants and Toddlers” (Washington, D.C.: Center for American Progress, 2018), https://www.americanprogress .org /issues/early-childhood /reports/2018/11 /15/460970 /understanding-true-cost-child-care-infants-toddlers/. Naomi Gerstel and Dan Clawson, “Control over Time: Employers, Workers, and Families Shaping Work Schedules,” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (July 2018): 77– 97. Jim Harter, “U.S. Employee Engagement Rises Following Wild 2020,” Gallup, February  26, 2021, -following-wild-2020.aspx. Gallup, “State of the American Workplace,” 2017, /238085/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx. BLS, “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2019”; and BLS, “EmployerRelated Workplace Injuries and Illnesses 2019” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, 2019). Andy Kiersz, “It’s More Deadly to Work in the US Than in the EU,” Business Insider, June 20, 2014, Deborah Berkowitz, “Workplace Safety Enforcement Continues to Decline in Trump Administration,” National Employment Law Project, March  14, 2019, https://www . nelp . org / publication / workplace - safety - enforcement - continues - decline - trump -administration/; and Sarah Jones, “American Workplaces May Be Getting More Dangerous,” New York Magazine, April  25, 2019, /american-workplaces-may-be-getting-more-dangerous.html. Alan B. Krueger, Where Have All the Workers Gone? An Inquiry into the Decline of the U.S. Labor Force Participation Rate (Washington, DC: Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Fall 2017). David Weil, The Fissured Workplace (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014). David Weil, “Enforcing OSHA: The Role of Labor Unions,” Industrial Relations 30, no. 1 (January 1991): 20– 36. Robert Pollin, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Employment Impacts of Proposed U.S. Economic Stimulus Programs: Job Creation, Job Quality and Demographic Distribution Measures (Amherst, Mass.: Political Economy Research Institute, March 2021). Eli Dueker, personal communication, September 12, 2019. See chapter 4 by Alyssa Battistoni in this volume; and Naomi Klein, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019). Governor’s Press Office, “Governor Cuomo Announces Green New Deal Included in 2019 Executive Budget,” January 17, 2019, A180AFBE077D4BBDB9AFCC8FAD60D03F&_z=z.

Another World (of Work) Is Possible 139 26. 27.


29. 30. 31.


33. 34.


36. 37. 38.

39. 40.

41. 42.

Molly Enking, “New York City’s Newly Passed Green New Deal, Explained,” Grist, April 18, 2019, National Employment Law Project, “Giving Caregivers a Raise: The Impact of a $15 Wage Floor in the Home Care Industry,” February 23, 2015, /giving-caregivers-a-raise-the-impact-of-a-15-wage-floor-in-the-home-care-industry/. Karl Marx, “Estranged Labour,” in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844,, accessed August 1, 2021, /labour.htm. Michael  A. Lebowitz, The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010). Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (New York: Penguin, 2010). “Pandemic Spreads Volunteering, Study Shows,” NonProfit Times, August  31, 2020, hr/pandemic-spreads-volunteering-study-shows/; and Nathan Dietz and Ryan T. Grimm Jr., “Community in Crisis: A Look at How U.S. Charitable Actions and Civic Engagement Change in Times of Crises,” Do Good Institute, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, May  27, 2020, https://dogood -civic-engagement-times. Heather Long, “It’s Not a ‘Labor Shortage.’ It’s a Great Reassessment of Work in America,” Washington Post, May  7, 2021, business/2021/05 /07/jobs-report-labor-shortage-analysis/. Eliese Colette Goldbach, Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit (New York: Flatiron, 2020). Jon Henley, “Finnish Basic Income Pilot Improved Wellbeing, Study Finds,” Guardian, May 7, 2020, -pilot-improved-wellbeing-study-finds-coronavirus. Mark Muro, Robert Maxim, and Jacob Whiton, Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How Machines Are Affecting People and Places (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2019), https:// www.brookings .edu /research /automation -and -artificial -intelligence -how-machines -affect-people-and-places/. Kevin Binfield, Luddites and Luddism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004). Leah Vosko, Temporary Work: The Gendered Rise of a Precarious Employment Relationship (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000). Leaders in several other countries, including New Zealand and Finland, have proposed the idea as well. Dinah Wisenberg Brin, “Countries Experiment with Four-Day Workweek,” Society of Human Resource Management, May 11, 2021, /resourcesandtools / hr-topics /global -hr/pages /countries - experiment-with -four- day -workweek.aspx. Michael Goodwin, “The Economix of Climate,” manuscript in progress. Oliver Balch, “Buen vivir: The Social Philosophy Inspiring Movements in South America,” Guardian, February  4, 2013, / blog / buen-vivir-philosophy-south-america-eduardo-gudynas. Balch, “Buen vivir.” Lebowitz, Socialist Alternative.

140 What Is the Crisis of Work? 43. 44. 45.








53. 54.




Bernie Sanders, “The Green New Deal,” n.d., accessed August 1, 2021, https://berniesanders .com/issues/green-new-deal/. Pollin et al., Employment Impacts. “Trade-Offs: Your Money, Your Choices,” National Priorities Project, accessed August 1, 2021, /interactive-data/trade-offs/?state=00& program=53. Bailey Bryant, “22 States, Localities Raise Minimum Wage as Caregiver Crisis Continues,” Home Health Care News, June  30, 2019, https:// /22-states-localities-raise-minimum-wage-as-caregiver-crisis-continues/. Sarah Anne Hughes, “As PA Faces Home-Care Worker ‘Crisis,’ Lawmakers Set the Stage for a Small Wage Increase,” Pennsylvania Capital Star, July 18, 2019, https://www health-care/as-pa-faces-home-care-worker-crisis-lawmakers-set -the-stage-for-a-small-wage-increase/. New York State Department of Health, “Home Care Worker Wage Parity Minimum Rate of Total Compensation,” October 31, 2017, health_care /medicaid/redesign/mrt61/2017-10 - 31_ww_parity_min_nyc.htm. During the pandemic New York City initiated the Restaurant Revitalization Program that provided up to $30,000 grants to restaurants to pay the wages of five or more workers for 6–12 weeks. Restaurants had to commit to pay a $20 per hour plus up to 25 percent of required fringe benefits such as Social Security during the program, and at least $15 per hour for all workers within five years. More details are available at https://www1 Rachel  M. Cohen, “With the Help of Teachers Unions, the Climate Strikes Could Be Moving into Phase 2,” In These Times, November  4, 2019, /article/climate-strike-massachusetts-teachers-association-union-aft-nea. Mindy Isser, “The Green New Deal Just Won a Major Union Endorsement. What’s Stopping the AFL- CIO?,” In These Times, August  12, 2020, /article/green-new-deal-aft-afl-cio-climate-labor-unions-workers. Sean Sweeney and John Treat, Trade, and Just Transition: The Search for a Transformative Politics, Working Paper No.  11, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, 2018, https:// Bargaining for the Common Good, “About Us,” n.d., http://www.bargainingforthe /about/. Stephanie Luce, “Building Class Power by Fighting for the Common Good,” Organizing Upgrade, January 6, 2021, -by-fighting-for-the-common-good/. AFL- CIO, “AFL- CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions: Report to the AFL- CIO General Board,” September 13, 2019, /reports/afl- cio -commission-future-work-and-unions. Gregory Giebel, “Changing Technology, Corporate Structure and Geographical Concentration in the Printing Industry,” in Labor and Technology: Union Response to Changing Environments, ed. Donald Kennedy, Charles Craypo, and Mary Lehman (State Park: Pennsylvania State University Department of Labor Studies, 1982). Leslie  E. Nulty, “Case Studies of IAM Local Experiences with the Introduction of New Technologies,” in Labor and Technology: Union Response to Changing Environments, ed.

Another World (of Work) Is Possible 141


59. 60. 61.

Donald Kennedy, Charles Craypo, and Mary Lehman (State Park: Pennsylvania State University Department of Labor Studies, 1982). Steven Deutsch, “Unions and Technological Change International Perspectives,” in Labor and Technology: Union Response to Changing Environments, ed. Donald Kennedy, Charles Craypo, and Mary Lehman (State Park: Pennsylvania State University Department of Labor Studies, 1982). AFL- CIO, “AFL- CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions,” 24. New Brookwood Labor College website, /. André Gorz, A Strategy for Labor: A Radical Proposal (Boston: Beacon, 1967).

chapter 6

Time for Rabble-Rousing Lessons from the Historic Fight for Reduced Working Hours wilson sherwin


eyond its name, the Green New Deal (GND) models itself in many key ways on the remarkable interventions of the New Deal of the 1930s. Like that earlier visionary program, today’s GND proposes to undertake sweeping interventions within the economy in order to address overlapping crises. Funded by the federal government, the GND aims to create millions of jobs producing direly needed services and infrastructure to address and prevent further environmental devastation while providing workers with reliable sources of income and benefits.1 In addition to serving as a positive example, there are also important lessons to learn from the mistakes made within the design and execution of the New Deal.2 One of the major improvements the GND has over its predecessor is its explicit centering of racial justice.3 Recognizing the shortcomings of the New Deal, which not only discriminated in hiring practices but enacted numerous programs that expanded the racial wealth gap, the GND purports to be a key mechanism for addressing racial inequities etched into the physical and social environment. The New Deal’s regressive stance on racial equality was not the program’s only shortcoming. While it did advance the key interests of working-class Americans, the New Deal also marked a notable rupture in U.S. labor history: the abandonment of centuries of struggle for the reduction of working hours. In this chapter I return to the historic fight for less work, highlighting ways this demand remains key to the GND’s aspirations to improve on the legacy of the New Deal in ways that would ensure a better future for workers while simultaneously

Time for Rabble-Rousing 143

addressing the climate crisis. I trace the development and eventual abandonment of the labor movement’s struggle for reduced working time, arguing for the necessity of imbuing our present-day aspirations with insights from past movements for shorter hours. Considering the large scale of programs such as the New Deal and the GND, the particular details of the policies we fight for now not only affect the millions of workers directly involved in the GND but—as the New Deal demonstrated—also have significant spillover effect, encouraging major changes in the private sector as well. This is one of the many reasons it is so crucial to make the GND a site of bold demands like the fight for shorter hours.


For more than a century, the progressive reduction of working time was an objective that unified disparate working-class projects and fueled spirited upsurges of the U.S. labor movement.4 As historian Benjamin Hunnicutt notes, many of “the most dramatic and significant events in the history of labor (such as the strikes of 1886, the Haymarket disaster, the steel strike of 1919) and some of labor’s most notable achievements (such as the ten hour day and the eight hour day) were parts of labor’s century-long struggle for shorter hours.”5 Throughout much of the United States’ history, the struggle for power inside the workplace was simultaneously a struggle for freedom from work. In the early 1800s strikes erupted demanding a ten-hour day. In an expression of their desire for more leisure and less work, carpenters in Boston and Philadelphia struck and walked off their jobs, declaring: “all men have a just right, derived from their creator to have sufficient time in each day for the cultivation of their mind[s] for self-improvement.” 6 The famous Lowell Mill “girls” (most of whom were women) were deeply involved in the ten-hour movement and underscored the pursuit of leisure time in their activism. When Lucy Larcom, one of the young militant women employed in the mills, finally quit, she was reportedly asked by a supervisor if she was going where she could earn more money. “No,” she answered, “I am going where I can have more time.” 7 Such early efforts to reduce work hours were often explained by the workers themselves as stemming from a desire to have more time for developing their intellects. Many bosses feared, not without warrant, that time away from work would encourage one intellectual development in particular: political engagement

144 What Is the Crisis of Work?

and the radicalization of the working class. Bosses frequently explicitly resisted shorter working hours on those grounds.8 Popular culture of this era also reflected the widespread appeal of less work. Edward Bellamy’s 1888 novel Looking Backward was one of the best-selling novels of its time and labeled “the most popular and appealing of American Utopias.”9 The early science fiction novel tells the story of a man who falls asleep in the Gilded Age and wakes up in the year 2000 only to find himself in a remarkable new world in which inequality, war, and other unpleasantries—like advertisements—have been eradicated. A central feature of the society conjured by Bellamy was a large reduction in working time. Bellamy envisioned a future world in which citizens toiled away at socially useful tasks for approximately twenty years before retiring at the age of forty-five to enjoy the leisurely pursuit of their other interests. Pragmatist philosopher John Dewey labeled Bellamy “an American Prophet,” due in large part to Bellamy’s visionary emphasis on “release from the onerous forms of labor.” To many at the time, it seemed an inevitable prophecy that there would be a significant reduction in the amount of people’s lives spent toiling away to secure their basic needs. Not just content to dream of a future in which less of our lives were consumed by work, the U.S. labor movement fought to achieve it in reality. A resolution passed by the American Federation of Labor at its 1926 convention declared the organization in favor of “a progressive shortening of the hours of labor and days per week” and inaugurated “a campaign of education and organization to that end.”10 Note that the union’s resolution did not specify an ideal number of hours to which they aspired the workweek be shortened to—even the more conservative factions of the organized labor movement voiced a broad consensus favoring the “progressive shortening” of working time. The importance—and the inevitability—of achieving the goal of reducing work time seemed so evident that economists like John Maynard Keynes were certain that American workers would achieve workweeks that were only a fraction of that aspired to by Bellamy. In his 1930 essay “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” Keynes celebrated technological advancements that increased productivity, thereby allowing people “to perform all the operations of agriculture, mining, and manufacture with a quarter of the human effort to which we have been accustomed.”11 Keynes believed these productivity advancements would, by the year 2030, result in people working as little as three-hour shifts, for a total of fifteen hours per week. This work schedule, Keynes believed, would be maintained not out of economic necessity but in order to satisfy an

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internalized work ethic he argued could be traced back to the parable of the Garden of Eden. Keynes declared, “three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!”12 Keynes was especially convinced that with this reduction in working time, people would finally be able to focus on loftier, more philosophical interests—in his words, “the art of life itself” rather than “the means of life.” During the Great Depression, the American labor movement nearly succeeded in legislating a thirty-hour work week.13 It seemed logical enough: if those with jobs reduced their hours, more people could be employed, both distributing hours and earnings more equitably and reducing pervasive unemployment. Cereal-maker Kellogg’s voluntarily implemented this substantive reduction in working hours without a concomitant reduction in wages, believing they were simply the vanguard of an impending industry wide transformation. For the first time in modern U.S. history, a small subset of the working class had been freed from spending the majority of their waking lives at work.14 Far from the vanguard of a widespread trend, Kellogg’s proved to be a historic anomaly. President Franklin Roosevelt joined with big business interests to oppose the codification of a thirty-hour work week, insisting that the National Industrial Recovery Act would achieve a similar purpose by reducing hours required to work.15 Despite the act’s important benefits, we now know it had no such impact. By then, however, the labor movement had already shifted its focus to the creation of more jobs rather than the reduction of working time and the sharing of work. Despite Keynes’s and others’ confidence in its inevitability, the active struggle toward “progressive shortening of the hours of labor and days per week” came to a screeching halt, thanks in part due to the New Deal’s intervention into the matter, and so, too, did the century-long trend of reducing work time.16


Organized labor may have distanced itself from the demand for reduced working hours, but not everyone threw in the towel on this long-standing aspiration or was satisfied toiling away for forty hours or more per week. Instead, the pursuit moved from a guiding ballast of the organized labor movement to its fringe, where it often appeared as an individual or atomized effort. In the late 1960s and 1970s, politicians and sociologists alike fretted over the emergence of the “blue collar blues.” Symptoms of this widely discussed malady included rampant absenteeism, insubordination, sabotage, wildcat strikes, and

146 What Is the Crisis of Work?

other expressions of dissatisfaction and aversion to work.17 Industrial workplaces saw absenteeism spike on Mondays and Fridays as workers took it upon themselves to continue the struggle for reduced work time that unions had abdicated, claiming three- and four-day weekends for themselves. One worker, when asked by management why he only showed up to work four days a week, replied flippantly, “because I can’t make a living working three days a week.”18 A study conducted at the time found that workers justified their absences with an array of excuses: “car wouldn’t start, wife sick, alarm clock didn’t go off. Some candidly cite[d] pressing amorous engagements that preclude[d] their appearance at the plant.”19 Keynes might have ascertained that these insubordinate workers, in their pursuit of less work and more leisure, were correct to be more concerned with the art of life rather than the means to life. Although it is not typically viewed as such, the welfare rights movement was one articulation of the collective struggle toward reduced working time, which offers particularly meaningful insights for the GND and our collective struggles against climate catastrophe.20 Begun in the early 1960s as grassroots efforts of frustrated welfare recipients, movement participants sought to obtain benefits they were owed and accountability and respect from disparaging, intrusive welfare bureaucrats.21 These grassroots efforts in poor communities across the nation were formally amalgamated under the banner of the National Welfare Rights Organization, which at its peak in 1969 represented approximately 100,000 poor people nationwide.22 Unlike most antipoverty movements or organizations, the organization rejected the notions that more jobs, better jobs, or job training would solve poverty. Rather, many in the movement argued, work had failed to provide the benefits it was alleged to procure for workers.23 Relying on a sophisticated analysis of technological change and the racialized history of American labor, they argued that as individuals but also as a race (the organization was nearly 90 percent Black), they had already worked plenty and had reaped little benefit from it. What they were now due was a guaranteed income and “the right to live,” decoupled from waged work.24 In this sense we can understand the welfare rights movement as representing the furthest progression of the movement for reduced working time: they sought to eschew waged work entirely.25 Recall that bosses often opposed a reduction in working hours out of fear that workers would use their newfound spare time toward rebellious ends. This concern was more than justified in the case of the welfare rights movement. Far from simply retreating to a life consumed with domestic duties, these women

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took the freedom and the time provided them by relatively generous welfare checks to engage in effective and militant community organizing, contributing boldly to a period of social movement upsurge.26 In efforts concerning housing, schools, public universities, childcare centers and more, welfare activists took the lead in emphasizing the importance of community control, democratic accountability, and generous funding of the institutions at the heart of workingclass reproduction.27 As such, they provide a powerful example, which the GND should heed, of what becomes possible when working-class people are less beholden to long hours of work. Sustained ideological assault on welfare recipients, coupled with a deep economic recession beginning in 1973, eviscerated the welfare rights movement and the rebellious spirit that had animated the “blue collar blues.”28 In the decades since then, declining real wages compelled workers to seek out more hours, rather than less, and much of the long-standing working-class aspiration for an abundant life with progressively less work seemed to be rendered largely obsolete in the face of so many challenges.29


In the absence of a concerted collective movement for less work, the aspiration has largely been co-opted by capitalist gurus like Tim Ferriss, who insist that anyone, if they devise the proper hyperprofitable business idea, can join the “new rich” and work only four hours a week.30 It is high time we collectively reclaim the aspiration for reduced working time, and the GND may be the ideal conduit for us to once again set in motion this visionary demand. The GND offers a remarkable opportunity to create jobs providing direly needed income and services to people while attempting to mitigate existing and possibly prevent future climate related disasters. There are at least two central reasons why we should insist employment created by the GND not hew to the forty-hour workweek set by the original New Deal nearly one hundred years ago but rather demand living wages alongside reduced working hours. First, significant evidence points to reduced working time as an important element of reducing ecological footprints, carbon footprints, and carbon dioxide emissions.31 In part, this is because working fewer days—say a four-day workweek—significantly reduces carbon-intensive commuting and office-related emissions, such as electricity. Studies in the United

148 What Is the Crisis of Work?

Kingdom have found that people use significantly less electricity on weekends than on work days and that “a three-day week-end would reduce carbon emissions by 117 thousand tons of CO2 per week across the UK (the equivalent to removing over 1.3 million cars off the road annually).”32 It is not just the act of getting to and from work that generates preventable waste we can strive to reduce but all of the ways working long hours compels people to rely on time-saving, environmentally destructive short cuts. As those who work long hours can attest, people do not inherently prefer to take an Uber instead of a long walk, or enjoy hurriedly inhaling takeout meals in single-use plastic dishes instead of cooking with friends at home. Rather, these decisions are often compelled by the impossibility of meeting the demands of long workweeks and still finding time and energy for low-carbon pleasures.33 Proposals for four-day workweeks have recently gained in popularity in countries including Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Japan and the United Kingdom in part due to the significant reduction in emissions these arrangements would encourage.34 Recent studies on the benefits of reduced working hours underscore improvements in productivity and worker satisfaction that transformations such as a four-day workweek provide.35 Undoubtedly these are advantages that should be promoted and taken seriously as key for worker well-being and safety, especially as many workers in the GND will find themselves performing work outdoors during increasingly common extreme weather events, including frequent deadly heat waves.36 However, less often emphasized as a key benefit of reduced working time is the opportunity it provides for more political rabble-rousing.37 In this sense I argue the demand for more time away from work is one example of what André Gorz called “a non-reformist reform”: a transformation that improves people’s lives directly and provides the working-class with further capacity to develop power and achieve greater gains toward more radical transformations.38 Many may be tempted to equate shorter hours with more leisure time, which for its own sake is noble and certainly something overworked Americans desperately need.39 It is mistaken, however, to assume that increased leisure would be the sole or even necessarily primary outcome or objective of the demand for shorter working hours. One of the crucial benefits of reduced working time, which the welfare rights movement illustrated so poignantly, and which makes this demand so urgently needed to address today’s interlocking crises, is the opening it generates for increased political engagement.

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The flourishing of protests during the peak months of unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic provides another relevant example of the relationship between working time and political engagement. The massive, multiracial Black Lives Matter protests that erupted across both rural and urban America in the spring and summer of 2020—and in many places continued through 2021—were notable not only for their incredible size but for the sustained presence activists maintained for months on end. This can be explained, in part, by intense frustration at the failures of the American criminal justice system as well as another important factor: not only did people have good reasons to be angry and motivated, as the legitimacy of many institutions declined throughout the pandemic, but, crucially, people also had an unusual abundance of time. It is no coincidence that during the first few months of the COVID-19 crisis, when more than forty million people suddenly found themselves unemployed, millions of people who were previously unable to attend midweek protests suddenly took to the streets— and stayed there.40 Initial studies concluded that these remarkable protests, attended by somewhere between fifteen and twenty-six million people in the weeks following the death of George Floyd, are the largest collective actions ever seen in the history of the United States.41 The COVID-19 crisis demonstrated in disturbingly stark terms that governments and corporations alike are all too content to allow already vulnerable working people to bear the worst brunt of the pandemic while the well off were able to shelter in relative security.42 This may prove to be a frightening preview of the bifurcated manner in which the climate crisis will play out—indeed, it is already playing out—if we do not mobilize en masse and force politicians to implement policies that support a transition that is just not only in name but in practice.43 Addressing impending and already present climate catastrophes and, ideally, making progress toward a world that prioritizes true human flourishing and safety over corporate profits are daunting tasks that will require unprecedented and sustained engagement by millions of dedicated, militant people fighting against obstructionist politicians and corrupt corporations.44 As the welfare rights movement and recent uprisings exemplify, less time at work can be an incredible generator of militant political engagement, which is needed in abundance to stave off the many overlapping crises we now face. Bosses have long recognized the link between less time at work and more militant working-class organizing. It’s time we do as well.

150 What Is the Crisis of Work?


2. 3.

4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.



H. Res.109—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, introduced February  7, 2019, 116th  Congress, 1st  session, https://www.congress .gov/ bill/116th-congress/ house-resolution/109/text; and Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea N. Riofrancos, A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal (London: Verso, 2019). Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Norton, 2006). Aaron Ross Coleman, “How Black Lives Matter to the Green New Deal,” Nation, March  14, 2019, -aoc/; and Lisa Friedman, “What Is the Green New Deal? A Climate Proposal, Explained,” New York Times, February  21, 2019, -new-deal-questions-answers.html. Philip S. Foner and David R. Roediger, Our Own Time: A History of American Labor and the Working Day (London: Verso, 1989). Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, “The End of Shorter Hours,” Labor History 25, no. 3 (1984): 373–404. Philip Sheldon Foner, May Day: A Short History of the International Workers’ Holiday, 1886– 1986 (New York: International Publishers, 1986), 8. Quoted in Herbert G. Gutman, “Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America, 1815–1919,” American Historical Review 78, no. 3 (1973): 552. Foner and Roediger, Our Own Time. Elizabeth Sadler, “One Book’s Influence Edward Bellamy’s ‘Looking Backward,’ ” New England Quarterly 17, no. 4 (1944): 530. Quoted in Hunnicutt, “The End of Shorter Hours,” 378. John Maynard Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” Nation, October 18, 1930. Keynes, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.” Foner and Roediger, Our Own Time. Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt, “Kellogg’s Six-Hour Day: A Capitalist Vision of Liberation Through Managed Work Reduction,” Business History Review 66, no. 3 (1992): 475– 522. Foner and Roediger, Our Own Time. Hunnicutt, “The End of Shorter Hours.” Murray Kempton, “Blue Collar Blues,” New York Review of Books, February 8, 1973; Lloyd Zimpel, Man Against Work (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974); and Aaron Brenner, Robert Brenner, and Calvin Winslow, Rebel Rank and File: Labor Militancy and Revolt from below in the Long 1970s (London: Verso (2010). This often-quoted comment appears in numerous texts on the era and has come to represent what Christian Parenti calls “an informal economy wide slowdown” acknowledged by many scholars. Christian Parenti, Lockdown America (London: Verso, 1999), 34. Quoted in Zimpel, Man Against Work.

Time for Rabble-Rousing 151 20.


22. 23.

24. 25. 26.


28. 29.

30. 31.

32. 33.

A key exception is Kathi Weeks, The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011), which I build upon in my research: Wilson Sherwin, “Rich in Needs: The Forgotten Radical Politics of the Welfare Rights Movement” (Ph.D. dissertation, CUNY, Graduate Center). Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (New York: Vintage, 1978); Premilla Nadasen, Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2004); Premilla Nadasen, “Expanding the Boundaries of the Women’s Movement: Black Feminism and the Struggle for Welfare Rights,” Feminist Studies 28, no. 2 (2002): 270– 301; and Felicia Kornbluh, The Battle for Welfare Rights: Politics and Poverty in Modern America. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). Guida West, The National Welfare Rights Movement: The Social Protest of Poor Women (New York: Praeger, 1981). Felicia Kornbluh, “Is Work the Only Thing That Pays? The Guaranteed Income and Other Alternative Anti-Poverty Policies in Historical Perspective,” Northwestern Journal of Law & Social Policy 4, no. 1 (2009): 61; and Sherwin, “Rich in Needs.” Edward V. Sparer, “The Right to Welfare,” in The Rights of Americans: What They Are— What They Should Be, ed. by. Norman Dorsen (New York: Pantheon, 1971), 65. Sherwin, “Rich in Needs.” Much existing literature on the welfare rights movement argues to the contrary, which Piven and I detail in Wilson Sherwin and Frances Piven, “The Radical Feminist Legacy of the National Welfare Rights Organization,” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 47 (2019): 135–53. Sherwin, “Rich in Needs”; Margaret Prescod interview with author, March  25, 2019; and Johanna Fernández, The Young Lords: A Radical History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020). Fred L. Block, Richard A. Cloward, Frances Fox Piven, and Barbara Ehrenreich, Mean Season (New York: Pantheon, 1987). Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (New York: Basic Books, 1991); and Jefferson R. Cowie, Stayin Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: New Press, 2012). Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9– 5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, exp. and updated (New York: Crown, 2009). David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot, Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment? A Comparison of U.S. and European Energy Consumption (Washington, D.C.: Center for Economic and Policy Research, December  2006), /energy_2006_12.pdf; and Anders Hayden and John M. Shandra, “Hours of Work and the Ecological Footprint of Nations: An Exploratory Analysis,” Local Environment 14, no.  6 (2009): 575– 600. The 4 Day Week Campaign, “Stop the Clock: The Environmental Benefits of a Shorter Working Week,” 2021, https://www. Juliet B. Schor, True Wealth (New York: Penguin, 2011); and Andre Spicer, “Paper Straws Won’t Save the Planet—We Need a Four-Day Week,” Guardian, June  21, 2019, https:// www.theguardian .com /commentisfree/2019 /jun /21 / help -the-planet-work-a-four- day

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39. 40.


42. 43.


-week. Kate Aronoff has developed this argument extensively including in: “Could a Green New Deal Make Us Happier People?,” The Intercept, April  7, 2019, https:// Stefan Nicola, “Tell Your Boss the Four-Day Week Is Coming Soon,” Bloomberg, March 2, 2021, 03- 02/four-day-work-week-gains -popularity-around-the-world. Andrea Hsu, “Iceland Cut Its Work Week and Found Greater Happiness and No Loss in Productivity,” NPR, July 6, 2021, /2021/07/06/1013348626/iceland -finds-major-success-moving-to-shorter-work-week; Steve Glaveski, “The Case for the 6-Hour Workday,” Harvard Business Review, December 11, 2018, https:// /2018/12 /the-case-for-the- 6 -hour-workday; and Phillip Inman and Jasper Jolly, “Productivity Woes? Why Giving Staff an Extra Day off Can Be the Answer,” Guardian, November 17, 2018, business/2018/nov/17/four-day-week-productivity -mcdonnell-labour-tuc. Umair Irfan, “Extreme Heat Is Killing American Workers,” Vox, July 21, 2021, https:// www.vox .com /22560815 / heat-wave-worker- extreme- climate- change- osha -workplace -farm-restaurant. One of the few places this has been noted recently is a Utah experiment in which anecdotes suggest that reduced working hours for public sector workers resulted in an increase in hours spent volunteering: “Four-Day Workweek Creates New Volunteers in Utah,” USA Today, Accessed July  25, 2021, /nation/2009 - 07-10 -utah-volunteers_N.htm. André Gorz, “Reform and Revolution,” Socialist Register 5 (March  1968): https:// More recently this concept is deployed by Ruth Wilson Gilmore in Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). Jamie K. McCallum, Worked Over: How Round-the-Clock Work Is Killing the American Dream (New York: Basic Books, 2020). Juliana Kim, “How the Floyd Protests Turned Into a 24-Hour ‘Occupy City Hall’ in N.Y.,” New York Times, June  28, 2020, /occupy-city-hall-nyc.html. Larry Buchanan, Quoctrung Bui, and Jugal K. Patel, “Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History,” New York Times, July 3, 2020, https://www.nytimes .com/interactive/2020/07/03/us/george-floyd-protests-crowd-size.html. R. B. Hawkins, E. J. Charles, and J. H. Mehaffey, “Socio-Economic Status and COVID19-Related Cases and Fatalities,” Public Health 189 (2020): 129– 34. Max Ajl rightly underscores how urgently we must insist that climate policies such as the GND not further exploit or burden developing nations, and that any so-called green projects must center the protection of the most vulnerable within and outside our national borders. Max Ajl, A People’s Green New Deal (London: Pluto, 2021). Kate Aronoff, “The Left Is the Only Reason We’re Talking About Climate Change at All,” New Republic, July  2021, -cortez-infrastructure-climate.


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chapter 7

Jobs for All A Job Guarantee Puts Workers in the Driver’s Seat dustin guastella


he demand for “jobs for all” was, in some form or another, a cornerstone of the Left’s political agenda in the 1930s and 1940s. Unfortunately, in the postwar decades and beyond, the demand to end unemployment altogether was repeatedly thwarted or shelved. And with the decline of the Left’s political fortunes, the imaginative vision of an economy free from joblessness faded from memory for nearly a half century. Today, thanks especially to Bernie Sanders, the call for a right to a job is once again gaining momentum. What’s more, as advocates push for a Green New Deal, a federal job guarantee appears an effective means of tackling both the economic and environmental challenges we face in the near future.1 Naturally, the contemporary demand for a job guarantee has been dismissed by the business press as “absurd” and unworkable.2 Meanwhile, liberal outfits have urged caution and restraint.3 This sort of hostility is to be expected; after all, a federal job guarantee would cost in excess of $500 billion, and the political ideas that inform such a program have not been up for serious debate since the 1970s.4 Additionally, a federal job guarantee would undermine the logic of a ruthless labor market, challenge management’s absolute power over employees, and vastly improve workers’ leverage on the job. Elites are justifiably worried, defensive, and lashing out. What is less expected, however, has been the skepticism of the job guarantee idea expressed by some on the political Left, even from advocates of the Green New Deal. Some claim the program would not challenge the form of the wage relation itself, or that it would be logistically impossible to administer—that its

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realization would result in nightmarish work camps or that it would end up looking like Clintonian workfare on steroids. Much of this skepticism comes from those who advocate for a basic income as a solution to the challenges of the contemporary labor market. Ironically, what the business press gets exactly right about a job guarantee is what most skeptics get wrong. Tightening the labor market would ratchet up pressure on private employers to raise wages and massively increase the size of the federally employed workforce. Employment assurance programs have historically evoked elite pearl-clutching precisely because they are among the few political demands that put workers in a position of real power. Criticism of a job guarantee, then, reflects a misunderstanding of the political logic of such a proposal: the power that a job guarantee affords workers; the sheer scale of the industrial restructuring needed to reduce inequality, raise wages, and mitigate climate change; and, finally, the central and enduring role of wage labor in socialist strategy.


The job guarantee might seem like a fresh idea in the environmental discourse, but the political inspiration for the contemporary job guarantee traces its roots to the very same wellspring that today’s Green New Deal campaigners have drawn from: the New Deal. Programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Works Progress Administration were the first successful American experiments in state-led civilian employment assurance (see chapter 1 by Richard Walker in this volume for more). Of course, these initiatives were designed as relief projects, born of a deep crisis, and their implementation was possible because of the profound weakness of the domestic capitalist class during the Depression. Nonetheless, just as these relief programs took hold, the labor Left tried to deepen President Franklin Roosevelt’s employment initiatives. To transform them from temporary and partial to permanent social programs, Walter Reuther, as early as 1940, advocated for an ill-fated plan to have the federal government transform manufacturing plants for war needs. And while the Reuther Plan was sold to policymakers as a wartime necessity, the Congress of Industrial Organizations’ goal was to restructure economic relations, hire workers en masse, and insist on the federal government’s heavy intervention in the economy. Similar ideas informed the expansive reports of Roosevelt’s

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National Resources Planning Board, which in 1943 released—to wide circulation— two reports intended to shape the future of postwar planning: Security, Work, and Relief Policies and After the War—Full Employment. Both reports advocated for expansive and generous social programs to complement extensive jobs programs administered through a proposed federal work agency in order to employ “all who are willing and able to work.” And in his 1944 State of the Union address, Roosevelt himself called for the recognition of “the right to a useful and remunerative job.” The cumulative fruit of all these plans was James Murray’s FullEmployment Bill of 1945. The bill is arguably the first American attempt at a job guarantee. It would have guaranteed state-led full employment as a legal right. In particular, it called for a yearly employment budget based on estimates of “the number of jobs needed during the ensuing fiscal year or years to assure continuing full employment” and would have specified that the federal government would step in if the private sector was unable to meet that number. Unfortunately, by this time the capitalist class was recovering from the economic crisis of the 1930s and the war. The business community was reorganizing politically, and while the strength of the newly organized industrial working class was unprecedented, it was met by an unparalleled organizing drive among business elites.5 As Michał Kalecki observed over three-quarters of a century ago, elite resistance to employment assurance is due to fear that “under a regime of permanent full employment, the ‘sack’ would cease to play its role as a disciplinary measure.” Accordingly, across industry, workforce, and region, business leaders worried that, under full employment, “the social position of the boss would be undermined and the self-assurance and class-consciousness of the working class would grow.” 6 In other words, by substantially tightening the labor market, workers could be emboldened to strike for higher wages and shorter hours all while capitalists would be compelled to either raise wages or risk losing profits to work stoppages and labor market competition from state industries. The United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation all understood this and acted accordingly. Business leaders organized civil society, the courts, and Congress in a campaign to sink what they saw as a major threat to their interests (a threat perhaps second only to that of socialized medicine). The ruling class won, and the pursuit of full employment in the 1940s was sunk.7 By the 1960s a renewed interest in the problems of poverty raised the demand for jobs once again. So great was the demand for a solution to the unemployment

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problem that it was expressed in what was arguably the principal political demonstration of the decade: the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Yet the ambitious employment assurance programs demanded by the likes of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin in their Freedom Budget were once again derailed. This time, in addition to intransigent business opposition, the labor left had a new competitor for the political limelight: liberal advocates of the antipoverty agenda. These advocates insisted that programs like Community Action would alleviate the crushing effects of poverty without causing a major intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of private enterprise, and, if successful, these efforts could even ignite a potential new basis for emancipatory politics. Antipoverty programs were perfectly compatible with the full-employment ideal, they argued, and robust antipoverty programs could only help pave the way to a politics of full employment. In reality, the Ford Foundation and the nascent layer of Kennedy-era Ivy-educated postwar intellectuals designed ameliorative antipoverty programs that would be modest enough to attract business support (or at least neutralize their opposition). They built an antipoverty policy that was perfectly compatible with a new model of commercial Keynesianism. Instead of antipoverty as a road to employment assurance, liberal elites saw antipoverty advocacy as an alternative to the demand for jobs and wage hikes. The Left, for their part, failed to see how an antipoverty political agenda put them in a back-seat position. The endemically poor—while no less morally deserving of social solidarity than the more economically stable working class— are not easy to organize, and their demands can be mediated through church leaders, nonprofits, and community organizations. Rhetorically, a language of “shoring up the bottom” did little to advance an egalitarian agenda focused on challenging the immense power at the top of society. Instead of “us against them,” antipoverty moralism relied on a narrative that painted liberal crusaders as heroes of the poor. The War on Poverty became less a means for working-class political power and social solidarity and more a politics of state-administered charity. Unions saw little upside to an antipoverty agenda that failed to provide wage gains for the vast majority of craft, trade, and industrial jobs. The popular counterbalance needed to implement a robust antipoverty agenda never happened. Antipoverty demands were isolated from a mass base, primarily supported by the middle-class liberal Left, a band of intellectuals, and foundation giants. It’s

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not surprising, then, that the resultant programs of the War on Poverty reflected an elite policy consensus. The major antipoverty programs targeted the poor with the aim of changing the cultural characteristics of workers rather than the structure of the economy. And even those programs aimed at the labor force at large—in particular the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962— quickly transformed into targeted, localized initiatives. President Lyndon Johnson worked closely with business executives to build, in 1968, the National Alliance of Businessmen where business leaders were given the opportunity to burnish their liberal bona fides while being assured by the government that the antipoverty initiatives posed no threat to their profits. Tragically, liberal antipoverty advocates found themselves in a coalition with big business, and the labor Left found itself politically enfeebled and isolated in the pursuit of a more robust agenda. With the added power of the business community, liberals sacrificed the jobs agenda. By the end of the decade, the vision of “jobs for all” in the United States was again shelved. In the 1970s the employment demand again gained prominence. With unemployment hovering at a staggering 10 percent, employment policy was politically unavoidable. As such, it is perhaps not surprising that the first efforts to reintroduce employment assurance did not come from the Left but instead through a bipartisan effort. In 1973 the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon. CETA was a pale imitation of a public works program. The business community was relatively undisturbed by its passage, assured again that the program would not be inflationary but instead would hire only unemployed workers with the intent to retrain them and send them back into the private sector. In a sense, CETA was more a subsidy to business than an employment assurance program for workers. Through a commitment to “job training,” CETA alleviated the need for businesses themselves to train new employees. Further, by limiting eligibility to the unemployed, the program did not succeed in raising the wage floor. Worse, because CETA was crafted explicitly as a decentralized and antifederal solution to the jobs crisis, it was beset with problems from the beginning. The lack of centralized control opened the door for local mismanagement and political clientelism. But more importantly, the failure of the program to provide permanent and purposeful work led many to see the program as a symbol of the government’s inability to solve the employment crisis. Temporary, countercyclical jobs were effective at reducing unemployment during recessions—and probably

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somewhat effective at spurring demand—but the countercyclical solution was a tough sell politically. By the late 1970s CETA was proving itself inadequate. Even as the campaign for the Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act kept the question of jobs in the public eye, liberals like President Jimmy Carter were pressured by anxious business leaders to shrink an already inadequate program. Revisions made only the poor eligible for CETA jobs, and by 1978 CETA represented little more than the War on Poverty–era policies of the 1960s. The passage of the largely symbolic Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act the next year did little to counter the declining fortunes of progressive employment policy. The act, insofar as it was ever taken seriously, limited public employment only to low-skill and lowwage positions so as not to compete with private enterprise. And by the late 1970s the business partners of Great Society liberalism proved fickle. With the election of President Ronald Reagan, the business community abandoned even rhetorical commitment to a jobs agenda. In the postwar era, employment assurance was raised and defeated by a combination of labor weakness, business strength, and liberal triangulation. Liberals in particular played the dangerous role of proposing half-measures and alternative policies that succeeded in drawing attention and resources away from adequate employment policies while orchestrating cross-class political coalitions with business leaders. The repeated attempts by liberals to pull in business as a key partner resulted in either policy weakness or political failure. Avoiding the same fate today will not be easy. Just as in the midcentury, contemporary alternatives to a jobs agenda—most notably the demand for a basic income—are often precisely the kinds of demands that would invite liberals to side with major foundations and corporate sponsors. But despite similarities in the political field, today’s job guarantee proposals do look quite different from their midcentury predecessors.


The contemporary interest in a job guarantee, the idea that the state can and should directly employ workers, is certainly a welcome development. However, there has been some debate about whether the phrase job guarantee refers to a stable programmatic demand or something more nebulous.

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Matt Bruenig criticizes the idea for its lack of clarity.8 He claims that “the flowering of dozens of mutually incompatible proposals that all go under the name ‘job guarantee’ ” suggests that the proposal is more of a rhetorical move than a policy proposal.9 Bruenig is of course right to notice that there have been multiple policies floating around that go by the name of “job guarantee,” but this only indicates interest and affection for the slogan, not some weakness inherent in the motivating ideas. My own feeling is that the interpretation of any policy by the press, the public, and political leaders is more important than the myriad micropolicy mechanisms of any given white paper. A good demonstration of this is how the press has intentionally distorted the meaning of “Medicare for All.” They have done this against both the text of the bills themselves and the myriad and detailed explanations of the utility and cost-effectiveness of the proposal by policy experts. This is to say that distortions of any idea by its opponents remains an intractable political problem, not a policy one. It follows, then, that defining the phrase job guarantee is the business of political campaigners, leaders, and advocates—not policy writers alone. Nevertheless, a survey of contemporary proposals suggests that a job guarantee refers to a set of policies that, when combined, are meant to remedy both structural and cyclical unemployment through direct, state-led employment. Good proposals do this by combining massive public infrastructure projects—thus creating expanded permanent or semipermanent public sector employment—with a more flexible solution for cyclical downturns. In other words, a robust job guarantee combines the “employer of last resort” principle (where the state swells to absorb unemployed workers in periods of recession and contracts during periods of recovery and stability) with an old-fashioned public works program. Good proposals also set a wage floor that is well above the current minimum wage and stem the possibility of downward pressure on wages through prevailing-wage clauses and limitations on redundant jobs. Such a policy also requires the establishment of employment offices and complementary active labor market policies (to fit job-seekers to jobs). The combination of the employer of last resort model with a public works program is important if a job guarantee is going to both succeed politically and be effective once implemented. The major political weakness of CETA was the liability introduced by so-called make-work jobs, which came to be seen as a symbol of liberal government profligacy. But when we combine countercyclical job creation with a major public works program, the political implications could be positive. The program could demonstrate that jobs generated by the government

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are not just meant to absorb surplus labor but also perform an independent function valuable to the whole society—like building infrastructure, telecommunications, and public transit. If implemented, the ramifications of a program like this would be massive. Without exaggeration, a job guarantee of the type described here would partially socialize the labor market. And there is still no surer way to move us closer to the achievement of a social right to employment. Economically, the job guarantee would—by providing income to those who currently have none—greatly raise purchasing power and aggregate demand. This would itself be an engine of economic growth. Yet its economic effects could be even greater if planners use the program as a means of reorganizing the industrial structure of the United States. Massive public investments in manufacturing and heavy industry in particular would not only provide permanent or semipermanent sites of employment; they would also help considerably raise wages across the labor market. Indeed, there is something special about the “secondary sector” as it relates to wages. It’s not a coincidence that maintaining high levels of wage growth depends on significant investments in manufacturing.10 This is largely because, unlike the agricultural and service sectors, manufacturers create durable forward and backward linkages in the economy and, in advanced economies, produce high-value-added goods in firms with large profit margins.11 And while the private sector is unwilling to invest in manufacturing, there is no reason the public sector cannot do so—and do so to great effect.


Of course, some left-wing skeptics are not in principle against the policy but argue against prioritizing the job guarantee. One version of this critique is to suggest that we can and should have it all: a robust welfare state, a full-employment economy, and a basic income. Pitting any social policy against another is then seen as counterproductive, as David Calnitsky puts it: “Framing the question in narrowly economistic terms, however, posits a false choice between decommodifying labor power and decommodifying services—as if both cannot be pursued at once. In a rich, productive society we ought to be able to afford both a basic income and high-quality public goods.”12 Sure, we ought to be able to afford all sorts of social policies, and popular mobilization ought to be able to make progress on securing a broad spectrum of public goods. What a world we would live

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in if we secured a basic income, a job guarantee, and the decommodification of health care, education, and transit, et cetera. Such a society might even qualify as democratic socialist. Regrettably, focusing largely on the ends of social policies leads Calnitsky (and others) to presume away the messy business of politics.13 He says of both basic income and employment assurance, “Were popular forces powerful enough to make progress on one, they very well might be powerful enough to make progress on the other.”14 This is wishful thinking. The “let’s have it all approach” leaps from the obvious truism that we can and should have it all to an assumption that the social forces necessary to attain this basket of public goods are readily available. As we’ve seen in the foregoing, the jobs demand has been routinely derailed by liberals who insist on pursuing antipoverty policies, balanced budgets, and retraining programs (not to mention the immense and overwhelming power of the world’s premier capitalist class). As Alex Gourevitch and Lucas Stanczyk point out, the success of a demand like a meaningful universal basic income—and really any liberatory working-class demand—relies not on the perfection of the policy or the good intentions of political militants but on the strength of a workers’ movement equipped with the political and shop-floor power to force concessions from the state and the ruling class.15 We ought to have it all, but we need to rebuild dynamic mass organizations of the working class if we want to win anything. Today socialists have precious few resources, and our political organizations have almost no connection to the broader working class. Out of necessity, as Nye Bevan put it, “the language of priorities is the religion of Socialism.”16 The operating question, then, is not “Why not both?” but “Which comes first?” Political priorities cannot be determined by asking whether and to what extent an array of policies are sufficiently socialist in the abstract. Nor do I think they can be determined by speculating which policy would best serve socialist ends once implemented. Any number of policies might meet these criteria. Focusing only on the ends of social policy neglects an analysis of the political terrain at large. Instead of treating public policy as an endless menu of desirable outcomes or succumbing to the utopian injunction to “have it all,” we should prioritize demands that put workers and their organizations in the driver’s seat—not only in their implementation but also through the campaign for their actualization and implementation. This orientation differs from the way that Calnitsky (and others) formulate political priorities. In his response to critics

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Calnitsky argues that “policies that are achievable in the world today may confer power onto people, which facilitates the realization of further policies that again empower them to demand even more.”17 Who could disagree with this? I doubt Gourevitch and Stanczyk would. I know I do not. But this is not really what is up for debate. Again, any given set of policies could theoretically confer power onto people and potentially unlock the virtuous reformist cycle that Calnitsky envisions if—and only if—they are effectively implemented. Therefore, choosing political priorities is how we move from matters of principle to matters of strategy, or how we move from the scientific analysis of policy to the art of politics. For my own part, an analysis of the ends of social policies only informs part of such a strategic assessment. To get the whole picture we must also envision what the political struggle for the fruition of any policy looks like—we need to analyze what kind of agitational campaign would be necessary and what constituency would be needed to realize such reforms. When we do this, we can see which policy demands have legs among a working-class base—that is, which engender a potentially explosive class mobilization—and which tend to invite the attention and affection of foundation giants and big business.18 Unfortunately, basic income demands—no matter how emancipatory on paper—seem unlikely to engender a majoritarian coalition or working-class political independence. Basic income attracts some of the worst bedfellows socialists could imagine—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and other tech and finance billionaires. As a result, the political struggle for basic income immediately invites divergent interests and serious political contradictions. Already we see how entrepreneurial politicians like Andrew Yang have championed basic income as a solution to the jobs crisis. Yang, for his part, couches his rhetoric in strongly anti-statist, promarket and probusiness terms. While he borrows from Calnitsky, arguing that his “Freedom Dividend”—a paltry $1,000 per month— “increases bargaining power for workers,” he also insists that a basic income is simply good for business, claiming on his 2020 presidential campaign website that “UBI encourages people to find work,” “UBI reduces bureaucracy,” and “UBI increases entrepreneurship.” It’s important also to note that Yang, despite his vaguely workerist rhetoric, did not support Medicare for All or many of the other social programs advocated by Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary. I don’t suspect this is a coincidence; for many, the basic income solution is not meant to supplement universal social programs but to supplant them.

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Indeed, Yang himself has boasted of how his plan would help cheapen the overall costs of welfare state administration by defunding more generous social provisions to stabilize the cash transfer scheme. As basic income becomes more and more the preferred solution of millionaire reformers, it should be clear that it represents a path least threatening to capital. What’s more, the presence of elite advocates is only compounded by the labor movement’s decline and the hollowing out of historic working-class political institutions—a weak and embattled labor movement could hardly counterbalance Silicon Valley. Advocating for basic income without a robust labor movement consigns the already weak workers’ movement to the role of junior partners. The technically perfect basic income won’t make it much beyond the magazines of the socialist left.


Still, for other critics the problem of a job guarantee is less a question of strategy and more a question of outcomes. Skeptics worry that the realization of a job guarantee could result in a program that resembles the eighteenth-century English workhouse. Of course, this exaggerated concern is hardly defensible, not least because the Dickensian workhouse was a policy intended to deal with a labor shortage; it was never meant as a solution to unemployment. Other critics conflate a job guarantee—the social right to a job, should you want one—with a work requirement. Jonathan Chait even equates the idea with Clintonite workfare.19 Skeptics’ concerns are valid if the job guarantee is narrowly defined solely as a countercyclical employment policy. That is, if policymakers designed a program built exclusively to hire workers in periods of recession (and some have done just this) the program would likely be a flop. But if a job guarantee means a traditional public works program combined with the countercyclical solution, then the workfare and workhouse comparisons make little sense analytically (unless critics consider most public sector workers part of a dismal forced-labor regime). In fact, the most successful predecessors to a program like this—the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps—were hardly the gray work camps of critics’ dystopian imagination.

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The guiding principle behind a job guarantee, the affirmation of the social right to employment, does not and would not impose work on anyone, just as the guarantee of any particular right almost never means the compulsion to exercise it. The goal of employment assurance is, as ever, to end involuntary unemployment. People unable to perform paid work should still be eligible for unemployment benefits, and they would not be expected to work against their will or ability. And of course, no left-wing advocate for employment assurance (and there really are no other advocates for it) would argue for a program that would force people into soul-crushing jobs. But there is a stronger point to be made here. Not only is the vision of the workhouse rejected by job guarantee advocates, even capitalists don’t find this vision particularly desirable in the long term. Consider that even if a job guarantee resulted in nightmarish working conditions, such conditions have a low likelihood of persisting because a tight labor market with a state guarantee of employment would necessarily lead to greater structural leverage for workers. Workers under a system where employment is guaranteed would have the same “exit option” praised by basic income advocates: they could walk off the job knowing that another job is secure. But they would also have the option to strike. Of course, such options are only political potentials; still, under the tight labor markets wrought by an aggressive employment policy, workers would likely be more emboldened to strike. Further, the workforce itself would grow. Under conditions of state-led employment assurance, a twin phenomenon occurs: the wage floor rises and the overall labor force participation rate increases. The simple explanation for why Nordic countries are able to raise wages while expanding their workforce is that active labor market policies and public employment—especially in the care of children and the elderly—allow women and other traditionally disadvantaged workers to enter the job market while sectoral bargaining puts upward pressure on wages across the workforce. (This in turn explains how the labor force participation rate, the rate of wage growth, and the levels of social equality for women in these countries far outpace the outcomes of the “free” labor market in the United States.) The knock-on effects of a job guarantee also bolster the mobilization capacity of the working class by providing new avenues for organizing drives. An invigorated public sector would make mass unionization a possibility again. And given that public sector unionization and public sector worker militancy have been less vulnerable to deterioration than their private sector counterparts, it’s

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reasonable to assume that a union drive among millions of new federally employed workers would have legs. If we understand neoliberalism to mean, as Adolph Reed Jr. and Mark Dudzic usefully define it, “capitalism that has effectively eliminated working-class opposition,” then our political aims should be to increase the social leverage and class self-assurance and consciousness needed to rebuild that opposition.20 Without the assurance of a perennially tight labor market and with the looming threat of automation, many workers rightfully fear they are disposable. A late-career pink slip could mean you will never work again. A job guarantee could alleviate that crushing fear. It could help facilitate the growth of wages, labor force participation, and workplace militancy—the policy could literally grow the working class in size and strength. Compare this to the potential institutionalization of unwaged earners through a stand-alone basic income scheme. Basic income proponents praise the potential freedom afforded by a no-strings-attached income guarantee. But with a growing low-wage service sector, high rates of secular unemployment, underemployment, and, in the United States, a uniquely weak union movement, it’s unclear how low-waged and unwaged basic income earners would have anything close to the social leverage that workers have through the power of the strike. This is one reason some of the super-elite tech and finance gurus are enamored of the basic income solution. While the precarization of wage work and the growth of the gig economy is often overstated, it seems obvious that a nonwaged cash benefit would only help fortify that sector and weaken the potential for collective action among those trapped in low-wage gig jobs or long-term unemployment. How would the unwaged basic income earner flex their muscles? How could a stand-alone basic income provide the kind of economic environment conducive to workplace organizing? Socialist skeptics of a job guarantee tend to minimize the central position that wage labor plays in capitalism and the potential social power that workers have by virtue of their structural position—indeed, some tend to downplay the meaning and significance of work altogether.


Hesitation about the appeal of a job guarantee might reflect a deeper political division over the nature, desirability, and central position of work itself in

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socialist strategy. Some basic income advocates do concede that the social right to work is a desirable goal, but they often mean this in a rhetorical way. They define work not as a form of wage labor or some other compulsory activity in a social division of labor; instead, as Philip Harvey shows, basic income advocates often seek to redefine work as its opposite—work is expanded to encompass nearly all of human activity.21 By expanding the concept of “work” into meaninglessness, skeptics can confidently claim that a basic income fulfills the social right to work just as much as a job guarantee does. On the other end of the spectrum, critics insist that advocates of a job guarantee are hung up on some old-fashioned and romantic notion of a bygone “worker.” Today we live amid infinite precarity, they argue, and as automation dominates more and more of the labor process, the social change agents of the future will be the ubiquitous “precariat.” Some go so far as to celebrate a future without work and paint any socialist who clings to wage labor and the primacy of the working class as an anachronism. Yet the fact remains that wage labor informs the daily lives of the majority of adults in the world—and ignoring the aspirations, desires, and goals of this group is precisely what the American Left has shamefully done over the past half century. It should be said that advocates for a job guarantee are not cultural workerists—we don’t want to send people into coal mines so they can have big strong muscles and look like Soviet posters. Instead, we see the workplace as foundational because it is in the workplace (and so far only in the workplace) that durable and democratic working-class organizations that cut across race, gender, region, language, ethnic, and other divisions have been formed and fortified. Where other social-movement organizations rise and fall, the labor movement remains remarkably consistent in its form and substance even as its institutions have shrunk dramatically. Finally, these workplace organizations provide more than just shop-floor leverage—in the form of the strike—they also make possible the resources, broad mass base, and common political subject necessary for mass workingclass politics. I remain unconvinced that such organizations can be built and sustained outside of the shared class grievances that inform the formation of labor unions. And I’m skeptical of the possibility that non-workplace-based organizations would have anything near the social leverage and political capacity that unions do. Despite the Left’s repeated gamble on “new social movements,” this combination of civil society organizing, mass-media pageantry,

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and protest tactics has never won the breadth and depth of concessions that robust labor movements have. Few socialists would disagree with the above analysis, but taking it seriously has implications for our political strategy. Some proposed social policies, like basic income sans full employment, put workers and workplace organization in a weaker sociopolitical position overall. Basic income proponents argue that workers would be free to pursue vocational activities that aren’t found on the job market—think of all the boutique Brooklynite crafts that could be subsidized by a new permanent petty-bourgeoisie—but in practice, a basic income would work to subsidize low-wage jobs that are highly profitable. Consider the Uber drivers who would rely on both the state subsidy and their dismal wages. Policies that seek to minimize the central position of work effectively do rob workers of the power they have in their ability to strike—by curtailing the possibility of building workplace organizations and importantly by weakening the sense of class solidarity developed through shared class experiences. And here is where a job guarantee—unlike basic income, antipoverty programs, and other solutions to economic deprivation—could fulfill an often underanalyzed social function: organic solidarity. Waged work, in an advanced capitalist division of labor, is predicated on cooperation among workers. Workplace cooperation is often obscured by the competition workers face on the job market. But the former is just as much a feature of capitalist society as the latter. And cooperation at work is what provides the practical and human foundation of class solidarity. Think of the teamwork needed in a restaurant to ensure that front-of-house staff get orders to the back of house in a timely manner—the reliance each group has on the other and the trust built among relative strangers through a complex division of labor and the external pressure put on workers to perform certain tasks well. It’s no secret to union organizers that workplace leaders are often those who are respected and admired on the basis of this workplace cooperation. The best organizers on the shop floor are those who have won the trust and admiration of the widest group of workers based on their skill and ability to perform their jobs and communicate with the broadest layer of their coworkers. It’s the kind of solidarity engendered among coworkers that transforms a working-class political program from abstract ideas into concrete demands shared by a collective. In other words, workplace experiences make the thing we call “class interests” a felt reality. It is primarily through work that we get to

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know, interact, cooperate, and bond with people across all sorts of social partitions. The external pressures of a job transform our coworkers into our comrades when dealing with a belligerent manager, during cigarette breaks, and at staff meals. Workplace solidarity demonstrates the socialist truism that workers can overcome their narrow personal interests and petty divisions and come together to advance collective aims. Today, however, work is a dirty word among some socialists who imagine a future free from any and all drudgery. To me, such a future vision seems unlikely in the near term and undesirable in the long term. Work could be, if engineered toward social ends, a rewarding and socially fruitful endeavor, even beyond questions of economic scarcity or productive utility. Antiwork advocates argue that the postwork future is already here and that we should accept the permanency of a nonwaged class. But this raises yet another challenge to solidarity. Wouldn’t it be entirely rational for wage workers to resent their nonwaged counterparts and vice versa? Imagine a system where the majority of wage earners pay a tax into a basic income to support a minority of the permanently nonwaged class. Wouldn’t such a system perpetuate conflicts—and potentially exacerbate antagonisms— between better-off workers and worse-off nonworkers? A future where only some have access to the labor market seems to only sectionalize and segregate the mass of people that make up the non-elite majority. We are too familiar with worker resentment of supposed “freeloaders,” who receive measly social benefits like Medicaid, by those marginally better-off workers who pay through the nose for their own lousy health insurance. A postwork future seems less likely to facilitate any sort of organic solidarity between these groups. Postwork utopias are often painted in rosy colors where individuals are free to explore their own drives and desires. But without the bonds and shared class experiences developed through the workplace—and without any institution binding individuals to some larger collective endeavor—alternative forms of mechanical and artificial solidarity are likely to become more, not less, attractive. Nationalism, racism, misogyny, and xenophobia all perform a similar function to that of organic solidarity without the potential for class-based unity. We know that people tend to find joy and comfort in collective endeavors. Instead of nation, race, or other artificial “imagined communities,” shouldn’t the communal endeavor socialists desire be built on a shared commitment to cooperation? Marx clearly thought so. It’s this desire for a collective and productive

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society—where each of us contributes and each of us benefits—that inspires the eighth demand in the Manifesto: “equal liability of all to work.”22 If we care about equality in wealth, shouldn’t we care about equality in the distribution of work? The equal liability to work and the distribution of it were once considered keystone principles of socialism. Ironically, some postwork socialists seem to celebrate an individually oriented consumptionist approach to social policy. Unlike earlier traditions that stretch from the early New Deal back to the classical period of prewar European social democracy, contemporary utopians do feature visions of luxury and abundance but curiously do not suggest a liability to labor. In fact, work is often thought of in purely negative terms. Socialists don’t need to embrace the misguided traditions of cultural workerism or the grueling American work ethic to acknowledge the benefits that dignified and purposeful work provides. Boredom, isolation, and emptiness are the most damning and socially pernicious effects of unemployment and underemployment today. As Joan Robinson had it, “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.”23 And even under a system where joblessness was accompanied by a decent “wage,” there is no good reason to assume that the misery that accompanies the social isolation of unemployment would cease. And while any good socialist should insist on raising income for wage workers and stimulating aggregate demand, we should also concern ourselves with a vision of society that takes more seriously the restructuring of the labor market to avoid the social effects of unemployment. That means policies aimed at building a more equitable, productive, and social division of labor.


Frankly, no significant constituency is demanding an end to work itself; rather, most people want the fair distribution of work and wages. And it’s not because most workers prefer being exploited, or because they are dupes of a capitalist ideology, or because unemployment is particularly high—even under tight labor markets, the demand for jobs has been historically popular. I think to some degree the popularity of the “jobs for all” vision is born out of a commonsense understanding that collective and productive activity is meaningful. By working in purposeful and well-paying jobs, we feel we have contributed to society in a

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real way—think of the joy teachers feels when they finally see the eureka moment in their students’ eyes, or the sense of accomplishment an electrician feels when they finish wiring a new library, or the pleasure of a nurse when they tell a family good news about a loved one. These are genuine human experiences, and they are made possible because these workers perform socially productive jobs. With a jobs guarantee, we could drastically curtail the feeling of being “left behind” and isolated by a job-light or jobless economy and create meaningful jobs that inspire a broad, organic solidarity and deep class unity that will make it easiest to imagine and bring about workplaces free of capitalist exploitation. Too often liberals sneer at socially undesirable jobs. They see the jobs at slaughterhouses, sewage treatment plants, and coal mines as tragedies that should be abolished—and environmentalists are some of the biggest offenders. And while some jobs do serve antisocial ends, the liberal lament of socially undesirable and environmentally damaging work combined with the omnipresent threat of automation or the potential of being forced onto the state dole comes off as condescending to the people who depend on such jobs and who, believe it or not, often find dignity through them. Scoffing at “make-work” jobs— like much-needed support staff for schools and care facilities or clean-up crews for public parks and neighborhoods—serves a similar function. Socialists need not affirm the necessity for socially isolating and meaningless work, but if we want to end the tyranny and drudgery in our socially unproductive labor market, we must endeavor to create jobs that provide a living wage through socially and personally meaningful work. The good news is that there is plenty of work to be done—work that is both socially productive and desirable: we need workers to clean our parks and streets, to drive new mass transit vehicles, to build monumental infrastructure projects, and to update our electrical grid. All of these jobs have two things in common: first, each could only be created through massive investment and central planning, and, second, they are jobs that capitalists are unwilling or unable to provide. A robust job guarantee can do all this while inspiring a collective vision of a society and strengthening the leverage that workers have to demand more. After all, the essence of a socialist economy is the regulation of production, distribution, and consumption for social ends through democratic means. What better way to foster the tender shoots of such a system than by democratically regulating the distribution of work? The fruits of such a program would be countless.

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Not only could we build the self-assurance and class consciousness needed to inspire a renewed labor movement, but we would also create a robust political base that could keep the programs around. Once good jobs are provided by the state and once workers see the usefulness in such a massive program, good luck trying to take it away. It’s for these reasons that the demand “jobs for all” is now and always has been wildly popular among working people. It’s time to affirm once again that workers deserve shorter hours, better wages, more freedom, and dignity at work. They deserve more control over their work lives, and, yes, they deserve the social guarantee that work will be available to them.


Since writing this article in 2019, a lot has changed politically and socially; among the more important shifts is the fact that Joe Biden is president of the United States. As such, it’s safe to say that the dream of a jobs guarantee is, for now, deferred. But this doesn’t mean there isn’t a usefulness in advocating for stateled employment programs; in fact, it may be more important now than ever. Environmental advocates on the Left have thus far failed to make a meaningful connection between the climate crisis and the economic crisis for working people. Many green activists have satisfied themselves by naming the vague environmental policy suite a Green New Deal and insisting that their demands are “working-class” by virtue of the constituency they will supposedly benefit once implemented. Unfortunately, such rhetoric is worse than window dressing; it is plainly disingenuous. The environmental movement today has succeeded in mobilizing the anxieties of highly educated and high-income liberals who consistently rank climate issues as most important. The policy prescriptions of the climate movement almost always reflect the interests of this group. Thus, many activists cheer the shuttering of a coal plant or fracking site or nuclear reactor, while little thought is given to the workers who have lost their jobs or the towns whose economy depended on these plants (see chapter 8 by Mindy Isser in this volume for more on the blinkers of environmental activists). The jobless are told they will of course have a job (a great job) in the green industrial revolution of the future. That’s cold comfort when your employer handed you a pink slip yesterday.

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The scary truth is that, for most working-class people, environmental concerns trail way behind issues like health care, jobs, wages, social security, and education.24 But for most environmentalists, all those issues are all secondary to the catastrophic and calamitous issue of climate change. Green New Deal advocates have cut themselves off from the popular base needed to win any of the major transformations they hope to see. If this is to change, it would require a radical turn in environmental advocacy away from the pageantry of green protest, the maximalist slogans and demands, and the narrative of catastrophism and toward a more thoughtful policy suite and a popular narrative that puts jobs and infrastructure at the center.


1. 2. 3.



6. 7.

8. 9.

This chapter has been adapted from an essay published in nonsite ( Pavlina Tcherneva, The Case for the Job Guarantee (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 2020). Adam Ozimek, “Yes, The Jobs Guarantee Is Absurd,” Forbes, April  24, 2018, https:// “Make Work Can’t Work: A Jobs Guarantee Is a Flawed Idea,” Economist, May 12, 2018, https://www.economist .com /united -states/2018 /05 /12 /a -jobs - guarantee -is -a -f lawed -idea. Mark Paul, William Darity Jr., and Darrick Hamilton, “The Federal Job Guarantee–A Policy to Achieve Permanent Full Employment,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March 2018, -a-policy-to-achieve-permanent-full-employment. For a detailed account of the legislative struggle over full employment, see Alan Brinkley, The End Of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York: Vintage, 1996). Michał Kalecki, “Political Aspects of Full Employment,” MR Online, May  22, 2010, /2010/05/22/political-aspects-of-full-employment/. For a concise but comprehensive overview of the political struggle over employment policy in the postwar era, see Gary Mucciaroni, The Political Failure of Employment Policy, 1945–1982 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990). Matt Bruenig, “Just What Is a Job Guarantee?” Jacobin, May  13, 2018, https://www Quote from Bruenig, “Just What Is a Job Guarantee?” Bruenig does critique Randall Wray’s 1997 proposal, which exemplifies what Bruenig calls the “canonical job guarantee.” Randall Wray, “Government as Employer of Last Resort: Full Employment Without Inflation,” Levy Working Paper no. 213, 1997, /government-as-employer-of-last-resort. Following Wray’s argument, Bruenig concludes that a job guarantee simply cannot do what its advocates claim. It cannot remedy both

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12. 13.

14. 15. 16. 17. 18.



structural (endemic) and cyclical unemployment because a job guarantee can only produce low skill, make-work jobs. This is indeed true of a system like Wray’s (as Wray himself admits), but I think Bruenig is mistaken in believing that Wray’s model is the alpha and omega of the “job guarantee.” Lawrence Mishel, “Yes, Manufacturing Still Provides a Pay Advantage, but Staffing Firm Outsourcing Is Eroding It,” Economic Policy Institute, March 12, 2018, https://www /publication/manufacturing-still-provides-a-pay-advantage-but-outsourcing-is -eroding-it/. Development economists have long understood the importance and value of secondary sector investment as a means of developing a high-wage economy. For an explanation of the special capacity for industry to induce forward and backward linkage effects, see Albert  O. Hirschman, The Strategy of Economic Development (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1958), 98–119. David Calnitsky, “Debating Basic Income,” Catalyst 1, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 71. Felix Fitzroy and Jim Jin, “Basic Income and a Public Job Offer: Complementary Policies to Reduce Poverty and Unemployment,” Journal of Poverty and Social Justice 26, no. 2 (June 2018): 191– 206. Calnitsky, “Debating Basic Income,” 71. Alex Gourevitch and Lucas Stanczyk, “The Basic Income Illusion,” Catalyst 1, no.  4 (2018): 151– 78. Aneurin Bevan at Labour Party Conference, Blackpool, June  8, 1949, https://www David Calnitsky, “Does Basic Income Assume a Can Opener?,” Catalyst 2, no.  3 (Fall 2018), 139. Another useful historical comparison here is to recall the struggle for the eight-hour day. Many middle-class socialist reformers in the nineteenth century insisted on making the “greenback issue” the priority demand of the Left for many of the same reasons that basic income advocates cite today. Greenbackers—largely lawyers and professors— insisted that no other socialist reforms could be realized without the resolution of the currency issue. Such a Birdseye analysis failed to see that workers were significantly less interested in currency questions than were independent farmers and urban professionals. And workers certainly weren’t willing to strike in the name of greenbacks. Yet reformers effectively reoriented the National Labor Union (a mass left-wing third party) to devote more energy to the greenback issue than the demand for an eight-hour day. This occurred just as the demand for the eight-hour day provoked strikes across the country. See Martin Shefter, “Trade Unions and Political Machines: The Organization and Disorganization of the American Working Class,” in Political Parties and the State: The American Historical Experience (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994), 139. Jonathan Chait, “Democrats Are Rushing Into a Job Guarantee. It Could Be a Huge Mistake,” Intelligencer, April  25, 2018, crats-are-rushing-a-jobs-guarantee-its-a-huge-mistake.html. Adolph Reed Jr. and Mark Dudzic, “The Crisis of Labour and the Left in the United States,” Socialist Register 51 (2015): 373.

176 Delivering Jobs and Empowering Workers 21.

22. 23. 24.

For examples of how basic income advocates attempt to redefine work, see Philip Harvey, “The Right to Work and Basic Income Guarantees: Competing or Complementary Goals?” Rutgers Journal of Law & Urban Policy 2, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 8– 59. Harvey presents José Luis Rey Pérez’s approach, where Perez argues that “work can be defined all those activities that combine creativity, conceptual and analytic thought and manual or physical use of aptitudes.” Harvey cites a then-forthcoming essay, which he gives as “El Derecho Al Trabajo, ¿Forma De Exclusión Social? Las Rentas Mínimas De Integración Y La Propuesta Del Ingreso Básico.” A paper of the same title was later published in English translation as “The Right to Work, Way of Social Exclusion? Basic Income as a Guarantee to the Right to Work,” in Reading Karl Polanyi for the Twenty-First Century: Market Economy as a Political Project, ed. A. Bugra and K. Agartan (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), 95–111. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party (1888),” in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978). Joan Robinson, Economic Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2017), 21. David Winston, “Placing Priority: How Issues Mattered More Than Demographics in the 2016 Election,” Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, December 2017, https://www /publication/placing-priority.

chapter 8

Unions and the Green New Deal mindy isser


re you an environmentalist, or do you work for a living?”1 This old joke, popular in the labor movement, portrays the way many workers have long viewed environmentalists: as professional-class people whose hobbies are planting trees and saving endangered animals, who are divorced from reality and the many urgent bread-and-butter issues facing union members and other workers. However true the caricature might be, environmentalists are right about climate change; the science is behind them. And as climate change becomes more and more dire, it is imperative that workers—and their organizations—support a green agenda. The tension between environmentalists and the labor movement comes from the perception that environmentalists do not care about workers’ livelihoods and that workers don’t care about the environment. These ideas, while of course not universally true, stem from legitimate conflicts between the interests and activities of environmental activists and the workers’ movement. Environmentalists do often frame their work in a way where their program effectively means fighting against certain types of employment, and many workers do in fact see much of environmental activism as an attack on their livelihoods. Consider the case of the northern spotted owl, an endangered species found on the West Coast of North America in the 1990s.2 Logging in Washington state caused a 40– 90  percent decline of the owl population in the previous four decades, causing strain between loggers and environmental activists.3 Bumper stickers in support of loggers began popping up in Washington, reading “Kill a Spotted Owl—Save a Logger” and “I Like Spotted Owls—Fried.” 4 Predictably, though, environmental activists were not the cause of job loss: logging bosses and larger shifts in the political economy of the industry were the culprit, not

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the owls or their supporters. Loggers nonetheless felt antagonized by environmentalists, and environmentalists did little to bridge the divide.5 Naturally, the spotted owl controversy is not an isolated incident. Similar confrontations between environmentalists and workers include the recent (failed) attempt of tribes like the Standing Rock Sioux and their supporters to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline; in West Virginia, when coal miners and their families clashed with celebrity activists in the fight around mountaintop removal mining; and in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, when environmental activists protested the construction of an ethane cracker plant. In each case advocates of environmental protection came to be seen as antagonists in the fight for greater economic security. Are union members and environmental advocates bound to be on opposite sides of the barricade? No, but mending the relationship between the labor and environmental movements will not be an easy feat. Until environmental groups begin to take the plight of workers seriously, unions will never trust them—let alone look to them for support. On the other hand, unions must look beyond their narrow self-interest and understand themselves as part of a broader struggle—one for their own survival as much as for the benefit of the environmental movement. In what follows, I argue that four fundamental things must happen if the traditional conflict between labor and environmentalists is to be overcome. The first section recounts the history of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery closure to demonstrate the nature of the intense conflict between environmentalists and trade-unionists. The case provides a strong cautionary tale of what happens when the environmental movement advocates for the shuttering of any major sectors of employment. To avoid these pitfalls, environmentalists must first demonstrate that they are serious about the interests of working people, and this means making a credible case and advocating for good new jobs rather than aiming for the destruction of good existing jobs. Second, if environmentalists want to succeed, they should endeavor to build deep agreement on shared interests with the labor movement—which may mean focusing more on winning gains for safety and sanitation than on lowering the number of industrial pollutants in a given community. I look at Tony Mazzocchi’s history as a story of one of America’s greatest trade union and environmental leaders to show a path forward.

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Third, in order for bold environmental policy to succeed, unions must be a major part of the policymaking process. Too often union representatives and officials are brought in to secure letterhead endorsements for pieces of legislation but are not taken seriously as policymakers or advocates in their own right. Fourth, union leaders themselves must endeavor to take some political risks— and to be bolder and more widely encompassing in their work. The breakdown of neoliberalism provides an opportunity to provide a twenty-first-century New Deal for the United States that could employ many workers in key uniondominated industries. Building trades unions—typically conservative forces in the labor movement—can and should lead the charge for retrofitting publicly owned school buildings, for new investments in solar panels on government officebuilding rooftops, and in public transit updates—not only in the interest of working with environmental groups and of benefiting the wider community but also of strengthening their own unions.


The PES refinery operated for 150 years before it closed in the summer of 2019 after an explosion on the property forced the owners to declare bankruptcy.6 The event rocked the city—literally and politically. The explosion gave the environmental movement in Philadelphia, which had already been organizing to close the refinery, the momentum it needed to press for the refinery’s closure. The ensuing fight between workers who wanted to keep it open and environmentalists raised pressing questions about union jobs and climate change. Tragically, the result pitted bitter, newly jobless trade-unionists against well-meaning but naive environmentalists. Prior to its closure, the refinery in Philadelphia employed around two thousand people, paying full-time workers over $100,000 per year. These were skilled workers doing extremely dangerous jobs, and they were paid accordingly— thanks to their membership in United Steelworkers Local 10-1. While some workers understood the danger of their work—not just to themselves in terms of potential fires and explosions (of which there were many) but to the broader community regarding climate change and pollution—they were in an understandable bind: either keep a high-paying union job with good benefits

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or leave it and be almost guaranteed to find a job that paid less, that maybe was not unionized, and that did not come with decades of accrued benefits. One refinery worker put it simply: “If it was a solar or a wind farm, and they were paying what the refinery paid, [the workers] would be there in a second. It’s about the money. They’re not defending the industry—they’re defending their job and their paycheck. If they could make the same money working for Greenpeace, they would do it.”7 Unfortunately, after the refinery’s closure many laid-off workers could not find jobs that paid nearly what they were making before. Others were still relying on unemployment at the time of the article’s writing. And others still were forced to move to the Gulf Coast, chasing family-sustaining refinery jobs—the only way they could maintain their standard of living. In such an environment of scarce good jobs, it is no wonder that workers often defend the kinds of industries that contribute the most to environmental degradation. Further, it’s easy to see how even militant trade-unionists would rather sidle up to their bosses than with environmentalists. The oil and gas industry still provides family-sustaining jobs for hundreds of thousands of union members across the country, while the environmental movement has been nothing but a thorn in their sides. There is no reasonable person who would align with an organization or a set of principles that would result in the destruction of their livelihood. And especially not for an abstract goal like reaching net-zero carbon emissions. The environmental movement has never been able to actually offer “green” jobs at a scale that could transition oil and gas workers at their current (or even similar) pay rates, so it’s understandably difficult for workers to take these advocates at their word. Workers don’t distrust environmentalists for straightforward ideological reasons, nor are they simply dupes of right-wing propaganda. Their complex relationships with their employers—however awful they may be, and however much they might contribute to the climate crisis—are fundamentally nonvoluntary relationships. Workers rely on these employers like PES for a paycheck, and they don’t rely on environmentalists for much of anything. On the other hand, many middle-class environmentalists rarely feel the consequences of the kinds of lifechanging shocks that could be the result of their advocacy. And that kind of detachment on the part of environmentalists only exacerbates tensions. In 2016 Philly Thrive, a local environmental group, began organizing around PES. The mostly white group sought to ally with the mostly African American neighborhood that surrounded the refinery. This made sense given that many of

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the refinery’s neighbors suffered from health problems like asthma, bronchitis, and cancer potentially caused by PES pollutants. The zip code of the refinery, 19145, has one of the highest rates of hospitalization for asthma in the city, along with one of the highest cancer mortality rates, in a city that has the “highest cancer rate of any large city in the United States,” according to the National Cancer Institute. The refinery was also the number one source of air pollution in Philadelphia and was responsible for 9 percent of the city’s fine particle emissions and 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Department of Public Health. It was also the single-largest emitter of toxic pollutants, including known carcinogens, representing nearly 57 percent of such emissions in the city in 2016. Obviously, there were pressing concerns from activists and neighbors about PES, but Philly Thrive left out a big player in that community: the Steelworkers Local Union 10-1. In general, they struggled to prioritize the question of labor— what would happen to the workers when the refinery shut down? What other jobs are available to them?—which led to a failure to connect with the workers at the refinery. From the start Philly Thrive simply demanded the refinery be shut down; from their perspective, this was the only possible solution. And as a result of their blinkered starting position, the union refused to work with the group. A founder of Philly Thrive said the USW Local “wanted nothing to do with us if we were anti-fossil fuel. . . . We don’t think we can afford to say anything besides that we need to transition from fossil fuels now. So we’ve been denied access to the labor movement and USW in particular.”8 At the time of this writing, the now-shuttered refinery site is owned by Hilco Redevelopment Partners, who plan to demolish the facility and replace it with a mixed-use industrial park—which will almost certainly employ fewer blue-collar or service-sector workers and at lower wages. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge who approved the sale to Hilco said that it was “clearly in the best interests of the community” because of the refinery’s “numerous and repeated problems.” This decision shut the door on any possibility of the site ever being used for activities related to the refinement of petroleum.9 Philly Thrive acknowledged that they struggled to build relationships with workers at the refinery. But would it have mattered much if they did? What does good will matter when jobs are on the chopping block? As writer Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Conversely, why should

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environmentalists feel sorry for the two thousand refinery workers, when thousands more workers in the neighborhood surrounding the refinery struggled to get by on nonunion wages? Many residents felt “locked out” of jobs at the refinery, noting that most workers there were white and did not live near the site, or even in the city at all. Workers at the refinery confirmed this to be true. This of course added to the tension between residents and refinery workers. If there is a future for the Green New Deal (GND), it must begin with environmentalists seeing themselves less as in confrontation with unions and being more willing to take direction from them.


Regardless of the stereotypes, workers around the country, union members and otherwise, have long stood up for environmental justice. Even in the case of PES, despite the conflict, some workers did attend Philly Thrive meetings and did attempt to connect with the environmental movement. People want the ability to provide for themselves and their families, and they also want to live in a healthy, safe neighborhood where their kids can play outside. Thanks to the prevalence of high-paying fossil fuel jobs, this dual interest can be difficult to realize politically. The challenge remains: how could earnest environmentalists help develop a relationship with a labor force that sees them as an existential threat? One of the chief problems with the contemporary labor/environment dichotomy is that it has no medium term. There is the promise of jobs in the long term and there is the reality of jobs in the here and now. What is required is a credible medium-term plan around which an organizing campaign can be built. Workers in extractive industries have the most knowledge of how their work harms the world around them, which has led many to blow the whistle on dangers posed by their employer. Tony Mazzocchi, leader of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, was often heralded as the “Rachel Carson of the American workplace,” thanks to his efforts in the environmental movement.10 His roots in the movement did not just stem from what he read about in books but also from his own experiences at work—first at a cosmetics factory and then as union leader. As a union representative, he pushed for union contracts to include language around health and safety, and he organized public meetings where

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members spoke about the dangerous chemicals they worked with and their related health problems. Mazzocchi’s work is the reason we have the Occupational Safety and Health Act.11 Ironically, United Steelworkers (the same union that clashed so heavily with environmental activists at PES) created a training organization in his name, the Tony Mazzocchi Center, to provide education to workers around occupational health, safety, and environmental hazards.12 The refinery dilemma in Philadelphia was tailor-made for a leader like Mazzocchi, whose model points a way forward. We need to appeal to both the selfinterest of labor and the self-interest of environmentalists, as Mazzocchi did at the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. Dangerous chemicals harm workers and the environment. Organizing around safety issues at work is a great way to curtail the worst offenses by bosses and win neighbors and environmentalists over to the side of workers. This means that environmentalists must be ready to tamp down some of their more militant demands if they want to win the support of strong unions. Safety, sanitation, and pollution issues can be the basis of a genuine partnership to build real ties across seemingly disparate constituencies. To take another Philadelphia example, most public school buildings were built in the early twentieth century and have not been updated since—meaning that they are filled with asbestos and lead in addition to mold, rodents, and bedbugs. Students have been poisoned by lead, impeding their ability to learn; at least one teacher has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos; and others have been plagued by mystery illnesses potentially caused by their working conditions.13 To remediate all of the lead and build new schools when necessary will cost nearly $5 billion—money that this very poor school district does not have.14 The Caucus of Working Educators, a reform caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, raised the alarm with its “Toxic Schools” campaign. The group called on the city to end the ten-year tax abatement, a policy created over twenty years ago to spur development in the city. It freezes property taxes on new development for ten years, meaning that owners can avoid paying taxes to fund public schools (Philly schools lost $62 million in revenue in 2017 alone thanks to the tax abatement).15 Environmentalists joining the call to tax the rich to create safe working and learning conditions would have gone a long way in building a true blue-green alliance. But the environmental movement was nowhere to be found. Teachers did not see environmentalists as likely allies: they did not ask for support, and environmentalists did not offer it.

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Real bridges need to be built in order to form a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. Again, campaigns around issues like workplace safety, sanitation, and local environmental hazards are the types of campaigns that can generate sustained relationships between environmental actors and unions. Environmentalists have to realize that maximal demands for the immediate shutdown of any and all polluting worksites are a dead end—especially when there’s no guarantee of good green jobs afterward. Only when union members feel less threatened by environmental demands will they be willing to fight their company for safety regulations that may not immediately affect their work life but are nonetheless important for surrounding areas.


It is often said that the GND is, in its essence, a jobs program, therefore it is in the best interest of the American Federation of Labor– Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) or any international unions to support its implementation. If this is the case (and it is on paper), then the environmental movement needs to do a much better job of acting like it. Campaign sloganeering and literature needs to focus on how the plan will create millions of jobs, not just transition us to clean and renewable energy. Similarly, workers and their organizations must be a priority every step of the way—through initial brainstorming, drafting plans, campaigning, and winning. For too long workers have been an afterthought, with “green jobs” tacked on to environmental education as more of a hope than a plan. Among other things, this means working with unions to collaborate on political education programs and having union representatives in the room when drafting green legislation. No green infrastructure program can be won without unions at the table and at the helm. Currently advocates of the GND have a long way to go in terms of bringing unions into the policy-writing rooms. The first drafts of the GND were proposed and detailed by a group called New Consensus, and while those involved certainly have good intentions (one member even lists some experience in the labor movement), it seems to be a product largely of activist intellectuals—and not the leaders of America’s largest unions.

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GND policy-writing tables should include a majority of union representatives before legislation is even introduced. While there may be bad blood between the AFL-CIO (who have called the legislation “unrealistic”) and GND supporters, the GND is a jobs program, and union leaders and members must have their perspectives heard each step of the way. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Ed Markey, and all of those involved in moving the GND forward must invite both environmentalists and unions to the table so they can better understand the other’s perspective, find common ground, and work together. Right now the AFLCIO supports a “new industrial policy” that “places manufacturing and trade at the center of a green economy program.”16 The plan says very little about moving away from fossil fuels except admitting that they contribute to global warming. However, the plan does state, “Our members and workers everywhere—with their knowledge, skills and experience—have valuable insights to offer for the greening of the workplace and the community.” Similarly, the New Consensus policy-writers place a heavy emphasis on industrial policy. It seems that a natural alliance on the question of industrial regulation could—with some concessions and lots of long meetings—result in interim legislation that unites the two groups. This kind of consensus-building has happened more successfully at the local and state levels. In New York State, where the New York City Labor Council, the official body of the largest regional organization of the AFL-CIO in the country, partnered with other workers’ organizations and policy experts to make a plan to combat climate change. Union members in New York, after living through Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, saw firsthand how the state of the environment affected them. The group chose to focus on the issues that unions and environmentalists agree on, like infrastructure and public transportation, instead of issues that typically divide both movements like fracking. After a few short years of working together, the group put together a report, Reversing Inequality, Combating Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State, which recommends retrofitting all public schools across the state to reach 100 percent of their energy-efficiency potential by 2025, reducing energy use in all public buildings by 40 percent by 20205, expanding New York City public transit, and more. Because of their work, New York State will get half of its total energy needs met by renewable offshore wind power by 2035. This is a huge victory for both the environmental and labor movements, and every local union should follow suit in their states to win big for their members—and for the climate.17

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Unfortunately, many workers in extractive industries will not be won over until we actually prove that good green union jobs can be a reality. We need to be brutally honest about this situation and understand and respect the fact that some workers will have to see it to believe it. Without real and comparable alternatives to fossil fuel jobs, environmentalism just feels like an attack on their livelihoods and nothing more. Here is where the union movement itself can do some growing. While extractive industry unions may be difficult if not impossible to win over, other union sectors—for example, electricians—do have a real interest in green energy. Turning that interest into political activity will require some bravery and political risk-taking.


To win victories like those in New York State, the labor movement will have to be bolder and broader than it has been in the last forty years. It’s often said that “the Building Trades would bulldoze their grandmother’s house if it meant a month of work,” the joke being that unions in North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) are committed to obtaining work for their members over any other consideration. This ends up being beneficial for their members, of course, but can have grave implications for other working people and our climate. NABTU’s website states that it “understand[s] the importance of the strong relationship between labor and the companies that harvest the wealth of untapped oil and natural gas resources.” And in 2009 NABTU and other unions, in partnership with the American Petroleum Institute, created the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee, saying that it was “the first time that the oil and natural gas industry and its labor unions have agreed to work together formally through a labor-management committee.”18 After the PES explosion and subsequent bankruptcy filing, PES executives were paid $4.59 million in retention bonuses while union members were left with no meaningful severance. In previous reporting for In These Times, I suggested that the way forward was by uniting against a common enemy—the people responsible for exploiting and endangering workers, for destroying the environment, and for making local residents sick. But because Philly Thrive did not prioritize building relationships with the union or even its members—and certainly were

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not going to move from their position of closing the refinery—the union had no reason to trust them. If things had been different—if they had built a relationship on trust and mutual respect, with a vision that worked for all—they could have partnered to eventually fight for a just transition, including meaningful severance pay and health insurance for their members, along with training and job placements at the old refinery site. But because the union felt like it shared no common interests, it was justifiably defensive. Local 10-1 president Ryan O’Callaghan said, “The idea of retraining us for jobs that don’t exist is not the answer. The idea to put a solar panel farm on the site is not the answer. The answer is to restart the refinery now.” It’s understandable why the union held on for dear life—many members of Local 10-1 were in the same job for decades. And what fifty-year-old man wants to be retrained for a whole new career? The union did exactly what its members wanted it to do: demand that they be treated with dignity and respect and demand that they keep their jobs. But once your employer is gone, with the pieces of the enterprise being split up among the shareholders for their golden parachutes, workers are left with nothing. It takes some courage to go beyond the immediate demands of the membership, but when fossil fuel jobs are dwindling and workers get almost nothing out of closures, it’s time to think seriously about leaping beyond unions’ traditional comfort zones. Workers and employers in the oil and gas industry have used their shared strength against environmental activists and those who try to transition away from fossil fuels. Many of the union affiliates of the NABTU labor federation, for example, have been entangled in huge fights against the environmental movement. Without alternatives, it’s easy for unions to think the best way forward is to ally with their bosses, even though their bosses are not, and will never be, real friends or allies. But what the unions often fail to consider in entering these pernicious alliances is that they often lose broader community support in doing so, which makes it really difficult for unions to stay afloat, let alone win campaigns. Without the public on their side, unions are, at best, going to be seen as narrow interest groups—and at worst, corrupt and irrelevant organizations that are on their way out. In the short term it might seem natural for unions to partner with their employers—to keep jobs and good wages for their members—but in the longer term it is a lose-lose for workers, their unions, and the environmental movement. This is an internal problem for the labor movement to solve. Rather than solely focusing on themselves and their members, unions must fight for all

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working people, if only because it is necessary for their own survival to take up this broader fight. First, more unions must start “bargaining for the common good,” a tactic seen mostly in the education sector right now. Teachers in Los Angeles and then Chicago went on strike not just for their wages and benefits but for their students’ learning conditions and for the overall health of the city.19 Their unions demanded smaller class sizes, nurses and counselors in every school, and, in Chicago, resources for homeless students. In California, SEIU Local 1021 supported the campaign to divest the San Francisco pension plan from fossil fuels and to stop a new coal shipping terminal at the Port of Oakland—and they won on both counts.20 Bargaining for wins outside of bread-and-butter issues will be absolutely necessary to fight climate change. But supporting the GND is supporting bread-and-butter issues—it’s more investment, more resources, and, of course, more jobs. Since the GND promises to replace or upgrade every building and to improve and expand public transportation, unions must be at the forefront of the conversation. After all, union members are the ones who build our buildings and drive our buses. While there are reasons to feel hopeful, union leaders and environmentalists working together on the GND is just a start. Political education around climate change will be a necessary step in developing a long-range consciousness among rank-and-file members. The environmental movement should do the same—their members need to value workers’ livelihoods as much as they value the life of the spotted owl. And that leads to the larger issue at hand: both the union movement and the environmental movement need to become less narrow—and they need to do it fast.


The labor and environmental movements both have plenty of ground to cover before a GND can be won. On the one hand, union leaders must embrace a scope wide enough to bargain beyond the workplace. Being solely focused on the workplace struggle makes sense as a strategy for defending hard-fought gains, but today—with unemployment mirroring Great Depression levels and union industries under

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relentless attack—the labor movement’s survival depends on it delivering farreaching gains for the entirety of the working class, organized and unorganized alike. We already know that the poorest people in this country are most affected by climate change, with hazardous waste sites and other polluting facilities built in their neighborhoods and with the worst by hurricanes and other climate disasters. This means unions need to fight for the GND—both because workers need good jobs and because they deserve to live healthy and safe lives. On the other hand, the environmental movement needs to develop a mediumrange vision whereby conservation, safety, and sanitation are seen as means to winning working-class constituencies and their unions. Green activists can be commended for their militancy and the urgency of their principled appeals, but if we are to get anywhere in the development of a real unity of environmental and labor interests, it will take more than the promise of jobs yet seen. Of course we need to close refineries and mines and transition fossil fuel jobs into green jobs—but the environmental movement won’t have the power to do that until they unite with the labor movement. And for the labor movement and the environmental movement to actually partner effectively, environmentalists must rebuild trust with unions. To do that, they’ll have to take a back seat—they must deprioritize their campaigns to end fossil fuel jobs. Right now the fight to close refineries signals an end to good jobs to union members. Eventually the union and environmental movements will be able to work together on a true just transition for fossil fuel works. But to get to that point environmentalists have to partner with unions on campaigns where they both can win—like issues around workplace safety. We’ve seen through Tony Mazzocchi’s story that the environmental and labor movements can win for the working class together. This is because environmentalists and union activists have shared interests, and they can’t allow themselves to be distracted by a few divergent viewpoints— which, while extremely important, are not actually winnable until the environmental and labor movements stop seeing each other as the enemy. The future depends on a green labor alliance whereby the mighty strength of the union movement can be married to GND aspirations. Behind the closed doors of policy-writing offices, union leaders and environmentalists can hash out their conflicts—but in the battle against climate change and the Chamber of Commerce, they must stand united. Maybe that way environmentalists can be seen as people who work for a living.

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7. 8. 9.

10. 11. 12. 13.


Richard White, “ ‘A re You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?’ Work and Nature,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon, 171– 85 (New York: Norton, 1996). Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez, “The Spotted Owl Controversy,” Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, November  13, 2015, /ethics-and-the-environment-the-spotted-owl/. Jon Parton, “Biologists Urge Action to Protect California Spotted Owl,” Courthouse News Service, January 21, 2020, biologists-urge-action-to -protect-california-spotted-owl/. Craig Welch, “The Spotted Owl’s New Nemesis,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 2009, https://www. smithsonianmag. com /science -nature /the - spotted - owls -new -nemesis -131610387/. Brad Knickerbocker, “Northern Spotted Owl’s Decline Revives Old Concerns,” Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 2007, .html. Mindy Isser, “Climate Activists Can’t Afford to Ignore Labor. A Shuttered Refinery in Philly Shows Why,” In These Times, January 10, 2020, /entry/22243 /climate-workers -just-transition -philadelphia- energy-solutions -workers -labor. Isser, “Climate Activists Can’t Afford.” Isser, “Climate Activists Can’t Afford.” Andrew Maykuth, “After Last-Minute Negotiations, Judge Picks a Winner in Philadelphia Refinery Auction,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 12, 2020, https://www.inquirer .com / business /energy/pes -hilco -philadelphia -refinery -bankruptcy -auction -winner -20200213 .html. Les Leopold, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi (White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2007). Connor Kilpatrick, “Victory over the Sun,” Jacobin, August  31, 2017, https://www “Tony Mazzocchi Center,” accessed April 2020, /. Wendy Ruderman and Kristen  A. Graham, “Cancer in the Classroom,” Philadelphia Inquirer, November  21, 2019, -philadelphia-school-district-lea-dirusso-cancer-20191121.html; and Avi WolfmanArent, “Gnawing Question for Former Philly Teacher: Did My School Make Me Sick?,” Philadelphia Tribune, January  30, 2020, /gnawing - question -for-former-philly-teacher- did -my-school -make /article_0d972fe3 -e0c8 -5f9f-a1b3-d9be1af8fb49 .html. Kristen A. Graham, “Philly School Buildings Need Nearly $5B in Repairs, New Report Says,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 26, 2017, /Phila-school-buildings-need-almost-5b-in-repairs.html.

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18. 19.


“Toxic Schools 215: A Tale of Two Cities,” Teacher Action Group, Philadelphia, February 6, 2019, /toxic-schools-215-a-tale-of-two-cities/. “Greening the Economy: A Climate Change and Jobs Strategy That Works for All,” Executive Council Statement, AFL- CIO, March 4, 2008, /about /leadership/statements/greening-economy-climate-change-and-jobs-strategy-works-all. Lara Skinner, “Reversing Inequality, Combating Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State,” ILR Worker Institute, Cornell University, June  1, 2017, https://www.ilr.cornell .edu /worker-institute /nys -projects/reversing -inequality- com batting-climate-change. “The Oil & Natural Gas Labor-Management Committee,” North America’s Building Trade Unions, accessed April 2020, /industries/oil-natural-gas/. Betty Hung and Kent Wong, “Bargaining for the Common Good: An Analysis of the Los Angeles Teachers’ Strike,” Medium, March 15, 2019, bargaining-for-the-common-good-an-analysis -of-the-los -angeles -teachers -strike- 6dc5db7a01b; and Alan Maass, “Chicago Teachers Strike for the Common Good,” Jacobin, October 27, 2019, -union-strike-ctu-cps. Nato Green, “Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change,” In These Times, March 12, 2019, /entry/21791/green-new-deal-climate -change-labor-common-good-bargaining-permissive.

chapter 9

“Fancy Funeral” or Radical Rebirth? Just Transition and the Future of Work(ers) in the United States todd e. vachon


orking people are facing dual crises of ecology and inequality. Climate change is negatively affecting human health and quality of life and disproportionately impacting marginalized populations. At the same time, socioeconomic inequality has increased dramatically. The top 1  percent of earners now take home 22  percent of all income in the United States, the top 10 percent own 76 percent of all wealth, and real wages for American workers have been stagnant for decades.1 These economic disparities are often amplified along the lines of race, gender, and citizenship status. The failure to act on climate and the emergence of a deregulated, oligopolistic form of capitalism are linked problems, perpetuated by the same powerful actors. We cannot successfully address one crisis without addressing the other. This historic moment calls for bold action that simultaneously addresses both crises by putting Americans to work building an economy that is just, equitable, and sustainable. A Green New Deal, as envisioned by labor-climate activists in recent years and detailed in House Resolution 109 by Rep. Alexandria OcasioCortez and Sen. Ed Markey, provides a roadmap for such action.2 Unlike previous efforts to address climate change, which have ignored existing inequalities and the ways in which climate change mitigation can exacerbate them, the Green New Deal (GND) rightly sees climate policy as not merely environmental policy but also social and economic policy.3 The transition away from a growth-oriented extractive economy toward a regenerative, sustainable economy will completely reshape existing labor markets, threaten to erase the gains made over generations by workers in the

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historically unionized blue-collar energy sector, and further shift employment into sectors where unions have been unable to gain a foothold due to a combination of employer hostility and pro-business labor laws. The fear these changes elicit among workers and communities make solutions to the climate crisis tremendously challenging. However, the worst possible outcomes that are feared by many labor leaders—such as mass unemployment and the collapse of local economies—are only a foregone conclusion when operating under the rules of neoliberal governance. If done correctly, confronting the climate crisis offers a great opportunity to move our society toward a dual democratic commitment to work being rewarding and available to all who want it and all workers being able to exercise voice in their workplaces and over the economy as a whole. Achieving these ends will require a “just transition” plan for displaced workers as well as for historically marginalized workers and for frontline environmental justice communities. Such a plan is not just a good idea, it is an imperative—both morally and pragmatically—if we are to avoid the worst consequences of climate change and inequality. The Moral Argument for a Just Transition: It is unjust to place the economic burden and hardship of a socially necessary transition on the workers, families, and communities that have toiled in the dirty and dangerous energy jobs that have powered the entire economy for the past century and a half. It is also unjust to further exacerbate the environmental injustices that have been forced upon so many frontline communities that reaped few if any benefits from the existing carbon-based energy systems, only the harms. The Pragmatic Argument for a Just Transition: Comprehensive climate legislation has proven to be so elusive in large part because of the inability to pull together a broad enough coalition to support it. Any group that is positioned to suffer economic losses as a result of climate mitigation is likely to be an organized force of opposition. To succeed, climate protection programs require active relationship building among all stakeholders to develop just transition programs that address the concerns of all parties, including workers and frontline communities. In this chapter, I draw knowledge from my personal experience in the labor movement as a union carpenter, public sector organizer, education union leader, and participant in the labor-climate movement to elaborate on one of the defining features of the GND that sets it apart from other efforts to address the climate crisis—a just transition. To be successful, I contend, a truly just transition for workers and communities must be protective, proactive, and transformative.4 It

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must be protective by ensuring the economic well-being of workers and communities impacted by the transition; proactive by democratically developing a forwardlooking transition plan through active participation by a broad base of stakeholders; and transformative by centering social justice, redressing past and present injustices, and recreating “the rules of the game” to ensure shared and sustainable prosperity. In sum, the overall argument put forth is threefold: (a) Climate action without a just transition will never work (pragmatically); (b) Climate action without a just transition would be morally wrong as a matter of distributive justice; and (c) Achieving the full potential of a GND requires a just transition that is more than merely protective but one that is also proactive (by increasing political voice) and transformative (by eliminating forms of structural inequality and marginalization). The remainder of this chapter briefly reviews the history of just transition, including its competing understandings and opposition to it; outlines six key elements the GND must include to ensure the energy transition is just, moral, and pragmatically attainable (centering social justice, a strong social safety net, education and training, pro-worker labor market policies, capital and revenue supports, and economic democracy); and considers the prospects for achieving a just transition through the evolving GND framework that is increasingly coming into focus.


Conceived of first as a “Superfund for workers,” the concept of a “just transition” originates from the work of the American labor and environmental health and safety activist Tony Mazzocchi of the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers union in the 1990s.5 Summarizing Mazzocchi’s definition of the Superfund for workers, Jeremy Brecher says: “It is a basic principle of fairness that the burden of policies that are necessary for society—like protecting the environment— shouldn’t be borne by a small minority, who through no fault of their own happen to be victimized by their side effects.” 6 The term just transition is believed to have been first used in 1995 by Les Leopold and Brian Kohler during a presentation to the International Joint Commission on Great Lakes Water Quality.7 Broken into its constituent parts, transition refers to “the passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another,” and just, in this usage, is the root word for justice, meaning “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good.”8

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In other words, just transition combines the often-conflicting projects of economic transition and the pursuit of social justice into one combined endeavor. When confronting the problem of climate change, the potential for injustice is great, particularly if decisions are made solely by economic elites and grounded in the logic of neoliberal capitalism.9 This logic (or dogma) of unregulated markets is at the root of the false choice that workers are confronted with when they are made to decide between either having good jobs or having a healthy environment.10 The very notion of a just transition challenges the powerful neoliberal ideology that has dominated U.S. governance since the late 1970s. It instead offers a vision of economic democracy, including public intervention into markets to account for the full social costs and benefits of environmental and economic policies to create the most just, not necessarily the most profitable, outcome for all. In other words, just transition puts people before profits and by doing so undermines the basis for most jobs versus the environment conflicts.

Just Transition for Whom? Transitioning away from the current fossil fuel–based economy will require considerable economic changes, including large shifts in employment away from extractive industries and toward new green technologies. This transition will directly impact the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers in the fossil fuel industry and indirectly affect just as many workers in related sectors such as transportation and electricity generation and transmission. New jobs created by the transition will likely require different skills and temperaments and will likely be in different geographic locations than the old fossil fuel jobs. Without intervention, the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy will also signal a decline in traditionally unionized occupations and a shift toward jobs where unions have not yet flourished, amounting to an overall decline in bargaining power for workers in a period of already historically low levels of unionization. To illustrate this disparity in bargaining power, consider that the national average income for natural gas plant operators is $78,000 annually, while rooftop solar installers earn an average salary of just $46,000 (on the gendered nature of this disparity, see chapter 4 by Alyssa Battistoni in this volume).11 At the same time, as a result of the legacy of racism and discriminatory hiring practices in the United States, workers from historically marginalized communities, particularly Black and Latinx workers, have often been systematically

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deprived of opportunities to share in the prosperity generated by the extractive economy. Adding insult to injury, these same workers have disproportionately born the burden of the pollution created by the fossil fuel industry. For example, a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that air pollution exposure in the United States is disproportionately caused by the nonHispanic white majority but disproportionately inhaled by Black and Hispanic minorities.12 On average, non-Hispanic white people experience a “pollution advantage” of about 17 percent less air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption, while Black and Hispanic people on average bear a “pollution burden” of 56 percent and 63 percent excess exposure, respectively. So when asked “just transition for whom?” the answer should be “just transition for all.” First, without a strong guarantee of social protections and good jobs, fossil fuel workers will be fierce opponents to legislative efforts to decarbonize the economy. Second, it is not difficult to see why climate justice activists from frontline communities would be hesitant to support just transition plans focusing exclusively on helping the well-paid fossil fuel workers when their community members were not only denied a fair chance to work on those jobs but also disproportionately suffered the health impacts resulting from them. Of course it is an oversimplification to think of these two groups as entirely separate and mutually exclusive. We know climate change harms everyone, and we know the working class is multiracial; therefore, for pragmatic reasons, climate solutions must address the concerns of those workers facing displacement. However, the patterns of inequality in access to economic opportunity and exposure to environmental burden reveal the moral need for a solution that addresses the historical legacy of racism in America, including how it intersects with social, environmental, and economic outcomes (as Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò also argues in chapter 14 of this volume). For these reasons, I have argued that a just transition program should be protective, proactive, and transformative in nature.13 The protective elements of a just transition include labor market protections that provide a social floor at the workplace and community levels in response to job loss in the fossil fuel and related industries as a result of decarbonizing the economy. The proactive elements of a just transition are forward-looking and involve social dialogue among various stakeholders, including labor unions and community groups, to develop a large-scale plan to transition the entire economy away from fossil fuels in the coming years. The transformative elements of a just transition involve confronting

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the history of injustices along the lines of race, class, and gender as well as confronting the root cause of many of these inequities—the profit motive associated with private corporate ownership and control over key elements of the economy such as natural resources and energy.

Opposition to Just Transition When the GND resolution was introduced to Congress, leaders from several unions representing workers employed in the energy sector were very critical of the proposal. In a letter to Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Markey, they stated: “We will not accept proposals that will cause immediate harm to millions of our members and their families. We will not stand by and allow threats to our members’ jobs and their families’ standard of living go unanswered.”14 This response was due in large part to what was seen as an attack on energy workers’ jobs. While the resolution calls for millions of new jobs and a just transition for workers and communities, a resolution is not binding like a law, and it does not earmark funding for programs. For most labor leaders, one job in hand is worth a million jobs promised by a politician. Further, the phrase just transition is seen by many U.S. labor leaders as a code word for job loss, perhaps with some pseudo-protections for workers.15 For example, when Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mineworkers, was questioned about just transition, he simply said: “I’ve never seen one.”16 At the heart of existing labor opposition to just transition is the bad experience workers have had with previous government programs designed to help workers who have experienced job displacement as a result of public policy.17 A prime example is the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which was designed to assist workers harmed by international trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The program is generally seen as inadequate for a number of reasons, including the limited number of workers that actually qualify for assistance, the level of assistance, and the inability of the job retraining program to guarantee a job at the end. In fact, most workers who received training with the program did not end up with jobs in the fields they had trained for.18 In effect, workers lost good-paying blue-collar jobs, went through an inadequate job training and placement program, and ended up with low-paying jobs they could have landed without the program. This has led many unions to be highly skeptical of government transition programs. AFL- CIO President

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Richard Trumka even went so far as to refer to just transition as “an invitation to a fancy funeral.” To overcome the “fancy funeral” moniker, the GND’s just transition plan must be robust, fully funded, and developed with input from the various groups it will affect, particularly workers, unions, and frontline communities. With the price for renewable energy sources competing with—and in some cases cheaper than—fossil fuels, and with the growing political support for climate action, including within the recently elected Biden administration, an energy transition seems increasingly likely; what is less certain, though, is whether it will be just. In the following section I identify six core elements of a just transition and offer some policy examples within each category.


Of course, the best “just transition” is simply another good-paying job in the wings, but it is important to consider contingency plans in cases when that may not be feasible. Overall, a just transition program must balance the needs of displaced workers organized by unions who are relatively well-off and the needs of those largely excluded from equally good employment—and those who have historically often been excluded from unions as well. In what follows, I briefly review some of the key elements of a just transition program that could be considered when drafting GND legislation. I identify six broad areas—social justice, social safety net measures, education and training, labor market policies, capital and revenue supports, and economic democracy. Most of these proposals could be actionable at the national level through legislation or executive orders; many others could be implemented by states or large municipalities or through collective bargaining agreements where unions are present. This list of potential policies provided below is not exhaustive, but for the energy transition to be just, the GND must address each of the six elements elaborated below.

Centering Social Justice First, a truly just transition must center social justice. As a guidepost, the GND’s just transition program should adopt the seventeen principles of environmental justice as elaborated by the delegates of the First National People of Color

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Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991.19 To address previous and existing environmental and economic injustices, a just transition could begin by prioritizing infrastructure projects in environmental justice communities (frontline communities affected by environmental degradation) and Indigenous communities, including repairing lead-poisoned water supply lines, shuttering waste incinerators, closing landfills near residential neighborhoods, and replacing fossil fuel– burning power plants with renewable sources. These projects could require that a percentage of the jobs created to address these problems be filled by local community residents through local hiring requirements.20 Such hiring provisions could create an entry point into trade union apprenticeship programs for community members and help build careers that go beyond the immediate project at hand. Progressive procurement policies could lift up women and minorityowned businesses along the supply chain. Such businesses tend to have more diverse workforces as well, thus amplifying the social justice benefits. To confront historical injustices in the criminal justice system, ban the box laws could also assist with pathways to reentry for formerly incarcerated workers. Overall, any just transition program must redress past injustices by creating pathways for members of historically marginalized communities to participate in the new climate-safe energy sector, whether it be through union apprenticeship programs, a federal jobs guarantee, or as a requirement for awards of public contracts to private companies completing GND-related projects. In other words, social justice is not just an added benefit but should be centered in the transition, including within each of the other elements reviewed below.

A Strong Social Safety Net Unlike most other rich capitalist democracies, the United States has a very weak social safety net. The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 made this abundantly clear for the world to see. Unemployment insurance payments are minimal and short in duration. The average weekly benefit for unemployed workers in 2019 was $367, and the maximum duration for receiving the benefit was twenty-six weeks.21 Many workers in the so-called gig economy that are classified as independent contractors are not even eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Further, when workers lose their jobs, they not only lose their income, they also lose health insurance for themselves and their families if they are fortunate enough to have an employment-based private plan. Medical bills are the

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primary cause of housing foreclosures in the United States and lead to over 500,000 bankruptcy filings each year.22 Workers also stop contributing to retirement plans when they are unemployed, further exacerbating the crisis of retirement savings among Americans. A just transition should include several improvements to and expansions of the existing social safety net to make job displacement less harmful to workers. Notably, many of these benefits would protect not only those workers displaced by climate legislation but also workers who are displaced as a result of plant closures from deindustrialization or automation, those whose jobs are devastated by the effects of climate change itself, and those who have been marginalized in the labor market as a result of structural racism—including discriminatory hiring practices and a racially biased criminal justice system. Some social safety net measures that could support workers in transition include increasing unemployment insurance payment rates and extending the duration of unemployment benefits. Going beyond unemployment insurance, a wage replacement program could provide full wages and benefits for up to three years to displaced workers as they transition to new careers. Alternatively, a mandatory severance payment for workers who are part of a mass layoff could also help. Absent a more universal health program (such as Medicare for All, which is called for in the GND resolution), a stop-gap health insurance fund could be created to cover the costs of continuing the displaced worker’s existing employee health insurance plan for a prescribed period or until they are reemployed with a new plan, effectively decoupling health care from employment. Large employers could be required to give a minimum advance notice before a mass layoff that would put at least fifty people out of work. Plants facing closure could also be required to negotiate phase-out plans with their workers. A slow and orderly phase-out plan could transition younger workers out first and into other jobs while keeping older workers employed long enough to reach their planned retirement age. Such a plan was negotiated by the electrical workers union in California during the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. In fact, an analysis by the Political Economy Research Institute found that 83 percent of job losses in the fossil fuel industry can be covered through attrition-byretirement.23 For workers nearing retirement age, an optional early retirement program could be established to help those who would prefer to transition out of the workforce rather than start a new career later in life. These and other programs could be part of what Tony Mazzocchi called a “Superfund for workers” to provide valuable protections for those facing job loss.24

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Similarly, a universal retirement program could be created where, when switching jobs, workers can rollover their existing 401(k) or various other types of retirement accounts into a single universal retirement saving account, increasing overall savings by reducing paperwork burdens and financial fees for both employers and employees. Additionally, collectively bargained pensions should be insured by the federal government. If banks can be bailed out, then surely workers who lose their jobs due to no fault of their own can be as well. Another idea gaining support in recent years is a universal basic income (UBI). The UBI, or guaranteed annual income, would be a public program providing a basic living stipend to all on an individual basis without means testing or work requirements. The income payments would be unconditional, automatic, and a right of every individual. In light of the massive unemployment experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, support for UBI has increased, especially considering the large number of workers who were not eligible for standard unemployment insurance. The CARES Act provided temporary relief, including a one-time direct cash transfer along the lines of a UBI. Considering the likelihood that so many of the lost jobs during the pandemic will not return for many years, if ever, once-radical ideas like a UBI or, as proposed below, a federal jobs guarantee are worth serious consideration. However, to be just, a UBI would have to be part of a larger package of social welfare programs and labor market policies—not a substitute for them—because cash transfers without structural changes do not help to solve problems in the long run.

Education and Training Programs In the United States, education is an expensive endeavor that places nearly all the risk, usually in the form of debt, on the individual, with no guarantee that the investment will lead to a job in the end. The transition for workers from one occupation to another is made easier when education is highly subsidized or free and, like health insurance and other benefits, continues during interim periods of unemployment. The lack of affordable education options and adequate social welfare programs has been cited as one of the major reasons for the difference in support for climate protection measures between workers in the European context and the American context.25 Below are some education measures that could make socioeconomic transitions less harmful to workers.

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First and foremost, as Stephanie Luce also argues in chapter 5 of this volume, a just transition would highly subsidize job training, retraining, and college education—including at technical schools and liberal arts colleges—for displaced workers and workers from historically marginalized communities. Such efforts at decommodifying education could also go a long way toward reducing the historic disparity in educational opportunities for children from affluent versus less affluent families. Additionally, the opportunity for individuals to access higher education and advanced training will support the development of the specific labor-force skills that are needed for building, operating, maintaining, and managing the new green economy. Existing apprenticeship programs could be expanded as well, and new ones created for occupations that are crucial to the ongoing energy transition and the future maintenance of a regenerative economy. From wind to solar to storage technologies to electric vehicle charging, mass transit, and smart grids, the investment in training will not only help to transition displaced workers but will also be necessary to successfully build and operate a sustainable economy. Apprenticeships can also create pathways into unionized jobs for workers who have been historically excluded from such opportunities. Training and education programs should also be created to help expand the already-existing lowcarbon sectors of the labor market, such as health care and education. Further, these and other programs should specifically target frontline communities who have systematically encountered a dearth of good education and employment opportunities.

Pro-Worker Labor Market Policies One of the key fears of many blue-collar workers is that the collapse of the fossil fuel industry will also mean the collapse of many good, unionized job opportunities for workers with less than a college degree. Globalization and outsourcing have already stripped away most of the good-paying manufacturing jobs that were a pathway to the middle class in a previous era. The fossil fuel industry, electric utilities, and commercial construction are some of the few remaining areas where unions still thrive in the private sector. Another concern is the geographic specificity of fossil fuel work and the likelihood that new jobs would be in different locations, requiring different skills. A strong package of labor market protections and regulations could help unions to grow again, to make jobs in

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all industries into good jobs, and to help create jobs locally in the regions where old jobs are lost. Some parts of such a package include living wage ordinances, changes to union election rules, expansion of prevailing wage laws, local hiring and procurement measures, and a federal jobs program where the government could serve as the employer of last resort hiring unemployed workers to engage in climate protection work or to address the many social needs not currently met by the private sector. More details on each are below. Replacing the minimum wage with a living wage law that accounts for variation in the cost of living across space and time would go a long way to ensure that workers transitioning away from fossil fuels are not left behind. A living wage provision would also ensure that existing low-wage jobs, which are disproportionately performed by women and people of color, pay a fair rate. Many of these jobs—often in the service and care sectors—are also key elements of a carbon neutral economy, but they have been devalued in part because of the gender composition of the workforce combined with the history of pay inequity for women and people of color. In addition to raising wages, reducing working hours would help to ensure adequate employment opportunities for all who want to work. Prevailing wage laws, such as the Davis–Bacon Act of 1931, ensure that workers employed on public construction projects receive family-supporting compensation reflective of the local market rate. The main purpose of prevailing wage laws is to maintain local labor quality, training, and wage standards and to support the local economy in the competitive public bidding process. The law creates a level playing field for all contractors by ensuring that workers are paid an appropriate wage based on job classification and skill, incentivizing contractors to compete over factors other than labor costs. A green prevailing wage law could be created to set locally determined minimum wage and benefit requirements for all Green New Deal–related employment, ranging from construction to operations and services.26 A green prevailing wage could also be used to set sector-level wages to ensure that renewable energy jobs pay the same rate as fossil fuel jobs. Research has attributed much of the growth of income inequality in recent decades to the decline in unionization.27 Card-check union recognition would make unionization less burdensome and undermine many of the anti-union tactics that employers currently deploy with little or no penalty. Currently in the private sector, workers must petition to hold an election and then wait several

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weeks before the election is held, a period in which employers engage in intimidation campaigns to drum up fear and break unionization efforts. Card-check recognition would allow unions to be formed based on a majority of members signing cards indicating they would like to form a union. A first-contract statute could also be created to ensure companies cannot break newly formed unions by denying a first contract. Under such a provision, employers would be required to begin negotiating in good faith within a defined number of days of receiving a request from a newly formed union. If no agreement is reached after a defined period of negotiation, the parties would begin a compulsory mediation process. If an agreement is not reached after the mediation period, the contract would be settled through binding arbitration. Additional provisions to help unions grow include a partial or complete repeal of the Taft–Hartley Act. For example, section 14(b) of the Taft–Hartley Act has allowed twenty-eight states to pass so-called right-to-work legislation that eliminates the ability of unions to collect dues from those who benefit from union contracts and activities, creating the potential for large-scale free-rider problems. Taft–Hartley also outlawed jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity strikes, political strikes, secondary boycotts, and mass picketing, all of which undermined the power of an organized labor force to fight for and win major gains for the working class. A just transition should also extend the right to organize to all categories of workers. Currently, many workers, such as domestic workers and farmworkers, lack the basic protections that other workers enjoy under federal labor law.28 A just transition could also ensure that all employment relationships are properly classified as such. Many of these jobs will form a solid base of the low-carbon economy and workers in these sectors should be allotted the same rights as workers in other sectors. Most of the so-called gig economy misclassifies employees as independent contractors in order to skirt providing benefits and to undermine the ability of workers to unionize. An A-B-C Test of employee status could help ensure that workers are properly classified as employees for the purposes of collective bargaining.29 The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in early 2021, would go a long way to address all of the labor law issues raised here and strengthen the ability of workers to organize and bargain collectively. When it comes to facility closures as a result of decarbonization, or for any other reason, employers should be required to bargain over impacts with workers whether or not they have a union in place. Workers should also have the right

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to purchase their workplaces before any other buyers when they are up for sale or slated to close—a process known as the right of first refusal. Proponents of worker ownership have proposed that companies being sold or closed should be held in escrow for a period of time while the workers are made aware of how much they would need to pay to exercise the right of first refusal.30 The workers would then vote on whether to pursue the purchase. Special funds, described more in the next section, could be created to help facilitate these transitions of ownership. Local hiring statutes could mandate that GND projects hire a certain percentage of workers from the community in which the project is being completed. This would help to create pathways into jobs with career ladders for historically marginalized groups of workers. As these workers gain skills and experience, they will earn living wages doing the work of redressing a long history of environmental racism in their local communities. Local procurement statutes would require a certain percentage of materials used for GND projects to be produced locally. This would help to revitalize domestic manufacturing and create additional blue-collar job opportunities for workers with less than a college degree.31 Perhaps the boldest active labor market policy the GND could pursue would be a federal jobs guarantee—the topic of Dustin Guastella’s chapter in this volume (chapter 7). A “jobs for all” plan could be a federal program similar to the original New Deal’s Works Progress Administration that provides funds for local governments, nonprofit organizations, and other agencies serving the public to employ anyone who wants a job at a living wage. This type of Keynesian full-employment policy would not only ensure jobs for all who want them but would also likely be necessary to mobilize the productive capacity needed to build a truly climate-safe society. The jobs program would not exclude any individual or group of people who want to work, and it could be transformative by making special efforts to employ workers from frontline communities, veterans, at-risk youth, ex-convicts, people with disabilities, and other people with special needs or barriers to employment.

Capital and Revenue Supports Job reductions can affect more than just individual workers. Often whole communities suffer from the decline in spending by displaced workers as well as the decline in tax revenue at the local level. The problem is particularly germane in

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many fossil fuel extraction communities with less diversified economies that rely heavily on the income and tax revenue generated by a small number of employers in just one industry—such as coal mining. In these cases, a tax base support fund could provide money to the municipality or county to replace lost tax revenues and keep vital services, such as the public school system, operating for up to five years while a broader economic transition plan is developed.32 Such a plan could draw lessons from the highly successful process that helped local communities adjust to the disruption caused by military base closures under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Commission.33 Those communities were supported by a variety of federal assistance programs, including planning and economic assistance, environmental cleanup, and funding for a range of community services. Community development grants are another effective means of funding efforts by communities to reshape and diversify their local economies and transition to a post–carbon income and tax base. Low or zero-interest loans for new businesses can also help to jumpstart new economic ventures in former fossil fuel communities. Particular focus should be given to cooperatives and worker-owned enterprises, which tend to lack a good source of start-up capital. In the case of workers seeking to purchase their place of employment under the “right of first refusal” protection described above, they should be able to access a dedicated pool of capital for worker ownership transitions. The loan could be repaid with revenue generated by the now cooperatively owned enterprise or via payment in kind through some combination of efforts by the cooperative to address social needs through production, be more environmentally sustainable, or rectify legacies of discrimination in the workplace or community.34

Economic Democracy When faced with the option of either keeping well-paying fossil fuel jobs or putting faith into hypothetical plans for a transition, it’s not hard to understand why many workers have fought to protect their jobs—especially if they have not been included in discussions around what a transition would look like for them.35 The supposed lack of consultation in the drafting of the original GND resolution was one of the biggest critiques raised by many labor leaders. Environmental justice groups have long been unjustly excluded from important policy

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discussions where more highly funded big green groups alone were invited to represent an environmental perspective.36 Fortunately, the GND resolution does call for future participation by stakeholders such as those from labor and frontline communities in shaping the policy and programs that would define the actual GND: “a Green New Deal must be developed through transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline and vulnerable communities, labor unions, worker cooperatives, civil society groups, academia, and businesses.”37 Stakeholder participation in designing a just transition, including democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by workers and frontline communities, is paramount to the initial political success and ultimate economic success of any transition plan. One way to ensure the process is democratic and inclusive would be for all participating parties to adopt the Jemez Principles for democratic organizing as ground rules for the difficult discussions required to develop a just transition program. A just transition should also help to reduce the broader democracy deficit that workers and frontline communities face in the United States and that often leads to the false choice between jobs and environmental protections (see chapter  2 by Hillary Angelo in this volume). Mandating worker membership on corporate boards is one way to ensure workers have some influence in their companies’ decision-making processes. Broadening and deepening the scope of collective bargaining is another way of empowering workers on the job and in the economy. For example, sectoral bargaining would allow workers to bargain wages and working conditions across an entire sector involving multiple employers. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act originally allowed for sectoral bargaining in some industries, but that aspect of the law was repealed in the late 1940s.38 Sectoral bargaining could be included in just transition plans to ensure that new green energy jobs offer the same rates and benefits as the old fossil fuel jobs. Bargaining for the common good (BCG) seeks to expand democracy by reimagining the participants, processes, and purposes of collective bargaining.39 BCG efforts expand the scope of bargaining to include demands that go beyond wages and benefits and expand the participants at the bargaining table by bringing union members and community allies together to develop demands jointly. The union and its allies then present their demands not only to the direct employer of the unionized workers but to the web of corporate and financial

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relationships that influence or control the employer. Most importantly, BCG efforts see the purpose of collective bargaining as not only securing material gains for workers but also addressing deeper structural inequities and building a more just and sustainable world. Changes in existing labor law could expand the scope of mandatory topics for bargaining, expand the bounds of bargaining unit membership to include vital stakeholders in the process, or both. The existing, neoliberal approaches to the climate crisis have repeatedly undermined democracy by putting private profits before the common good. The phrase energy democracy has emerged in recent years as part of a transformative vision of just transition. The core tenet of energy democracy is the transfer of ownership and control of the energy sector to the public, which could be local communities, or to new or “reclaimed” old public entities such as utilities.40 Proponents, such as Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, argue that the only way to ensure a just transition to renewable energy sources is to replace the profit motive as the primary factor in decision-making regarding energy and replace it with the public interest. Publicly owned and democratically controlled energy systems whose guiding principle is maximizing the public good will not only facilitate the rapid transfer to renewable sources that is needed to address climate change but also ensure that the transition is done equitably, protecting vulnerable workers and addressing existing environmental injustices.


To be successful, a truly just transition must be protective, proactive, and transformative. For both moral and pragmatic reasons, it must prioritize social justice and the protection of displaced workers, and it must be developed democratically through active participation by a broad base of stakeholders. Through a federal jobs guarantee, free or subsidized education, and various innovations in labor market policy that focus on social justice, all people in the United States who want to work could be gainfully employed and earn a living wage with ample benefits. Low-carbon workers like nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers would be valued and paid adequately for their important work in a regenerative economy. Displaced fossil fuel workers would be reemployed at equivalent wages, and historically marginalized populations would have equal access to new and

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existing labor market opportunities. With full employment in effect, the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs would have to be improved to attract employees or else technology would be developed to perform those tasks. The public jobs program would also prioritize projects that are deemed socially valuable rather than those that are most profitable, leading to a net improvement in the quality of life for everyone. Improvements in the social safety net—including the decoupling of health care from employment—and changes to corporate governance structures and union bargaining laws would dramatically increase economic democracy. Workers would have greater freedom to pursue the careers they are passionate about without worrying about the health benefits package offered by various employers. They would also be free to switch jobs throughout their lives without fear of losing vital benefits. Through their seats on corporate boards, workers would exercise greater control over economic decisions made at the firm level. Through deepened and broadened collective bargaining processes, workers would also enjoy greater influence over decisions affecting the broader economy. Overall, a socially just transition program could be imagined as an updated and expanded version of the GI Bill of Rights that provided education and training; loan guarantees for homes, farms, and businesses; and unemployment pay for veterans returning from World War II. A similar “green” bill of rights is needed today for members of frontline communities and those who are displaced from their jobs through no fault of their own. Just like the broader New Deal analogy, the bill of rights program would have to be updated to not only include but prioritize the needs of folks who have been historically marginalized throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including people of color, Indigenous peoples, women, the disabled, and other groups that have often been left behind in government social programs. In this chapter I have laid out what I see as six key elements of a truly just transition that would need to be included in such a bill of rights—centering social justice, a strong social safety net, education and training, pro-worker labor market policies, capital and revenue supports, and economic democracy. A just transition program that incorporates these six elements, thereby challenging the dominant free market governing ideology and expanding and deepening democracy in America, is both morally and pragmatically necessary in order to successfully confront the dual crises of climate change and inequality. Only by putting people before profits and well-being before bottom lines can we

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fundamentally reorient our economy and move toward sustainable and shared prosperity. In other words, a just transition does not have to be a fancy funeral, it can be a radical rebirth that puts the future of work in the hands of American workers themselves—but only if we organize and fight for it. NOTES 1. 2.



5. 6. 7. 8.


10. 11. 12.

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st  Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014). H. Res.109—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, introduced February  7, 2019, 116th  Congress, 1st  session, https://www.congress .gov/ bill/116th-congress/ house-resolution/109/text. J. Mijin Cha, Dimitris Stevis, Todd E. Vachon, Vivian Price, and Maria Brescia-Weiler, “Green New Deal for All: Toward a Worker and Community-Led Just Transition in the US.” Political Geography (forthcoming). The Report of the Just Transition Listening Project calls for just transition policies to “go big, go wide, and go far.” J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon with Maria Brescia-Weiler, “Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project,” Labor Network for Sustainability, 2021, https:// /jtlp-2021/jtlp-report/; and Todd E. Vachon, “The Green New Deal and Just Transition Frames Within the American Labor Movement,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Environmental Labour Studies, ed. Nora Räthzel, Dimitris Stevis, and David Uzzell, 105– 26 (New York: Palgrave, 2021). Les Leopold, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor (White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green, 2007). Jeremy Brecher, “A Superfund for Workers: How to Promote a Just Transition and Break Out of the Jobs vs. Environment Trap,” Dollars and Sense (November/December 2015), 34. Paul Hampton, Workers and Trade Unions for Climate Solidarity: Tackling Climate Change in a Neoliberal World (New York: Routledge, 2015). “Transition,” Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, accessed December  29, 2021,; and “Just,” Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, accessed December 29, 2021, David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); and Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014). Todd E. Vachon and Jeremy Brecher, “Are Union Members More or Less Likely to Be Environmentalists? Some Evidence from Surveys,” Labor Studies Journal 41 (2016): 185–203. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment Statistics, 2018,” accessed January 24, 2019, - 0000. Christopher  W. Tessum, Joshua  S. Apte, Andrew  L. Goodkind, Nicholas  Z. Muller, Kimberley  A. Mullins, David  A. Paolella, Stephen Polasky, et  al., “Inequity in

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13. 14. 15. 16. 17.


19. 20. 21. 22.


24. 25.




Consumption of Goods and Services Adds to Racial–Ethnic Disparities in Air Pollution Exposure,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 116 (2019): 6001– 6, /10.1073/pnas.1818859116. Vachon, “The Green New Deal.” AFL- CIO Energy Committee, “Letter to Senator Markey and Representative Ocasio Cortez,” March 8, 2019. “Just Transition, Just What Is It?,” Labor Network for Sustainability, accessed February 10, 2020, “Just Transition, Just What Is It?” Todd E. Vachon, “Skin in the Game: The Struggle over Climate Protection Within the U.S. Labor Movement,” in Handbook of Anti-Environmentalism, ed. David Tindall, Mark C. J. Stoddart, and Riley E. Dunlap (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2021). Jim Barret, “Worker Transition and Global Climate Change,” Pew Center on Global Climate Change, December 2001, /document/worker-transition-global -climate-change/. Robert Bullard, “Principles of Environmental Justice Turn 21,” accessed October  27, 2020, This requires overturning a Reagan-era ban on geographically based hiring preferences for federally funded projects. “How We Calculate Benefits,” U.S. Department of Labor (2019), https://www.myun David U. Himmelstein, Robert M. Lawless, Deborah Thorne, Pamela Foohey, and Steffie Woolhandler, “Medical Bankruptcy: Still Common Despite the Affordable Care Act,” American Journal of Public Health 109, no.  3 (2019): 431– 33, /10.2105 /ajph.2018 .304901. Robert Pollin and Brian Callaci, “The Economics of Just Transition: A Framework for Supporting Fossil Fuel-Dependent Workers and Communities in the United States,” Political Economy Research Institute, Working Paper #423, October 2016, https://peri k2/attachments/ WP423 .pdf. Brecher, “A Superfund for Workers.” Allen Hyde and Todd E. Vachon, “Running with or Against the Treadmill? Unions, Institutional Contexts, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in a Comparative Perspective,” Environmental Sociology 5, no. 3 (2019): 269– 82. Todd  E. Vachon, “The Green Transition: Renewable Energy Technology, Climate Change Mitigation, and the Future of Work in New Jersey,” Prepared for the New Jersey Governor’s Task Force on the Future of Work, accessed May 21, 2020, https://fowtf Bruce Western and Jake Rosenfeld, “Unions, Norms, and the Rise in US Wage Inequality,” American Sociological Review 76 (2011): 513– 37; and Allen Hyde, Todd E. Vachon, and Michael Wallace, “Financialization, Income Inequality, and Redistribution in 18 Affluent Democracies,” Social Currents 5 (2017): 193–211. These categories of predominantly Black workers at the time were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 in order to garner the required votes from southern Democrats in Congress.

212 Delivering Jobs and Empowering Workers 29.

30. 31.


33. 34. 35.


37. 38.



Some courts using this test look at whether a worker meets three separate criteria to be considered an independent contractor: (a) the worker is free from employer’s control or direction in performing the work, (b) the work takes place outside the usual course of the business of the company and off the site of the business, and (c) the worker is engaged in an independent trade, occupation, profession, or business. Saoirse Gowan, “Workers Should Be in Charge,” Jacobin, April 17, 2019, https://www BlueGreen Alliance, “Solidarity for Climate Action,” accessed February  10, 2020, /wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Solidarity-for-Climate -Action-vFINAL .pdf. Richard Lipsitz and Rebecca Newberry, “Huntley, a Case Study: Building Strategic Alliances for Real Change,” accessed February 10, 2020, /wp-content/uploads/2016/09/The-Huntley-Experiment.pdf. Brecher, “A Superfund for Workers.” Gowan, “Workers Should Be in Charge.” Mindy Isser, “Joe Biden Thinks Coal Miners Should Learn to Code. A Real Just Transition Demands Far More,” In These Times, January  15, 2020, /article/ biden-coding-coal-miners-just-transition-green-new-deal-umwa. For this reason, Cha identifies “diverse coalitions” as one of the four main pillars of a just transition, along with governmental support, dedicated funding, and economic diversification. Mijin J. Cha, with Manuel Pastor, Madeline Wander, James Sadd, and Rachel Morell-Frosch, “A Roadmap to an Equitable Low-Carbon Future: Four Pillars for a Just Transition,” Climate Equity Network, April 2019, /sites/242/docs/JUST_TRANSITION_Report_FINAL_12-19 .pdf. H. Res.109—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal. Kate Andrias, “A Seat at the Table: Sectoral Bargaining for the Common Good,” Dissent, March  2019, /article/a-seat-at-the-table-sectoral -bargaining-for-the-common-good. Joseph  A. McCartin, Erica Smiley, and Marilyn Sneiderman, “Both Broadening and Deepening: Toward Sectoral Bargaining for the Common Good,” in Revaluing Work(ers): Toward a Democratic and Sustainable Future, eds. Tobias Schulze-Cleven and Todd  E. Vachon, 163– 78 (New York: Cornell University Press, 2021). Todd E. Vachon and Sean Sweeney, “Energy Democracy: A Just Transition for Social, Economic, and Climate Justice,” in Global Agenda for Social Justice, vol. 1, ed. Glenn W. Muschert, Kristen  M. Budd, Michelle Christian, Brian  V. Klocke, Jon Shefner, and Robert Perrucci, 63– 72 (Chicago: Policy Press, 2018). See also Clark Miller’s contribution to this volume (chapter 13) about the intricacies between the ownership of energy and power/influence in society and how a shift to solar energy provides an opportunity to restructure that system.

chapter 10

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines harvey molotch


merican cities are hard on people and hard on the environment. There’s a connection; the various elements conjoin in noxious ways. To get a handle on the prospects for better alternatives, this chapter turns to urban development as a realm where social and environmental difficulties land together with consequences. Reform needs to begin by changing the dominant dynamic of real estate profiteering and residents’ job dependence. Progress toward solutions across these spheres would help give direction to Green New Deal strategy more generally. Movements for better city-building have long championed comprehensive goals and practices. “City upon a Hill” is not just a location but an aspiration. In the U.S. context, the nineteenth-century utopian settlements, albeit limited in scale and unable to long survive, were rich with such ambition. At a somewhat more practical level, the garden city movement, prominent in the United Kingdom but influential in many parts of the world, inspired settlements that still exist and influence efforts to synthesize “town and country.” They are explicit in goals for health and locally self-sufficient work, under the aegis of small-scale agriculture, handicraft, and artistry. At a far larger scale and with strategies appropriate to twenty-first-century conditions, there need to be options for environmental stewardship and rewarding systems of employment. The trick is not just to have both green and social justice but approaches that mutually reinforce both. For many decades after the eclipse of the old New Deal, there was much lament that the United States “has no urban policy.” Compared at least to Europe, there were no macro-scale schemes for cities, no social housing on the massive scale of, say, interwar Germany, or postwar Austria or United Kingdom.

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But in one key regard there has been a U.S. urban policy; it is what I have called the “growth machine” system.1 The underlying ideological prop is that city growth is good and, indeed, that the metric of aggregate growth is the appropriate indicator of social and economic well-being. Land use happens through private operators buying and selling. It systemically yokes individualistic selfishness to urban form and content. The city grows out of deals. For the proximate actors, it matters little whether development damages or does not. Those of preponderant influence use the city’s institutions and political authority to gain payoffs for their own pecuniary investments, direct and indirect. They readily organize political and civic institutions to enhance collective goals and, hence, foster opportunities for further fortune building. Involved in such strategies is serving up not just utility lines but also a low-cost work force and constraints on the social wage—the “good business climate” valued in city rankings among Chamber of Commerce–type listings. Growth interests are, by nature, anti-union. The dynamic, in effect, prepares the ground for capital, linking local parochial interests with external financial and corporate actors. Of course, the tight system I here portray does not always operate smoothly; environmental and social activists intervene, albeit with uneven effectiveness across time and region. Developers typically see themselves as hemmed in by controls they regard as illegitimate interference, making it harder or even impossible to build. It is the case that developing land and buildings is, no matter the circumstance, risky and tense. Land is priced at market values that anticipate the very buildability that is at question. It may be heavily mortgaged and require cash flow. Taxes are paid; investments may be made for land surveys, architects, planners, engineers, and political contributions. The prospect of good profit makes the risk worth taking. But for a given developer, a profit squeeze is thus quite normal; if there is not, the prior owner likely sold too cheap. Complaints of not being able to come out ahead are common. The only guide for government decision-makers should be net public gain, not sympathy for developer miscalculations. Green New Deal (GND) partisans should, at every turn, press for affordable housing, spaces dedicated for public benefit, and opportunities for environmental innovation. As always, benefits should be designed to entail one another, across realms. A barrier against seawater intrusion might sustain arable soils, enhance views, support wildlife, and provide housing sites. Although coalitions among activists from diverse political constituencies are, of course, indispensable, GND organizing

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 215

ought to not primarily be political in the narrow sense but based on substantive features that reverberate across goals. Measures that do the double duty (or triple, or more) are the ones for special GND focus. On the other side of the coin, some painful choices might have to be made to bypass other worthy endeavors. Free college, laudable as it may be, needs to be argued on grounds different than the GND urban realm. While growth boosters like to claim their projects benefit communities that most need them, the system overall intensifies place stratification.2 Because it may be their only way to gain approvals, project proponents make more generous provisions when dealing with places of privilege, where profits will be higher and worth paying off higher demands from local governments. So developers may offer up open space, landmark protections, and make extra allocations for recreation and school facilities.3 Projects might include space for cultural organizations, galleries, and concert space. Designers may enlist locally favored architectural themes, following on from ersatz historical traditions (“colonial” in the Northeast, “adobe” in the Southwest). Places lower down the system get some decorative trim and make do with a soccer field or Wal-Mart, or with hosting prisons and scrapyards. Serving lower-income residents and often burdened with high infrastructure debt—not covered by the initial development—high public costs follow on, with city bankruptcy a not uncommon outcome.4 Regardless of actual ecological or fiscal conditions, “sustainability” has become commonplace argot, attached willy-nilly to almost any kind of growth agenda, devoid of substantive meaning. STEM-friendly lingo gussies things up as “smart,” maybe backed by “data.”5 Proponents ego-stroke local leaders as forwardthinking, above politics, and beyond “obsolete” partisanship.6 Yes, some of the smart growth nostrums could in fact be okay, but given the real troubles of life and breath—and racism and inequality—the oversell distracts.


The great ideological currency for creating growth enthusiasm, or at least acquiescence, is jobs. Whether speaking about projects or growth overall, development partisans do not portray their efforts to make money but to give people work. Yes, there may be some environmental or fiscal costs, but that needs to be balanced against employment gain. Albeit with varying degrees of ardor (or

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candor), locals go for it, liberals included. Advocates for the GND need to be careful or something like this will stick. As usually computed, local job gain totals, green or otherwise, don’t make arithmetic sense. A given building, factory, or casino may claim to “bring jobs,” but so would alternatives. It is a mere tabulation. By their nature, human activities create economies, and economies, ipso facto, generate a work force, tax base, and externalities—positive and negative. So-called green jobs do not rise above this axiom. All land use involves opportunity costs, even in a narrow economistic sense. As you provide access for a given user, you forfeit for other uses—business, recreational, or cultural. Some installations may cost jobs, for example, if the new enterprise hurts a competitor or creates a nuisance that wards off other prospects. And a jurisdiction that lures a business from somewhere else, even if it will be low energy use, high paying, or architecturally resplendent, is still robbing a Peter to pay a Paul. One way or the other, approvals do not create jobs, they distribute them. The loading shifts further to the negative when jurisdictions pay companies to come in. At one time, businesses were presumed to pay full-bore taxes and sometimes to make philanthropic contributions to boot. The State of Alabama pioneered the strategy of offering financial inducements, intensifying exits of union shops from the Northeast to the South and Midwest in the 1920s. Overall, U.S. state and local government subsidies now run about $50 billion per year. Companies may set up a contest with the prize going to the jurisdiction making the richest offer. A public entity may end up paying far more than could ever be rational; you could instead just pay each prospective worker a decent wage for the rest of their working lives and have them go fishing.7 To get the Chinese giant Foxconn to set up in Wisconsin, the state committed to a per job subsidy— depending on method of calculation—of between $346,000 and $1 million (based on offering as much as $4.8 billion in the subsidy array). Foxconn has yet to open anything; its small-scale initiating buildings remain empty a year after completion (in 2020).8 Considering the pattern overall, Richard Florida, hardly a critic of capitalism overall, calls the incentive system “worse than useless.”9 It seldom is the deciding factor in business location decisions anyway. So much of it is wanton giveaway, pitting places against one another in a zero-sum game with plenty of zeroes to go around. In legalistic terms, such use of local government authority in one place to keep an employer from going elsewhere should be

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 217

treated as an interference in interstate commerce. I have never seen the case being made, but it would have rhetorical as well as social and environmental merit. Part of the current jobs’ enthusiasm trades on nostalgia for the halcyon days of the old New Deal. Postwar factory employment paid well with good benefits. But these were not, we must remind ourselves, inherently good jobs. Unions made them good, or at least good enough.10 They were arduous, monotonous, and unhealthy—and for many years racially excluding. My friend tried to work his way through college by doing time on the Dodge assembly lines, just outside Detroit. It made him too exhausted for anything but sleep. The jobs were also environmentally lousy. Women assumed, or were assumed to assume, a stay-athome role caring for family. The jobs themselves tended to be manly; they promoted the build, surge, and hoist that made America great. The Fordist glow (Dodge, Mercury, Oldsmobile, etc.) is still part of the sell. Helping the blue-collar worker acts as a trojan horse for permissive policies on all projects.


Fear obstructs change. Deep repair of socioenvironmental practice requires finding ways, concrete ways, to enhance feelings (and realities) of security. The growth machine system, contributing its special mischief, fosters anxiety that unless business gets its way, employment will disappear, as will the tax base to sustain public services. So best to take few chances. For a GND to be politically viable, social welfare needs to come from the national or supranational level, not from local regimes. Going forward, the decoupling of life chance from place development must be sufficiently evident to obviate growth machine dependence. National provision for basic needs—health care, education, childcare, and transit—well-practiced in various parts of the world for generations—is low-hanging fruit. In step with conventional economistic thinking, it would free-up individuals to more easily migrate on the basis of work, lifestyle preference, or kinship. Decline of demand for certain types of goods and services, inevitable for dynamic economies, would not doom the humans with livelihoods locationally tied to them. The local could more easily provide sites where new experiments are adopted and adapted. Home rule would enrich

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diversity in culture-making, technical experimentation, and life satisfaction rather than operate as simplistic blockage. It would decrease maneuvers that merely distort markets, feed new forms of graft, and disingenuously subsidize destructive ventures. Overall, there would be more appropriate and happier locational choice-making across the board—another potential GND feature. Especially if supported by national legislation and shared resolve across jurisdictions, demands that corporations provide public benefit, “exactions” as they are sometimes termed, can be made especially effective. Across the board— ecology, housing, jobs—local demand for packages of amenity and social responsibility could be crafted according to local preference and need. Rather than bugaboo, “no growth” can become an ultimate tool for getting the right kind of growth. That might well mean, for example, zero emissions or housing affordability. It is the land-use equivalent of a strike. It encourages market actors to bend, even toward what they regard as the “extreme”—in this case, the crisisaware GND agenda. Green and just or nothing at all. Hang tough, localities; GND is not for sissies. Perhaps most ambitiously, local jurisdictions could explicitly consider impacts distant from their own boundaries but relevant to a wider array of concerns. Thus, activists contested the Dakota Access Pipeline because, at least in part, the intended uses would support the carbon economy—as well as offending Indigenous rights of the Sioux people. Santa Barbara opposition to offshore oil was to protect a local scenic and ecological resource but also to oppose a product deleterious at the wider scale. Despite the promise of 25,000 mostly high-paying jobs from the proposed Amazon campus in Queens, New York, it was opposed as monopolistic, arrogant, and anti-union (there was also anger at the $3.5 billion subsidy).11 Even as counteroffers came in from Virginia, New Jersey, and Maryland, opposition from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in whose Queens congressional district it would have been built, publicized the grievances to a national audience. It all could have gone differently: had the COVID-19 pandemic preceded the Amazon project’s initiation, my guess is that desperate authorities— OcasioCortez or not—would have come to accommodation. And before Ocasio-Cortez, the old-line Democratic bosses would have effused over its prospects. Postscript: frustrated in Queens, Amazon is adding into its operations in New York and in more subsidiary places rather than building a new supercampus anywhere. The bluff was successfully called. No justice, no permit.

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 219


Among ongoing anxieties is fear of automation and, linked to it, overproduction of goods, with the unhappy potential for satiation of mass demand.12 This also adds to local desperation. Sometimes fear is well founded: automation drastically reduced timber-based jobs, for example, in the forestry and lumber industries. But in overall terms, automation was a mistaken “problem” as applied to the old-fashioned manufacturing economy. It is even more transparently inapplicable across today’s economy overall. Given the continuous shift away from the country’s agrarian founding and successive waves of industrial manufacture, jobs exist in services (business as well as personal), not production. The ratios fluctuate, but services job numbers are now more than fivefold those of manufacturing. Services employ people with little bravado and, indeed, some ridicule (see TV series like The Office and Mad Men). Of course, making and servicing have always been in combination; much of the distinction is arbitrary. Cathedrals of stone had priests and architects; besides set manufacturers, TV needs writers and cable guys. The arrival of the internet of things makes it harder still to differentiate the sectors of the hard from the soft. GND thinking should not be bound by mythical reifications. The so-called creative economy is vaguer still in boundaries, extent, and historic origins. Call it what you will, there always has been a reservoir of innovators and innovations. Thomas Jefferson had fields and slaves but also gizmos. The cool stuff has always had its downsides. While the folks upstairs were managing the accounts and cotillions, the ones below were taking out the trash and stoking the fires. Over time the rich countries, product cycle theory tells us, slough off the more tedious, back-breaking tasks—and ecological dangers—to poor parts of the world. The noxious goes downward—the drip to the bottom. While the exported suffering needs to be morally and materially addressed, it makes little sense to have these labors “returned” to the United States. Everything does not need to be made everywhere. More crucially, there are things that should not be made anywhere. It is the business of a righteous GND to excise them. The opposite of the bottom is art; in most pyramids, it is apogee. In recent times, it has come into appreciation as economic force—understood as permeating science, industry, and intellectual endeavor. Archeologists keep backdating

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the prehistoric beginnings of art. Cave men (or was it cave women?) decorated their walls as well as their tools. Cyril Stanley Smith, the eminent MIT historian of technology, came to view art as a backbone of technology itself.13 Based on his own detailed histories of metallurgy, chemicals, and printed circuity, he insisted the entire edifice of industry and production arises from play, sentimentality, and the aesthetic urge. Put most radically as a forced ordering, Smith holds that humans grew flowers before crops, raised pets prior to animal husbandry, and made decorative beads that were the foundation of glass production, and then printed circuitry. We have never lived by bread alone or, at least in collective terms, worked only to get it. Once we realize all this, we can see the limitless possibilities for production and occupation—an infinite jobs machine based in expressivity, amenity, and service. Some of these endeavors are not considered jobs because they are not compensated or are compensated minimally. But allowing for potential upgrades as well as discoveries, here is a paragraph of growth sectors, some already existing, others just ready to go: Poetry, doctoring, calligraphy, fortune-telling, singing, pastoring, nursing, carving, cooking, tattoo aestheticization, community history research, waste monitoring, soil amending, baby naming, nail painting, rhinoplasty, ethicist, body sculpting, language teaching, sexual finesse, feng shui, palm reading (hands), palm growing (plants), pet therapy, macrame making, matchmaking, home 3-D printing, massage technique, closet arranging, hobby advising, VR fitting, chess coaching, topiary, murals, Freudian analysis, and sociological advising. All of it is GND-friendly. It is an open question, of course, as to the relative rewards that practitioners would or should gain relative to one another for taking up such tasks. The distribution of wages and wealth has never been intrinsic to the work itself. Inequality overall has been anything but necessary, despite the conceptual gadgetry trying to justify it. Underpayment of work done by women and people of color—all naturalized until only recently—was supposedly due to incorrigible differences of biology or culture. Childcare pays much less than plumbing; police officers make more than social workers, as Alyssa Battistoni reviews in chapter 4 of this volume. Impact at the aggregate level is similarly open; oil can be a resource curse, as it has been in Angola and Nigeria, or can add into the bounties of the welfare state, as in Norway.14 Social inequality is independent of the economy’s base, and that portends for the green as for what has come before.

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 221

The gold mine of occupational opportunity that, if compensated, would engage all unemployed and underemployed, from now until forever, is the realm where nobody now gets paid (some in the paragraph of “jobs” listed above). From a GND perspective, jobs are good—let’s say “green”—when they tap into and further the civic virtue on which environmental and social goals both depend. To call such people “unemployed” is a misnomer; they are instead unwaged, which is not the same thing. Such civic working is everywhere for us to see and is intrinsic to the creation of value as well as social reproduction. As volunteers, people attend to children, the elderly, sick friends, and lost souls; they enable those in need at nursing homes, museums, public libraries, and food pantries. They report on leaking pipes and sources of lead—“folk epidemiology,” as it is sometimes called. A lot of volunteer labor also goes on within the waged economy as well but is not reported as such. When checking you out at the supermarket, the cashier may try to distract (or appreciate) your child or catch some errant berries before they roll out of your bag. People are constantly performing micro acts of craft, maybe to just make someone happy. Not so random, such acts of kindness are situated and, indeed, taken for granted—typically “seen but unnoticed” in Harold Garfinkel’s wording.15 They add some quality of life to those doing the jobs and those receiving the services. The factory model of compensation just will not do.16 We need accounting schemes, both formally and in imagination, that are not so biased against contributions from the green and the socially benevolent. The broad-thinking U.S. economist Kenneth Boulding, in the early 1960s, wanted us to go beyond conventional metrics, like gross national product. GNP measures everything: what you pay for your cigarettes and then what gets spent at the hospital for your lung cancer; the payout to mine coal and then costs to launder the curtains stained from the airborne residue. Kenneth Boulding used to say “GNP” stands for “Gross National Pain”—it represents effort, much of it at least uncomfortable; some downright destructive.17 It credits work involving environmental despoliation to the same degree as environmental enhancement, a point made in strong terms (finally!) by more contemporary but similarly open-minded economists.18 Probably the most advanced form of policy reckoning we have is still environmental impact statements and reports, as required under the National Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Relevant projects must, as a condition of approval, document consequences across social, natural, and economic spheres. These reports

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have stopped or at least mitigated much potential damage and greatly increased knowledge of development impacts. Application across cities has been uneven, typically with places at the top of the place hierarchy, where commercial interests most want to get in (like San Francisco or nearby Marin), more insistent on thoroughness.19 High demands from the San Franciscos of the world likely set off positive ripples through the global urban system for better environmental and social controls. The higher standards in San Francisco may be emulated elsewhere. Alas, without social justice providing decent housing, constrained housing markets extract higher rents from those who do not already own. To make local policies work, to repeat, regional and national policies need to be in place that head off systemic repercussions that lie beyond jurisdictional reach.


Residence location used to be heavily determined by geographic access to work. But with less need for daily (or even weekly) attendance, at least the high-end worker (boss, owner, or skilled professional) can be farther afield—as can, depending on job type, some lower down the scale. For rungs highest in status or technologically situated and those who employ them, Paris is the same as Houston. At a more intermediate level, Philadelphia-based workers can live in Sarasota, Florida; Denver-based staff can be in Jackson, Wyoming. Even routine workers appear to be losing some of their tethers to fixed location. Geo-hybridity intersects with the growing work hybridity. Working from home seems to pan out for many, likely depending on conditions at work, at home, and what goes on in between. Over a long durée, homebased piecework was odious. But contemporary multinational surveys point to high levels of work-at-home satisfaction among both employees and employers.20 Large numbers of people, through doing it during the COVID-19 pandemic, show a large capacity to work from home—estimates of the potential range between 27–40 percent of the labor force. We will eventually learn much more from academic reports as well as novels and memoirs of what has been gained and lost.21 As things were going prior to the pandemic, commute times were getting longer; despite apparent enthusiasm for “back to the city” residence, new development never stopped being primarily at the outer edge. But with working from home, some of the geo-stress erodes. People and tasks spread more evenly over

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 223

day, month, and time with less clogging.22 Residential areas become less deserted nine-to-five. There is more chance for small retail close to homes, particularly cafes, maybe also bakeries. This aligns with what is being called the Paris model of a fifteen-minute city, with most daily needs met within a fifteen-minute bike or walk from every residence.23 Some new technologies (video, audio) make it easier for people to live close together without mutual disturbance; hooray for headphones. The office as well as the factory took form not just for reasons of narrow efficiency but to impose on-site discipline—as Harry Braverman pointed out in his writing generations back.24 Some of the business artifacts were for the same purpose, like time clocks and files, files, files—of expenditure records, work reports, verifications, employment contracts and, in their day, loyalty oaths. All were at the physical fingertips. To the extent needed, or not needed, it now all goes in the cloud. Some of the old-fashioned surveillance can operate through electronic sensing of worker input/output, akin to a traffic light that, like the Latourian “sleeping policeman,” regulates without human presence. But the more fundamental shift is to accept and broaden opportunities for worker inner direction, pride in craft, and meeting colleagues’ expectations. Some organizational analysts had been arguing for years that much of the imposed discipline was arbitrary. Since the pandemic began, some companies now declare their workers (at the higher echelons) are free to live anywhere they want. The major constraint seems to arise from time-zone incompatibility—a newly significant actant in making up residential and commercial distributions. People must be up, literally, all hours to serve Zoom. Ironically, perhaps, given all the hype of digitality, the human body remains a stubborn holdout, even as geo-“friction of distance” seems to wither away. Regardless of spatial relaxations, the backlog of decay, poisoning, and material exhaustion remain. Following the pandemic emptying of office, retail, and educational facilities, additional retrofits are needed to convert excess space to housing, especially in markets stressed by undersupply. Much of the public stock, like New York City’s, needs reconstruction. The agenda is for an unprecedented initiative in “social green housing” through retrofit as well as new construction (see chapter 11 by Daniel Aldana Cohen, in this volume). At such a scale, there would be learning that could expand to benefit housing technologies in all sectors and other parts of the world—a research and development growth industry for massive retrofit.25

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Sponsoring such logics is the initiative “Rebuild by Design” (mostly centered in the Northeast), oriented not to getting things back as they were (restoration) but instead to doing it better. An example with particular biotechnological charm is “oystertecture,” in which designers are encouraging great volumes of oyster beds into a lattice-like network in New York harbor.26 The resulting configuration will mitigate storm surge, applying knowledge of water, sea life, and architecture. There is a parallel Bay Area initiative, also with a whole raft of projects, Resilient by Design. The Biden administration used the slogan “Build Back Better” for a program of national scope.27 Looking at it all positively, there are opportunities to remake at a scale approximating what was needed to create modern Hong Kong or to rebuild postwar Japan and Germany. But better.


Some of the needed guidance was put forward generations back by brothers Percival and Paul Goodman. Paul Goodman was a poet, critic, and essayist most famous for his 1960 book Growing Up Absurd, a sacred text of the New Left. Percival Goodman taught architecture at Columbia, forging, of all things, modernism in synagogue design. Their 1947 book Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life shows the big thinking of Paul and the how-to of Percival. So useful for a GND, they posited a simple list of “Some Elementary Principles for the Moral Selection of Machines.”28 Worth a repeat: “moral selection of machines.” Number 3 on the list, remarkable for 1947: “Relative independence of machine from non-ubiquitous power”—in other words, give me wind and the warm power of the sun. Moral points also go to machines that are easier to understand— “Transparency of Operation,” as the brothers called it. That means there can be “repairability by the average well-educated person (Freedom).” The Goodmans call it “freedom” because when people can see how to fix something, they are less beholden to a repair company, the city utility, or those with whom they would otherwise have to negotiate a replacement. It also just might provide users a more secure and liberatory attitude toward the world. Much of this was reprised in the later “appropriate technology” movements of the 1970s, applied worldwide under the guiding doctrine of Small Is Beautiful, enunciated by E.  F. Schumacher.29

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 225

The judging needs some new angles. The old New Deal afforded smokestacks and dams; now we know better. Some of the jobs were terrible for body and soul. But in part because those old sufferings have become easier to escape, there is new appreciation that simple ease is not the be-all and end-all for the good life. Mountains kill people, but they are also there to be climbed; we have bodies and minds needing to be appropriately challenged. The yin needs its yang. People push themselves to build strength, agility, and skill. The goal for workplaces now needs to follow the Goldilocks principle, to get it “just right.” Is the job poisonous or health-inducing, meaningful or rote, contributory or enervating, musclebuilding or body-languishing? And appropriate or not, given life stage and personal taste? We need to evaluate even “green jobs” across their various shades, with the final call based on consideration, not computation. The Goodmans’ “moral selection” criteria also include “beauty,” which they break down into types of beauty, meant to exclude excessive encumbrances and heavy waste notorious in U.S. car production of their time. This implies having an aesthetics that, without explicit programming, takes in social and environmental effects—as a single, mental taking-in of an object or process. U.S. lawns derive from elite English traditions, less prominent in French, Italian, or Japanese landscapes. To now maintain them, people use chemical fertilizers and gaspowered mowers and waste a lot of potable water.30 The lawn needs to be apprehended as ugly—a kind of green that bespeaks “terrible,” and the opposite of vegetable gardens and “unruly” native grasses. The pipes of Flint, Michigan, and the water that comes from them are hideous because they damage bodies and minds. The very idea of them and the politics that led to their installation should repulse. On the other side of aesthetic conjuring, urine looks pretty good (to me); when it collects in unflushed toilets and urinals, it means water-saving is going on. Of all parts of the conventional production system, product designers (a.k.a. “industrial designers”) are most practiced in melding the aesthetic and the practical into coherent and usable goods. As with artists, conventions and limits serve up the opportunities for surpassing the mundane.31 Good designers take controls and restrictions as opportunities to apply occupational skill. They also lean, more than others involved in artifact production, toward progressive causes, particularly the green. At one of the annual meetings I attended of the Industrial Designers of America about twenty years ago, a huge banner across the convention hall lobby proclaimed their self-critical slogan: “Product Design

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Is Landfill.”32 They are a potential reservoir for GND. They might be prompted to play a larger public role in explaining the wider material options that in fact exist. In terms of their urban locations, they might inspire the hip design districts now prevalent in many cities to not just serve real estate interests but to actively radiate green innovation to more conventional settings.


The great darkness of U.S. public life is evident in rampant individualism pervading both social and environmental arenas. In a prior time (the 1970s), Republicans were little different from Democrats in environmental opinion; nor, as it turns out, was there a party split on something so simple as inoculation (against polio, for example). Differences were more class-based and, given Southern racism, regional. Now, even as so much more is known about environmental threats (and public health!), one party appears resolute in ignorant opposition, regardless of individuals’ educational level.33 So there is indeed—and this is not true in all countries but it is true in the United States—a structure of feeling that is simultaneously socially and environmentally reactionary. This is another reason why something like a durable GND needs a coherence capable of cutting through and sustaining attention. On most indicators, Norway’s well-developed welfare state provides a better basis for civic life than is found in the United States. But it has its own uneasy sociotechnical arrangements. Norway has very high levels of income, education, and environmentalist tradition. But—contradiction alert: Norway relies on oil. An enlightened population in a developed democracy depends on a noxious industry. From her on-the-ground ethnography in Norway, Kari Norgaard observed that in everyday life among Norwegians, if oil should come up, conversation goes elsewhere. That’s the way it is handled: by submerging it as an agenda, part of a complex denial syndrome that Stanley Cohen put forward in his book about human rights, States of Denial. There are, Cohen says, “states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.”34 It brings to mind Václav Havel’s depiction of an archetypal Czech greengrocer who is supposed to put a certain Soviet-era government poster in his shop window.35 The grocer knows the words on the poster are propagandistic nonsense.

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 227

But he also knows that adhering to the authorities’ instruction is what one does; displaying the sign is “a small component in that huge backdrop to daily life.” Havel elaborates: “Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did . . . they must live within a lie” (my italics).36 The Norwegians, as with many of the rest of us, do the same. In the United States, inequality and climate change are hard for ambitious politicians to handle, or even people who just want to get along with others. It is always a problem to get issues into the issue agenda; those with built-in discourse impediment are kept at bay. In the great reach toward GND goals, there is a fallback inspiration from the commonplace. We all know that folks are often kind and warm-hearted, something that can be bewildering when we know they vote in ways that seem selfish and ignorant. As so exquisitely demarcated by the likes of sociologists Erving Goffman, Howard Becker, and Harold Garfinkel, people show enormous capacities for lateral watchfulness, attuning to others’ preferences, and then getting on task, moment to moment, in real time and with the most subtle gestures of noticing and acting. Life is a jazz session. People pick up on one another’s cues and lateral incidents in the physical world. They see that a stranger’s baby carriage is rolling toward the street or that a glass is about to fall off a table—and the impulse toward remedy kicks in. When public emergencies happen, as in fires, bombing, or other severities, bystanders act in helpful concert—creating a “paradise”—to borrow journalist Rebecca Solnit’s word—of we-feeling, mutual support, and rescue.37 In public behavior terms, Americans have—and this is a very prosaic example—learned within a single generation to clean up after their dogs. They do so without economic incentives or punitive threat. Consider also recycling. Yes, the overall effort may be trivial in ecological outcome, but it is a mighty display of what people will go through as public rectitude.38 No troops, no IRS, no religion too. But there was, nota bene, no pro–dog shit corporation to champion the litterrights of libertine owners; upright decency could be given a chance. In the recycling battles, manufacturers and distributors fought against all regulation, losing on some aspects but getting their way in others, including the most crucial— dispersal of production waste (versus consumption goods). Unfortunately, production is where the vast bulk (about 90 percent) of goods garbage comes from. New public decencies can, we see from recycling and dog waste, take hold—but

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only within the structures and regimes that allow them to occur. If corporations see something that will clearly cost them a lot of money, they conspire to defeat it—a big worry for GND reforms.39 With opponents like these, the GND needs no unnecessary battles. One unwise road is to be quarrelsome with end-use consumption. People really like it; getting stuff provides satisfaction and pleasure. Work and consumption are often understood as opposite; work is necessary, and consumption is the reward for doing it. But beyond basic provisioning, it is suspected to be frivolous. This sets up still another unfortunate dualism. Properly understood, work and consumption are part of the same system of affect and creativity. Through both, people create and accrue social solidarities to attain idiosyncratic goals. Marx’s utopian daily round—“to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner”—is a full day. But it needs a timeslot for shopping— for curating the bed and beyond. Consumption needs to become positive—goods are not just so much “shit”— but something the GND can offer and indeed make still better. Anticonsumption scolding is not constructive—something well-worked out by the anthropologists Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood as well as their followers in material culture studies.40 A first clue is the fact that the very most frivolous things, like jewelry, are purchased to be given away. The really bad stuff, lead in gasoline and now the entire carbon-based economy, has to go, no question about it. But acquisition, so complexly generated through training, skill, work, and considering the needs of others, is satisfying.41 Shopping is part of the habitus but also “habit” in the John Dewey sense, as a way to go forward.42 Even as we embark on GND change, we necessarily should know what makes things work for people. Let them decorate— with water-based paint. Get on with things like “product audits,” as pioneered by the likes of Patagonia and advocated more generally in the “cradle-to-cradle” closed-circle orientation.43 The GND needs to add rather than take away. In effect, the GND would reverse-engineer the pleasures and then, as with flood protection, rebuild with awareness. As for public provision, it too needs to be artful, both in terms of affect and in eschewing dull routine. The American comedian Lenny Bruce (active in the 1950s and early 1960s) used to say that he was against communism because under communism the whole world would be like the post office. Who needs it? Treating public goods as fun, pleasant, or at least unobtrusive was an implicit urging in Swedish economist-sociologist Gunnar Myrdal’s 1960 book, Beyond the Welfare

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 229

State.44 Whether providing services, goods in-kind, or regulation, the hand of the state needs to be at least pleasantly discrete. If managed accordingly, people will more likely align with civic goals and adopt a cooperative stance.45 Artful gesture and arrangement can facilitate benefits, private and public, as Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue in their book, Nudge. As a negative example, the U.S. tax regimen (federal, local, sales, property, etc.) is a life menace, imposing unnecessary tedium and perplexity, helping solidify opposition, I believe, to “government,” full stop. American health care harasses with ever-shifting criteria for eligibility and reimbursement and with changes at various ages, networks, and plans. The U.S. system has the worst of both worlds: financial meanness and bureaucratic Kafka. Under Obama, Nudge was taken seriously. (Sunstein headed the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.) As a GND gains ground, Nudge is worth more than a glance. Mistakenly, in my view, it is often dismissed from the Left as technocratic and neoliberal. But part of the accomplishment of Social Security and Medicare is their low level of intrusiveness. Residential land-use—home—is the mother of all consumption goods; its mode of regulation is crucial for both making a living and making a life. One fraught outcome is the phenomenon of NIMBY (not in my backyard). Much of the NIMBY bad press focuses on more privileged people using it to block access for poor people and people of color. But much of NIMBY, day-to-day NIMBY, is to retain quality of life against fumes, freeways, fracking, and traffic. NIMBY is thus by no means all bad. First, it can put limits on both commercial and state intrusion where it does harm. It can demand that capital pay a fair share as a condition for access to land and public resources. More broadly, it is a form of political action that invites mobilization for larger goals. NIMBY needs to be picked off and co-opted into the GND. At least on a case-by-case basis, the energies can be harnessed.


Beyond the case-by-case, larger challenges persist. We are stuck with evershifting human needs and environmental struggles, in part because we keep learning what the stuff does to the earth and the reach of the injustices. The growth machine system will not do for a sensible response; it can’t even handle dirty pipes. To get the right work and the right nature, there needs to be unending

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striving, a consistent system of feedback from what is happening and ways to face it. I turn to music for inspiration. Music, so fine, helps lay out the full complexity. Kyle Devine’s recent history of it all, Decomposed, shows the struggle, danger, and ecological mayhem that accompanies—indeed, makes possible—the mellifluous sounds. Music sets up a richer case in point than, say, petroleum, so distinctively abhorrent. Music also goes further back than the oil industry. People hummed, sang, and danced for and with one another, knocked sticks, and blew horns— stone age show business, as it were. Then—I skip hundreds of centuries—came Edison, and music could be recorded, escaping the need for copresence, perhaps the greatest breakthrough in the history of the arts. Technological advance brought forth Edison’s wax cylinders and that put bees at the heart of the musical commodity chain. Beeswax gave way to shellac discs, made from secretions of female lac bugs dwelling on trees in the forests of India. The resin processing occurred under hideous work conditions. The composing, arranging, and deal making occurred at more benign Tin Pan Alley in Manhattan.46 The advent of vinyl meant using up still different aspects of nature. It yielded unbreakable and ecologically persistent 45s and LPs (the first were in bright colors for the kiddie market)—all headed for an ignominious dump, maybe back to a third-world site. So it is a parade of different raw materials, processing systems, factory and distribution logistics, venues, and work: assembly lines, singing stars, studio musicians, audio engineers, home equipment, and consumer pleasures. Each assemblage arose with the rise and fall of fortunes, forests, tastes, ores, studio time, and copyright law. Today’s music is, per force, new still again. Live concerts go on, but with the demise of records, the factories only produce equipment to reproduce the sound. Omnivorous server farms support the streaming, making it extremely difficult to apportion energy and other environmental costs to one type of application (e.g., music) versus another (e.g., my googling for documentation of what I have just written).47 But for a sense of magnitude at least of the entertainment aspect, note that 2018 worldwide video-streaming produced a carbon footprint estimated as equal to that of Spain.48 While including the digital take of video games and Skype, this excludes the COVID-19 pandemic arrival of Zoom. Calling itself “the carbon transition Think Tank,” the France-based Shift Project urges “digital sobriety.” 49 That means using only what is needed for a given application rather than just letting everything run like an open spigot. The speed up of inventive

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 231

commodification must be countered with a robust system of monitoring what goes into production and the waste that comes out. This no-time-out forensics has only one precedent, one we couldn’t have done without. The Dutch anthropologist Annemarie Mol calls for the “logic of care.” Addressing the medical world (her specialty), she argues that rather than hyperspecialization, pharmaceuticals, and technological fix, care is the crucial salve.50 Care means continuous and close-up observing, adjusting, and openness. It is productively adaptive to the unforeseen, including stumbles down the stairs and viral epidemics. It is older than any production regime, originating with the origin of our species.51 In close alignment, thinkers as diverse as Bruno Latour and Che Guevara invoke the word love to signal the basis of complex accomplishment.52 For how to create an intricate transit system (Latour) or make socialist revolution (Guevara), love is the explicit answer. It coordinates by winning enlistments across categories of occupation, materials, and sentiment. As human practice, it is the essence of green, while also being jobs intensive. It needs a world village that keeps abreast of what goes on and acts almost in real time with antidote. In other words, it is the required basis of a politics that has, as inherent quality, the fusion of human benevolence and ecological awareness. Nice work if you can get it. NOTES 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Harvey Molotch, “The City as a Growth Machine,” American Journal of Sociology 8, no. 2 (1976): 309– 32. John Logan, “Growth, Politics, and the Stratification of Place,” American Journal of Sociology 84, no. 2 (1978): 404–15. Justin Farrell, Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2021). Harvey Molotch and Kee Warner, Building Rules: How Local Controls Shape Community Environments and Economies (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1999). Josh Pacewicz, Partisans and Partners: The Politics of the Post-Keynesian Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Burcu Baykurt and Christoph Raetch, “What Smartness Does in the Smart City: From Visions to Policy,” Convergence 26, no. 4 (2020): 775– 89. For tracking of subsidies across the country and other relevant data, see the tallies on Good Jobs First, accessed August 1, 2021, /. Austin Carr, “Inside Wisconsin’s Disastrous $4.5 Billion Deal with Foxconn,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, February 6, 2019, - 02- 06 /inside-wisconsin-s-disastrous-4-5-billion-deal-with-foxconn.

232 Delivering Jobs and Empowering Workers 9.



12. 13. 14.


16. 17. 18. 19.



22. 23.

Richard Florida, “Handing Out Tax Breaks to Businesses Is Worse Than Useless,” CityLab, March  7, 2017, 03 - 07/ business -incentives-are-ineffective-and-wasteful. Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, Identifying the Policy Levers Generating Wage Suppression and Wage Inequality, Economic Policy Institute, May 13, 2021, /215903 .pdf. Jacob Passy, “This Is What Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ Was Going to Cost New York Taxpayers,” MarketWatch, February  16, 2019, -hq2-means-for-taxpayers-in-new-york-and-virginia-2018 -11-14. Luc Boltanski and Arnaud Esquerre, Enrichment: A Critique of Commodities, trans. Catherine Porter (London: Polity, 2020). Cyril Stanley Smith, A Search for Structure: Selected Essays on Science, Art and History (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981). Renewables are more evenly spread over the world than oil, thus less likely to be a curse. See Indra Overland, “The Geopolitics of Renewable Energy: Debunking Four Emerging Myths,” Energy Research & Social Science 49 (2019): 36–40. Harold Garfinkel, “Studies of the Routine Grounds of Everyday Activities,” Social Problems 11, no. 3 (1964): 225– 50; and Harold Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967). Robin Leidner, Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). Kenneth Boulding, “General Systems,” Introductory Economics Course (class lecture, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1961). Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up (New York: New Press, 2010). National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, passed and signed by President Nixon, left states and cities with wide discretion as to just how its provisions were to be implemented. “Moving Beyond Remote: Workplace Transformation in the Wake of Covid-19,” Slack, October  7, 2020, -wake-of-covid-19; see also John Seabrook, “Has the Pandemic Transformed the Office Forever?” New Yorker, January 25, 2021, /has-the-pandemic-transformed-the-office-forever; Christian Ulbrich, “Don’t believe the hype: offices are here to stay,” World Economic Forum, June 4, 2020, https://www.weforum .org/agenda/2020/06/why-the-office-is-here-to-stay; and “Home Working Set to More Than Double Compared to Pre-Pandemic Levels Once Crisis Is Over,” CIPD, July 16, 2020, Kim Parker, Juliana Horowitz, and Rachel Minkin, How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has— and Hasn’t— Changed the Way Americans Work, PEW Research Center, December 9, 2020, https://www.pewresearch . org /social -trends / wp - content /uploads /sites /3 /2020 /12 /PSDT_12 .09 .20_covid.work_fullreport.pdf. “Home Working Set to More Than Double.” Carlos Moreno, Zaheer Allam, Didier Chabaud, Catherine Gall, and Florent Pratlong, “Introducing the ‘15-Minute City’: Sustainability, Resilience and Place Identity in Future Post-Pandemic Cities,” Smart Cities 4, no. 1 (2014): 93–111.

Overcoming the Tragedy of Growth Machines 233 24. 25. 26.

27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

34. 35. 36.

37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42.

43. 44.

Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998). “A Green New Deal for American Public Housing Communities,” Data for Progress, accessed August 1, 2021, “Oyster-tecture,” SCAPE Landscape Architecture DPC, accessed August 1, 2021, https:// See also Kate Orff, Toward an Urban Ecology (New York: Monacelli, 2016). Scott Frickel and James R. Elliott, Sites Unseen: Uncovering Hidden Hazards in American Cities (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2018). Percival Goodman and Paul Goodman, Communitas: Ways of Livelihood and Means of Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1947), 171. E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2010). Paul Robbins and Julie  T. Sharp, “Producing and Consuming Chemicals: The Moral Economy of the American Lawn,” Economic Geography 79, no. 4 (October 2003): 425– 51. Howard S. Becker, Art Worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982). Harvey Molotch, Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Cars, Computers, and Many Other Things Come to Be as They Are (New York: Routledge, 2003). Riley E. Dunlap, Aaron M. McCright, and Jerrod Yarosh, “The Political Divide on Climate Change: Partisan Polarization Widens in the U.S.,” Environment 58, no. 5 (2016): 4– 22; see also Joane Nagel, Thomas Dietz and Jeffrey Broadbent, Workshop on Sociological Perspectives on Climate Change, National Science Foundation, 2010, https://www.asanet .org /sites/default/files/savvy/research/NSFClimateChangeWorkshop_120109 .pdf. Stanley Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing About Atrocities and Suffering (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity, 2001). Havel was a playwright who became the first president of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia. Václav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless,” in Open Letters: Selected Writings: 1965–1990, ed. and trans. Paul Wilson Vintage (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), 131. See also Václav Havel, “ ‘The Power of the Powerless’ (1978),” Hanover College, https:// history.hanover .edu/courses/excerpts/165havel.html. Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (New York: Penguin, 2010). Samantha MacBride, Recycling Reconsidered: The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2011). MacBride, Recycling Reconsidered. Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption (New York: Basic Books, 1979). Marjorie DeVault, Feeding the Family: The Social Organization of Caring as Gendered Work (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). John Dewey, The Place of Habit in Conduct (Whitefish, Mt.: Kessinger, 2010); see also John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology (New York: Holt, 1922). Michael Braungart and William McDonough, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (New York: North Point, 2002). Gunnar Myrdal, Beyond the Welfare State: Economic Planning and Its International Implications (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960).

234 Delivering Jobs and Empowering Workers 45. 46. 47.



50. 51.


Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (New York: Penguin, 2008). Kyle Devine, Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019). Vlad  C. Coroama, Lorenz  M. Hilty, Ernst Heiri, and Frank  M. Horn, “The Direct Energy Demand of Internet Data Flows,” Journal of Industrial Ecology 17, no.  5 (October 2013): 680– 88. See also Maxime Efoui-Hess, “ ‘Climate Crisis: The Unsustainable Use of Online Video’: Our New Report on The Environmental Impact Of ICT,” The Shift Project, July 11 2019, /en/article/unsustainable-use-online-video/. “ ‘Lean ICT: Towards Digital Sobriety’: Our New Report on The Environmental Impact Of ICT,” The Shift Project, March 6, 2019, /en/article/lean-ict -our-new-report/; see also Jonathan Koomey and Eric Masanet, “Does Not Compute: Avoiding Pitfalls in Assessing the Internet’s Energy and Carbon Impacts,” Joule, June 24, 2021, Annemarie Mol, The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice (London: Routledge, 2008). Cooperation, and the effect accompanying it, are functional for survival. See Michael Tomasello, Alicia  P. Melis, Claudio Tennie, Emily Wyman, and Esther Herrmann, “Two Key Steps in the Evolution of Human Cooperation: The Interdependence Hypothesis,” Current Anthropology 53, no. 6 (2012): 673– 92. Che Guevara, “Socialism and Man in Cuba,” originally published as “From Algiers: The Cuban Revolution Today” (North Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2005); and Bruno Latour, Aramis or for the Love of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).


Transforming Infrastructure

chapter 11

A Green New Deal for Housing daniel aldana cohen


hen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran in her primary against incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley in 2018, she had the Green New Deal on her website. But her big talking points were her district’s cost-of-living crisis, anchored in rising housing costs, gentrification, and Crowley’s links to luxury real estate developers. “It’s time we stand up to the luxury developer lobby,” she wrote on April 25 on Twitter. “Every official is too scared to do it—except me.” With her bold Green New Deal resolution in February 2019, she linked the climate and housing crises.1 The resolution stated clearly that all Americans were entitled to “affordable, safe, and adequate housing.” But neither she nor her allies further elaborated on the housing piece, focusing instead on creating millions of new jobs. Talking about jobs is understandable. But as her campaign emphasized, the crushing cost of housing is just as central as stagnating wages are to workers’ economic pain, if not more so. Luxury developments, she said, made the four main crises in her district—affordability, inequality, immigrant security, and homelessness—even worse. Across the country, median incomes have stagnated since 2000. In that same period, a foreclosure boom has shredded millions of families’ savings, and average urban rental costs have increased by 50 percent.2 Overall, just one in five Americans eligible for housing subsidies actually receives them. At the time of finishing this essay, during the long tail of the COVID-19 economic crash during summer 2021, 6 million renters were facing the threat of eviction, down from a high of 20 million facing eviction just months prior. President Joe Biden was elected on the promise of $2 trillion in clean energy spending

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over four years, including measures to build green affordable housing (up to 1.5 million units), albeit with no specificity about how.3 As negotiations over the infrastructure bill dragged on through the middle of 2021, it is impossible to project what fraction of that agenda might pass through budget reconciliation. Whatever bills ultimately pass in 2021 or 2022, no one expects them to be sufficient to ensure rapid decarbonization or to resolve the country’s emergencies of class and racial inequality. In what many activists call the “decade of the Green New Deal,” the best we’ll get in its first years is a down payment. So the short-term investment future is cloudy. But the long-term of climate and social needs is clear: neither a Green New Deal nor a more modest package of climate justice investments can deliver economic justice and solidify mass support without tackling housing head on. And the most ambitious version of that agenda remains the Green New Deal framework—massive public investment that would tackle climate change and inequalities at the same time and in the same places. A Green New Deal for housing in particular means building twelve million new, public, carbon-neutral homes in ten years. And again. And again. And again. Twelve million isn’t a crazy number. The United States is already building well over one million housing units a year.4 And the demand for twelve million units is the rallying cry of the national #HomesGuarantee movement (full disclosure, I am on that movement’s policy team).5 The current housing system is broken. And climate breakdown only makes it more urgent. Millions of people will need new homes as extreme weather makes swathes of the country unlivable.6 And in addition to building this new housing, this framework demands healthy, green retrofits to existing housing, especially working-class people’s housing, to equivalent standards—carbon-neutral, energy efficient, healthy, and modern. In both new and retrofitted housing, well-insulated buildings would require additional ventilation and air filtration to ensure that tightly insulated buildings are always full of clean, fresh air. In this way, there is actually a happy overlap between the measures that would make housing healthier during respiratory disease outbreaks and housing that is healthy and efficient day in and day out. Finally, this overall vision would involve a broad range of measures, including zoning reform and rent control, to ensure that working-class people can live in walkable, transit-rich neighborhoods with short commutes to work, services, and leisure spaces.

A Green New Deal for Housing 239

The connections should be obvious. Yet, historically, housing has fit awkwardly into left climate debates. It didn’t turn up in early Green New Deal proposals; it was absent from Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and from the demands of the massive 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City. Where conventional climate discourse does meet housing, it’s usually in the form of proposals from the likes of Elon Musk, to put a solar panel on every suburban home and a Tesla in every driveway. Green jobs proposals overlap with desperately needed energy upgrade programs for existing buildings—like a huge scale-up of federally subsidized weatherization for poor and working-class households, municipal building upgrade mandates, and deep energy retrofits of public housing.7 But they pay no attention to the need for new construction—a Green New Deal for housing’s flagship program. We can change that. A huge build-out of high-quality, beautifully designed, meticulously financed public housing, with diversity of design and governance structure would meet millions of people’s housing needs and create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs in the no-carbon construction sector for decades. Federal grant programs could ensure that these jobs are undertaken either through unions or at union-level wages, with benefits in places where unions don’t yet exist. What’s more, the majority of the work would not be on site but in producing the materials for construction, placing orders, administering programs, and so on. All along the supply chain for this home building, labor movements, worker cooperatives, and public policies could fight to raise wages, shorten work hours, and improve working conditions. The gradual “industrialization” of sustainable construction at scale would be a chance to bring the entire housing industry up to “high road” labor standards. Done right, the new housing would yield lovely, walkable, mixed-used, diverse, and democratic communities across the country. To be sure, raw population density alone isn’t enough. It does lower carbon emissions, but study after study also finds that when residents of dense neighborhoods are wealthy, the footprint of their luxury consumption—from iPads to plane trips—overwhelms the carbon savings that come from walking to brunch.8 Per capita, carbon footprints in the West Village are two to three times higher than those of comparably dense neighborhoods in the Bronx.9 Dense, workingclass neighborhoods near public transit, anchored by public housing, are good to live in and have small carbon footprints. Right now, well-planned public transit hubs in hot land markets raise housing costs and displace low-income residents

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to different neighborhoods.10 Public transit-plus-housing would be far fairer— and would suck carbon out of the streets (see chapter 12 by J. Mijin Cha and Lara Skinner in this volume for more on public transit). Meanwhile, the working-class women of color who populate the housing movements that fight against gentrification and demand more affordable housing might not always talk about climate change—although increasingly they do.11 But their demands are objectively low-carbon. Their movements and demands are essential to any coalition that would decarbonize urban life.


The need for a homes guarantee through a program of mass public home building is overwhelming. In city after city, gentrification is unleashing cultural and economic traumas. A national eviction epidemic, only aggravated by the COVID-19 crisis, is deepening poverty, throwing families onto the street for making a little too much noise or simply for committing the crime of being poor.12 Eviction threatens the 17 percent of U.S. renter households that pay over half their income in rent, while another 21 percent are paying over a third.13 As David Madden and Peter Marcuse discuss, “According to the standard measures of affordability, there is no U.S. state where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford to rent or own a one-bedroom dwelling.”14 Meanwhile, both “predatory inclusion” and unequal homeownership make housing the single most important factor in the appalling wealth disparity between white and Black Americans, a structural divide widened by racist New Deal–era mortgage policies and deepened further since.15 The housing crisis also manifests in buildings’ damaged guts, where failing boilers and busted window frames leak carbon and break budgets. In the midAtlantic, over half of all Black households have recently suffered utility shutoffs, cut back on food or medicine to pay utility bills, or kept homes dangerously hot or cold to stave off bankruptcy.16 A fifth of white households are just as fuelpoor. In New York City after Hurricane Sandy, 45  percent of public housing apartments in affected areas had visible mold after the storm, but even before the storm, that number was 34  percent.17 The climate and housing crises are already converging, and the connections will deepen over time.

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Advocates have won mighty legal victories to finally enforce the 1968 Fair Housing Act, passed in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, that should in theory ensure adequate, affordable housing for people of color. But the current market and affordable housing tool kits can’t build the needed new homes, especially as the climate and housing crises merge. This century, sea-level rise alone could cover the land on which a projected thirteen million Americans will live.18 Tens of millions more are projected to live on land that would flood intermittently. That makes the twentieth century’s great migration, which New Deal redlining channeled into lasting segregation, look like a friendly game of musical chairs. Heat, fire, drought, and other impacts will likely displace millions more. Those same pressures worldwide, occurring at a far vaster scale, will increase rates of immigration and refugee arrival.19 A market approach to these crushing housing pressures would be disastrous. Real estate and construction companies would be the only beneficiaries of a push to build more homes with private construction, a subprime building boom turbocharged with tax credits, and financing through “predatory home loans.”20 We saw how that story ends in 2008. Another private housing boom would repeat the pathologies of earlier ones, locking in decades of segregation, fueling poverty, eviction, and foreclosure.21 The tangle of public–private partnerships and market tweaks that currently pass for affordable housing policy is almost as bad. At present, the main mechanism for federally financed affordable housing construction is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program, which subsidizes private developers. As money for real public housing dried up decades ago, LIHTC funds increased. A classic liberal compromise, this public–private partnership has become a bloated corporate giveaway that housing advocates miserably defend as the best there is. The Right savages its corruption and inefficiencies, while research shows a longterm decline in the program’s bang—actual low-income housing—for its buck.22 And even worse, the program barely shelters its vulnerable tenants from eviction, the first responsibility of stable affordable housing.23 Other remedies are just as weak, from federal to local levels. Section 8 housing vouchers improve individuals’ lives; they also concentrate poverty and leave the broken housing market intact.24 In cities, raging debates over zoning and other market mechanisms to increase housing supply mask an underlying consensus.25 All but a hard-core fringe of market fetishists recognize the need for

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the construction of nonmarket housing alongside new private construction.26 The real debate is over how much nonmarket housing and how to build it. Even the Clintonite Center for American Progress is coming around. Their 2018 report, “Homes for All,” called for direct federal grants to pay for the construction of one million units of high-quality, mixed-income public housing in five years. But a million units is too few. And the report’s idea of only building on already existing public land betrays a lingering unwillingness to confront the very land market that’s the central problem.27 It’s time to let go of tax credits and market nudges and get real. Just as Medicare for All and a federal jobs guarantee would attack health and job needs at their roots, we need to bypass the money-suck of corrupt public–private partnerships and enact a homes guarantee backed by mass public housing build-out at the scale of our needs. Indeed, it is through a homes guarantee that many of the person-hours envisioned by a jobs guarantee could be delivered. Despite the propaganda of the real estate industry and a cowering class of centrist wonks, European and American precedents show us exactly how the public can house millions of people affordably, safely, without carbon—and with style.


In the summer of 2018, standing in a grassy garden in Vienna, I had what felt like a religious awakening. I’d come to the city’s ostensible public housing temple, Karl Marx-Hof, a giant leafy complex of 1,200 apartments, with gently rounded arches and fine stonework surrounding broad lawns, fountains, and gardens. But Vienna itself is the temple. The city’s Social Democrats—whose radicals, in an exception for Europe, never defected to form a separate communist party—were first elected after World War I. They haven’t lost a free election since. (They were, it’s true, beaten by fascists in a civil war.) In 1919 they inaugurated what became known as Red Vienna, most famous for its massive public home-building program.28 They levied harsh real estate taxes that devastated the land market, making it cheap to buy land to build on. They raised a third of the needed housing funds from luxury taxes. A political poster from the period shows a muscular red fist swiping a bottle of champagne

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from an ice bucket, while horrified bourgeois in tuxedos and gowns back off. Taxing rich people’s spending on champagne, racehorses, and servants redirected money into bricks, tile, and gardens for the working class. And the Social Democrats built housing in every neighborhood: no one should be able to tell a person’s status from their postal code. These weren’t just rooms in square boxes. The complexes integrated sophisticated services. Karl Marx-Hof has laundries, a dental clinic, a maternity clinic, a health insurance office, a youth hostel, several commercial properties, and a cityrun interior design consultancy. The social fabric woven into the housing developments connected socialist and labor movement commitments to affordable housing with the best ideas of a feminist movement that was born on the barricades of 1848 and a public health movement that quickly followed. Vienna held design contests for public housing, and the best architects competed. As I toured projects across the city, I saw a wide range of gardens, courtyards, stairwells, cornices, archways, laundry facilities, and other common spaces. Almost uniformly five or six stories high, walkable, dense, green, shaded, and interwoven into a pleasantly dense (but not overwhelming) urban fabric, Viennese housing is one giant joke at the housing market’s expense. Today, roughly a third of the city’s housing is still public, city-owned. Another third is limited-equity cooperatives, the more recent trend, showing even more innovative designs. A final third is private, with good quality and low costs. Even in Europe’s racist, neoliberal rubble, Vienna can hold its head up. Its most immigrant-dense, working-class, and public-housing-rich neighborhoods vote in huge numbers against the archconservatives who draw support from beyond the city’s limits. Vienna has recently implemented free day care for children aged zero to seven. Public transit costs a euro a day for a yearly pass. “People do get very angry if a bus takes longer than seven minutes,” one of my guides, the historian and neighborhood councillor Armin Puller sighed, with a grimace to show his dissatisfaction at the service’s disintegrating quality. And carbon? Vienna’s summers are almost as hot as New York’s. But in most public and cooperative housing, air-conditioning is banned. Some buildings from the postwar period are brutally hot—they could use the occasional air conditioner. But most housing benefits from the city’s quality of design and are comfortable year-round. Puller showed me one cooperative complex that surrounded flexible play spaces, their grounds creatively landscaped like a Star Trek caricature of utopia; the buildings’ balconies had sliding plastic doors that could

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instantly turn broad patios into cozy sunrooms. I cried a little on the inside. When he next showed me an experimental public school where each classroom had a dedicated outdoor space, with wheeled chairs and tables so that groups could shuttle between microclimates at will, a few tears leaked. All of us could have this. Of course, Vienna is far from perfect. You can’t have eco-socialism in one capitalist, European city. But guess what: when the working classes build lasting, creative institutions that raise and spend money well, life is a lot better. And with Vienna’s extraordinary transit and dense housing, its localized carbon emissions are nearly half as low as New York’s.29


Today American public housing projects are unjustly stigmatized, but it’s also true that a lot of it was built on the cheap and badly maintained, turning the ideal of social housing into a symbol of urban decay.30 Could the United States reverse that damage and achieve anything resembling Red Vienna’s achievements? “Social Housing in the United States,” a 2018 report by the People’s Policy Project, a left-wing policy think tank, shows how Vienna, Sweden, and Finland managed to produce such high-quality housing— and how the United States could do the same.31 Two takeaways stand out. First: quality and financing. With upfront investment and intelligent policy design, you get glorious housing by pricing generous maintenance costs into tenants’ monthly payments. Then, for the poorest tenants, you subsidize out of a separate antipoverty fund—one column for quality public housing and a second column for abolishing poverty. The other takeaway: speed. In the 1960s Sweden had about three million housing units. Many were crumbling; plus, they needed more. With some admittedly rough edges, Sweden built one million public homes in ten years. They increased their housing stock by roughly a third in a decade. The People’s Policy Project proposal is more modest: ten million public housing units in ten years, federally financed and locally implemented with financial structures similar to those used in Vienna and Sweden. The cost? In 2019 Rep. Ilhan Omar released a bill that proposed building twelve million units of social

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housing to the “highest environmental standard,” and estimated the cost at $1 trillion, roughly two-thirds of the Trump 2018 $1.8 trillion tax cut.32 Yes, there would be obstacles. The biggest is local resistance in many of the best places to build. Because much of this housing will help people of color live in mostly white suburbs, locals will rebel. School districts will be battlegrounds. Indeed, white suburbs and leafy urban neighborhoods have long refused public housing developments, violating the Fair Housing Act. But a Green New Deal government would enforce that law, wielding every legal and financial carrot and stick it can muster—and mass mobilization could be the most powerful. Another obstacle is land prices in desirable areas. Here Vienna’s precedent of punishing real estate taxes is key: flatten speculation, build homes. What’s more, the inevitable local battles that a huge infusion of federal money will bring are actually good—the result is more likely to reflect local groups’ particular needs.33 No one wants to live in a PowerPoint crudely blocked together in Washington, D.C. At first local battles over implementation will be frustrating. But we’re talking about a political context in which millions have clogged the streets to overthrow the political establishment. And it will be easier to mobilize a public housing coalition of angry, rent-burdened tenants; racial and housing justice groups; unionized construction workers (and prospective workers); and local politicians who want to get reelected around massive public investment rather than a measly LIHTC tax credit scheme. There’s no substitute for mass mobilization, but there are many rewards from fostering it. Funding should allow motivated groups to experiment with limitedequity cooperatives and community land trusts, even if much of the new housing would probably be built and governed by local authorities, at least early on.34 Public homes should also be built in different shapes and sizes, with the program reaching beyond cities and suburban transit nodes into rural areas blighted by poor home quality—from Appalachian towns to Indigenous reservations—where local control over details will be essential. There should also be aggressive oversight by auditors to stamp out opportunism and corruption. From Red Vienna to the New Deal infrastructure programs, keeping public projects clean was key to holding mass support. As noted, democratic neighborhoods anchored by dense, well-connected public housing are the gold standard of democratic, no-carbon urbanism. Public construction standards and smart localization also make these bulwarks of

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ruggedness to withstand brutal weather. And their construction would strengthen other Green New Deal staples. A low-carbon homes guarantee is a great fit for a job guarantee.35 Decarbonizing the economy requires electrifying everything—replacing stoves and water heaters and mastering technologies like home heating pumps that both warm and cool. (New York City has just become the largest U.S. city to ban gas utilities in new construction.36) The best accelerator of buildings’ technological improvement? Smart public procurement. Weatherizing existing homes and swapping their appliances will be a necessary but tedious slog.37 A huge home-building program with a net-zero-carbon mandate could train and equip tens of thousands of workers in the skills needed to strip carbon from each of the country’s houses, apartments, and offices. You could have a threadbare, patchwork quilt of training programs, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, with baby firms struggling to sell big ideas to luxury home builders. Or you could join up federal law, federal money, local social movements, and the world’s best science, engineering, and craft standards. Tough call.


You make buildings carbon-neutral by slashing their energy use and powering what’s left with renewables. But there’s more than just wire linking the public housing ideal and the project of vast public, renewable power. The two are linked by an irresistible dream: ordinary people seizing control of their place in the world. That’s no empty abstraction. Take New York State’s grassroots campaign for a just transition, NY Renews. The coalition was started by environmental justice, labor, and housing organizers after the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York. After focusing for years on environmental justice, these housing-oriented organizers knew they had to branch out, connecting to the state’s rural antifracking groups, labor unions, and community hubs. Four key leaders took road trips upstate to build the coalition that’s leading the charge for its Green New Deal–style Climate and Community Protection Act.38 And in November 2019 Representative Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, which would retrofit the country’s one million units of public housing, removing all toxic materials, electrifying their energy systems to enable complete decarbonization, and favoring public housing

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residents for the work itself. (I led the research for the bill.) The bill would also repeal the notorious Faircloth Amendment, which at present makes it effectively illegal for municipal authorities to build more public housing. And Representative Ocasio-Cortez advanced the idea that retrofitted public housing should contain community services and useful consumer spaces, like affordable organic grocers. This suggests something more like a Red Vienna model of mixed-use social housing, which new green social housing would ideally emulate. The research I led for the act gives some sense of what a Green New Deal for housing would look like for labor. Using standardized economic multipliers, we estimated that the proposed green retrofits to every public housing unit in the country would cost between $119 and $172 billion over ten years. (On an annual basis, that is just a fraction of the cost of homeowners deducting mortgage interest payments from their federal income tax.) This retrofit program alone would create up to 240,000 jobs per year overall, including up to 35,000 jobs in skilled maintenance and manufacturing on site per year.39 Considering only these onsite jobs, we found that more of these jobs would be created in red states than blue states. Most of these jobs, of course, would occur across the complex labor chain. Our jobs projections for the retrofit of the New York City Housing Authority alone took advantage of a more complex regional model—it estimated that the top five categories for new job creation would be construction and maintenance, followed by professional scientific and technical services, administrative and waste management services, real estate and rental and leasing, and health care and social assistance.40 In short, investment creates work—and a lot of it. We also separately estimated the number of manufacturing jobs created by bulk purchases of new, electric, highly efficient appliances as well as low-flow toilets; nationally, we expect to create 8,000 jobs, including 2,100 in manufacturing, over ten years.41 And all relevant appliances, including electric induction stoves, are already manufactured in the United States. The vast majority of this new work would clearly occur outside factories, and a lot of it would be indirectly created by investment and thus not subject to particular regulations. Nonetheless, the scope for improving conditions from tightening labor markets through new employment alone, never mind specific legislative provisions, would be profound. And in the spring of 2021, Representative Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders released an updated and improved version of the bill. This time the bill added substantial labor provisions based on extensive consultations with a range

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of national building trade leaders. Perhaps the most important provision was a more focused, detailed apprenticeship program for public housing residents, ensuring that when these apprentices are hired for retrofit, it is in the context of a training program that offers a clear pipeline into a union career.42 The climate policy network that I cofounded to lead that research, the climate + community project, also led the research for a Green New Deal for K–12 public schools bill introduced by Rep. Jamaal Bowman.43 The section of that bill devoted to healthy, green, carbon-neutral school retrofits built on these improved labor provisions; on their strength, the bill won the backing of the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York. (The bill also won the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers.) While it may take some time for the labor movement and trades unions within it to wholeheartedly embrace the Green New Deal as an abstract ideal, we are starting to see that once we develop specific, concrete legislative proposals with sustained dialogue with union leaders, it is possible to change those unions’ relationship to climate politics. While we did not conduct a comparable analysis of Representative Omar’s proposed $1 trillion bill to construct twelve million units of social housing, it would be reasonable to impute from our projections of the public housing retrofits that a roughly six times greater investment in new construction would yield four to eight times as many jobs, given the comparability of the retrofit and new construction sectors. On the other hand, some of this work would simply be moving construction from the private market to a supplanting public homebuilding program. Given the limits of forecasting the future, it might be reasonable to assume that one of the greatest labor benefits of a mass public homebuilding program would come in the form of regulated higher standards and compensation— perhaps even shorter work weeks and more work sharing. In other words, an expansive Green New Deal for housing would not just create more green jobs—it could also create much better green jobs. Certainly, in Red Vienna, the government deliberately employed artisans (who needed work) to produce detailed decors that yielded buildings less fashionably modernist than, say, the social housing of contemporaneous Frankfurt. With a Green New Deal for housing, labor policy and architectural style would inevitably evolve together. And no doubt all this work and skill would spillover beyond housing. Schools, dormitories, hospitals, libraries, and of course all manner of commercial buildings will require retrofits. Workers will ultimately not just be rebuilding the spaces of “others” but, indeed, the spaces of work itself! While the COVID-19

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pandemic has raised some unfortunate critiques of density—ultimately, public health policy has determined the geography of outbreaks, not raw residential density—architects have reacted with vim to the notion that increasing air replacement rates, improving ventilation, removing toxic building materials, and otherwise improving indoor air quality, could combine an agenda of green retrofits with a healthier attitude to construction and maintenance.

w Meanwhile, there is also an obscure but surprisingly strong historical precedent linking social housing and public power. One of New York’s storied socialist cooperative housing complexes was actually designed in homage to Vienna’s Karl Marx-Hof, echoing its elaborate masonry and round arches. The Amalgamated Dwellings in New York’s Lower East Side was built for a leftist Jewish textile workers’ union in 1931 to house 236 families. The co-op still stands. The building’s designer, Roland Wank, was inspired by Red Vienna. Remarkably for downtown Manhattan—now and then—the building proper only covers about half of its expensive lot space, devoting the rest to a large, garden-studded courtyard.44 As I learned during a recent visit with William Rockwell, an architect, resident, and the building’s unofficial historian, even the rooftops were specially designed for dancing and parties. As we discussed the intricate Art Deco stonework, Rockwell insisted, “This is not cost effective. This is about love, making a statement.” From the start, the Dwellings included a library and an open cultural space with a cozy stage for performances, for making the good life together. The multifunctional, airy design links a radical New York tradition to Austria’s labor, socialist, feminist, and public health movements, themselves rooted in the Europe-wide revolt of 1848. Wank was a Hungarian leftist who studied architecture in Budapest and briefly in Vienna, then immigrated to the United States in 1924 to chase new dreams. Shortly after designing the Amalgamated Dwellings, Wank took a job with the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority, which was set up by Franklin  D. Roosevelt to break monopolistic and useless private electricity utilities. Wank became the authority’s chief architect. He built celebrated workers’ housing around the country, led the design of several hydroelectric dams, and helped steward the Rural Electrification Administration that brought electric power to tens of millions of Americans through democratic cooperatives (they still

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operate). Wank’s dams are known for their elegant, monumental, and publicoriented design. Critics were stunned by their beauty. Wank also innovated by establishing visitors’ plazas and sculpting roads for ordinary people to absorb the infrastructure’s glory as they came in to visit. As one obituary put it, Wank “saw to it that [the dams] were approached as one would the Acropolis.” 45 The towns Wank built for workers and people displaced by dams were innovative. One of them, Norris, featured the country’s first green belt. The town also excluded Black residents and workers. Wank’s work crystallized all that was good in the New Deal—and all that was rotten. The New Deal didn’t just reproduce Jim Crow, it hardened it. Yet we can reconstruct some of the New Deal’s, and Wank’s, best insights— namely, that experimentation and equality had to run through infrastructure big and small. Abolition democracy, as first articulated by W. E. B. Du Bois in those years, will require even more public power: plentiful no-carbon energy, a truly democratic government, and democratic housing for working people.46 From the Lower East Side to rural Tennessee, Wank built structures that made socialism’s grand promises monumental, intimate, and useful. Thinking about Wank’s work helps us focus on the ten million public, no-carbon homes’ core premise: climate justice will be visceral. It’s about more than solar photovoltaic cells, healthy rainforests, and plant protein. It’s about how we work and live: the stone, glass, and steel that we shape with our hands to protect us from the elements—and to bind us to their beauty. The politics of climate change and the transformation of the built environment are the same damn thing. And they have a history. There was a bright red line between the street architects who built barricades across Europe in 1848, founding a continent’s socialist and feminist politics, and the arrival of no-carbon hydroelectricity, built by public institutions and delivered by cooperatives in rural America’s poor heartland. That line curved through the greatest public home-building project of Europe, and the great socialist cooperative tradition of New York City, tracing brick-and-mortar homes and bright green gardens that made the abstract ideals of social equality literally tangible—justice you can run your fingers over. It was, to be sure, a crooked line and a line that divided. It needs to be redrawn with an ambition scarcely imaginable on the Left even a year ago. Ocasio-Cortez’s pivot from housing to climate was coherent, as was her subsequent turn to combining the two in legislation. The two challenges are one— and urgent. We can think huge and act fast, one Herculean decade at a time. In

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1941, as Nazis threatened to swallow Europe for good and the New Deal became a war economy, Roland Wank, the builder of immigrant homes and public power, published a moving essay on architecture as politics. Anticipating today’s mood, he urged his fellow builders to embrace the era’s radical uncertainty, to attack inequalities mercilessly, and to take pleasure “in struggle when the fight is hot and passion runs high.” 47 Seizing the political moment, Wank continued, “is one of the vital experiences that make life worth living.” 48 His essay’s title is a rebuke to his failures, and to the failures of the New Deal, which a Green New Deal must correct. The simple title is also a slogan, a fierce clap-back to the critics who want to slow our pace and shrink our desires, who want to nudge the markets we plan to transcend, hoard the power we plan to share, and who scorn the public dream-homes that we’ll build for our resplendent survival: “Nowhere to go but forward.”




3. 4. 5. 6.


This chapter has been adapted from an essay published in Jacobin ( Alyssa Battistoni and Daniel Aldana Cohen, “AOC’s Green New Deal Starts Strong,” Jacobin, February 7, 2019, -democrats-climate. “American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden,” Pew Charitable Trusts, April 19, 2018, -face-a-growing-rent-burden. “The Biden Plan to Build a Modern Sustainable Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy,” Biden for President, accessed August 1, 2021, “United States Housing Starts,” Trading Economics, accessed August  1, 2021, https:// housing-starts. People’s Action, “A National Homes Guarantee Briefing Book,” September 5, 2019, https:// Mathew Hauer, Jason Evans, and Deepak Mishra, “Millions Projected to Be at Risk from Sea-Level Rise in the Continental United States,” Nature Climate Change 6 (2016): 691– 95. “Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP),” Office of Community Services, Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services, accessed August  1, 2021, /liheap; Stefanos Chen, “Counting Down to a Green New York,” New York Times, July 12, 2019, -york.html; and Casey Bell, “Did You Know? Castle Square’s Deep Energy Retrofit,” Castle Square Tenants Organization, June 2, 2016, /single -post/2016/06/02/Did-You-Know-Castle-Squares-Deep-Energy-Retrofit.

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12. 13. 14.



17. 18. 19. 20.



Jukka Heinonen, Mikko Jalas, Jouni K. Junteunen, Sanna Ala-Mantila, and Seppo Junnila, “Situated Lifestyles: II. The Impacts of Urban Density, Housing Type and Motorization on the Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Middle-Income Consumers in Finland,” Environmental Research Letters 8, no. 3 (2013): /10.1088/1748 - 9326/8/3/035050; and Jennifer L. Rice, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Joshua Long, and Jason R. Jurjevich, “Contradictions of the Climate-Friendly City: New Perspectives on Eco-Gentrification and Housing Justice,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 1, no.  44 (2020): 146– 65, /10.1111/1468 -2427.12740. Daniel Aldana Cohen, “Petro Gotham, People’s Gotham,” in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, ed. Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016). Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal, “Op-Ed: Transit-Oriented Development? More Like Transit Rider Displacement,” Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2018, -ed/la-oe-rosenthal-transit-gentrification-metro-ridership-20180220-story.html. Daniel Aldana Cohen, “The Other Low-Carbon Protagonists: Poor People’s Movements and Climate Politics in São Paulo,” in The City is the Factory: Social Movements in the Age of Neoliberal Urbanism, ed. Miriam Greenberg and Penny Lewis (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2017), 140– 57. Eviction Lab website, accessed August 1, 2021, “American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden.” David Madden and Peter Marcuse, “The Permanent Crisis of Housing,” Jacobin, October 2, 2016, ability. See also Peter Marcuse and David Madden, In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis (London: Verso, 2016). Tom Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005); and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019). “Residential Energy Consumption Survey: Implications for Philadelphia,” Philadelphia Energy Authority, March 12, 2018, -survey-implications-for-philadelphia/. Daniel Aldana Cohen and Max Liboiron, “New York’s Two Sandys,” Metropolitics, October 30, 2014, Hauer et al., “Millions Projected to Be at Risk.” Harald Welzer, Climate Wars: How People Will Be Killed in the 21st Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity, 2011). Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “Housing Market Racism Persists Despite ‘Fair Housing’ Laws,” Guardian, January 24, 2019, /jan/24/ housing-market-racism-persists-despite-fair-housing-laws. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “How Real Estate Segregated America,” Dissent Magazine, 2018, /article/ how-real-estate-segregated-america-fair -housing-act-race. Chris Edwards and Vanessa Brown Calder, “Low-Income Housing Tax Credit: Costly, Complex, and Corruption-Prone,” Cato Institute, November 13, 2017, https://www.cato .org /publications/tax-budget-bulletin / low-income-housing-tax-credit-costly-complex

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25. 26.

27. 28. 29.




33. 34.

35. 36. 37.


-corruption-prone; and Laura Sullivan and Meg Anderson, “Affordable Housing Program Costs More, Shelters Fewer,” NPR, May 9, 2017, /2017/05/09 /527046451/affordable-housing-program-costs-more-shelters-less. Gregory Preston and Vincent  J. Reina, “Sheltered From Eviction? A Framework for Understanding the Relationship Between Subsidized Housing Programs and Eviction,” Housing Policy Debate (2021): 1– 33. Kriston Capps, “See How Landlords Pack Section  8 Renters into Poorer Neighborhoods,” Bloomberg CityLab, January 9, 2019, /2019 - 01- 09/where-section-8 -renters-face-housing-discrimination. Tom Angotti, Zoned Out! Race, Displacement and City Planning in New York City (New York: Urban Research, 2017). See the Paris example. Yonah Freemark, “Doubling Housing Production in the Paris Region: A Multi-Policy, Multi-Jurisdictional Response,” International Journal of Housing Policy 21, no. 2 (April 3, 2021): 291– 305. Michela Zonta, “Homes for All,” Center for American Progress, July 24, 2018, https://www /issues/economy/reports/2018/07/24/452645/ homes-for-all/. Much of my account follows Eve Blau, The Architecture of Red Vienna, 1919–1934 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999). “Vienna’s Journey to Carbon Neutrality,” Climate-KIC, July  6, 2020, https://www /success-stories/viennas-journey-to-carbon-neutrality/; and “Inventory of New York City Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, accessed August 1, 2020, David Madden, “Five Myths About Public Housing,” Washington Post, September 11, 2015, /2e55a57e-57c9 -11e5-abe9 -27d53f250b11_story.html?utm_term=.80c87ce7f580. Peter Gowan and Ryan Cooper, “Social Housing in the United States,” People’s Policy Project, 2018, Housing.pdf. Alexander C. Kaufman, “Ilhan Omar Pitches $1 Trillion For Green Public Housing,” HuffPost, November  20, 2019, _5dd59915e4b010f3f1d1d728. Rhonda Y. Williams, The Politics of Public Housing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Marnie Brady, and H. Jacob Carlson, “Beyond the Market: Housing Alternatives from the Grassroots,” Dissent Magazine, Fall 2018, https://www.dissent /article/ beyond-market-alternatives-grassroots-lec-clt. Pavlina R. Tcherneva, The Case for a Job Guarantee (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity, 2020). Elissa Nadworny, “What New York’s Ban on Gas-Powered Heat Could Mean for the Future of Clean Energy,” NPR, December 26, 2021. Stephen Lacey, “Energy Efficiency Is Going Through Another Transformation,” Greentech Media, January  24, 2019, -paradigm-for-energy-efficiency. “The New York State Climate and Community Protection Act,” NY Renews, accessed August 1, 2021, 1m8/view.

254 Transforming Infrastructure 39.


41. 42.



45. 46.

47. 48.

Daniel Aldana Cohen, Billy Fleming, Kira McDonald, Julian Brave Noisecat, Nick Graetz, Katie Lample, Xan Lillehei, Mark Paul, and Anunya Bahanda, A Green New Deal for American Public Housing Communities, Data for Progress, accessed August  1, 2021, /reports/green-new-deal-public-housing-national.pdf, 5. Daniel Aldana Cohen, Billy Fleming, Kira McDonald, Nick Graetz, Mark Paul, Alexandra Lillehei, Katie Lample, and Julian Brave Noisecat, A Green New Deal For New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Communities, Data for Progress, accessed August 1, 2021, /reports/green-new-deal-public-housing-nycha.pdf, 22. Cohen et al., A Green New Deal for American Public Housing Communities. Daniel Aldana Cohen, Rachel Mulbry, A.  L. McCullough, Kira McDonald, Nick Graetz, Billy Fleming, “A Green New Deal for Public Housing to Deliver Racial, Economic, and Climate Justice” (Philadelphia: climate + community project, 2021), https:// /a-gnd-for-public-housing. Akira Drake Rodriguez, Daniel Aldana Cohen, Erika Kitzmiller, Kira McDonald, David I. Backer, Neilay Shah, Ian Gavigan, et al., “Transforming Public Education: A Green New Deal for K–12 Public Schools” (Philadelphia: climate + community project, 2021), /gnd-for-k-12-public-schools. On the broader effort to build social, or “modern,” housing in the United States during the New Deal era, see Catherine Bauer, Modern Housing (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1934); and Gail Radford, Modern Housing for America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Frederick Gutheim, “Roland Wank: 1898–1970,” Architectural Forum (September 1970), 59. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (Harcourt, Brace, 1935). Roland Wank, “Nowhere to Go but Forward,” Magazine of Art 34, no. 1 (1941): 12. Wank, “Nowhere to Go but Forward,” 12.

chapter 12

Low-Carbon, High-Speed How a Green New Deal Can Transform the Transportation Sector j. mijin cha and lara skinner


hifting from a carbon-intensive car culture to low-carbon mass transit is fundamental to achieving the emissions reductions necessary to address the climate crisis. The transportation sector is responsible for 29  percent of overall greenhouse gas emissions, driven largely by federal and state policy that skews substantially toward building new roads and driving infrastructure. These policy decisions have left the United States with an extensive highway network and few public transportation options. Numerous technological advancements and improvements already exist that can green the transportation sector, including electric and hybrid vehicles, solar-powered planes, and, most importantly, improving and expanding public transit. This chapter makes the case that mass, low-carbon transit should be a fundamental tenet of the Green New Deal (GND). As it was introduced, the GND is more visionary than prescriptive. Yet the importance of this vision cannot be overstated. Unlike overly technocratic policy proposals focused solely on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the GND understands the interlinked challenges posed by climate, racial, and economic injustice. Protecting workers’ rights and marginalized communities are understood as ways to reduce greenhouse gases, not dismissed as distractions. Aligned with the vision of a GND, mass buildout of public transit and low-carbon transportation are essential to addressing both the climate crisis and social equity. The chapter begins by making the case for public transit, discusses the path to a GND for transit, and offers a set of principles to follow on this path.

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Within the transportation sector, over half of emissions come from passenger cars and light-duty trucks. Substantial emissions reductions cannot be made in this sector without a significant shift from private vehicle use to public transit. Even with increased fuel efficiency and a transition to electric cars, climate goals cannot be met without removing vehicles from roads.1 Slowing vehicle ownership rates, drastically reducing “vehicle miles traveled” (the total number of miles traveled by vehicles annually), and shifting people away from private vehicle use to public transit are essential to tackling the climate crisis and reducing pollution. A major modal shift from private vehicles to public transit will also have meaningful public health benefits by reducing the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing the amount of air pollution emissions. This shift will only happen when public transit is an attractive, viable alternative to making trips by private vehicle. While car sharing can help reduce the number of vehicles, mass public transit buildout is necessary to meet the ambitions of a GND and the challenges of the climate crisis.

Public Transit Substantially Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Improves Public Health Heavy rail transit, such as subways, produce approximately 76 percent less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than an average single-occupancy vehicle. Bus and light rail systems are also much more energy efficient than cars and trucks, producing 33 percent and 62 percent less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than an average single-occupancy vehicle, respectively.2 The important role public transit can play in tackling the climate crisis is evident in cities with developed transit systems, such as New York City, which has one of the most extensive transit systems in the world. Pre-pandemic, over eight million people rode the subway on an average day, reducing the region’s carbon footprint by seventeen million tons annually with transport that is twice as energy efficient as advanced hybrid cars.3 The energy and fuel efficiency of public transit over private vehicles is even greater when public transit is powered by low-carbon sources—for example, electric trains powered by solar and wind energy (see figure 12.1).4 In addition to the direct emissions savings, there are other geospatial benefits that make transit buildout an effective carbon-reduction solution, including

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12.1 GHG emissions of transportation options. Source: “How Low-Carbon Can You Go: The Green Travel Ranking,” The Sightline Institute, accessed March 1, 2022, -and-graphics/climate-co2bymode/.

facilitating high-density, compact development; conserving land; and reducing the distance citizens need to travel to reach destinations.5 As more and more individuals switch from cars to public transit, there is less traffic congestion, which results in less emissions and pollution from cars stuck in traffic. Decreasing congestion will also have major quality-of-life benefits. When unregulated, traffic congestion consumes hundreds of hours of time each year and undermines community safety.6 Generally, electric vehicles (EVs) emit substantially less emissions over their lifetime compared with combustion-engine vehicles, particularly tailpipe emissions.7 However, the greenhouse gas emissions reduction potential of EVs is tied to electricity production. While emissions are substantially reduced when the car is driven, EVs require a substantial amount of electricity for charge. If the electricity used to charge the EV is from fossil fuel combustion, the overall emissions reduction potential of EVs is compromised due to the amount of fossil electricity needed to charge the vehicle. Research shows that the emissions reductions benefits to EVs are significantly less in countries with coal-intensive electricity generation.8 Coupling EV production and use with a shift to zerocarbon electricity generation so that the electricity used to power EVs is also carbon-free maximizes emissions reductions.

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Public Transit Buildout Is a Strong, Quality Job Creator Prioritizing quality job creation at a time of record inequality helps stop the proliferation of low-wage jobs to reduce wage inequality and rebuild the middle class. Research shows that public transit investments are strong economic and employment drivers. A study by Smart Growth America found that investment in public transit produces 31 percent more jobs per dollar invested than constructing new roads and bridges.9 A recent study by the Transportation Equity Network found that if twenty U.S. metropolitan areas shifted 50 percent of their highway funds to transit, it would generate 1,123,674 new transit jobs over a five-year period.10 Plus, compared to other industries, the jobs created through transportation investments are roughly 40 percent more likely to be unionized, making investment in public transportation an excellent way to create good jobs and spur economic development.11 Additionally, public transit investments create high-road job opportunities for blue-collar, semiskilled workers because jobs in transportation are available to workers without a college degree and, on average, pay living wages.12 The average hourly wage for transit and intercity bus drivers, for example, was $24.97 in 2015, well above minimum wage.13 Expanded job creation in public transit would directly address the growing wage and employment gap between workers with and without a college education—a gap that has grown significantly for the millennial generation.14 Transportation jobs are also highly diverse, creating ample employment opportunities in a variety of professions. Jobs in transit range from manufacturing, construction, and the operation, maintenance, and repair of public transit systems. Specifically, jobs would be created for bus and train operators in addition to a variety of other trades to build and maintain transit systems—including operating engineers and other construction equipment operators; structural iron and steel workers; elevator installers and repairers; electricians; mechanics; purchasing agents; carpenters; heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers; construction laborers; brick masons, block masons, and stonemasons; housekeeping and janitorial workers; ticket agents—and to manufacture train and bus bodies as well as component parts. Major investment in public transit could also revitalize transportation manufacturing and construction at the state level.15

Electrifying Vehicle Fleets Could Boost Domestic Manufacturing In addition to transit buildout, electrifying the combustion-engine vehicle fleet of passenger cars, trucks, and buses is also an important job creator and economic driver necessary to achieve emissions reduction targets. The most popular EVs

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are manufactured domestically.16 Expanding this sector could substantially support revival of domestic manufacturing. Recent modeling found that for every $1 million invested in battery-electric buses, 5.7 jobs are created—roughly the same level of job creation per million dollars invested as diesel buses. The same modeling found that manufacturing and installing charging equipment creates 6.6 jobs for every $1 million invested and that bus facility construction and upgrades create 9.6 jobs for every $1 million invested.17 EV manufacturing creates a wide array of job types as well, including auto manufacturing and assembly, technology development, component and materials manufacturing, battery manufacturing, and charging station infrastructure and upkeep.18 While the coronavirus pandemic understandably made transit riders anxious about overcrowding and exposure to the virus, the link between transit and spread of the virus is unclear, as cities with extensive transit networks did not experience more significant outbreaks than those without. Additionally, the United States, with its car-dependent culture, sprawling cities, and localities, turned out to have more coronavirus cases than dense cities in other countries with extensive public transportation networks. Increased sanitation and hygiene practices can also help keep transit safe. With time and effective leadership, transit expansion can occur without increasing anxiety or fear. However, the pandemic did show the urgent need for more commitment and investment in transit budgets as federal, state, and local government revenues plummeted, leaving transit plans at risk of being underfunded.


The need for a GND is clear. Moving toward a low-carbon economy will require substantial improvement and expansion of public transportation systems; the manufacturing and deployment of renewable energy sources like solar and wind; modernization of electricity, water, and gas infrastructure; comprehensive energy efficiency retrofits of residential, commercial and industrial buildings; and the development of more sustainable food, waste, and agricultural systems.19 To meet such ambitious goals, an effort at least on the scale of the original New Deal is needed. With the introduction of the GND, an opportunity opens for a comprehensive, holistic, and ambitious climate jobs plan. As introduced, the GND prescription for the transportation sector is broad, calling for

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(H) overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in— (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transit; and (iii) high-speed rail.20

The broad mandate of the resolution leaves room for advocates and policymakers to formulate a policy platform for a low-carbon transportation sector. A GND for the transit sector should build an interstate rail system, electrify cars, buses, trains, and other vehicle fleets, expand domestic EV manufacturing, and broadly expand public transportation systems—including bus routes and rail systems. In developing these proposals, the following five principles should be kept in mind: maximizing job creation and emissions reductions, creating quality jobs not just climate jobs, using a public sector approach for transit expansion, ensuring not just public transit but equitable transit, and supporting displaced workers by providing a just transition.

Ambitious Low-Carbon Transportation Investments To deliver substantial job creation from low-carbon sectors, climate protection policy must be sufficiently ambitious to address the scale of the climate crisis and drive investment in low-carbon sectors. Numerous studies have shown that transitioning to a low-carbon, sustainable economy is important for job creation and economic development. It will also be necessary to meet carbon emissions reduction goals.21 However, despite the promise of mass job creation from green investments, the United States has yet to succeed in moving green economy jobs from “rhetoric to reality.” The scale of renewable energy, building retrofits, public transit expansion, and other aspects of a low-carbon economy remain marginal. As a result, green job creation and emissions reductions in the United States remain marginal too. Investments from a GND can reverse this trend and provide the scale of ambitious climate policy necessary to stimulate job creation at the scale the current economic climate requires. Building an interstate high-speed passenger railway system to connect population centers across the country and provide a viable alternative to cars and planes for domestic travel is an example of an ambitious transit proposal.

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Currently, the existing rail infrastructure receives only a fraction of public money that aviation and highway infrastructure receives, and attempts to fund high-speed passenger rail have been sporadic and politically contentious.22 Moreover, the current reluctance of people to ride any kind of public transit due to fear of the coronavirus has substantially dampened support for rail. While the policy battles currently hinder advancement toward an interstate rail network, there is no technical reason a nationwide passenger rail system could not be engineered and built. China, which has a larger land mass than the United States, has an extensive high-speed rail network, accounting for more than twothirds of all high-speed rail worldwide.23 A GND for interstate rail could provide the policy and political push needed to meaningfully advance rail buildout. However, passenger rail alone is not sufficient to reach the level of greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to combat climate change. Powering passenger rail cars with electric generated by renewable energy maximizes emissions reductions and helps reduce demand for carbon-intensive energy. Rather than depending on private, investor-owned utilities to develop renewable power to support public transit systems, transit authorities could develop and direct their own renewable power generation to power its trains and buses. Generating their own energy would increase the self-sufficiency of the transit system’s power generation as well as reduce costs, which could be reinvested into improving and expanding transit systems. In addition to rail buildout, increasing the use of electric buses and expanding bus routes can also deliver quality, affordable public transit, which in turn can increase ridership. For example, Berlin, Germany—a city with an already excellent rapid transit system, the U-Bahn—pledged to ensure a bus arrives every ten minutes on every line for twenty-four hours a day. Further, Berlin has introduced new local and express bus routes in transit deserts—that is, areas that have limited to no transit options—and will make the bus fleet all electric by 2030.24 Finally, the cost of public transit should not be a barrier for potential riders. Free public transportation allows the populations with the least resources access to jobs and other basic services and provides an incentive for drivers to take transit. Cities around the world are moving toward making transit free.25 Kansas City, Missouri, is the largest city in the United States to make all public transit free.26 In addition to the carbon emissions savings, free transit increases ridership, decreases traffic, and improves air quality by removing passenger vehicles. The cost savings from improved air quality and decreased traffic help offset the cost of free transit.

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Not Just Climate Jobs, Quality Jobs The second guiding principle for a GND for transit is creating quality jobs. Quality jobs provide benefits, workplace security, and wages that allow workers to support their families. Looking at the energy transition away from fossil fuels, although low-carbon jobs may be good for the climate and environment, these jobs are not inherently high-quality jobs. In fact, the prevalence of nonunion jobs in existing low-carbon sectors such as solar and residential retrofitting has dampened enthusiasm for the long-promised “clean, green economy” among workers and the broader labor movement. At the same time, many of the industries that produce the highest levels of carbon dioxide—extraction of coal, oil, and natural gas and carbon-intensive manufacturing—have higher rates of unionization than renewable energy sectors.27 These unionized, family-sustaining jobs help anchor the economies of communities throughout the United States. Without smart and deliberate policies, the transition to a low-carbon economy could be used as an excuse to eliminate existing good union jobs. To both protect workers and help rebuild the disappearing middle class, jobs created from investments in public, low-carbon transportation must be quality jobs. Similar to an energy transition away from fossil fuels, although transit jobs may be low carbon, they must be quality jobs. Depending on the funding mechanism for the job-creation programs, strong job and training quality standards could be ensured through prevailing wage requirements, state-approved apprenticeship job-training requirements, project labor agreements, and best-value contracting. As labor standards can more easily be attached to public money, quality job creation is another argument for transit expansion to be led by the public sector. And, in the spirit of the GND, to address racial and economic inequity, these jobs must be not only good jobs but also available to all workers, especially those that have been historically excluded from employment opportunities. Local hire programs mandating that local community members must obtain a certain portion of hours worked on the job can help ensure that community members have access to jobs they may not have access to otherwise. Targeted hire programs can be used to offer work opportunities to the longterm unemployed, the formerly incarcerated, and others with barriers to workforce participation. A functioning jobs pipeline will ensure that these local and targeted workers have a path to career employment by offering access

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to training programs such as direct-entry pre-apprenticeship programs and other necessary skill-building opportunities.

A Public Sector Approach to Reverse Inequality and Combat Climate Change The third guiding principle is that large-scale transit buildout must be anchored in the public sector. Reducing emissions is a public good because the well-being of all people depends on reducing emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Further, jobs in the public sector are more likely to have job-quality standards and to pay family-sustaining wages. Critically, until now, private sector, promarket approaches to reducing emissions—such as renewable energy production through tax incentives and subsidies to private companies rather than publicly owned energy production—have dominated green solutions at the expense of quality job creation and equity targets. From a climate action, job creation, and equity perspective, this privatized, market-based approach has proven ineffective.28 Rather than being a passive observer, the public sector can leverage its substantial purchasing power to create market shifts. Jobs to Move America, a research and policy advocacy organization, details how public procurement can drive the creation of good jobs that also create larger public goods, such as environmental or climate benefits.29 The total cost of all public procurement for goods and services is nearly $2 trillion, an amount that can be leveraged to create meaningful market changes toward decarbonization and local manufacturing. For example, local transit authorities can leverage their purchasing power to give preference to contracts that build railcars and buses domestically.30 Shifting from absolute low-cost contracting to best-value contracting allows for public agencies to include criteria such as local job creation or local procurement that may result in a more expensive contract but ensures quality job creation or local business stimulation. In turn, best-value contracting can stimulate more local economic development and greater long-term economic benefit.

Not Just Public Transit but Equitable Transit Finally, abiding by the values stated in the GND, low-carbon transit buildout can address both the climate crisis and social and economic inequality. The job creation and economic opportunity of low-carbon transit is clear. Equal emphasis

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on ensuring equitable transit that provides access for everyone helps build political buy-in necessary to support transit expansion and aligns with the equity provisions in the GND. Nationwide, just 5 percent of Americans use public transit to get to work. Outside of metropolitan areas, this number falls to 1.2 percent.31 Even within this limited participation, access to transit is not equitable. In 2015 it was estimated that fifteen million elderly people in the United States did not have access to public transportation, severely limiting their ability to participate in society.32 New York City, a region with an extensive transit system, exemplifies transit access inequity. Research by the Pratt Center for Community Development shows that many New Yorkers commute more than an hour each way, and nearly 500,000 of them make less than $35,000 a year.33 The lack of good transit options hits communities of color hardest, with Black New Yorkers facing commutes 25 percent longer than white New Yorkers.34 In parts of New York City with no nearby subway line, 44  percent of households do not have access to a private vehicle to travel to work, school, and other basic necessities.35 Focusing public transit expansion on expanding into regions and neighborhoods that are current transit deserts will help remedy unequal access and ensure that existing and future transit options are built to be accessible to disabled riders. Expanding mobility hubs, areas where different transportation options integrate to promote connectivity, can make transit more accessible to broader populations.36 For example, a mobility hub might connect a bus route, rail route, and bike- or car-share point at one location. The bus and bike/carshare can expand access to rail lines by encouraging riders far from the rail stop to use the hub without the high cost of constructing more rail lines. Beyond the benefits of increased efficiency of transportation, mobility hubs are natural places for amenities and open space to be designed to create more dense living. Mobility hubs throughout Los Angeles are helping shift a car-focused city into a more transit-rider and pedestrian-focused one, such as the Grand Park Station, where rail connects with outdoor spaces for dining, recreation, and play.37 While mobility hubs bring transit options together, there is still the issue of getting to the hub. The first/last-mile problem refers to the portion of a transit trip that riders must complete on their own through walking, biking, driving, or otherwise getting themselves either to a transit station or to their ultimate destination from a transit stop.38 Initiatives to address the first/last-mile problem for transit riders should accompany mobility hubs and transit buildout. To

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address the first/last-mile issue, dedicated walking and biking infrastructure can provide a safe means for riders to reach the transit stop.

Support Displaced Workers by Providing a Just Transition While the need to shift to low-carbon transportation and EVs is clear, some workers and regions will lose jobs and tax revenue as the economy decarbonizes. As Todd Vachon also argues in chapter 9 of this volume, supporting these workers and communities in the transition to a low-carbon future ensures that the burden of moving away from a carbon-intensive economy does not fall on workers and reduces political opposition to a low-carbon economy. Mitigating economic and employment losses due to a transition away from fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon economy is a fundamental tenet of “just transition.”39 First mentioned by labor leader Tony Mazzocchi, just transition acknowledges that as society shifts away from toxic industries, those working in these industries need to be supported and equitably transitioned into new employment.40 A key strength of the GND is that it recognizes the importance of just transition, emphasizing that workers may be displaced as part of the low-carbon transition. Moreover, it recommends providing wage and benefits parity to workers impacted by transition.41 While the example of coal miners or oil and gas workers is most obvious, workforces across the economy will be impacted by the energy transition. Workers currently in the auto industry are rightly concerned that they will be made obsolete. EV production requires fewer hours for assembly than traditional combustion engines, and shifting away from combustionengine production to EV production will likely result in job losses.42 However, the reality that workers will be displaced does not justify continuing a carbon-intensive economy. Rather, acknowledging the economic losses serves to underscore the need for targeted and sustained support to workers and communities negatively impacted by decarbonization. Displaced workers can be supported through short-term supports, such as unemployment insurance, pension contributions, and health care coverage, as well as long-term retraining and employment placement in jobs with comparable wages and benefits. Federal funding can provide relief to regions that lose tax revenue and investment for new industries to provide long-term economic stability.


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The time for piecemeal, technocratic solutions to the climate crisis has ended. Record heat waves, fires, hurricanes, and other climate-fueled disasters of 2020 have made the case for bold, ambitious proposals that move toward an equitable low-carbon future. Compounding the challenges of the climate crisis is the scale and scope of recovery needed post–coronavirus pandemic. A New Deal– style mobilization is needed to both stop the worst impacts of climate change and address the scope of economic recovery. The investment required for economic recovery is an opportunity to actualize the GND. Instead of investing and doubling down on carbon-intensive industries and infrastructure of the past, economic recovery focused on investing in the low-carbon industries can accelerate climate action and move away from the dirty industries of the past. A massive investment in public transit, a national rail buildout, and a transition to an electrified vehicle fleet creates shovel-ready jobs that can put people back to work quickly and safely. These investments will also result in the emissions reductions needed to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. The coronavirus pandemic has shown the urgent and devastating consequences of a faulty system that leaves behind vulnerable communities and the environment. A GND for transit is not just for emissions reduction. By addressing the interlinked crises of climate and inequality and centering vulnerable communities, a GND for transit will build the pathway to a future that is not only low-carbon but more equitable and just, too.


2. 3.


Andrew Small, “The Problem with Switching to Electric Cars,” Bloomberg, September 23, 2019, - 09 -23/electric-vehicles-alone-won-t -stop-climate-change. Tina Hodges and Andrea Martin, Public Transportation’s Role in Responding to Climate Change, rev. ed. (Washington, D.C.: Federal Transit Administration, 2010), 23. “MTA—Transportation Network,” accessed September  5, 2020, mta/network.htm; and Emma  G. Fitzsimmons, “Chief of Transportation Authority Must Wage a Political Battle for Funding,” New York Times, July 28, 2015, https://www . nytimes . com /2015 /07 /29 /nyregion /chief- of-transportation - authority -must-wage - a -political-battle-for-funding.html. David Ragland and Phyllis Orrick, Transportation and Health: Policy Interventions for Safer, Healthier People and Communities, SafeTREC, July  1, 2011, /publications/transportation -and-health-policy-interventions -safer-healthier-people -and-communities.

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Hodges and Martin, Public Transportation’s Role. Joan Byron with Elena Conte, Mobility and Equity for New York’s Transit-Starved Neighborhoods, Pratt Center for Community Development, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, December 2013, /wp-content/uploads/Mobility -and-Equity-for-NYs-Transit-Starved-Neighborhoods.pdf. Zeke Hausfather, “Factcheck: How Electric Vehicles Help to Tackle Climate Change,” Carbon Brief, May 13, 2019, /factcheck-how-electric-vehicles -help-to-tackle-climate-change. Hausfather, “Factcheck.” Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation, Smart Growth America, February  2011, -the-stimulus-transportation-funding-and-job-creation/. “More Transit = More Jobs: New Report,” SMART, accessed September 5, 2020, http:// / blog /2010/09/02/more-transit-more-jobs-new-report/. Ethan Pollack and Josh Bivens, “Transportation Investments and the Labor Market: How Many Jobs Could Be Generated and What Type?,” Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief 252, April 7, 2009, /page/-/pdf/ib252 .pdf. Josh Bivens and Ethan Pollack, “An Analysis of Transportation for America’s Jobs Proposals,” Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief 271, February 4, 2010, /page/-/ib271/ib271.pdf, 13. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages—May 2015,” News release, March 30, 2016, .pdf, 23. Pew Research Center, Education: The Rising Cost of Not Going to College, February 11, 2014, https://www.pewresearch .org /social-trends/wp -content/uploads/sites/3 /2014 /02/SDT -higher-ed-FINAL - 02-11-2014.pdf. Brian Lombardozzi, Timothy Mathews, and James Parrott, Building New York’s Future: Creating Jobs and Business Opportunities Through Mass Transit Investments, NYS Transit Manufacturing White Paper, September  2011, /wp -content /uploads/2012 /04 / WhitePaper_BuildingTheFutureThroughMassTransitInvestments .pdf. Electric Vehicles at a Crossroads: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of U.S. Manufacturing and Jobs, BlueGreen Alliance, n.d., accessed September  5, 2020, https://www /wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Electric-Vehicles-At-a- Crossroads -Report-vFINAL .pdf. “Transforming Transit, Realizing Opportunity,” Jobs to Move America, July 18, 2019, /resource/transforming-transit-realizing-opportunity/. Electric Vehicles at a Crossroads. Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, James Heintz, Helen Scharber, Kit Batten, Bracken Hendricks, and Margaret Clune, Green Recovery: A Program to Create Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts–Amherst, Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute [PERI], 2008). H.Res.—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, introduced February 12, 2019, 116th Congress, 1st session, https://www.congress .gov/ bill/116th-congress/ house-resolution/109/text.

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32. 33.

34. 35.


Global Green Growth Institute, Global Green Growth: Clean Energy Industrial Investments and Expanding Job Opportunities, June 2015, /report/global-green-growth -clean-energy-industrial-investments-and-expanding-job-opportunities/; Ethan Pollack, Assessing the Green Economy and Its Implications for Growth and Equity, Economic Policy Institute, October 10, 2012, Briefing Paper 349, /2012/ bp349 -assessing-the-green-economy.pdf, 18; and The Office of the Vice President of the United States, Green Jobs: A Pathway to a Strong Middle Class, staff report, January  1, 2009, handle/1813/77985, 36. Elizabeth Dovell, “U.S. Rail Infrastructure,” Council on Foreign Relations, March 7, 2012, / backgrounder/us-rail-infrastructure. “China’s High-Speed Railway Length to Top 30,000 km in 2019,” Xinhua, Accessed September 5, 2020, - 01/03/c_137715444 .htm. “Can Public Transit Help Save the Planet?,” Amalgamated Transit Union, accessed September  5, 2020, /media/intransit/can-public-transit-help-save-the -planet/can-public-transit-help-save-the-planet. “Can Public Transit Help Save the Planet?” Steve Hanley, “Kansas City Is First Major City in America to Offer Free Public Transportation. Is That a Good Thing?,” CleanTechnica, December  8, 2019, https:// cleantechnica .com/2019/12/08/ kansas- city-is-first-major- city-in-america-to - offer-free -public-transportation-is-that-a-good-thing /. Betony Jones and Carol Zabin, “Are Solar Energy Jobs Good Jobs?,” Center for Labor Research and Education—UC Berkeley, July  2, 2015, -solar-energy-jobs-good-jobs/. Power to the People: Toward Democratic Control of Electricity Generation, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, Working paper no. 4, June 5, 2015, uploads/2021/03/tuedworkingpaper4powertothepeople73.pdf. “Why Public Purchasing?,” Jobs to Move America, accessed September 5, 2020, https:// /our-approach/why-public-purchasing /. “Why Public Purchasing?” John Neff and Matthew Dickens, 2015 Public Transit Fact Book, 66th ed., American Public Transportation Association, November  2015, /uploads/Resources/resources/statistics/Documents/FactBook /2015-APTA-Fact-Book .pdf. Lisa Margonelli, “Thinking Outside the Bus,” Opinionator, November 17, 2011, https:// “Long Commutes for Low Wages,” Pratt Center For Community Development, accessed September 5, 2020, _wages. Byron with Conte, Mobility and Equity for New York’s Transit-Starved Neighborhoods. Stephen Miller, “How About a Transit System Where No One Has ‘No Good Options’?,” Streetsblog New York City, August  28, 2015, /2015/08/28/ how -about-a-transit-system-where-no-one-has-no-good-options/. Saki Aono, Identifying Best Practices for Mobility Hubs, Translink, February  2019, https://

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37. 38. 39.

40. 41. 42.

/Reports/2018 -71%20Identifying%20Best%20Practices%20for%20Mobility%20Hubs_Aono .pdf, 72. Mobility Hubs: A Reader’s Guide, accessed September 5, 2020, http://www.urbandesignla .com/resources/docs/MobilityHubsReadersGuide/ hi/MobilityHubsReadersGuide.pdf. “Metro First/Last Mile,” Metro, accessed September  5, 2020, /projects/first-last/. J. Mijin Cha with Manuel Pastor, Madeline Wander, James Sadd, and Rachel MorelloFrosch, A Roadmap to an Equitable Low-Carbon Future: Four Pillars for a Just Transition, Equity Research Institute, April  23, 2019, /docs/JUST_TRANSITION_Report_FINAL_12-19 .pdf. Cha et al., A Roadmap to an Equitable Low-Carbon Future. H.Res.—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal. Chester Dawson, Keith Naughton, and Gabrielle Coppola, “Auto Workers Fear EVs Will Be Job Killers,” Automotive News, September 27, 2019, /manufacturing /auto-workers-fear-evs-will-be-job-killers.

chapter 13

Redesigning Political Economy The Promise and Peril of a Green New Deal for Energy clark a. miller


or well over a hundred years the global political economy has centered on ownership and control of carbon-based energy resources. This is true in the narrow sense that, beginning in the 1850s, power and wealth increasingly flowed to those individuals, companies, and countries who dominated the extraction, refining, and sale of fossil fuels. By the end of the twentieth century, oil and automobile companies and cartels occupied centerstage, geopolitically, and stood atop the ranks of the world’s largest corporations and most powerful organizations. During this period, in a subtler yet broader sense, carbon-based forms of energy also structured the cultural forms and imaginations of modern industrial societies, economies, and politics, as Timothy Mitchell so importantly describes in Carbon Democracy.1 It is not an accident that, for both capitalists and communists, the oil and steel, railroad and automobile, and coal and electricity industries defined industrial policy and international economic competition; that military supremacy was established through the power of aircraft, tanks, rockets, and steel-hulled ships (and that the U.S. military became, as a result, the largest purchaser of oil on the planet); or that blood was frequently shed in efforts to control or secure lands with carbon-rich mineral deposits. It was the carbon century. Looking forward, as the world contemplates the end of carbon-based energy, two of the central questions are whether the forms of political economy it engendered will also end and, if so, what they will be replaced with. While there are, in theory, other ways to achieve carbon neutrality for the global economy, there is a growing sense that, for a number of reasons, by the middle of the twenty-first century, half or more of the world’s energy supplies will be

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generated by solar power.2 If this reconfiguration of energy regimes eventually ends the power of petro-states and petrocultures—and there is little reason to suppose that it won’t, although the paths forward will be at times uneven, tortuous, and marked by efforts to manipulate supply wherever fossil fuels are used— what alternatives will it bring into being?3 What will the solar-states and photoncultures of the latter half of the twenty-first century look like?4 How will they distribute power and wealth among the world’s diverse peoples and organizations? What kinds of security and insecurity will they enable and entail? In Dreamscapes of Modernity, Sheila Jasanoff theorizes that what makes modernity different from other eras of human history is that its core imaginaries are sociotechnical, forged in the power of science and technology to undergird compelling visions of human futures.5 For industrial societies, those dreamscapes have been fashioned around global technological systems for mining, refining, transporting, and burning carbon: geoimaginaries of oil and cars, coal and electricity grids.6 What will the sociotechnical imaginaries of a solar future look like? Whose voices will shape the articulation of those visions and the political and economic orders they seek to call into being? Will they follow the footsteps of carbon imaginaries in anchoring visions of tomorrow grounded in totalizing, globalizing, and often exclusionary and colonizing narratives of technological progress? Or will, instead—as science fiction writers in the solarpunk tradition have mused—the return to a world powered by the daily and seasonal ebbs and flows of the sun allow the possibility of, catalyze, or help secure a more diverse and inclusive set of imaginaries of the relationships among energy, industry, and community?7 This is the promise and the peril of a Green New Deal for energy: to reshape and redesign the very foundations of global political economy. This is the fight that is already amid us. Too much of the rhetoric and focus of the fight against climate change and the desire for a worldwide energy revolution is framed in terms of renewables versus fossil fuels—solar versus coal and oil. That fight is over. Fossil fuels have lost. As you read this passage, companies in every industry from banking to automobiles to the electricity industry are reworking their plans for the future to eliminate carbon. The year 2020 opened with an announcement from BlackRock, the world’s largest financial asset manager, with $7 trillion under management, that it would put the transition to a low-carbon economy at the center of its investment decisions, redirecting both the advice it gives its clients— the world’s largest insurance companies, pension funds, and other pools of capital—and its directives to the companies its funds own, which include virtually every publicly traded corporation on the planet.8 To be sure, this announcement

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reflects a bid for improved public relations from a company being pressured to act more strongly on climate change—and also a pitch for new money from investors looking to green portfolios—and its immediate impact on BlackRock’s internal practices and decisions as a stockholder remained hotly contested. Nonetheless, it sent shockwaves through financial markets and corporate board rooms. Following BlackRock came a parade of others: BP, Delta, General Motors, a rapidly growing stream of electric utilities, and the European Union. While overshadowed by the growing coronavirus pandemic, for historians, these announcements will make 2020 the year that carbon’s stranglehold on the global economy and global politics began to unravel. It will, inevitably, take longer than we might like to dismantle carbon-based energy systems and replace them with alternatives. And the work will be bloody, as we are witnessing in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is bound up in many ways in the geopolitics of oil and gas. The systems we’ve built are too big to fail, too central to the forms of societies, politics, and economies we’ve forged for ourselves, too tightly woven into their networks and infrastructures—but they are nonetheless history.9 Even as the fight to end carbon economies rages, there is another, equally important fight underway that deserves our attention—a fight over the future that will replace carbon. This fight is between solar and solar—that is, between very different pathways for weaving billions of photovoltaic panels and other renewable energy technologies into the political and economic orders of tomorrow. The full ramifications of this shift to disputes within and among alternative political economies of solar and other low-carbon technologies have not yet fully penetrated energy politics. The Biden administration, for example, has pushed hard in its first year for large-scale investments in solar energy while simultaneously acknowledging that environmental justice and labor-force transitions are also critical to the pursuit of a just, green energy future. At the same time, the administration’s policy proposals largely remain built around arguments about the need to invest heavily in green technologies rather than, in a clear and transparent fashion, about the hard choices that need to be made about which green future to build and the implications of those divergent futures for the future of democracy and political economy. The opportunity to revamp the political economic fundamentals of the world comes along only once in a great while. It is an opportunity to create new models of economic and social life that bring peace, prosperity, and democracy to the coming decades and even centuries. Or not. It is a moment in history that should focus humanity’s utmost attention on the kinds of futures we want to inhabit.

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Tomorrow’s political economy of renewable energy is far from obvious, and many different futures are possible. In Sustainable Energy Transformations, Power and Politics, Sharlissa Moore recounts the surreal history of the DESERTEC project, a very real yet almost fairy-tale-like proposal to power Europe’s future from gigantic fields of solar arrays built in the deserts of the Sahara, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia.10 It is an Orientalist and techno-colonialist dream of almost unimaginable technological hubris, and yet there its website sits for all to see.11 Most recently it has been tweaked with a somewhat more inclusive slant: desert sunlight harnessed to power not just European factories and coffeeshops but also the dreams of Africa’s rising youth. Cecil Rhodes would no doubt find it inspiring.12 And in North Africa and other deserts around the world, large-scale power plants are already rising by the hundreds, with plans for thousands more. Amory Lovins imagines a very different future for solar energy. For almost fifty years, since the oil crises of the 1970s and the nuclear meltdowns of the 1980s, Lovins has advocated passionately for distributed solar energy as an environmentally friendly and economically and politically inclusive solution to the energy needs of the future: “Energy in the hands of citizens is power in the hands of citizens. That’s good for democracy.”13 For Lovins, the fact that solar energy can be owned by individuals, not just corporations or states, and placed on their household rooftops or in their backyards has the potential not only to solve climate change but also to help reverse the concentration of economic and political power that has accompanied the growth of industrial societies over the past two centuries. Today, individuals, families, and communities all over the world are pursuing this vision, deploying a variety of bottom-up solar energy strategies. I present these alternative imagined futures not necessarily to argue for one or the other, nor because they exhaust the possibilities of future worlds powered by sunlight, but simply to illustrate the enormous interpretive flexibility of solar energy. The idea of interpretive flexibility comes from the field of science and technology studies. It highlights, early in the development of new technologies, the ability for those technologies to be imagined and shaped along multiple potential technical trajectories, each with very different social, economic, and political valances. Over time, as technologies become more mature, they

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experience closure: becoming more path dependent—their technical forms more standardized and more narrowly scripted in terms of their intersections with human imagination and life.14 The vast interpretive flexibility of solar energy is a big part of why solar is able to challenge fossil fuels.15 Solar cells are capable of being integrated into devices as small as a handheld calculator or lantern or, a billion times larger, into gigawatt-scale solar power plants and every size in between. And in each configuration, at each scale, solar energy has high value for its users. Comparisons of energy technologies often focus on the abundance of solar energy (enough sunlight falls on the earth in an hour to power the global economy for a year) and its ultra-low cost (solar now has the lowest levelized cost of energy of any electricity generation technology). But part of the appeal of oil, like electricity, is that it can go anywhere and be used in a variety of combustion engines on a variety of scales for a variety of purposes. Solar matches oil in its flexibility: present every day, everywhere, and able to be configured in a multiplicity of valuable ways, making it as relevant to the decision-making of the world’s poorest villages as it is to the world’s biggest electric utilities. It also matches well with other key technologies that will drive a global clean energy transition, especially electric vehicles, which can soak up solar electrons whenever they are available and then hold them in batteries until needed to power the future of mobility. The flexibility of solar energy has created multiple vibrant solar markets that present a mixed solar landscape. In the United States, for example, distributed solar installations made up approximately 40 percent of the 4 GW solar market in 2018 (as measured by installed capacity), with utility-scale solar projects comprising the other 60 percent.16 Within the distributed portion of the U.S. market, approximately half has been installed on household rooftops and the other half on commercial rooftops, with a much smaller fraction installed on buildings owned or controlled by nonprofits, houses of worship, the public sector, or other noncommercial properties or organized into community solar initiatives. Solar-powered lighting devices, while comprising a tiny fraction of the installed solar energy capacity, nonetheless constituted a $3 billion market in 2018.17 This diversity highlights the interpretive flexibility of solar at the present moment, but it also illustrates the almost complete privatization of U.S. solar energy. Even public entities that have invested in solar energy have typically done so via what are called power purchase agreements, in which the public entity contracts with a private company to supply solar-generated electricity on a long-term

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basis.18 The solar panels may even be on the rooftop of public buildings yet owned by the private power supplier. In other parts of the world, especially in Europe, energy cooperatives, community solar, and publicly owned solar are somewhat more viable options than in the United States.19 Yet worldwide the current reality is that, while half of global energy supplies are publicly owned, renewable energy is far more likely to be held privately.20 With solar energy, we are at the moment of choice, the cusp of massive global investments in solar infrastructure. As these investments get made, trajectories will begin to coalesce and converge on models of political economy that will increasingly acquire power and influence and organize the future. Solar panels are now being deployed at an increasingly rapid clip. In 2019 the world installed over 115 GW of photovoltaic panels, more than any other form of electricity generation.21 This remains a drop in the bucket compared to future installations, of course, which are estimated ultimately to be in the range of 10–100 TW over the next thirty years, depending on how we choose to power the future of the global economy.22 Yet it reflects a serious commitment of financial resources, to the tune of roughly $150 billion per year from 2014 to 2019.23 As a result, major actors in both the financial and energy sectors—including both companies and regulators—are increasingly focusing their attention on what solar energy will mean for their futures. As highlighted above, a growing cascade of organizations are committing to 100 percent renewable energy.24 In the absence of clear alternatives that integrate photovoltaics into the social, economic, and political organization of society in new and different ways, the decisions made by these entities about how to buy energy and to direct investment in the future of solar energy will likely have outsized impact on the global economic and political future.


No one should presume that some magical characteristic of photovoltaic technologies will necessarily lead to just and inclusive futures in a world powered by solar energy. In locations around the globe, we already see rising concerns about human rights in renewable energy and cases of poor, Indigenous, and rural communities as well as endangered species being forced out of their homes to make room for solar power plants that provide electricity to urban and industrial

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centers—or militaries seizing solar energy assets from communities.25 We see corrupt governments favoring solar investments from their friends over alternatives that would enhance community ownership of renewable energy assets. More prosaically, we also see ordinary governments all over the planet establishing policies that incentivize private firms over community-owned alternatives. Renewable-energy supply chains are creating new sacrifice zones in places where scarce mineral resources required by solar technologies are found.26 Major financiers like Masayoshi Son of SoftBank see in solar energy new opportunities to grow their financial empires through investments in vast new solar arrays around the globe and the electricity grids to carry their power across continents.27 In fairness, it will be very difficult for the injustices of solar energy to rise to the scale of corruption, human rights violations, violence, health risks, and colonial forms of oppression that attend fossil fuel economies. The world has been granted a great boon in the generally human-friendly character of most renewable energy technologies. But it is not impossible for renewable energy regimes to create new forms of injustice, inequality, and insecurity.28 Just as significantly, clean energy transitions will create vast social and economic disruption in communities that currently supply carbon fuels, many of which already suffer from a variety of environmental and economic injustices associated with carbon extraction.29 Questions of justice must be central to planning the photonpowered political economies of tomorrow.30 Properly addressing justice in energy transitions requires careful attention to the diverse ways that solar technologies are and could be layered into the fabric of our social, economic, and political relationships.31 At stake is not merely whether solar systems are big or small, centralized or decentralized, publicly or privately owned. Rather, the pathways to solar-powered futures raise nuanced, intricate, and complex questions about how to design the political economies of the future.32 Imagine a suburb: houses and yards and driveways as far as the eye can see. Imagine its rooftops, covered in solar panels, maybe even solar roof tiles. What is the political economy of that landscape? From the image as described thus far, we cannot tell. Who owns the panels: the homeowners; a company like Elon Musk’s former company, SolarCity, who rented out rooftop space; the local electric utility; the city; a neighborhood co-op? How are the financial benefits, costs, and risks divvied up? What capital pools supply the resources and at what interest rates? To whom is the capital provided, granting how much control over the investment choices? Who manufacturers the

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panels and where? Are the installers and maintenance teams unionized? Are the additional systems components, like the mounting racks, locally sourced? Who governs these choices? Answers to all of these questions matter—in detail—for the political economies that follow, via their implications for material and social outcomes, distributions of wealth and power, and the forms of imagination that relate those to projects such as democracy and justice. If the panels are owned by homeowners, then those who rent their homes do not benefit, even as those who own their homes and have the savings to pay for the panels garner the largest fractions of the net financial benefit and the overall energy economy becomes more decentralized. If, by contrast, the panels are owned by SolarCity, then the homeowner may still benefit a small amount. While the energy economy may become more diverse and competitive with SolarCity competing with the local utility, it is likely not any more decentralized. SolarCity may become a large but distributed utility in its own right—perhaps even larger than the local utility in terms of total electricity generated and sold. Only if the solar panels are owned by the city or by a neighborhood co-op is there an opportunity for fashioning opportunities to participate for renters or for tilting the playing field to include those who don’t already have access to significant economic resources. Trade-offs in these models are very real too. The total costs of a solar system are a combination of the cost to manufacture the panels and the cost to install them.33 The latter includes labor expenses. Reducing labor expenses reduces the price of the solar system, creating greater benefits for the solar system owner and contributing to faster deployment of solar energy—at the cost of lost wages for solar installers. By contrast, ensuring that solar installers are able to make a living wage, unionize, have health insurance, and otherwise benefit from good jobs raises the cost of installing solar panels, thus reducing the benefits to homeowners and slowing the transition to clean energy. Similarly, if, instead of buying solar systems outright, homeowners borrow money from banks to pay for the panels, opportunities for solar ownership expand significantly—at the expense of sharing the resulting revenue with the owner of the debt and granting them some control over who is and is not allowed to go solar. If public entities choose to subsidize solar energy, they can significantly reduce the costs of going solar and therefore open up opportunities for and accelerate solar adoption by middle class households, but this will likely create little benefit for low-income

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communities. If they instead use the same funds to purchase solar panels for installation in low-income housing, they will acquire the same amount of solar energy with public money while benefiting low-income households at the expense of not drawing additional private capital into solar markets. Consider a very different example. Annually, the economy of Arizona burns approximately $15 billion worth of carbon-based fuels.34 Currently, the vast majority of that carbon is imported from other parts of the United States and the world. Reinvesting those funds in locally sourced, locally generated solar energy would bring significant economic benefits to the state on the whole, even as it might lead in the short term to small increases in the price of energy. It would also deprive other parts of the world of jobs and revenue. How should those considerations be balanced? Similar conditions apply in Puerto Rico, where residents import and burn $3 billion worth of carbon each year, contributing deeply to the colonial nation’s ongoing indebtedness, macroeconomic challenges, and colonial dependencies.35 Going further, given the up-front capital costs of creating solar energy economies, both Arizona and Puerto Rico would benefit even further from manufacturing solar panels locally rather than importing them from some other part of the world. As of today, roughly three-quarters of the world’s solar panels are manufactured in China, with the rest distributed around the globe.36 For much of the past decade, the global solar panel manufacturing industry has operated with zero profitability, as companies and countries have fought with China for market dominance.37 The result has considerably benefited solar consumers (via low and falling prices for solar panels) even as it has also tended to drive down wages and undercut unionization in solar panel manufacturing and installation as well as laid the foundations for potentially deep concerns about the political economy and geopolitics of solar manufacturing of the future. One final, very different example: in the early twentieth century, in the early days of modern electric utilities, large-scale, steam-fired, coal-burning power plants dominated urban electricity systems. Their expense was enormous. In order to provide for low-cost electricity, they needed to sell as much electricity as possible to as many people as possible. This became the basis of the settlement, described by Thomas Hughes in Networks of Power, in which utilities were granted monopoly power to sell electricity within delimited jurisdictions in exchange for complete social regulation. Ramping the power levels of these plants up and down during the day damaged their systems, incentivizing utilities to find ways to operate plants in modes that produced constant amounts of

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power, day and night, winter and summer, consuming carbon all the while. Utilities faced significant pressure, therefore, from both their business and technology models, to find buyers for electricity at various periods of low ebb in industrial economies, and especially at night, when most of society slept, and on weekends, when they rested. Without such buyers, capital costs would be higher, forcing utilities to charge higher prices for electricity, reducing their benefits to society, lowering demand for electricity, and irritating their regulators. Utilities took numerous actions to create electricity consumption at night and on weekends.38 For example, they invested in businesses like amusement parks, electric trolley cars, and radio and television that simultaneously boosted electricity demand, grew demand for electrical equipment (which they also manufactured and sold), and shifted electricity demand to new times, outside of normal business hours. They encouraged homeowners to electrify their homes and purchase electrical devices for use in the morning, before work, and in the evening after work. At the same time, they incentivized businesses to do the same, arguing, for example, that businesses could more rapidly amortize the cost of new capital equipment by running multiple shifts through the night. Those incentives took the form of price structures that raised electricity rates to higher levels during the daytime, when consumption was high, while significantly lowering them at night, when it was lower. Through these activities, and especially through this pricing regime—high energy prices during the day, low energy prices at night—the electricity industry took the lead in helping to remake modern societies and economies into the 24/7/365 cultures and workplaces of today and, at the same time, to shift the balance in the economy between labor and capital. One of the striking features of solar energy—one that makes it fundamentally different from its fossil cousins—is its diurnal variation. We divide day and night, dark and light, one of the oldest and starkest divisions in human imagination and social organization, by the presence and absence of the sun in the sky. This diurnal variation threatens to topple the century-old regime of energy prices that built today’s 24/7/365 societies. Already, in California, where solar energy provided a mere 14  percent of the total energy produced in 2019, the pricing of electricity has irrevocably altered. Since 2017, for significant portions of the year, the price of energy is dirt cheap—even negative—at noon.39 That’s right, on many days they give energy away in the middle of the day. California’s

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independent system operator, CAISO, which operates the California electricity grid and marketplace, was forced to introduce a new regulatory structure, called the Western Energy Imbalance Market, to create a real-time market across Western states to sell—and on occasion give away—excess solar energy to nearby states.40 Especially in the spring, Arizona and Nevada utilities, among others, take solar electrons from the market and provide them to their residents. The reversal of daytime and nighttime energy prices will only grow as time goes on, as countries around the world deploy growing arrays of solar panels, forcing a major reconsideration of the organization of energetic work in the global economy. There are technical solutions—charging electric vehicles at work or electrolyzing water to make hydrogen are two frequently discussed options— but none that will change the fundamental logic that solar energy will vastly overproduce unbelievably inexpensive electricity in the middle of the day and underproduce electricity in the middle of the night for our modern, globalized economy, reversing traditional electricity pricing structures. It’s hard to anticipate just what social and economic trajectories will flow from this repricing of basic energy services, but we should not disregard the possibilities. I often joke that lunch meetings will become a thing of the past: they just don’t consume enough energy. Some people and businesses may choose to curtail nighttime work, returning to patterns more reminiscent of agricultural societies from our past, winding down in the evening and sleeping at night. Deeper shifts may in turn become possible. Activities and forms of work and labor that require high energy consumption may become concentrated in the middle of the day, creating an incentive to analytically decompose work practices according to the density of their energy requirements. We may need to relearn ordinary practices of daily life—the charging of phones, for example—to shift them to less costly periods of the day. And perhaps most deeply of all, deprived of the ability to significantly reduce costs by running equipment at night, companies may rebalance the ratio of capital and labor, ending three-shift manufacturing and the propensity to replace people with machines. How that will impact the contours of the socalled fourth industrial revolution is not at all clear.41 Because it is hard to predict the precise changes that will occur in tomorrow’s socioenergy systems as people rethink and reconfigure their behaviors, values, relationships, and institutions around new technologies, the political implications also remain unclear. A truism of sociotechnical change is that, in freedom-loving America, even as attempts by governments to impose small behavioral changes

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on short time frames through new policies can create significant political backlash, far larger shifts in our day-to-day routines and practices—and even in our political and legal norms and institutions—occur when navigated through changes in markets or through the adaptive work of the U.S. legal system.42 In the years following the rejection of Bill Clinton’s five-cent-per-gallon gas tax, for example, Americans managed market-led changes in gasoline prices that routinely added dollars to the price of gasoline. Similarly, despite critics calling it a constitutional infringement of core rights and freedoms, efforts to end the sale of incandescent light bulbs in favor of far more efficient LED alternatives have gone relatively smoothly. So even though a proposal to realign American society overnight with the availability of solar energy would be dead on arrival, the idea that people and institutions will adapt over time to even rapid changes in technology and markets, creating deep changes in culture and organization, is highly plausible—and they may even do so enthusiastically in cases where those changes are symbiotic with societal goals and objectives. For example, a growing movement of communities known as the International Dark-Sky Association is already exploring the benefits of going dark at night, even before a solar-powered economy makes it desirable from a cost perspective.43 Yet we should not neglect the significance of shifts in daily routines and practices at home and at work. As Michel Foucault reminds us, political economy is built outward from the body and the daily routines through which it is disciplined by the knowledge and machinery of the state and the economy. For over a century, that discipline has been imposed by regimes powered by fossil fuels, and the characteristics of carbon-based energy systems have shaped the exercise of their disciplinary power. Going forward, as we shift from fossil fuels to solar energy, we will increasingly inhabit very differently configured energy regimes that express potentially very different capacities and inclinations to discipline our bodies and minds. Especially as the worlds of energy and data are increasingly intertwined, through the development of smart energy networks and technologies, the politics of energy behavior are likely to grow significantly. The transformation to a solar-powered economy will create new incentives for utilities, employers, and states to surveil the energy practices of workers and citizens as well as new tools both for pursuing that surveillance and for incentivizing or enforcing new forms of energy discipline. One of the key opportunities of the coming energy transition—and one of its central challenges—is to rebuild, from the intimacies of the body to the geopolitics

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of the globe, the intricacies of political economy along new, more humane lines. Modernization and industrialization transformed the lives people live—not least through the ability to organize and deliver massive new quantities of energy in the service of human enterprise—but they didn’t always make life more worth living or create what we might refer to as human thriving. Using clean energy transitions to do better will require careful rethinking of the intricacies and intimacies of the solar-powered political economies of the future. In the next section, I offer a few thoughts on what it might mean to make energy more humane.


The Green New Deal presupposes a green transformation of global energy systems. It often also seems to assume, however, that social and economic justice will largely be found elsewhere, such as in increasing the number and quality of jobs, redressing racial injustice, or increasing home ownership. My argument here is that social and economic justice will also be won or lost in the intricacies of the redesign of energy systems, the reforms of political economy that accompany it, and their implications for the distribution of power and wealth and the possibilities of democracy and freedom in future societies. All too frequently, those intricacies are afterthoughts in the design of Green New Deal policies. They shouldn’t be. One of the central goals of a humane energy future should be to democratize energy governance.44 There is no ideal model of the future of a solar-powered political economy—no singular vision that will fit the needs and opportunities, desires and imaginations of the many peoples of the world. The design of energy futures therefore needs to be more locally responsive than the approaches taken by current energy companies and regulators. Fundamentally, there is a growing recognition that democracy demands open, inclusive, and transparent governance of the design of technological systems that empowers diverse communities to participate in imagining and constructing futures and, where they feel it necessary, to establish sovereignty over technological decisions.45 Energy is no exception, as the recent escalation of social protest movements around oil pipelines, renewable energy siting decisions, biofuels plantations, and other aspects of energy decision-making have illustrated—as well as the renewed engagement of publics and nonstate actors in energy governance in many parts of the world.46

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Especially given the flexibility of solar to diversify energy systems and render them more inclusive in a variety of ways, energy democracy seems likely in the future to take a more decentralized, distributed, and self-determined approach to the design of future energy systems, as Richard Lachmann also argues in chapter 16 of this volume.47 This does not foreclose the possibility of democratically authorized solutions that retain more centralized elements, which are common in today’s energy systems, or reject the reality that energy governance is and will likely always remain multiscalar and polycentric.48 It acknowledges, however, that centralized energy systems construct and exercise forms of social, economic, and political power that have proven difficult for democratic polities to exert control over. Monopolistic regional and national electric utilities and quasi-monopolistic global oil companies alike have contributed, among other things, to corruption of political institutions, ongoing energy poverty of multiple forms around the globe, mistreatment of workers, support for authoritarian regimes, and a wide range of violations of human rights, including manifold environmental injustices, murders of journalists and activists, and the displacement of communities in order to build energy infrastructure—prioritizing power over people.49 Nor is decentralization a magic solution. Deregulation constitutes a form of decentralization, for example. Yet while the introduction of electricity markets has disrupted the market power of former monopolistic electric utilities, it has also created even larger, more centralized, and often unaccountable market institutions while simultaneously reducing the power of democratic publics over energy system design and performance. In short, whatever particular configuration we choose to design for tomorrow’s energy systems, the details will matter for how power, wealth, and political economy—as well as systems performance and environmental and social impacts—play out. Diversification of the design and governance of energy systems may well be the norm, however. Combined with the already disaggregated character of electric utilities around the globe—nearly 3,400 electric utilities currently operate in the United States, for example, with 2,800 publicly owned utilities that include rural cooperatives, municipal utilities, and federal power agencies50—the flexibility of solar technologies has the potential to allow for future political economies of energy to be tailored in numerous ways to fit diverse local contexts and sensibilities.51 Energy systems can be organized to provide services, such as mobility and power, in ways that are better attuned to local needs, priorities, and values and that create and return significantly more value for local economies

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and communities. Doing so, however, will require careful attention in the coming energy transition to enhancing local capacity to imagine and transform energy systems in the service of more diverse and inclusive futures.52 In the century since the last great debates over the constitutional integration of energy systems into democratic governance, energy has unfortunately become a fairly exclusive realm of experts in which public participation is made difficult and sometimes actively discouraged.53 Although that is slowly changing as publics come to recognize the significance of energy futures, one key focus of a Green New Deal should be the empowerment of local communities to imagine and construct their own energy futures. A second key focus of a Green New Deal for energy should be to end energy poverty. The political economies of energy set up in the early twentieth century around electricity and gasoline were built on a simple two-plank model: energy as the basis of modern life with inexpensive energy for all. As a consequence, residents of modern societies today confront a simple reality: energy is a routine cost of life. Every week we buy gasoline for our cars. Every month we pay our electricity bills. At current prices, for the majority of U.S. and European citizens, those payments are trivial. For low-income individuals, households, and communities, those payments are a regular extraction of scarce economic resources that systematically undermine their ability to escape poverty.54 Combining electricity and fuel payments can lead to energy burdens, defined as the percentage of income that goes to pay for energy, that are as high as 30, 40, and even 50 percent. Low-income households often trade off between buying energy and food, routinely facing the possibility of having their energy cut off, not to mention other energy challenges that make it harder to accumulate savings, to work, and to pursue education that would improve their economic security.55 Nor are financial issues the only dimension of what might be termed the energy–poverty nexus. Diverse negative feedback loops tie together energy, economic, food, and health insecurities in extractive relationships. For example, we are now seeing the perilous combination of health, environmental, racial, and economic injustices that add up to much higher infection and death rates from COVID-19 in communities of color in the United States.56 In developing regions of the world, ending the energy–poverty nexus has the potential to become one of the most important drivers of economic and social progress for the bottom half of the world’s peoples, many of whom still do not have reliable access to electricity.57 The problem isn’t just powering these communities, however; it is ensuring

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that the transition from their current socioenergy systems (often built on kerosene, firewood, or diesel generators) to solar-powered energy systems creates new opportunities to use energy in valuable ways to advance social and economic thriving.58 One of the central goals of a Green New Deal, both in the United States and around the globe, should be to untangle the energy–poverty nexus and instead create future solar-powered political economies that are generative for low-income communities; that enhance their economic, social, and political opportunities; and that flow money in instead of out. This is a doable goal if we set not only our minds but our policies to properly structuring the ownership and control of future solar energy economies. The final, closely related key focus of a Green New Deal should be to redress the deep social and economic inequalities driven by energy economies over the past century plus. On the latest list of the Global Fortune 500 companies, nine of the top ten by annual revenue are oil, electricity, or automobile companies.59 That concentration highlights the deep historical connection over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries between the distribution of political power and economic wealth and the rise of three modern, global energy industries: the automobile complex, the oil and gas complex, and the electricity complex. More than any other sector of the global economy, these industries have driven and actualized inequality between the haves and the have-nots.60 If we design them properly, so they distribute wealth and power rather than concentrate it, solar energy—and the forms of mobility that we build upon it—have the potential to redress inequality head on. Through more decentralized models of ownership, strengthening of energy rights and protections for energy workforces, and other innovations, we can ensure the vast economic benefits of energy systems are distributed widely and generate new sources of economic security and empowerment. The challenge for the Green New Deal is to seize this unique opportunity in human history to take seriously political economic design—as well as the design of societies more broadly. The International Energy Agency estimates that the global renewable energy transformation will run $70 trillion or more.61 That sum represents an enormous opportunity to invest in the human future. How we decide to spend that money will have a massive influence not only on the distribution of wealth and power but also on the kinds of cultures and societies that we invent through energy innovation. We must get to zero carbon—and fast. But it’s not good enough to waste that money just building carbon-neutral energy

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systems that replicate the ones we currently have. If we’re smart about how we get to zero carbon, we can arrive at our destination having vastly improved human futures. This redesign will not be easy. Competition and conflict over the political economic design of the future of energy is already well under way and backed by some of the biggest sources of power and money on the planet. Design choices will be made by real institutions with real power dynamics. Advocates of political economic redesign will need to show up, commit to engaged participation, fight for a place at the table, and have clear and implementable objectives with respect to the intricacies of energy system engineering and market design—not just broad slogans. The process will need new voices involved in decision-making who haven’t historically been part of energy governance and new research and data to inform decisions with insights into the societal implications of energy design that don’t currently exist. It’s wildly inaccurate to envision the transformation just in terms of installing a bunch of solar panels. It’s also about the future constitution of energy ownership, the kinds of future jobs supported by the energy sector and the rights, protections, and responsibilities we grant to energy workforces, the future organization of energy governance, how inclusive future energy systems are, how broadly they contribute to economic and human security, and much, much more. And we don’t get to screw up. The transformation process itself will be highly complex and in systems that we utterly depend on for economic, physical, and military security. We cannot, along the way, collapse our current transportation and electricity systems in unorderly fashions. The Green New Deal thus faces two fundamentally intertwined challenges: redesigning human futures through energy innovation that generate far more societal benefits than just carbon neutral energy while simultaneously managing transformation in some of the world’s most complex and intertwined sociotechnical systems. This is not a case of set-it-and-forget-it. Creating a more just energy future will be a long slog, yet it is eminently doable. Already around the globe solar energy is transforming industries and economies, people’s lives, and the politics of energy around multiple diverse models, and it’s happening at multiple scales, from individual households to neighborhoods and communities to cities and industrial sectors to nations and even whole regions of the planet. Comparing across these emerging solar “markets”—which are really whole new ways of ordering human existence—we can already see the

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remarkable possibilities that open up in front of a Green New Deal. In reimagining the political economies of the future, we have the opportunity to make real some of the most ambitious societal objectives of our time: enhancing democracy, ending extreme poverty, reducing violence and conflict, and strengthening the resilience of human communities. To take advantage of this opportunity will require a detailed focus on the central sociotechnical systems dynamics, organization, and ownership of energy-based political economies: the linkages between energy-based value creation and the flows of benefits, risks, and burdens that stream outward from energy technologies to create social and environmental footprints across the globe through the dense sociotechnical fabrics of hypermodern, informatically networked societies. A century ago, the detailed design of energy systems intricacies and their implications for political economy were front and center in U.S. and international politics. It’s time to take a close look again. Our future depends on it.

NOTES 1. 2.


4. 5.



Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (New York: Verso, 2011). Sarah  R. Kurtz, Ashling Mehdi Leilaeioun, Richard  R. King, Ian Marius Peters, Michael J. Heben, Wyatt K. Metzger, and Nancy M. Haegel, “Revisiting the Terawatt Challenge,” MRS Bulletin 45, no. 3 (2020): 159– 64. Emilia Kennedy, “From Petro-States to ‘New Realities’: Perspectives on the Geographies of Oil,” Geography Compass 8, no.  4 (2014): 262– 76; and Sheena Wilson, Adam Carlson, and Imre Szeman, eds., Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture (Montreal: McGillQueen’s University Press, 2017). Joey Eschrich and Clark Miller, eds., The Weight of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures (Tempe, Ariz.: Center for Science and Imagination, 2018). Sheila Jasanoff, “Future Imperfect: Science, Technology, and the Imaginations of Modernity,” in Dreamscapes of Modernity, eds. Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). Victor Seow, “Carbon Technocracy: East Asian Energy Regimes and the Industrial Modern, 1900–1957” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2014); Suzanne Moon, “Justice, Geography, and Steel: Technology and National Identity in Indonesian Industrialization,” Osiris 24, no. 1 (2009): 253– 77; Thomas Hughes, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880–1930 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993); and Jameson Wetmore, “Driving the Dream: The History and Motivations Behind 60 Years of Automated Highway Systems in America,” Automotive History Review 7 (2003): 4–19. Andrew Dana Hudson, “On the Political Dimensions of Solarpunk,” Medium, October 14, 2015, -c5a7b4bf8df4.

288 Transforming Infrastructure 8.


10. 11. 12.





17. 18. 19.


Larry Fink, “Larry Fink’s 2020 Letter to CEOs: A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance,” BlackRock, accessed June  23, 2020, https://www.blackrock .com/corporate /investor-relations/2020 -larry-fink-ceo -letter. Clark  A. Miller, “Sustainability, Democracy and the Techno-Human Future,” in The Role of Non-State Actors in the Green Transition: Building a Sustainable Future, eds. Jens Hoff, Quentin Gausset, and Simon Lex, 247– 66 (London: Routledge, 2019). Recent technology and policy developments are further accelerating these trends. Emerging but not yet published modeling results suggest, for example, that even if no new U.S. policies are adopted, state and utility commitments to carbon-neutrality adopted in the past twelve months and continued price reductions for renewable technologies will drive between 60 and 80  percent reductions in U.S. electric power sector carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Sharlissa Moore, Sustainable Energy Transformations, Power and Politics: Morocco and the Mediterranean (London: Routledge, 2018). DESERTEC Foundation website, accessed June 23, 2020, William Kelleher Storey, “Cecil Rhodes and the Making of a Sociotechnical Imaginary for South Africa,” in Dreamscapes of Modernity, eds. Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015). Quoted in Sören Amelang, “Disruption Caused by Energy Transition Is Unstoppable— Amory Lovins,” October  17, 2018, /news/disruption -caused-energy-transition-unstoppable-amory-lovins. Discussions of interpretive flexibility and closure in technology can be found in Trevor J. Pinch and Wiebe E. Bijker, “The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other,” Social Studies of Science 14, no. 3 (1984): 399–441. Clark A. Miller and Andrew Dana Hudson, “Redesigning the World in Sunlight,” in Return to the Source: New Energy Landscapes from the Land Art Generator Initiative, eds. Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian, 40–43 (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2020). Jennifer Runyon, “U.S. Solar Markets Tops 10 GW in 2018,” Renewable Energy World, March  14, 2019, -tops-10 -gw-in-2018 -again/#gref. Solar Outdoor LED Lighting Market 2019, Research and Markets, April 2019, https://www World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Scaling Up Globally: Corporate Renewable Power Purchase Agreements (Geneva: WBCSD, 2016). August Wierling, Valeria Jana Schwanitz, Jay Gregg, Jan Zeiss, Celine Bout, Chiara Candelise, and Winston Gilcrease, “Statistical Evidence on the Role of Energy Cooperatives for the Energy Transition in European Countries,” Sustainability 10, no. 9 (2018): 3339, /10.3390/su10093339. Michael Waldron and Yoko Nobuoka, “Towards International Level Tracking and Assessments: Insights from IEA World Energy Investment Report,” presented at Research Collaborative Tracking Finance for Climate Action Workshop, OECD, Paris, October  1– 2, 2019, -waldron-and-yoko-nobuoka.

Redesigning Political Economy 289 21.

22. 23. 24. 25.


27. 28. 29.

30. 31. 32. 33.



Tom Heggarty, “Global Solar Installations to Reach Record High in 2019,” Greentech Media, July 25, 2019, lations-to-reach-record-high-in-2019. Kurtz et al. “Revisiting the Terawatt Challenge.” Frankfurt School, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments (Frankfurt am Main: Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, 2019). “We Are Accelerating Progress Towards 100% Renewable Power,” RE100, accessed June 23, 2020, On concerns about human rights in renewable energy, see Sofia Nazalya and Olivia Dobson, “Human Rights Challenges Flying below the Radar for Renewable Energy,” Greentech Media, October  16, 2019, / human-rights-challenges-flying-under-radar-for-renewables-industry. On endangered species, see Sharlissa Moore and Edward J. Hackett, “The Construction of Technology and Place: Concentrating Solar Power Conflicts in the United States,” Energy Research & Social Science 11 (2016): 67– 78; and Dominic Boyer, Energopolitics: Wind and Power in the Anthropocene (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2019). On militaries seizing solar energy assets, see Anne-Marie O’Connor, “This Palestinian Village Had Solar Power— until Israeli Soldiers Took It Away,” Washington Post, July 7, 2017. Dayna Scott and Adrian Smith, “ ‘Sacrifice Zones’ in the Green Energy Economy: Toward an Environmental Justice Framework,” McGill Law Journal / Revue de droit de McGill 62, no. 3 (2017): 861– 98. SB Energy website, accessed June 23, 2020, Dustin Mulvaney, Solar Power: Innovation, Sustainability, and Environmental Justice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019). Sanya Carley, Tom P. Evans, Michelle Graff, and David M. Konisky, “A Framework for Evaluating Geographic Disparities in Energy Transition Vulnerability,” Nature Energy 3, no. 8 (2018): 621– 27. Peter Newell and Dustin Mulvaney, “The Political Economy of the ‘Just Transition,’ ” Geographical Journal 179, no. 2 (2013): 132–40. Clark  A. Miller, Jennifer Richter, and Jason O’Leary, “Socio-Energy Systems Design: A Policy Framework for Energy Transitions,” Energy Research and Social Science 6 (2015): 29–40. Clark A. Miller, Jason O’Leary, Elisabeth Graffy, Ellen Stechel, and Gary Dirks, “Narrative Futures and the Governance of Energy Transitions,” Futures 70 (2015): 65– 74. Ran Fu, David Feldman, and Robert Margolis, US Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018, NREL/PR 6A00- 72133 (Golden, Colo.: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2018). This analysis is based on 2015 data downloaded from the U.S. Energy Information Administration using the methodology developed in Mark Hope, 2006 Energy Dollar Flow Analysis for the State of Arizona (Phoenix: Arizona Department of Commerce Energy Office, 2006). Based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This figure incorporates fuel supplies imported for all purposes, including electricity generation (which in Puerto Rico is almost entirely based on imported oil, natural gas, and coal) and transportation.

290 Transforming Infrastructure 36.

37. 38. 39. 40. 41.


43. 44.

45. 46.

47. 48. 49. 50.


52. 53.

T. Wang, “Global PV Module Manufacturing Share by Country 2019,” Statista, February  2, 2021, -pv-module-manufacturing /. Paula Mints, presentation to the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies Engineering Research Center, Tempe, Arizona, May 2018. David Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992). Jason Fordney, “Day-Ahead Prices Going Negative in CAISO,” RTO Insider, August 1, 2017, Western Energy Imbalance Market website, accessed June  23, 2020, https://www Klaus Schwab, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What It Means? How to Respond?,” World Economic Forum, January 14, 2016, /agenda/2016/01/the -fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond/. Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011); and Sheila Jasanoff, Science at the Bar: Law, Science, and Technology in America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995). International Dark-Sky Association website, accessed June  23, 2020, https://www Matthew  J. Burke and Jennie  C. Stephens, “Energy Democracy: Goals and Policy Instruments for Sociotechnical Transitions,” Energy Research & Social Science 33 (2017): 35–48. Richard Sclove, Democracy and Technology (New York: Guilford, 1995). Kolya Abramsky, Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World (Oakland, Calif.: AK Press, 2010); and Jens Hoff, Quentin Gausset, and Simon Lex, eds. The Role of Non-State Actors in the Green Transition: Building a Sustainable Future (London: Routledge, 2019). See also Matthew  J. Burke and Jennie  C. Stephens, “Political Power and Renewable Energy Futures: A Critical Review,” Energy Research & Social Science 35 (2018): 78– 93. Andreas Goldthau, “Rethinking the Governance of Energy Infrastructure: Scale, Decentralization and Polycentrism,” Energy Research & Social Science 1 (2014): 134–40. Sandeep Pai and Savannah Carr-Wilson, Total Transition: The Human Side of the Renewable Energy Revolution (Victoria, BC: Rocky Mountain, 2018). Public Power: 2019 Statistical Report (Arlington, Va.: American Public Power Association, 2019), -Report.pdf. Evelina Trutnevyte, Michael Stauffacher, and Roland W. Scholz, “Supporting Energy Initiatives in Small Communities by Linking Visions with Energy Scenarios and MultiCriteria Assessment,” Energy Policy 39, no. 12 (2011): 7884– 95. Denise Fairchild and Al Weinrub, “Energy Democracy,” in The Community Resilience Reader, ed. Daniel Lerch, 195– 206 (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2017). Ingrid Foss Ballo, “Imagining Energy Futures: Sociotechnical Imaginaries of the Future Smart Grid in Norway,” Energy Research & Social Science 9 (2015): 9– 20; and Miller et al., “Narrative Futures.”

Redesigning Political Economy 291 54. 55.


57. 58.

59. 60.


Ariel Drehobl and Lauren Ross, Lifting the High Energy Burden in America’s Largest Cities (Washington, D.C.: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 2016). Philip A. Loring, S. Craig Gerlach, and Henry P. Huntington, “The New Environmental Security: Linking Food, Water, and Energy for Integrative and Diagnostic SocialEcological Research,” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 3, no. 4 (2013): 55– 61. Sacoby Wilson, “Connecting the Dots Between Environmental Injustice and the Coronavirus,” interview by Katherine Bagley, Yale Environment 360, May 7, 2020, https://e360 .yale . edu /features /connecting -the - dots -between - environmental -injustice - and -the -coronavirus. “Goals: 7,” United Nations Division of Economic and Social Affairs, accessed June 23, 2020, /sdg7. Clark Miller, Nigel Moore, Carlo Altamirano-Allende, Nafeesa Irshad, and Saurabh Biswas, Poverty Eradication through Energy Innovation (Tempe, Ariz.: Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, 2018). “Global 500,” Fortune, accessed June 23, 2020, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Energy, Justice, and Peace: A Reflection on Energy in the Current Context of Development and Environmental Protection (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist, 2016). International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook (Paris: International Energy Agency, 2019).


The Work of Building a Better Society

chapter 14

Community Control and the Climate Crisis Power, Governance, and Racial Capitalism olúfẹ́ mi o. táíwò


n apocryphal quote, often attributed to Kwame Ture: “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he has the power to lynch me, that’s my problem.”1 This quote addresses a basic political insight that can orient our relationship to racial justice and justice more broadly construed. The contribution of racial disparities to racial injustice are well known and well studied, whether resource gaps (e.g., in wealth and income) or susceptibility to vulnerability (e.g., to police violence, financial ruin, and displacement).2 Researchers and political officials project that such gaps are likely to widen as climate crises intensify.3 Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has even claimed that the climate crisis could “undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction” and pose an existential threat to “democracy and the rule of law, as well as a wide range of civil and political rights.” 4 However, despite the well-known role of public and private institutions in producing and defending the racial disparities that partially comprise and fuel racial injustice, connections between the Green New Deal and racial justice have tended to focus on resource redistribution. While focusing on fixing racial disparities in susceptibility to financial and environmental harms like pollution and bankruptcy are important, we should not forget the more basic gaps that play a fundamental role in producing and reproducing these lower-level disparities, like the one alluded to by Ture: power over policies and institutions that owe themselves to past and present racial injustice. While this difference expresses itself in terms of group-level difference in access to resources and vulnerability to death and predation, this difference is

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irreducible to these disparities. A Green New Deal that also makes strides in governance, then, is well positioned to respond to both symptoms and disease of racial injustice. The connection between direct democratic control and racial justice has long been advanced by social movement actors. In response to the murder of an activist in 1969, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense convened a conference called the United Front Against Fascism, in Oakland, California.5 In light of the perception that police worked only to safeguard the interests of white supremacy and capital, a demand emerged for “community control over police” to give communities power over their own safety.6 That demand was emblematic of a broader trend in organizing responses to ongoing racial injustice: the demand for community control. In a recent law review article, K. Sabeel Rahman and Jocelyn Simonson connect the demands of the 1960s and 1970s for community control to contemporary ones.7 Some of these focus on direct community control over public safety, and others focus on control over budget allocations. But community control demands, as such, propose “two transformative goals” that are deeply co-constitutive: the demand to address deep inequalities of class and race and the demand for communities to exert direct democratic control over local governance. In this chapter, I introduce the theory of racial capitalism, a particular theoretical perspective undergirding this framing of the basic political problem and response strategy. Then, following Rahman and Simonson, I suggest a range of governance strategies aimed at giving all communities—including, and especially, Black and Indigenous ones marginalized under a system of racial capitalism—self-determination over aspects of policy and collective action aimed at addressing a wide range of impacts related to climate change. These include measures implementable within the state and thus through Green New Deal– related legislation (participatory budgeting and community control over energy) and governance structures outside of the state’s purview (community land trusts, bargaining for the common good).


The term racial capitalism has its origins in South Africa, where intellectuals like Bernard Magubane, Harold Wolpe, and Neville Alexander used it to describe

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the interlocking character of race, class, and general domination under South African apartheid.8 U.S.-based political theorist Cedric Robinson helped popularize this term in the book Black Marxism, which tied the term that had originally been used to analyze state politics to a broader global perspective. This broader perspective was eventually called “world-system theory,” key aspects of which were developed outside of the academy by political thinkers like V.  I. Lenin and introduced into academic thought by thinkers like Oliver  C. Cox and, later, Samir Amin and Immanuel Wallerstein.9 How to characterize the “racial” aspect of the system of “racial capitalism” that resulted is, of course, a matter of some controversy.10 This piece takes Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s definition as its point of departure: “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.”11 Here Gilmore identifies racism with stratification itself, as opposed to the particular criteria or nature of the resultant groups. She also identifies the dimension on which stratification is to be identified (“premature death”), which I have elsewhere suggested could be read as an allusion to “material security.”12 This interpretation unites Gilmore’s explanation with ongoing work in social sciences, including the field of “stratification economics” popularized by economist William Darity. Jessica Nembhard and Darity find similar patterns of economic stratification disadvantaging “subaltern” racial groups across continents and decades, including the stigmatized Dalit caste in India, Indigenous Maoris in New Zealand, and Creoles and Mestizos (compared to whites) in Belize and Mexico.13 These gaps in vulnerability between racial strata are not merely financial or limited to formal politics but also make themselves apparent in differences in the kind of environmental vulnerability that will shape the political character of climate crisis. At a subnational level, Ryan Thomson, Johanna Espin, and Tameka Samuels-Jones find that “green crime havens,” or areas of increased violation of environmental regulations, arise “as part of power differences and corresponding zoning decisions” and not simply the havens’ proximity to natural resources that companies want access to for production.14 The “pollution haven hypothesis” describes a similar story transnationally—it predicts that multinational corporations will relocate high-pollution operations to the places least able or willing to protect their populations from negative environmental externalities, and some empirical evidence lends support to this hypothesis.15

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Gaps in vulnerability between social strata have a complex causal history and are sustained by ideological and cultural problems as well as more straightforwardly political ones. Nevertheless, in the aforementioned examples, the connection between the allocation of decision-making power and these outcomes is clear: zoning officials, multinational corporations, and legislatures currently make the decisions that either exploit or protect places and populations that have less political power and thus either exacerbate and resolve “green crime” or “pollution” havens. This links racial capitalism to the climate crisis at multiple, overlapping, and mutually supporting scales. Transnationally, the climate crisis is intensifying “climate colonialism”: the exploitation and domination of less powerful states and Indigenous nations (many of whom were colonized by European powers) by more powerful states and corporations.16 This can implicate even green climate initiatives in unjust outcomes: the Oakland Institute reported, for instance, that Norwegian companies’ quest to buy and conserve forest land in East Africa as part of a carbon offsetting initiative caused forced evictions and food scarcity for thousands of Ugandans, Mozambicans, and Tanzanians.17 The vulnerability of these Africans to predation from transnational capital is inextricable from the larger global history of racially and thus geographically stratified infrastructure and wealth accumulation over the past five centuries. The same possibility lurks for subnational politics. Broadly, researchers have called attention to the possibility of “climate apartheid,” which could result from the increased sorting of populations according to their ability to pay to avoid the worst aspects of climate crisis.18 This characterizes the broad social-systemic response to the pressures generated by shifting ecological conditions rather than narrowly on straightforward climate impacts like hurricanes, sea-level rise, or heat waves. For instance, climate apartheid may intensify racist police violence; it may legitimize and intensify violence that seeks to protect property and overall security of elites from those seen as proper candidates of violence. This possibility has been prefigured by the response to Hurricane Katrina, where vigilantes killed with impunity Black people labeled as “looters,” and by the California wildfires of recent years that were fought with the coerced labor of incarcerated people.19 In the next section, I outline two methods of governance that could challenge racial capitalism at its root and thereby help secure an anti-racist character for climate justice.

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In “Black Community Control Over Police,” organizers and intellectuals M Adams and Max Rameau argue that Black communities in the United States are in a colonial relationship with the wider social structure. Since “colonial domination is maintained for the benefit of the metropole, not the colony,” reforms to policing will not solve the “root issue”: that “colonial subjects do not control their own resources,” making their continued exploitation inevitable.20 The solution, they argue, is to shift power into Black communities, so they can make the decisions on which their safety depends themselves. Although they call this demand “Black Community Control Over Police,” abolitionists have rightly suggested that the way that communities could and should protect themselves need not look like policing at all—that it might instead be called “community control over public safety” or simply “community control of resources.” 21 Adams and Rameau focus on policing in their article, but their argument could be generalized: moving power as such into Black communities is key to challenging the colonial relationship that explains Black exploitation. The “root issue,” whether with environmental vulnerability or policing, concerns who decides, what the social system acts to protect, and what it allows to be vulnerable.22 That issue comes down to a balance of power between the elites atop the system’s various hierarchies and the masses of people below. As such, Adams and Rameau identify the core ethos of their analysis more broadly than the immediate issue of police and public safety: “shifting power over Black communities from White racists into the hands of members of the Black community itself” throughout diverse aspects of social life, including “economic development, education, or access to housing.”23 I discuss two examples of power shifting toward communities in this section: one example of what communities can do within the formal political system (participatory budgeting) and one example of what they can do outside of it (bargaining for the common good). I begin with participatory budgeting since it concerns a form of governance that is most formal and implementable by legislative means. Then I move on to a form of self-organizing that would take place outside of the formal political system.

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Inside: Community Control Over Budget There are many aspects of social and economic life over which local communities could try to increase their power and influence: local social life (e.g., community control over public safety / “police”), social movement organizing to challenge legislation and enforcement of laws, and labor organizing to challenge working conditions and the living conditions that result from them. All of these are of general interest and import from the standpoint of climate justice, but their implementation is particularly urgent for racially marginalized communities and Indigenous communities for the reasons outlined in the previous section. The climate crisis will require much thinking about allocating resources: for mitigation, adaptation, carbon removal, and loss and damage. While dealing with these issues is a matter of dizzying complexity, one aspect of the problem is simple: who and what are being protected by the decisions made in light of the complex associations of risks. If elites and the technocrats that serve them continue to protect themselves and their interests, we can expect the current trajectory of unjustly distributed risk and vulnerability to continue. One way to attack this political dimension of the problem directly is to change who is in charge of the relevant local-level allocations of a federal Green New Deal: community control over the budget. As Rahman and Simonson relate, contemporary movements in the United States like the Partnership for Working Families address this key area of concern.24 Community control over the budget is not a new idea. Participatory budgeting is an approach to running a budget pioneered by Brazil’s Workers’ Party in the city of Porto Alegre in the late 1980s.25 Since then the approach has spread across the world, with pilot programs in countries like South Africa and the United States.26 The practice aims to create processes by which community residents can directly engage with political questions and decide for themselves how social resources are to be invested and directed. The Brazilian Workers’ Party’s approach practices direct democracy, giving community members decisionmaking power over public revenue. Conventional politics, where representatives or other elites try for reforms that they judge are in the people’s interest, is at best an indirect approach that opens avenues for corporations to distort the formation and implementation of reforms. Participatory budget programs tend to operate at the municipal level, which may be thought to limit its applicability to climate legislation since discussion

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about climate legislation often tends to focus on national (e.g., the Green New Deal) or supranational political bodies and agreements (e.g., the Paris Accords).27 An immediate rejoinder: important climate legislation happens at subnational levels, often ahead of national-level climate action, playing an important role in spurring action at other political scales.28 But beyond this obvious objection, there’s no reason, in principle, that a similar project could not also be conducted with federal-level legislation. One reason these programs tend to operate on a lower level is the emphasis on deliberation and communication, which is paradigmatically done in a “town hall”–like setting.29 But this focus could be maintained even in national-scale participation if the assembly to decide were smaller and convened by sortition (random selection from the population).30 This procedure has some advantages over alternatives: bodies convened by sortition rather than election are thought to be more difficult for elites to capture via campaign donations and lobbying, among the key advantages that prompted Adams and Rameau to build sortition into their “Black Community Control Over Police” proposal. At a national level, the selection procedure could be weighted to ensure sufficient presence of peoples from racially and otherwise marginalized groups, and zones of responsibility could be chosen to have the same effect (e.g., creating a budget assembly for a specific, predominantly Black neighborhood—the “Black Community Control” part). This would be particularly powerful in the context of decision-making over specific zones of Green New Deal policy. Consider, for example, the proposed Green New Deal for public housing (see chapter 11 by Daniel Aldana Cohen in this volume for more on housing). Beyond allocating jobs toward racially and economically marginalized people and communities, a Green New Deal housing policy could follow the community control ethos in governance. A recent Data for Progress report estimates a cost of between $119 and $172 billion for public housing “green retrofitting.”31 This represents a job of resource allocation and design decisions that would deeply affect the lives of people living in public housing; therefore, this set of decisions is worth turning over to them to make rather than government technocrats insulated from the outcome of their decisions and accountable only to their elite employers. Governing the allocations via participatory budgeting process would provide these direct democratic opportunities. A participatory budget approach to such decisions would also fit into the long history of community control prefigured by the Black-led, multiracial cooperative New Communities, widely considered the United States’ first community

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land trust.32 New Communities provides a model of housing and land management that could be built into a Green New Deal on public housing: this model puts ownership of the land in a trust controlled by a community board, thus prefiguring an even broader managerial perspective on housing and land management than the one that community budget control envisions. There are potential drawbacks with participatory budgeting, as there are with any political strategy. Political scientist Celina Su reports that practitioners and scholars were calling participatory budgeting “the new tyranny” by the early 2000s, in recognition of the fact that funders exploited it “to pay lip service” to equality while perpetuating inequality, and as a “release valve” for community frustrations with the ongoing. The methods for exploiting such a tactic are myriad, but one clear way to prevent this exploitation is to give participatory budgeting control over a small fraction of government revenue—in New York City, for example, councilmembers opt in to participatory budgeting and all of the city’s participatory budgeting projects combined control less than a fraction of 1 percent of the city budget.33 But such a setup provides the outward trapping of participatory budgeting without putting the city’s money where its mouth is. Community control over the budget means control—not input, influence, review, or consultation. That direct power is necessary to achieve the democratic outcomes and shifts of power that community control is for.

Outside: Bargaining for the Common Good Another method of decision-making and power shifting that could both challenge racial capitalism and help respond to the climate crisis is called bargaining for the common good, or BCG, an approach to labor organizing recently developed by workers’ unions in the United States. On this approach, workers bargain for more than wages and benefits in contract negotiations with their employers. Instead, they include community members and organizations in the negotiation fight from start to finish—both in the development of proposals to bargain over and in the broader social campaign to win them. This empowers broader communities, with and through the workers who form a part of those communities, and helps close the gap in the balance of power between employers and the communities they affect. While the term bargaining for the common good was not used in all of the initial campaigns by teachers’ unions in Chicago and St.  Paul or the public sector

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unions in Oregon and San Diego that made use of the strategy, this term emerged from a 2014 conference of unions and community organizations as a label for the broad set of approaches now grouped under this heading.34 According to Merrie Najimy and Joseph McCartin, “workers need a voice over more than their basic needs on the job. They need a voice in shaping the relationship between their jobs and the communities in which they live.” 35 Moreover, they explain that the roots of this approach have a long history in U.S. labor organizing: the famous nationwide strikes of May 1, 1886, were pivotal in winning the eight-hour workday for the entire U.S. working class, and striking social workers in the 1960s won important overhauls to New York’s welfare system for the families relying on its services. While collective bargaining has been on the retreat in recent decades— due in no small part to the legislative backlash against organized labor occasioned by the successful protests of generations past—the historically broad approach to organizing as well as the recent BCG protests have nevertheless won key victories for organized labor. The importance of a broad perspective on justice in organized labor politics has not been lost on the United States’ historically most exploited workers: the African American working class. Their history in the United States began with the most comprehensive form of labor exploitation: racialized chattel slavery. As African American historian W.  E.  B. Du Bois explains in Black Reconstruction, that labor system was abolished by their own struggles. African Americans exploited the background conflict of the U.S. Civil War, at the beginning of which both sides expressed an interest in maintaining the system of racial slavery by withdrawing their labor from the territory controlled by the Confederacy and thus dealing a fatal blow to their ability to supply troops.36 This forced a political crisis that forced the Union to take up the issue of ending slavery and not merely the rebellion of the Confederacy, which Du Bois aptly described as the “General Strike” that destroyed racial slavery—and with it the United States’ version of its most extreme version of labor exploitation.37 But the end of racialized slavery did not mean the end of racial exploitation and injustice. Historian Joe William Trotter Jr. chronicles the widening racial injustices in the decades following the conclusion of the Civil War, helped along by forms of labor management like sharecropping as well as the racist (and often violent) exclusion of African Americans from much of the nascent organized labor movement.38 Trotter reports that after World War II, Black unemployment was still consistently three times the white rate, and 41  percent of Black women worked domestic

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labor jobs without any of the benefits or protections of unionized labor. Organized labor campaigns nevertheless played a pivotal role in the wider “Black freedom struggle,” which Trotter credits with helping dismantle the segregationist system of Jim Crow.39 Today organized labor continues to have a pivotal role in safeguarding yesterday’s gains of racial justice. Beginning less than forty years after the passage of the Wagner Act— deliberately crafted to exclude Black workers—and continuing for decades afterward, no racial group is more represented in labor unions than African Americans.40 This reversal was especially dramatic for African American women, who had been shut out of organized labor by the “double exclusion” of racial and gender based exclusion from unionized sectors of the economy as well as the unions themselves. Empirical analysis suggests that African Americans’ high unionization rates cannot be reduced to their overrepresentation in unionizable industries but instead that their unionization rates are a response to the protective effects of unions against employer discrimination.41 Whether in consideration of the past or present, BCG fits squarely into the history of organizing broader fights for racial justice with the resources of organized labor. This approach has already started to affect the broader social struggle for climate justice in a way consonant with racial justice and immigration justice. In 2019 SEIU Local 26 in Minnesota held what some are calling the “first climate strike.” The union local of workers, largely made up of immigrants from Somalia, Nepal, Ecuador, Mexico, and elsewhere, made broad demands: for green cleaning supplies, wage increases, and improved sexual harassment policies.42 Their victories in their new contract thus combined wins for both the material conditions of workers and broader concerns of climate and gender justice. Striking teachers in states highly dependent on fossil fuel extraction, like Oklahoma and West Virginia, worked likewise, making demands for the state to tax fossil fuels more in order to spend more money on education.43 BCG represents a democratic, community-controlled form of power building and expression. It has already been suggested that this form of organizing could be key to climate justice by making the transformation of the economy happen “from the ground up.” 44


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Kwame Ture’s lesson is simple: power is decisive. Adams and Rameau use this insight to argue for Black community control over police, but the insight can be generalized: the problem with our politics from the standpoint of justice is not limited to the content of the decisions made at different levels of government but also derives importantly from who is empowered to make those decisions. As Adams and Rameau argue, this is of particular importance for racially marginalized communities of color, whose lack of power and exploitation is intimately related to the fact that other people dictate the terms of their lives to them. Thus, as Rahman and Simonson argue, the attempts of social movements to intervene directly at the point of governance is a demand with immense transformative potential. Those working for climate justice have good reason to pay attention to the transformative potential of community control.




For examples of attribution, see “Stokely Carmichael, Founder, Black Power Movement,” OneUnited Bank,” accessed November  30, 2020, /stokely-carmichael-founder-black-power-movement/; and “A Quote by Stokely Carmichael,” Goodreads, accessed November  30, 2020, /7802915-if-a-white-man-wants-to-lynch-me-that-s-his. William Darity and Jessica Gordon Nembhard, “Racial and Ethnic Economic Inequality: The International Record,” American Economic Review 90, no. 2 (2000): 308–11; William Darity, “Stratification Economics: The Role of Intergroup Inequality,” Journal of Economics and Finance 29, no. 2 (2005): 144; and Stephen B. Billings, Emily Gallagher, and Lowell Ricketts, “Let the Rich Be Flooded: The Unequal Impact of Hurricane Harvey on Household Debt,” Journal of Financial Economics, forthcoming, May 30, 2019, https://dx /10.2139/ssrn.3396611. Kanta Kumari Rigaud, Alex de Sherbinin, Bryan Jones, Jonas Bergmann, Viviane Clement, Kayly Ober, Jacob Schewe, Susana Adamo, Brent McCusker, Silke Heuser, and Amelia Midgley, Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, Open Knowledge Repository, March 19, 2018, / handle/10986 /29461; Denis J. Sonwa, Amadou Dieyeb, El-Houssine El Mzouric, Amos Majuled, Francis Mugabe, Nancy Omolof, Herve Alain Napi Wouapi, Joy Obandoh, and Nick Brooks, “Drivers of Climate Risk in African Agriculture,” Climate and Development 9, no.  5 (2017): 383– 98; and Kyle Powys Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice,” in Humanities for the Environment: Integrating Knowledge, forging new constellations of practice, ed. Joni Adamson and Michael Davis, 102–19 (London: Routledge, 2016).

306 The Work of Building a Better Society 4. 5.


7. 8.



11. 12.

13. 14.

“World Faces ‘Climate Apartheid’ Risk, 120 More Million in Poverty: UN Expert,” UN News, June 25, 2019, /en/story/2019/06/1041261. Michael J. Illuzzi, “Redefining Public Safety: Community Control of the Police Is an Idea That Finally Has Its Day,” Star Tribune, June 10, 2020, /redefining-public-safety-community-control-of-the-police-is -an-idea-that-finally-has -its-day/571171042/; and Bobby Seale, “Bobby Seale: Community Control of Police Was on the Berkeley Ballot in 1969,” San Francisco Bay View, August 13, 2015, https://sfbayview .com/2015/08/ bobby-seale-community-control-of-police-was-on-the-berkeley-ballot-in -1969/. K. Sabeel Rahman and Jocelyn Simonson, “The Institutional Design of Community Control,” California Law Review 108 (2020): 703–4; Seale, “Bobby Seale”; and Illuzzi, “Redefining Public Safety.” Rahman and Simonson, “The Institutional Design of Community Control.” Bernard Magubane, “The Political Economy of the South African Revolution,” African Journal of Political Economy/Revue Africaine d’Economie Politique 1, no. 1 (1986): 1– 28; Neville Alexander, Language Policy and National Unity in South Africa/Azania (Cape Town: Buchu, 1989); Yousuf Al-Bulushi, “Thinking Racial Capitalism and Black Radicalism from Africa: An Intellectual Geography of Cedric Robinson’s World-System,” Geoforum, January 31, 2020,; and Tâmis Parron, “Capital e raça: Os segredos por trás dos nomes,” Revista Rosa, accessed November 13, 2020, Cedric J. Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); Oliver C. Cox, Capitalism as a System (New York: Monthly Review, 1964); Immanuel Wallerstein, “Oliver C. Cox as World-Systems Analyst,” Research in Race and Ethnic Relations 11 (2000): 173– 83; Robin  D.  G. Kelley, “What Did Cedric Robinson Mean by Racial Capitalism?,” Boston Review, January 12, 2017, https:// -racial-capitalism; Samir Amin, Accumulation on a World Scale (New York: Monthly Review, 1974); and Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (London: Resistance, 1999). For critical questions, see Michael Ralph and Maya Singhal, “Racial Capitalism,” Theory and Society 48, no.  6 (2019): 851– 81; for a broader survey of problems, see Julian Go, “Three Tensions in the Theory of Racial Capitalism,” Sociological Theory 39, no. 1 (2021): 38–47. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, vol. 21 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 28. Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, “On Liberty, Security and Our System of Racial Capitalism,” Aeon, October  30, 2020, -capitalism. Darity and Nembhard, “Racial and Ethnic Economic Inequality.” Ryan Thomson, Johanna Espin, and Tameka Samuels-Jones, “Green Crime Havens: A Spatial Cluster Analysis of Environmental Crime,” Social Science Quarterly (2020): 510.

Community Control and the Climate Crisis 307 15.



18. 19.

20. 21.

22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30.

Derek K. Kellenberg, “An Empirical Investigation of the Pollution Haven Effect with Strategic Environment and Trade Policy,” Journal of International Economics 78, no. 2 (2009): 242– 55; and Daniel L. Millimet and Jayjit Roy, “Empirical Tests of the Pollution Haven Hypothesis When Environmental Regulation Is Endogenous,” Journal of Applied Econometrics 31, no. 4 (2016): 652– 77. Doreen E. Martinez, “The Right to Be Free of Fear: Indigeneity and the United Nations,” Wicazo Sa Review 29, no. 2 (2014): 63–87; and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, “Green New Deal Policies Could Exacerbate a Burgeoning Climate Colonialism,” Slate Magazine, March 1, 2019, https:// Kristen Lyons, Carol Richards, and Peter Westoby, The Darker Side of Green: Plantation Forestry and Carbon Violence in Uganda, Oakland Institute, November 2014, https://www .oaklandinstitute .org /sites/oaklandinstitute .org /files/ Report_DarkerSideofGreen_ lorez.pdf; and Táíwò, “Green New Deal Policies.” “World Faces ‘Climate Apartheid’ Risk, 120 More Million in Poverty.” Olúfẹ́ mi O. Táíwò, “Climate Apartheid Is the Coming Police Violence Crisis,” Dissent Magazine, August  12, 2020, /online_articles/climate -apartheid-is-the-coming-police-violence-crisis; and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, “Cops, Climate, COVID: Why There Is Only One Crisis,” Appeal, June 16, 2020, /cops-climate-covid-why-there-is-only-one-crisis/. M Adams and Max Rameau, “Black Community Control Over Police,” Wisconsin Law Review (2016): 522. Audrea Lim, “Building Community Control in a White Supremacist Country,” Nation, July  20, 2020, https://www.thenation .com /article/society/police- education -community-control/; and Glen Forde, “Defunding the Police Should Lead to Community Control of Resources,” Minnesota Spokesman Recorder, June  26, 2020, https:// spokesman /2020 /06/26/defund-the-police-should-lead-to - community -control-of-resources/. For elaborations of this position, see Táíwò, “Cops, Climate, COVID”; and Táíwò, “On Liberty, Security and Our System of Racial Capitalism.” Adams and Rameau, “Black Community Control Over Police,” 525, 527. Rahman and Simonson, “The Institutional Design of Community Control,” 681. Adalmir Marquetti, “Participação e Redistribuição: O Orçamento Participativo Em Porto Alegre,” A Inovação Democrática No Brasil 1 (2003): 129– 56. Celina Su, “From Porto Alegre to New York City: Participatory Budgeting and Democracy,” New Political Science 39, no. 1 (2017): 67– 75. Su, “From Porto Alegre to New York City”; and Brian Wampler and Janette HartzKarp, “Participatory Budgeting: Diffusion and Outcomes Across the World,” Journal of Public Deliberation 8, no. 2 (2012). Elinor Ostrom, “Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change,” Global Environmental Change 20, no. 4 (2010): 550– 57. Wampler and Hartz-Karp, “Participatory Budgeting.” For defenses of sortition and random selection in politics more generally, see Terrill G. Bouricius, “Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the

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32. 33.


35. 36.


38. 39.


41. 42.

Modern Day,” Journal of Public Deliberation 9, no.  1 (2013); Alexander  A. Guerrero, “Against Elections: The Lottocratic Alternative,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 42, no.  2 (2014): 135– 78; and Nicholas Tampio, “Why Rule by the People Is Better Than Rule by the Experts,” Aeon, October  18, 2017, -better-than-rule-by-the-experts. Daniel Aldana Cohen, Billy Fleming, Kira McDonald, Julian Brave Noisecat, Nick Graetz, Katie Lample, Xan Lillehei, Mark Paul, and Anunya Bahanda, A Green New Deal For Public Housing Communities, Data for Progress, January 6, 2020, https://filesforprogress .org /reports/green-new-deal-public-housing-national.pdf. Lim, “Building Community Control in a White Supremacist Country.” Su reports: “Together, residents in thirty-one districts are projected to allocate at least forty million dollars of funds in the 2016–2017 cycle. This remains a small—miniscule, even—percentage of the city budget. In the 2017 fiscal year, the city’s expense budget totaled eighty-two billion dollars, and the capital budget totaled sixteen billion dollars. Su, “From Porto Alegre to New York City,” 4. Joseph McCartin and Merrie Najimy, “The Origins and Urgency of Bargaining for the Common Good,” The Forge, March 31, 2020, /article/origins -and-urgency-bargaining-common-good. McCartin and Najimy, “The Origins and Urgency of Bargaining for the Common Good.” W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (Piscataway, N.J.: Transaction, 2013), chap. 4. For a recent survey of the historiography around the “General Strike” thesis, see Guy Emerson Mount, “When Slaves Go on Strike: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction 80 Years Later,” AAIHS, December 28, 2015, /when-slaves-go-on -strike/. Susan Olzak, “Labor Unrest, Immigration, and Ethnic Conflict in Urban America, 1880–1914,” American Journal of Sociology 94, no. 6 (1989): 1303– 33. Joe William Trotter Jr., Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019); see also Olúfẹ́ mi O. Táíwò and Dylan Plummer, “Just Transition: Learning From the Tactics of Past Labor Movements,” The Trouble, October  12, 2020, -learning-from-the-tactics-of-past-labor-movements. Jake Rosenfeld and Meredith Kleykamp, “Organized Labor and Racial Wage Inequality in the United States,” American Journal of Sociology 117, no. 5 (March 2012): 1460– 1502. Rosenfeld and Kleykamp, “Organized Labor.” Jeremy Brecher, “Did We Just Witness the First Union-Authorized Climate Strike in the United States?,” Common Dreams, March 1, 2020, /views/2020 /03 /01 /did-we-just-witness -first-union-authorized- climate-strike-united -states; and Iris Altamirano, Greg Nammacher, and Priya Dalal-Whelan, “Lessons from the First Union Climate Strike in the U.S.,” Labor Notes, April 30, 2020, https:// /2020/04/ lessons-first-union-climate-strike-us.

Community Control and the Climate Crisis 309 43.


Kate Aronoff, “Striking Teachers in Coal and Gas Country Are Forcing States to Rethink Energy Company Giveaways,” The Intercept, April 12, 2018, https://theintercept .com/2018/04/12/teachers-strike-west-virginia-oklahoma-kentucky-fossil-fuels/. Todd E. Vachon, Gerry Hudson, Judith LeBlanc, and Saket Soni, “How Workers Can Demand Climate Justice,” American Prospect, September  2, 2019, /labor/workers-can-demand-climate-justice/.

chapter 15

Rethinking the Green New Deal From War to Work harry c. boyte and trygve throntveit


n After Virtue, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre observes, “I can only answer the question, ‘what am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”1 Societies, no less than the individuals who compose them, are both liberated and constrained by the stories they tell of their past, present, and future.2 In recent years it has become popular to frame quests for environmental and social justice as episodes in a saga of political conflict. The congressional proposals for a Green New Deal (GND) unveiled by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on February 7, 2019, were no exception. Ocasio-Cortez described the climate crisis as “our World War II.” Battle talk is invigorating.3 It channels the human impulse to define enemies in times of crisis and to put faith in strong leaders.4 It is also unfortunate. The recent partisan and cultural battles incited by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the history of American reform since the Progressive Era, suggest it is an unsustainable rhetorical strategy that reflects and feeds a dangerous tendency to define politics in almost purely conflictual terms. Despite the constructively democratic goals of many GND proposals, the overall framing of the GND as a campaign of highly centralized government action along the lines of a military offensive dramatically constrains and distorts the field of democratic action. It is a story of state and state actors mobilizing the people against threats and enemies, the outcome of which depends little on self-organizing and collaborative citizen initiative across differences.

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We propose that the dual challenges of climate change and democratic renewal require a different story: one of continuing partnership among selfgoverning citizens and between them and their governments rather than a government-centered language of conscription, mobilization, deployment, and delivery from danger. The challenges call for a “we-the-people” narrative of productive citizens creating and recreating a commonwealth. In short, it is a story of work, not war. But work of what kind? In this chapter we address that question in three parts. First, we explicate the pervasive narrative of politics as adversarial and consumerist, focused on what government should or should not do for particular people rather than how it can work through and with diverse communities and the nation as a whole. Second, we describe the theoretical concept of public work and its empirical grounding in American history and contemporary life as an alternative. Public work philosophy challenges the conception of politics as a struggle among individualistic consumers over “who gets what”—what Robert Bellah and his colleagues called the “first language” of politics. It also complicates the “second language” of politics employed by Bellah and other communitarians who tend to celebrate unity over difference. Public work offers a third political language better expressing the dynamic interplay of individual and collective interests and more apt to galvanize co-creative civic impulses and capacities critical to meeting our climatic and democratic challenges.5 Third and finally, we draw upon public work concepts and real-life examples to sketch a plausible workcentered story of the GND and suggest how it might catalyze a broader effort to redefine democracy as the product of a people negotiating difference to create a thriving commons.


The national debut of the GND on February 7, 2019, was met with enthusiasm by climate activists and social critics. The enormity of the challenges posed by climate change and the perceived failure of government to act vigorously against them had led many to conclude that the nation was besieged by a nefarious coordination of forces, necessitating liberation of the state—and all good Americans— from the power of cynical plutocrats.6 Accordingly, the sponsors of the GND

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resolution submitted to Congress presented their plan for environmental, economic, and social justice as a war-like mobilization, conflating the GND’s namesake—the economic and social New Deal promised to Americans by President Franklin D. Roosevelt—with World War II and describing both as “Federal Government-led mobilizations.” 7 This call to arms was soon drowned out by other battle cries. On March 18, 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the nation, President Donald J. Trump proclaimed himself a “wartime president.”8 Soon the surgeon general warned that the COVID-19 outbreak was a Pearl Harbor moment, or a new 9/11.9 Democrats, too, rallied around the war metaphor, if not around the president. As Susan E. Rice, Barack Obama’s national security adviser from 2013 to 2017, wrote on April 8, “Mr. Trump is correct: This is war, the most consequential since World War II.” Rice expressed no confidence in Trump’s fitness to prosecute what she called “the viral version of World War III.” She expressed little doubt, however, that the crisis required aggressive leadership and centralized authority.10 Most certainly, pandemics require drastic action. And, granted, calling something a war does not make it one.11 Still, metaphors do not just describe reality; they help to create it. The consequences of a war-like, us-versus-them metaphor and mentality became increasingly clear as the pandemic spread. President Trump’s March  18 call for shared “sacrifice” and “devotion” in the battle against COVID-19 was soon followed by the firing of administration watchdogs; unilateral suspension of environmental regulations; efforts to preempt public-health objections to future regulatory changes; and attacks on reporters with the temerity to ask tough questions.12 As unemployment skyrocketed, Trump extended his militarization campaign, calling individual citizens “warriors” who must risk their lives in the battle to reopen the economy. “This is worse than Pearl Harbor,” he said. “This is worse than the World Trade Center. There has never been an attack like this.”13 Enemies proliferated: China, former president Barack Obama, the “liberal media,” Democratic governors and members of Congress; all made the list. Meanwhile, the xenophobes mounted their chargers as Trump’s talk of the “China virus” fomented suspicion and hostility toward Americans of Asian descent, regardless of family origin.14 Trump’s war metaphors were extreme versions of a trope with old and sometimes progressive roots in American history.15 For years the language of war has been casually employed in framing complex but nonmartial challenges: Lyndon

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Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” Richard Nixon’s and Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” Bill Clinton’s “War on Crime.” As the nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020, reminded Americans, the latter of these “wars” prompted a spiral of aggressive policing, civilian fear and mistrust, force militarization, and deepening enmity between minority communities and law enforcement, along with exploding prison populations despite steadily dropping rates of violent crime.16 Meanwhile, all these martial campaigns against social evils diverted attention away from the activation of Americans’ diverse talents and energies and toward the centralization of decision-making, concentration of power, and targeting of enemies—often the poor, disenfranchised, or people of color.17 Indeed, modern war—with its massive scale, detailed planning, unity of purpose, concentration of energies, and relentless pursuit of critical objectives—has seduced American reformers since its emergence more than a century ago. The country’s participation in World War I advanced causes pressed for years by economic and social reformers, including a steeply progressive income tax, eighthour federal workday, and women’s right to vote. Such reforms were justified either as war measures or as just compensation for the wartime contributions of various groups. Simultaneously, however, the spread of cross-cultural tolerance, struggle for racial justice, and security of civil liberties all were undermined. For the fearful and defensive, calls for unity and vigilance became calls for purification and expurgation. Immigrants, labor radicals, and critics were targeted in communities across the nation, often violently. African Americans often fared worst of all.18 The war had a more insidious effect on conceptions of democracy. The unprecedented planning and logistical achievements of the war state reinforced the centralizing, technocratic inclinations of reformers who dreamed of a society made whole by science, technology, and disinterested experts committed to mastering and stewarding their use. “We all have to follow the lead of specialists,” wrote Walter Lippmann in the influential New Republic; the war showed that the solution of collective problems required the “infusion of scientific method, the careful application of administrative technique.” Science, Lippmann insisted, was the model for modern liberal thinking, and “only those will conquer who can understand.” During the war years, Lippmann; his coeditor, Herbert Croly; and multiple contributors to their magazine frequently touted the genius of the engineer and promoted the image of the state as a “machine” whose

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course should be set by those who best kenned its workings. At times it seemed the most dangerous enemy threatening the war effort was not the concrete power of Germany’s army but the privative specter of American inefficiency. From the editors’ perspective, the exponential growth of the administrative state and its unprecedented interventions in daily life saved the day, achieving “a triumph of organized units over unorganized individuals,” as one regular writer put it. Yet the war itself, the editors elaborated, was merely the proximate cause, not the essential justification of these developments. “In the last analysis, a strong, scientific organization of the sources of material and access to them is the means to the achievement of the only purposes by which this war can be justified.” Those purposes went beyond international peace to include preemption of a cataclysmic “class conflict” in America, achieved “by placing scientific research at the disposal of a conscious purpose” to supplant wasteful competition. Although the New Republic editors were most concerned with checking the power and hubris of gentleman statesmen, the implications for citizen involvement in governance and problem-solving were grim: “The business of politics has become too complex to be left to the pretentious misunderstandings of the benevolent amateur.”19 The disappointing democratic returns on this progressive investment in the war state are well documented.20 Still, the hitching of reformist wagons to martial stars continued. As historian William E. Leuchtenburg showed, many in the Roosevelt administration drew on personal experience and powerful metaphors of mobilization and sacrifice during World War I to build support for the drastic reorganization of the nation’s political economy. Yet the power of the war analogy proved “a mixed blessing,” Leuchtenburg observed. “Useful as a justification for New Deal actions, it also served to limit and divert” reform in unanticipated ways.21 In consequential instances, war talk and war thinking bred an authoritarian mindset among administrators and planners wedded to their pet ideas and convinced of the latter’s importance to national salvation. Both conservatives who challenged big government and labor, consumer, and small-business interests who opposed certain agencies’ cozy arrangements with industry groups were defamed as traitors and saboteurs. More generally, the centralizing logic of war significantly weakened the era’s democratic currents. Unwilling to nationalize or strongly regulate industry but committed to federal orchestration of relief, the Roosevelt administration did relatively little to encourage wider distribution of productive assets or economic

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and political power. Sometimes administration programs—notably the National Recovery Administration and Agricultural Adjustment Administration— abetted concentration. In its role as benevolent defender of citizens’ personal security, the New Deal state sought to guarantee individual access to goods and services rather than facilitate community control of economic resources and political processes.22 The result was to prime the political culture for a shrinkage of democratic politics during and after World War II, which reduced selfgovernment to periodic plebiscites on competing elites’ plans for distributing the means to consume (see chapter  1 by Richard Walker in this volume for a competing account). During World War II, actual mobilization against the real German and Japanese threats had a chilling effect on reform. Although many in the African American freedom movement adopted the “Double-V” language of victory against both fascism abroad and racism at home, the war mentality narrowed the democratic horizons of most Americans. Criticism of corporate power or racial oppression acquired the odor of treason.23 As for the following Cold War, one need not dismiss the Soviet threat to U.S. security to critique the militarization and atomization of society it encouraged. The narrative of the Cold War insulated “strategic” sectors from criticism, even as it expanded the definition of “strategic” to include the entire consumer economy. It demanded loyalty to a state whose main function was to promote the citizen’s freedom from all obligations save upholding the military and consumer structures supposedly essential to defeating communism. It also defined American democracy as an accomplishment—individualistic, consumerist, and expansionist—rather than an ideal.24 In such cold political light, social problems were evidence of sabotage rather than system dysfunction. Those who succumbed to or complained of them were either unfit for service or enemies of the state. Poverty, drug use, crime; all became causes for war. Wars require enemies, and if none present themselves, they will be found.25 Although this “military-industrial complex” and its consequences have received much scholarly and popular criticism, the Manichean mindset it fostered and feeds on is possibly the wider and more insidious threat to democracy, for it infects all parties and renders all politics as adversarial.26 From the Cold War to our own day, bellicose language dividing the world between righteous and damned has been used by Right and Left alike. As veteran organizers Paul Engler and Mark Engler argue, polarization “is not an unintended consequence”

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of modern consciousness-raising strategies. “It is central to how they work.”27 Ironically, given the perils of polarization for climate adaptation, the environmental movement helped promote this mindset. In the 1970s environmental groups, beginning with Citizens for a Better Environment, adopted and soon exported to other groups a new mobilizing technology, “the canvass,” in which activists go door-knocking to solicit money and support for causes. Environmentalists were understandably reacting to campaigns by powerful interests to roll back environmental protections won through long, toilsome efforts to educate the public. The method of the canvass, however, was divisive, based on a simple but powerful formula: find a target or enemy to demonize, develop a script defining the issue in right-or-wrong terms and preempting critical objections, and insist that victims of wrong require champions of right to deliver the justice and comfort they deserve.28 From the mid-1970s onward, this formula spread across the political spectrum, infusing talk radio, cable television, electoral strategies, and the internet, turning nearly every electoral and issue campaign into a battle of good versus evil.29 As repentant climate warrior Kate Yoder, a prominent environmental journalist, concludes, “An us-versus-them narrative turns people away from logic and into the realm of emotion and values.” 30 Yoder cites research from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication indicating that only 30 percent of Americans deny climate change, yet 68  percent (including a majority of climate-change believers and worriers) avoid talking about it all or most of the time.31 Why? Yoder cites another study in which a large majority of Republicans surveyed believed climate change was real but opposed policies addressing it because they viewed such policies as “Democratic” causes: strategic liberal objectives, inextricable from campaigns for immigration reform or gun control and symbolic of the larger struggle over the nature and role of the American state.32 To summarize, war—actual and metaphorical—accrues authority to the state, sidelines vulnerable communities, and marginalizes citizens in general while dividing them into opposing camps contending for advantage, thus disenfranchizing the people writ large. War talk defines citizenship in terms of altruistic sacrifice to an idealized and therefore exclusive collective, submerging the constant negotiation of personal and public interests that everyday democracy requires of citizens. And wars end, or at least are waged in hopes of ending;

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specifically by the vanquishing of enemies opposed to the goals or controlling the resources for which they are fought. Citizenship does not end. It is not a task to be completed and certainly not a drive to defeat other citizens. It is work: continuous, difficult, often frustrating, yet inherently dignified, personally rewarding, and publicly meaningful work—work that embodies inclusive democratic ideals for the frankly practical reason that no one group or generation can do it. It is the kind of work that successful adjustment to climate realities requires, and the kind that a truly just, equitable, and vibrant democracy of “We the People” will afford to and demand of all Americans. Public work philosophy creates a discursive space for describing, evaluating, and disseminating examples of such collaborative, constructive citizenship and for conceiving new forms. It also draws on deeply rooted but often forgotten traditions in American history and culture. A GND centered not on state production and delivery of “climate solutions” but on catalyzing the environmentally and democratically sustainable work of citizens can draw on past traditions and contemporary examples to articulate a transformative strategy for social and political change: a strategy aimed not at destroying evildoers but at enlarging the commons and harvesting its fruits.


Language shapes thought, and thought influences action. For decades two political languages have dominated American thought and practice, enervating and dividing citizens and obscuring the contributions of their daily activities to democratic growth. The first is the language of liberalism, emphasizing free elections and neutral public institutions as the central features of democracy and the relation of individual to state as the central concern.33 This state-centered conception of democracy is the version the U.S. government promotes worldwide and informs the main currents of American academic literature.34 Certainly, formal representation and individual protections constitute the essential skeleton of a democracy. Nevertheless, the liberal language, absent heavy borrowings from other tongues, renders politicians the main agents of self-government and the people mere

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consumers of competing products or opposed camps contesting for prizes; the skeleton of democracy is deprived of the energy and muscle of citizens.35 The second language of politics is communitarian, which emerged in its contemporary form as a challenge to liberalism and its account of the moral and political subject.36 Communitarians have revived concern for the cultural and ethical foundations of citizenship and for the everyday, interpersonal interactions that build and sustain what Robert Putnam and colleagues call “social capital”: norms, networks, and activities providing a relational foundation for collective governance.37 Seeking to strengthen social capital by encouraging structured forms of community service as well as more localized and organic forms of voluntary association, communitarians have highlighted the importance of resilient social relationships and shared moral codes to an orderly and flourishing democracy. But communitarian language often muffles the pluralistic noisiness of American life, muting the creative potency of citizens’ conflicting commitments, perspectives, and interests.38 Public work is a third language of democratic politics. It emphasizes selfinterested yet reflective, collective, productive work, directed and undertaken by diverse citizens, to solve public problems and create public goods. The aim of public work is not to unite the forces of good against the forces of evil or even to determine who the good and evil are. The aim is to build a commonwealth, generating and stewarding “free spaces” in which new commonalities and new differences develop and spur new growth. Put differently, public work is work done by a public, for public purposes, in public view, and open to public judgment and use.39 Both the first and second languages inform public work, which acknowledges the importance of formal institutions and sociocultural practices to political life. But each creates a binary between individual and collective interests that, from a public work perspective, defies social reality and impedes constructive activity.40 Each reifies difference and accentuates its conflictual rather than generative potential—liberalism by prioritizing Western ideals of liberty and equality, communitarianism by tethering all values to historically and culturally particular communities—obscuring alternatives and providing rhetorical cover to culture warriors, security hawks, and global crusaders.41 Finally, both demonstrate the classical Greek view of excluding productive and commercial work from civic life, as if the former could only degrade the latter—a fear that implicitly or explicitly informs most contemporary democratic theory.42 In reality, history abounds with examples of diverse individuals and communities undertaking

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productive, self-interested yet cooperative work to achieve broadly beneficial, public purposes.43 In fact, work was once the master metaphor and acknowledged engine of American democracy. According to historian Gordon Wood, when the Founders’ classical ideals of virtue failed to knit the newly independent states into a unified society, Americans “found new democratic adhesives in the actual behavior of plain ordinary people”—most of whom spent most of their time and placed much of their pride in productive work.44 Touring the United States in the 1830s, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville wondered at the way Americans melded their interests in individual self-advancement and national democratic progress in the forge of work, and noted how their work lives shaped the rich associational life that, in Tocqueville’s eyes, made their society something genuinely new under the sun.45 The work that struck Tocqueville was neither the hyper-individualistic, ultracompetitive scrambling of a modern consumer culture nor an altruistic sacrifice of self in service to transcendent ideals. It was the work of men and women alert to conflicts between personal and public interests but assuming no sharp or unbridgeable divide between them.46 The social product of such work was neither the rugged individualism of liberal legend nor the semisacred unity of communitarian myth. Or rather, it was both. As David Mathews has observed, “Nineteenth-century self-rule” in the United States “was a sweaty, hands-on, problem-solving politics” for most Americans, “rooted in collective decision making and acting—especially acting.” 47 Public goods such as schools, libraries, greens, churches, forts, wells, roads, and bridges were created by groups of individuals in efforts combining practical selfinterests with public purpose. A tragic amount of that collective work was destructive, especially of Black and Indigenous lives and cultures.48 But the simultaneous story of cooperative world-building that Mathews tells must be recalled. “Settlers on the frontier had to be producers, not just consumers,” Mathews writes; they depended not only on their own devices or their neighbors’ but on the shared civil and political institutions they “had to join forces to build.” As such, Mathews concludes, “Their efforts were examples of ‘public work,’ meaning work done by not just for the public.” 49 Such commons-building work was not every American’s central experience. But it was critical to the course of American history. It informed the “free labor” republicanism that celebrated the individual and civic benefits of work and animated Abraham Lincoln’s vision for an American democracy unfettered by

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slavery.50 In the Civil War that followed, its exemplars included former slaves who served in the Union army and taught one another to read, write, and organize to secure their liberty at war’s end. After the tragic failure of Reconstruction, its products included the Black congregations, schools, businesses, and colleges that would incubate and orchestrate the twentieth-century freedom struggle.51 In fact, as the nineteenth century closed, diverse Americans devised an array of civic models reconciling independent enterprise and social mobility with mutual aid and cooperative governance. Agrarian populists, industrial democrats, the largely female pioneers of social work—these and countless other Americans contributed to a durably radical tradition of “civic autonomy,” conceiving personal independence as both essential to and dependent upon collective investments in healthy communities.52 Historical examples of public work can be multiplied.53 Given the GND’s historical signaling and comprehensive aims, however, the most instructive examples for GND advocates emerge from two moments: the Great Depression, which spurred the original New Deal, and the Black freedom struggle, which many GND champions treat as a touchstone of social-justice principles and action without fully understanding its dynamics. The war talk of the Depression was not the only language employed to address it. While several New Dealers turned to World War I for inspiration, others turned to older, work-centered models of collective action like that sketched by William James in his 1910 essay, “The Moral Equivalent of War”—an essay familiar to New Dealers as diverse as anti-monopolist Raymond Moley and centralplanning apostle Rexford Tugwell.54 James’s essay contained ideas and, in the 1930s, inspired applications that could help today’s GND advocates craft both compelling narratives and effective programs of social and climate justice, without resort to war talk or overreliance on central planning. These ideas and applications suggest that a democratically sustainable GND needs strong participatory elements, that such participation should not be overly scripted, and that some form of national work program might advance both goals. Like many New Dealers—Rooseveltian and Green—James appreciated war’s potential to foster civic identity and enhance social cohesion. He nonetheless insisted that war’s destructive consequences far outweighed its benefits; alternative, productive schools of civic virtue were not just conceivable but necessary. His effort to “illustrate” such a school was a national youth corps, designed to

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channel the innate “pugnacity” of human nature toward “constructive interests” and foster a “civic passion” to preempt war’s murderous excitement.55 Some of the “constructive interests” James suggested might sound dubious to modern ears, and his notion that “Nature” and its hardships could play the enemy role as well as foreign peoples partially undermined his own critique of the war mentality. James’s overall vision, however, was not to obliterate nature but to elaborate the physical and cultural infrastructure of democracy.56 By working across ethnic, ideological, and class differences to ameliorate suffering, build public spaces, steward public resources, and ensure employment and leisure to all, any given cohort of young people might get some of their day’s injustices “evened out” while simultaneously delivering “numerous other goods to the commonwealth”— including a generation alert to their “relations to the globe” and the “hard and sour foundations” on which they might rest. The goal was a culture in which activities common and momentous embodied the mix of courage and humility that, in James’s view, marked the best “priests and medical men”: that “spark” of appreciation for the interdependence and open-endedness of life which, if kindled in America’s youth, could ignite an “incandescent” movement of the people toward peace and “civic honor.”57 These ideas found their New Deal expression in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Roosevelt shared James’s interest in work as a forge of civic identity and capacity.58 In his March message to the seventy-third Congress, he called for federally funded, locally organized units devoted to “forestry, the prevention of soil erosion, flood control and similar projects” of stewardship. Such commons-building work would “pay dividends to the present and future generations” of the regions improved and the nation generally. “More important” than its “material” products, however, would be “the moral and spiritual value of such work” to those who performed it—for themselves, their families, and the common good all at once.59 The CCC was not designed as a model of democratic governance. Most camps were male-only, segregated, and run on military lines.60 Still, to focus solely on the CCC’s hierarchical aspects and ignore its contributions to the broader democratic project is mistaken. Ample evidence confirms that the CCC fostered civic identities and skills among its members, who came to see themselves as civic agents with capacity to build and shape the commons in lasting ways—including the creation of entire new forests, thousands of fire towers, tens of thousands of public campsites and recreational facilities, and hundreds of thousands of miles

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of roads still in use today. Corpsmen interviewed in the 1990s recalled expanding their conceptions of who and what was American; building confidence and skills to challenge segregation; and developing a sense of contribution to purposes bigger than, yet including, their own.61 CCC projects addressing soil erosion and other ecological threats intentionally integrated the wisdom of trained scientists and local communities in what is now called a “civic science” approach, producing both better material results and wider epistemic horizons than the technocratic approaches coming to characterize “applied research” in the United States.62 For many participants and observers, these and other CCC activities conjured and realized an image of government as partner rather than shepherd or sheriff of the people.63 In these ways the CCC catalyzed a democratic form of populism, marked by rejecting technocracy and embracing difference as instructive, generative, and civically empowering.64 Such outcomes convey a democratic alternative to the flimsy construct of democracy as mere decision-making process.65 Nor are they unique to the CCC. In the 1930s citizens nationwide organized to address hunger, unemployment, poverty, and environmental degradation. In many cases, government became a partner and supporter rather than controller of such work.66 In others, the federal government created spaces in which state and local communities could creatively experiment. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), for instance, reflected director Harry Hopkins’s focus on providing decent jobs to unemployed Americans rather than prioritizing projects according to arbitrary measures of public necessity. The result gave local communities and the formerly jobless wide latitude to choose and direct the work to be done. Thousands of communities nationwide still use the schools, libraries, post offices, theaters, plazas, and other public spaces financed by the WPA. To this day, whole regional environments and economies are shaped by the WPA’s pioneering experiments (through the Tennessee Valley Authority) in flood control, rural electrification, and the “public investment” model of federally supported, locally executed planning.67 Meanwhile, the artistic, literary, and other cultural work supported by the WPA demonstrates just how broadly many Americans construed the nature of productive citizenship.68 The achievements of the CCC and WPA suggest that a participatory, civically invigorating, and sustainable GND needs to be more decentralized than talk of World War II–style mobilization implies. This does not mean rejecting federal investment and oversight. It means structuring government programs to allow

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for local variation, innovation, and choice—what the Civic Studies scholar Elinor Ostrom called “polycentric governance.” 69 The consequences of the centralized, technocratic alternative are foreshadowed in the history of New Deal labor organizing, which early on challenged the consumerist, distributive model of liberal political economy that labor–capital relations later came to symbolize.70 That ironic change was spurred by the National Reconstruction Administration, created in 1935 and modeled on the Wilson-era War Industries Board. The National Reconstruction Administration dissipated the “we-the-people” energy of nearly two decades of cross-cultural labor organizing, empowering corporate trade associations and encouraging defensive union postures and bureaucratized union structures. In doing so, it helped make the ostensibly neutral, explicitly distributive (rather than constructive and participatory) “broker state” the archetype of American postwar political economy.71 No historical development dramatized the democratic deficits of the broker state and the adversarial political culture it fostered more starkly than the African American civil rights movement. Few today appreciate the centrality of work to the leaders, spirit, and goals of the “freedom struggle” and, above all, to its strategy of constructive nonviolence.72 Especially for followers of Martin Luther King  Jr., the dignity of daily work and its indispensability to human flourishing was inseparable from the domestic and global promise of democracy and its achievement through nonviolent means. The mutual dependence of freedom, democracy, and work with dignity was a central theme of the iconic March on Washington of August 1963.73 The quest for dignified and publicly valued employment continued through the 1968 garbage workers’ strike in Memphis, Tennessee, which an assassin’s bullet ensured was the culmination of King’s career.74 In a speech on March 18, King described the garbage workers’ struggle as one for universal justice, to be realized in and through the work of all Americans. “You are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages!” he exclaimed. “You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of all labor.”75 For King, dignity had two meanings, both central to his nonviolent philosophy. One conveyed a demand for the equal and respectful treatment that each owes to others as citizens and persons. The other implied action to explore, realize, and claim one’s value as a human being and use it productively for one’s own and society’s flourishing.76 In King’s strategic calculus, collective action that was dignified in both senses would educate the actors and the larger society to seek

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further means of flourishing together. As King declared in his last major speech, “whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity it has dignity and it has worth.” 77


Like all good war stories, the GND has other stories running through it. Indeed, one casualty of the war theme’s amplification is the work theme buried beneath it. At least since the first decade of the twenty-first century, various GND plans and precursors have tied the technological and infrastructural goals of a carbon-neutral grid and climate-proofed society to education and employment opportunities.78 These are public work goals. What remains inchoate and worrisome are the means. Is some federal bureau going to decide what projects to undertake, who will work on them, what form they take, and how to elicit the necessary efforts? A public work frame for the GND answers “No” to these questions. It promotes a catalytic approach, building citizens’ and communities’ capacities to address the challenges of climate change, structural racism, and inequality.79 Here are three rough building blocks.

Belonging and Civic Muscle The work of Cambridge, Massachusetts-based ReThink Health epitomizes a paradigm shift in public health toward supporting entire communities holistically by identifying and helping to steward the intellectual, social, and cultural resources already embedded in them.80 It challenges technocratic interventions that, in solving discrete problems for rather than with communities, often weaken and atomize them, leaving them more vulnerable than before. In this vein, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working group, supported by the CDC Foundation, collaborated with hundreds of organizations to co-create a “springboard” for community recovery based on years of nationwide experiments in boosting community well-being—“belonging and civic muscle,” in their terms—through citizen-empowering, citizen-driven government policy. The springboard framework stresses community-led work to create community-wide health in all meanings of the word: a model for climate and social-justice initiatives. It has been endorsed by surgeons general of both parties and generated an interagency government task force to advance its recommendations.81

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Civic Environmental Policy The concept of civic environmentalism emerged in the 1990s from the work of Carmen Sirianni, research director of Reinventing Citizenship, a self-organized confederation of civic, higher-education, and philanthropic groups charged by Clinton’s White House Domestic Policy Council with developing strategies and policies to overcome the citizen-government divide. Policymakers and intellectuals of diverse ideological persuasions recognized the need to shift away from topdown regulation or control toward a citizen-inclusive, public work approach to problem-solving. Building on work by DeWitt John at the National Academy of Public Administration and innovative staff in the Environmental Protection Agency, Sirianni developed a model in which government mobilizing tools remain indispensable at high levels of implementation but are not used to “command and control” changes in the behavior and infrastructure of specific communities. Rather, legislators and agencies set broad goals for, say, ecosystem restoration or sustainable urban development, then let communities and regions develop and implement plans following general but essential guidelines ensuring inclusive and collaborative citizen involvement.82 The culture wars that engulfed the Clinton years hampered the Reinventing Citizenship initiative. Recently, however, the broad approach has resurfaced in an initiative called CivicGreen, sponsored by the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. In the first major CivicGreen concept paper, The Civics of a Green New Deal, Sirianni makes the case for a civic-environmentalist climate strategy, focused on engaging diverse citizens and organizations in processes of negotiated planning and coordinated action.83 He sketches how federal funding and agency action can support this work in communities and through multistakeholder partnerships nationally. As Tisch Associate Dean Peter Levine explains in glossing Sirianni’s argument, government spending on, for example, public transportation will not alone alter commuting and development patterns; citizens—many of them—must choose to use the options built, and citizen opposition may delay their getting built at all. Giving citizens “a say in where and how” lines are built and dollars are spent dramatically increases the chances that large numbers will use, appreciate, and steward the new option.84 Drawing from his 2020 book, Sustainable Cities in American Democracy, Sirianni backs this logical case with empirical evidence of successful public participation in major climate-related undertakings over several decades, many depending on public employees adept in “democratic-professional” or “citizen-professional”

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practices.85 These citizens-cum-professionals realize that in fulfilling their expert and official functions—confronting raging wildfires or promoting greener agriculture—they depend on the wisdom, talents, and cooperation of lay fellow citizens working as educators, communicators, planners, and strategy implementers. They consequently learn to challenge, encourage, empower, and expect fellow citizens to build those capacities and use them—not to defeat opponents but to cultivate allies and create compelling goods and stories that attract still more.86

Regrowing Democracy In recent decades, the meaning of “democracy” has shrunk dramatically, and the empowered public of the Depression-era New Deal has gone the way of the Cheshire cat. Citizens are no longer seen as muscular co-creators of a commonwealth but as fickle, complaining, and aggrieved consumers to be wooed with favors and mobilized against competitors by political professionals. The result has been the impoverishment of the American democratic imagination. As Christopher Ansell has argued, concepts are power resources whose definitions elites have ability and incentive to control. But as Ansell also argues, elites must consistently contend with publics, or potential publics, who can challenge and change conventional definitions.87 The concept of democracy itself is a case in point. After decades of bipartisan encomiums to the virtues of competitive individualism in America (and policies to promote it), so-called progressives have quite convincingly identified the outcomes (social and economic inequality, stagnant wages, crumbling infrastructure, political polarization) as an existential threat to democracy. Yet progressives’ all-too-common substitution of the state for the individual as the essential subject and guarantor of democracy disempowers the very communities they seek to empower, defining democracy as the legal codes of a corruptible set of institutions rather than the common life of a pluralistic society. Taking Ansell’s analysis to heart, we suggest the need for a large-scale, national effort to regrow the meaning of democracy as the work of the people, in root and branch. There are precedents in American history for such conceptual and practical public work. From 1938 to 1941, for example, a cadre of officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture worked with land-grant colleges, cooperative extension workers, and agrarian community leaders to develop an initiative on the

Rethinking the Green New Deal 327

future of rural America. As historian Jess Gilbert shows, these citizenprofessionals “strongly supported historical traditions, local knowledge, regional cultures, [and] cohesive communities” as critical to the future of rural America and the nation generally, and their joint public work with citizens saved or rejuvenated family farms, small businesses, collective practices, and entire towns. They envisioned and worked to create “a more egalitarian society and wider distribution of power and resources.”88 A generation later, athwart the consumerist trends of the 1950s, the hundreds of “citizenship schools” undertaking grassroots leadership development for the burgeoning civil rights movement also awakened a larger and deeper conception of democracy. The schools, pioneered by Septima Clark, a Black schoolteacher in South Carolina, embodied what historian Charles Payne calls “an expansive sense of the possibilities of democracy.” They “espoused a nonbureaucratic style of work, focused on local problems sensitive to the social structure of local communities, appreciative of the culture of those communities.” Crucially, “they stressed a developmental style of politics . . . in which the most important thing was the development of efficacy in those most affected by a problem.”89 It is hard to imagine a crisper and more compelling credo for a nonadversarial, people-empowering strategy of physical and spiritual sustainability.

w As Americans have grown accustomed to look to others—experts, leaders, celebrities, critics—to identify and solve their problems, they have grown bitterly divided and sometimes debilitatingly aggrieved. Conflicts along lines of party, income, race, religion, and geography are exacerbated by a devaluation of the talents and intelligence of people without credentials, degrees, and celebrity status—markers that, ironically, are increasingly tribal rather than universal in meaning and weight. Civic agency has atrophied as the citizen’s role in politics has shrunk to that of spectator, client, and consumer. Leaders have lost both legitimacy and autonomy by embracing models at once domineering and scripted. The martial framing of the nation’s poverty, crime, drugs, terror, trade, disease, and climate problems epitomizes these trends. If American society is to make a transition from an ecologically calamitous, radically unequal present to an ecologically sustainable, broadly equitable

328 The Work of Building a Better Society

future, it needs a different story of democracy. We the people have to form publics to challenge the narrow definitions, which constrain our imaginations and our energies, and create a story of neighbors building communities and workers claiming dignity; of professionals teaming with lay experts and local sages, without naive expectations of harmony or consensus; of leaders calling all the people to the work of reconstructing their nation physically and spiritually through productive, self-directed, future-oriented yet humble citizenship. America today needs a story of public work. NOTES 1. 2.


4. 5.





Alasdaire MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (South Bend, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1981), 279. The classic defense of this claim in connection with social policy is Malcom Spector and John I. Kitsuse, Constructing Social Problems (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1987). For substantiation drawing on a transdisciplinary trove of research, see Rutger Bregman, Humankind: A Hopeful History (Boston: Little, Brown, 2020). Stephen J. Flusberg, Teenie Matlock, and Paul H. Thibodeau, “Metaphors for the War (or Race) Against Climate Change,” Environmental Communication 11, no. 6 (2017): 769– 83. Study participants found “war” language more urgent and more likely to motivate changes in their behavior than language of a “race” against climate change. See Max Fisher, “How Fear and Psychology Explain Rising Support for Leaders,” New York Times, May 25, 2020. Robert  N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William  M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). Bill McKibben, “A World at War,” New Republic, August 15, 2016, https://newrepublic .com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii; Luke Darby, “Billionaires Are the Leading Cause of Climate Change,” GQ, October 11, 2018, .com/story/ billionaires-climate-change; and Kate Yoder, “Big Oil Wants to Kill a Carbon Price with One Simple Trick (It’s $$$),” Grist, October  30, 2018, /article/ big-oil-wants-to-kill-a-carbon-price-with-one-simple-trick-its/. H. Res.109—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, introduced February  7, 2019, 116th  Congress, 1st  session, https://www.congress .gov/ bill/116th-congress/ house-resolution/109/text. Caitlin Oprysko and Susannah Luthi, “Trump Labels Himself a ‘Wartime President’ Combating Coronavirus, Politico, March 18, 2020, /03/18/trump-administration-self-swab-coronavirus-tests-135590. Quint Forgey, “Surgeon General Warns This Week ‘Is Going to Be Our Pearl Harbor Moment,’ ” Politico, April  5, 2020, -general-pearl-harbor-moment-165729.

Rethinking the Green New Deal 329 10.





15. 16. 17.



Susan Rice, “Trump Is the Wartime President We Have (Not the One We Need),” New York Times, April 7, 2020, .html. Mike Orcutt, “If America Is at War with Covid-19, Its Doing a Bad Job of Fighting,” MIT Technology Review, April 20, 2020, /1000145/if-america-is-at-war-with-covid-19 -doing-a-bad-job -of-fighting /; and Liane Hewitt, “This Is What a War Economy Would Actually Look Like,” Foreign Policy, May  12, 2020, -defense-production/. Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger, and Mike Dubonis, “Trump’s Resistance to Oversight Draws Bipartisan Scrutiny,” Washington Post, April 9, 2020. For the March memo on suspension of environmental regulations, see Susan Parker Bodine, “COVID-19 Implications for the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program,” letter to All Governmental and Private Sector Partners, March  26, 2020, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, /2020 - 03/documents/oecamemooncovid19implications.pdf. For administration efforts to preempt public-health objections to future regulatory changes, see Marianne Lavelle, “Trump’s EPA Fast-Tracks a Controversial Rule That Would Restrict the Use of Health Science,” Inside Climate News, March  23, 2020, /news /23032020/trump-epa-health-secret-science-coronavirus. Peter Baker, “Trump’s New Coronavirus Message: Time to Move On to the Economic Recovery,” New York Times, May 6, 2020, /trump-coronavirus-recovery.html. Deshawn Blanding and Danyelle Solomon, “The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Fueling Fear and Hate Across America,” March  30, 2020, /race/news/2020/03/30/482407/coronavirus-pandemic-fueling-fear-hate-across-america/. See, e.g., Michael S. Sherry, In the Shadow of War: The United States Since the 1930s (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995). For statistics on civilian killings by U.S. police officers see the Mapping Police Violence database, /. Sherry, In the Shadow of War; and Ana Maria Santiago, “Fifty Years Later: From a War on Poverty to a War on the Poor,” Social Problems 62, no. 1 (2015): 2–14. For other examples, see Peter B. Kraska, “Militarizing the Drug War: A Sign of the Times,” in Altered States of Mind: Critical Observations of the Drug War, ed. Peter B. Kraska, 159–206 (New York: Garland, 1993); and William J. Chambliss, “Policing the Ghetto Underclass: The Politics of Law and Law Enforcement,” Social Problems 41, no. 2 (1994): 177– 94. Paul L. Murphy, World War I and the Origin of Civil Liberties in the United States (New York: Norton, 1979); David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), chap. 1; and Christopher Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), esp. chaps. 1, 4, 6. Lippman and others quoted in John Jordan, Machine-Age Ideology: Social Engineering and American Liberalism, 1911–1939 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 75– 78.

330 The Work of Building a Better Society 20.







27. 28.



See, e.g., Kennedy, Over Here, 348–69; Alan Dawley, Changing the World: American Progressives in War and Revolution (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003), 259– 96; Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 279– 320; and Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920 (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 327–56. On the significance of wartime reform, see Trygve Throntveit, Power Without Victory: Woodrow Wilson and the American Internationalist Experiment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), chap. 7. William  E. Leuchtenburg, “The New Deal and the Analogue of War,” in Change and Continuity in Twentieth-Century America, ed. John Braeman, Robert Hamlett Bremner, and Walters Everett, 81–143 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1964), esp. 84, 130– 31, 133. The classic account of the Roosevelt administration’s ironic role in the triumph of consumerist individualism over what some have termed “producerist republicanism” is Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (New York: Vintage, 1995). See Alan Brinkley, Liberalism and Its Discontents (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), chaps. 5– 6; Lary May, The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Dream (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); and James T. Sparrow, Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Useful in understanding these nationalistic/atomistic contradictions and their intellectual and cultural origins are Edward  A. Purcell  Jr. The Crisis of Democratic Theory: Scientific Naturalism and the Problem of Value (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1973); Aaron L. Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America’s Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000); and Nils Gilman, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). A critical account of such crusading liberalism is Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016). On the origins and impacts of the political-military-industrial-academic complex, see Walter A. McDougall, The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books, 1985). Mark Engler and Paul Engler, This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Reshaping the Twenty-First Century (New York: Nation Books, 2016), 205. Harry C. Boyte, “A Tale of Two Playgrounds,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, California, September 1, 2001, .pdf. On the rise of polarization and decline of shared values in American social debate since the 1970s, see Geoffrey Layman, Thomas Carsey, and Juliana Menasce Horowitz, “Party Polarization in American Politics: Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences,” Annual Review of Political Science 9 (2006): 83–110. Kate Yoder, “War of Words,” Grist, December 5, 2018, /climate/the-war -on-climate-the-climate-fight-are-we-approaching-the-problem-all-wrong /.

Rethinking the Green New Deal 331 31.





36. 37. 38.



41. 42.



E. Maibach, A. Leiserowitz, S. Rosenthal, C. Roser-Renouf, and M. Cutler, “Is There a Climate ‘Spiral of Silence’ in America?” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, New Haven, Conn., March 2016, /uploads/2016/09/Climate-Spiral-Silence-March-2016 .pdf. Leaf Van Boven, Phillip  J. Ehret, and David  K. Sherman, “Psychological Barriers to Bipartisan Public Support for Climate Policy,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13, no. 4 (2018): 492– 507. The touchstone text remains John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971). On the role of liberal egalitarian ideas and tropes in the growth and centrality of government bureaucracy, see Anne Kornhauser, Debating the American State: Liberal Anxieties and the New Leviathan (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). The U.S. Agency for International Development defines democracy as “a civilian political system in which the legislative and chief executive offices are filled through regular competitive elections with universal suffrage.” For critical interpretations of the liberal subject as a “radical chooser” among predetermined alternatives, a player of competitive moral “games” with arbitrarily fixed outcomes, a party to adversarial legal arrangements rather than co-creative interpersonal relationships, and the foundation of a hostile social order, see Charles Taylor, “What Is Human Agency?,” in Philosophical Papers, vol. 1 Human Agency and Language, 15–44 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). A representative communitarian argument is Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000). Works affirming the value of agonistic, interactionist norms and processes to just and flourishing polities include Thomas Nagel, Equality and Partiality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Chantal Mouffe, “Citizenship and Political Identity,” October 61 (Summer 1992): 28– 32; and Jeffrey Stout, Ethics After Babel: The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001). Harry C. Boyte, “Constructive Politics as Public Work,” Political Theory 39, no. 5 (2011): 630– 60; and Harry C. Boyte and Sara M. Evans, Free Spaces: The Sources of Democratic Change in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986). In this regard, public work develops the thought of William James. See Trygve Throntveit, William James and the Quest for an Ethical Republic (New York: Palgrave, 2014), esp. chap. 5. On this ironic confluence of liberal and communitarian politics, see Jeffrey Friedman, “The Politics of Communitarianism,” Critical Review 8, no. 2 (1994): 297– 340. Judith N. Shklar, American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991), esp. 68; and Harry Boyte, Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2004). Seminal in this regard is the Nobel Prize–winning work of economist Elinor Ostrom. See Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1991), ix.

332 The Work of Building a Better Society 45.


47. 48.

49. 50. 51. 52. 53.

54. 55. 56.

57. 58. 59. 60. 61.

Tocqueville’s most penetrating observations are expressed in Democracy in America, first published in 1835. See also William A. Galston, “Civil Society and the ‘Art of Association,’ ” Journal of Democracy 11, no.  1 (2000): 64– 70; and James  T. Kloppenberg, “Tocqueville, Mill, and the American Gentry,” The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville 27, no. 2 (2006): 351– 79. See Harry C. Boyte, CommonWealth: A Return to Citizen Politics (New York: Free Press, 1989), esp. chap. 2; and Rowland Bertoff, “Peasants and Artisans, Puritans and Republicans,” Journal of American History 69, no. 2 (1982): 579– 98. David Mathews, Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy (Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation Press, 2006), vii. Richard White, “It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own”: A History of the American West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991); Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991); and James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Slavery and the Making of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). Mathews, Reclaiming Public Education, vii. Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970). Gerald Taylor, “Prometheus Unbound: Populism, the Property Question, and Social Invention,” Good Society 21, no. 2 (2012): 219– 33. Eric Foner, “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?” History Workshop 17 (Spring 1984): 63. See Peter Levine, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Harry  C. Boyte, with Marie Ström, Isak Tranvik, Tami Moore, Susan O’Connor, and Donna Patterson Awakening Democracy Through Public Work: Pedagogies of Empowerment (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2018); and Albert  W. Dzur, Democracy Inside: Participatory Innovation in Unlikely Places (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Raymond Moley, After Seven Years (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1939), 173– 74. William James, “The Moral Equivalent of War” (1910), in Memories and Studies, ed. Henry James Jr., 267–296 (New York: Longmans, Green, 1911), esp. 272, 289. A fuller version of this argument, including citations to various critiques of James’s essay, is Trygve Throntveit, “Civic Renewal: William James’s Moral Equivalent of War,” William James Studies 14, no. 1 (2018): 120–41. James, “Moral Equivalent of War,” 290– 91, 292, 289. Moley, After Seven Years, 174. Franklin  D. Roosevelt, “Message to Congress on Unemployment Relief,” March  21, 1933, American Presidency Project, Melissa Bass, “The Success and Contradictions of New Deal Democratic Populism: The Case of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” Good Society 21, no. 2 (2012): 250– 60. Melissa Bass, The Politics and Civics of National Service: Lessons from the Civilian Conservation Core, VISTA, and AMERICA (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2013); and Harry C. Boyte and Nan Kari, Building America: The Democratic Promise of Public Work (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), esp. 29, 109.

Rethinking the Green New Deal 333 62.

63. 64. 65.




69. 70.


On scope and impact, see Bass, Politics and Civics of National Service, 57. Also Andrew Jewett, Science, Democracy and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), chaps. 4, 6, 7; and on contemporary civic science, see Harry C. Boyte, Civic Agency and the Cult of the Expert (Dayton, Ohio: Kettering Foundation Press, 2009). Bass, “Success and Contradictions,” 255. On democratic populism, see Harry Boyte, “Introduction: Reclaiming Populism as a Different Kind of Politics,” Good Society 21, no. 2 (2012): 173– 76. See Josiah Ober’s etymological analysis of Greek demokratia, challenging modern uses of “democracy” as “a voting rule for determining the will of the majority” and recovering its connotations of “collective power to effect change in the public realm.” Josiah Ober, “The Original Meaning of ‘Democracy’: Capacity to Do Things, not Majority Rule,” Constellations 15, no. 1 (2009): 3– 9, esp. 3, 7. For other thick conceptions of democracy throughout European and American history, see James T. Kloppenberg, Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). Minnesota history is particularly rich with examples of such local innovation. See Paul  S. Holbo, “The Farmer-Labor Association: Minnesota’s Party within a Party” Minnesota History (September  1963): 301– 9; George  H. Mayer, The Political Career of Floyd  B. Olson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987); and Richard  M. Valelly, Radicalism in the States: The Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and the American Political Economy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989). A relatively recent overview of the WPA is Nick Taylor, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA; When FDR Put the Nation to Work (New York: Bantam, 2008). On the purposes and history of the TVA, see Walter L. Creese, TVA’s Public Planning: The Vision, the Reality (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990). For treatments of Depression-era arts from several perspectives, see Bruce I. Bustard, A New Deal for the Arts (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Administration, 1997); Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (New York: Verso, 1997); Scott Peters, Changing the Story About Higher Education’s Public Purposes and Work: Land Grants, Liberty, and the Little Country Theater, Imagining America Working Paper 6 (2006); Roger G. Kennedy, When Art Worked: The New Deal, Art, and Democracy (New York: Rizzoli, 2009); and Lynne Cooke, “Boundary Trouble: Navigating Margin and Mainstream,” in Outliers and American Vanguard Art: A National Gallery of Art Collection, by Lynne Cooke, Douglas Crimp, Darby English, Suzanne Perling Hudson, Thomas J. Lax, Jennifer Jane Marshall, Richard Meyer, and Jenni Sorkin, 3–29 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018). Elinor Ostrom, “Polycentricity, Complexity, and the Commons,” A PEGS Journal: The Good Society 9, no. 2 (1999): 36–40. Lizabeth Cohen, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); and Steve Fraser, “The ‘Labor Question,’ ” in The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order, 1930–1980, ed. Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle, 55– 84 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), esp. 63– 65. Brinkley, Liberalism, 28– 30.

334 The Work of Building a Better Society 72.

73. 74. 75. 76.

77. 78.


80. 81. 82.


84. 85.

On workplaces as sites of civic action and democratic growth, see Cynthia Estlund, Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). William P. Jones, The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights (New York: Norton, 2013). The following account is taken from Michael  K. Honey, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice (New York: Norton, 2018), chap. 5. Martin Luther King Jr., “All Labor Has Dignity,” in All Labor Has Dignity, ed. Michael K. Honey (Boston: Beacon, 2011), 172. See Paul C. Taylor, “Moral Perfectionism,” in To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2018). King, “All Labor Has Dignity,” 171. Paul Eccleston, “UN Announces Green ‘New Deal’ Plan to Rescue World Economies,” Daily Telegraph, October 22, 2008; and Emily Atkin, “The Democrats Stole the Green Party’s Best Idea,” New Republic, February  22, 2019, /153127/democrats-stole-green-partys-best-idea. On the failure of Democratic and Republican policymakers to treat constituents as civic agents with creative political potential, see Oren Cass, The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America (New York: Encounter, 2018), esp. 209. On desire for work with meaning, see Noam Scheiber, “When Professionals Rise Up, More than Money Is at Stake,” New York Times, March  25, 2018, /2018/03/25/ business/economy/labor-professionals.html; and Shawn Achor, Andrew Reece, Gabrielle Rosen Kellerman, and Alexi Robichaux, “9 out of 10 People Are Willing to Earn Less Money to Do More-Meaningful Work,” Harvard Business Review, November  6, 2018, https:// /2018/11/9 -out-of-10 -people-are-willing-to-earn-less -money-to-do-more-meaningful-work. See the ReThink Health website, /. For articles summarizing themes of the springboard, see the special issue of National Civic Review 109, no. 4 (2021). A stimulating synthesis of civic policy theory and case studies from the 1990s through the 2000s is Carmen Sirianni, Investing in Democracy: Engaging Citizens in Collaborative Governance (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2009). See also Levine, We Are the Ones, for theoretical and empirical arguments in support of civic policy and civic engagement generally. Carmen Sirianni, The Civics of a Green New Deal: Towards Policy Design for Community Empowerment and Public Participation in an Age of Climate Change, Tufts University/Jonathan  M. Tisch College of Civic Life, May  2020, /default/files/civic_green_new_deal.pdf. Peter Levine, Forward to Sirianni, Civics of a Green New Deal, 3. Carmen Sirianni, Sustainable Cities in American Democracy: From Postwar Urbanism to the Civics of a Green New Deal (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2020). On democratic professionalism, see Dzur, Democracy Inside; Boyte (using “citizen” professionalism), “Constructive Politics as Public Work”; and the website of the University of Minnesota’s Citizen Professional Center:

Rethinking the Green New Deal 335 86. 87. 88. 89.

Sirianni, Sustainable Cities, chap. 7. Christopher  K. Ansell, Pragmatist Democracy: Evolutionary Learning as Public Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 33. Jess Gilbert, Planning Democracy: Agrarian Democracy: Agrarian Intellectuals and the Intended New Deal (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2015), 8– 9. Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965), 67– 68.

chapter 16

How to Create Good Jobs, a Sustainable Environment, and a Durable and Successful Left Political Alliance Through a Green New Deal richard lachmann


ow can ordinary people in rich capitalist countries, whose median wages have barely risen in recent years after being unchanged for four decades, be asked to support a conversion to green energy designed for the benefit of unborn generations? The Green New Deal is being attacked as ruinously expensive. The right-wing American Action Forum dreamed up a $93 trillion price tag, which was broadcast repeatedly on Fox News and echoed endlessly by Republican politicians. However, that number includes the cost of providing universal health care and a guaranteed job for every American, aspirations mentioned in passing at the end of the resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.1 American Action Forum’s estimated price for remaking the energy grid, other changes (mainly in transportation) to reduce emissions to zero, and retrofitting housing together come to a much more modest $12.6 trillion.2 Robert Pollin, an economist supportive of the Green New Deal, estimates it would cost 1 percent of GDP each year between now and 2050, or $18 trillion in total, to achieve a conversion to zero-carbon emissions in the United States.3 That would have a barely noticeable effect on the overall economy or on the federal budget. By comparison, the United States spent 3.1 percent of GDP on the military in 2018.4 Unfortunately, voters in the United States— or, indeed, in any other country— don’t have an opportunity to vote directly on whether they want a portion of the national budget reallocated from military to social or environmental spending. There is evidence that the American

Creations of the Green New Deal 337

public as a whole would support such a shift. In general, voters’ preferences, when surveyed, are for substantially lower military and higher social spending as shares of the budget than was the case under Barack Obama or Donald Trump.5 And we know that voters underestimate the fraction of the budget that goes to the military and overestimate what is spent on the poor. Thus, we can assume the Green New Deal would be seen as relatively inexpensive and a worthwhile investment if it can be presented as costing less than a third of the military budget while permanently reducing ordinary Americans’ energy costs and providing good jobs—that is, ones that pay enough to support a family at a middle-class level, that provide benefits including health insurance and pensions, and that are not contingent and unstable, allowing workers to make a career in a single place and thereby build and sustain ties to a local community. A decent society should provide the material and social bases for a comfortable and secure life. That is a worthy goal in itself, and a Green New Deal should be designed to foster such lives. In selecting among the various possible ways in which action to eliminate CO 2 emissions can be achieved, we need to pay equal attention to the moral necessity of treating every person as worthy of a life with meaningful work. We must avoid forcing people to abandon their communities and social connections to gain employment. Human dignity is as much a moral imperative as is preserving the planet’s ability to sustain human life. We do need to recognize that cuts in the military budget translate directly into losses of jobs, most of which pay above the national median wage. The only way to defuse those workers’ resistance to the losses they would suffer in a conversion from military to Green New Deal spending is to develop careful plans that would concentrate production of solar panels, wind turbines, and the other needed components of a green energy system in the same places where those workers currently live and produce weapons. Since the work needed to carry out a conversion from fossil fuels to green energy sources will take decades, we can guarantee those workers career-long jobs. Workers in military plants do not have a commitment to weapons; they have a need and desire for good jobs. The Green New Deal will have to be crafted and backed with commitments of long-term spending to ensure enough good jobs to make up for the shifts away from military spending and for the lost jobs in extracting, shipping,

338 The Work of Building a Better Society

refining, and burning fossil fuels, which also are well-paid although much less stable than those offered by military contractors. Conversion plans, thus, are a political and moral necessity, and I address that below. Telling workers to get retrained or to move away from their communities in search of uncertain but hopefully better opportunities elsewhere arouses justifiable anger, especially when such suggestions come from politicians, journalists, or professors who themselves enjoy safe, secure, and well-paid jobs. People want and deserve more than just good jobs. They should be able, if they want, to remain in the communities where they currently live and where they have built ties to family, friends, and neighbors. We can build support for a transition to a zero-carbon emissions economy by showing that the current carbon-based energy sector imposes higher costs than the green alternative. Direct costs include exploration, extraction, transportation of fuels across the globe, and construction and maintenance of power plants and transmission lines. And of course the owners of oil, gas, and coal fields extract rents for access to those underground and underwater resources. Carbon fuels also impose indirect costs: pollution, destruction of entire ecosystems and land, and the military costs of securing fuel sources. Lives are lost to pollution, mining, and wars. All those costs would disappear with the transition to green energy. Of course, workers in fossil fuel industries, like those in weapons manufacture, appreciate their relatively well-paying and secure jobs, and they too would need to be convinced by clear plans backed by sustained funding that their old jobs would be replaced by equally remunerative jobs in green energy and that those jobs would be located where they already live. Above all, we know and already can experience the catastrophic effects of climate change. We are now living through the beginnings of the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. Coastal areas will flood. While much of the globe will become wetter, other places will become hotter and dryer and catch fire more readily. Already interior Australia is becoming unlivable (as we saw with the summer fires and mass evacuations of 2019–2020), as are parts in the western United States and numerous places in the Global South. Climate change will reduce crop yields and render parts of the planet, now inhabited by hundreds of millions of people, unable to support human life or to grow food. All of these are costs, and ones that are far more expensive and disruptive to contemporary life than the taxes and other adjustments that will be needed to pay for a global Green New Deal.

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The price of moving to a zero-emissions economy will be less than the costs of mitigating the effects of climate change, which can at best be only partly effective. We know that many of the largest coastal cities in the world will disappear under water by 2050, including Ho Chi Minh City and much of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam (home to 20 million people today), Bangkok, Thailand (current population 9.7 million), Mumbai, India (current population 12.9 million), and Alexandria, Egypt (current population 5.1 million). Worldwide, “some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by midcentury.” 6 An additional 250 million people live “on land below annual flood levels.” Those numbers assume that Antarctic ice sheets will remain stable. With significant ice loss, sea levels will rise further, and an additional 50 million people by 2050 and 230 million by 2100 will be forced to move. In sum, a total of 480 million people would be forced to move by 2100, a year that babies born today in wealthy countries are likely to live to see.7 Of course, it is possible to mitigate some damage by constructing seawalls, as the Netherlands has done. However, the costs of protecting that small country have run into the many billions, and much of its defenses were built decades and centuries ago at much lower prices than similar works would cost today—even in countries, like those of South and Southeast Asia or Egypt, with very low labor costs. Conversion to green energy is much cheaper and will yield benefits beyond protecting a few densely populated cities. Of course, much of the world never could be protected with seawalls. It would be impossible to build a wall around all of southern Florida. Besides, walls will be of no help in addressing droughts and extreme heat of the sort that already are causing massive fires in wealthy places like Australia and California as well as in poorer regions utterly unable to respond effectively. Mitigation can at best save a fraction of those who will lose their homes and access to food because of climate change. Yes, houses can be made more resilient, but it would be far more expensive to retrofit or replace homes for the hundreds of millions who live on land that will be vulnerable to repeated floods—not to mention the additional costs of resettling the hundreds of millions of others who will have to leave lands that will be submerged under rising seas—than to replace fossil fuels with green energy.

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Some vulnerable crops can be replaced with drought-resistant varieties, but there is no currently feasible technology that can farm fish on a scale sufficient to substitute for the species that will die off as the oceans become more acidic. Similarly, while there is advanced desalinization technology, it is expensive and uses vast amounts of energy, contributing further to global warming. Desalinization plants so far are on a scale utterly inadequate to counteract the certain shortages of fresh water that will worsen in the coming few decades. Desalinization already creates dead zones in coastal waters where the brine extracted from seawater is dumped. No technological solution to that problem has been devised yet, and it may in fact be impossible to solve. Salt extracted from seawater has to go somewhere. We need to recognize that even if the conversion to carbon-free energy proceeds quickly and global warming is limited to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, there still will be a need for mitigation. Since poor people will be most of those who are harmed first by flooding, drought, and crop failures, we can’t expect capitalist firms to invest in mitigation projects. Thus, mitigation projects like the construction of green energy infrastructure will need to be undertaken by governments; therefore, mitigation, like green energy, will open opportunities for creating good jobs. However, we need to be clear that mitigation can help at the margins, at best, and only if global warming is kept to a terrible rather than catastrophic level. No matter how much money is spent on mitigation, there will still be the problems of unintended consequences. Ecosystems are complex, often structured with multiple feedback loops. Expensive schemes for mitigation could backfire, creating more problems than they solve. Current human knowledge about ecosystems is derived from observations on a planet that has had relatively stable temperatures for as long as humans have been engaged in the systematic study of the natural world. Our knowledge cannot be adapted quickly enough or accurately enough to predict the effectiveness of mitigation strategies on a continually but unevenly warming planet. Proposals for adaptation and mitigation all assume the continuance of  existing governmental and economic organizations to implement those plans.  In so doing, they ignore or at least drastically underplay the ways in which environmental catastrophes will affect political and social relations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is precise and realistic on how a range of temperature increase will affect various aspects of the global

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environment, but it sees only a “moderate” increase in threat of large-scale singular events. In other words, the [IPCC] seems to tell us that a temperature increase that would cause significant additional stresses on earth systems and trigger a significant increase in extreme weather would nonetheless have only modest implications for global political economy. The implicit claim—somewhere between assumption and assertion—is that the prevailing liberal, capitalist order is more robust than the global environment, and will adapt to the coming threat better than the ecosystems upon which it depends.8

For example, the panel’s most recent report from 2014 (the next one, scheduled for 2021, is still being written) assumes increases in global “consumption in baseline scenarios . . . from 300% to more than 900% over the century.”9 That is the epitome of what environmental activist Greta Thunberg calls “fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”10 The Green New Deal is thus the most cost-effective way—indeed, the only realistic way—to prevent the disastrous consequences of global warming, which would mean mass extinctions and the irreversible melting of the polar ice caps and of glaciers that provide drinking water and irrigation for over a billion people in South Asia, China, and South America.11 The costs of a carbon-free energy regime are far less than what the effects of even 1.5 degrees Celsius will produce, let alone of the 2 to 3 degrees of warming that now is the middle range of temperature increase expected by 2100.


As with any radical change, the Green New Deal will cost some people a lot of money and change the ways in which they live. Those people for the most part will think of themselves and their immediate material interests, not the longterm viability of their species or the planet. Therefore, any realistic plan to implement a Green New Deal cannot focus only on technical and organizational issues. We need to address the expected potential opposition and find ways to mobilize the majorities who do not benefit from current economic arrangements and who will suffer the consequences of climate change.

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The one undeniable cost to a conversion to green energy is the destruction of private property in the carbon fuel sector. Oil, coal, and natural gas fields will become worthless. The equipment to mine, refine, and transport those fuels will become useless as well. We need to remember that those costs will be borne by capitalists and by states that have nationalized their oil industries. But most of those states (Norway is the big exception, with some other democracies earning royalties from leasing public lands and offshore sites) do not spend oil money on public goods. Instead, the money goes to the private consumption of rulers, their extended families, and political allies. Ordinary citizens in those countries have little to lose from the end of carbon fuel revenue streams. In the United States, the receipts from royalties paid by fossil fuel companies to extract oil, gas, and coal on public lands pale in comparison with the direct subsidies those corporations get from the government, not to mention the vastly greater indirect benefits oil and coal companies receive—above all, the ability to pollute and the costs of military protection for their energy holdings abroad. The end of carbon fuels has been compared to the abolition of slavery as the only comparable case of the total elimination of an entire category of property through a political process.12 Emancipation cost only the small cohort of slave owners. Ordinary people did not pay a price when slaves were freed, just as they won’t if all the remaining reserves of oil, coal, and natural gas are left in the ground. Slave owners did not surrender easily. Indeed, they fought a civil war in which 2 percent of the U.S. population was killed. Northerners were willing to fight to end slavery because abolitionists were able to portray slaveholders as a powerful elite who controlled, or were conspiring to control, the U.S. government as they did the Southern states. The slave power was presented as a threat to democracy and to the ability of free workers to earn a living wage if slavery expanded beyond the South. The attack on slave power unified workers and farmers in the Northern and Western states. Owners of oil, gas, and coal will not surrender their wealth without a fight. Indeed, they still are pressing for government subsidies to expand drilling for fossil fuels in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Even though solar and wind power now are cheaper to produce than are coal or oil, coal plants and oil pipelines still are being constructed. The G20 countries (the nineteen countries of the world with the largest economies plus the European Union) increased

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subsidies for coal from an annual average of $39 billion in 2013–2014 to $57 billion in 2016–2017. While subsidies for coal production fell by more than half in those years, subsidies for coal-fired power plants more than doubled.13 In India, billionaire Gautam Adani used his longtime connections to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party to win loan guarantees, outright subsidies, and regulatory exemptions that made a $2 billion coalfired power plant profitable.14 The same money could have paid for solar panels and windmills that would have produced more power, but green energy advocates lack connections to the Indian government. Green power entrepreneurs in South Asia now will have to compete against subsidized coal power. Adani’s coal plant is built and will continue to be profitable to operate no matter how cheap green energy becomes. Similar deals still are being sealed in Africa, elsewhere in Asia, and to a lesser extent in Latin America, many pushed by China as part of its Belt and Road initiative.15 However, we shouldn’t assume government subsidies for fossil fuels are confined to poor and benighted countries in the Global South. One-time liberal darling Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, pushed through the purchase by the Canadian government for $3.4 billion of the Kinder Morgan Corporation’s Trans Mountain pipeline. The purchase will allow Canada to then spend government funds to triple the pipeline’s capacity to transport oil sands from Alberta to Pacific ports where it can then be exported. Oil sands produce more CO 2 than any other type of oil. We can expect oil and coal barons in all countries to use their wealth to control media, buy politicians, and finance election and propaganda campaigns to try to defeat ambitious and even modest Green New Deal proposals. We need to recognize that these capitalists are our enemies. They cannot be negotiated with. They will not accept compromises because any shift to green energy will destroy the value of their property. Therefore, it is futile to compromise our plans in vain attempts to lessen their opposition, and we should not be fooled by their ad campaigns and pledges to develop green energy. To defeat the carbon fuel barons, we first need to recognize that they are implacable enemies who need to be routed. We need to expose again and again the depth of their greed and their willingness to destroy the planet to enrich themselves. Above all, we need to enlist allies, just as the abolitionists and the politicians of the new Republican Party—most notably, Abraham Lincoln—did in the 1850s and 1860s.

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If we want to build mass support for a Green New Deal, it will not be enough to show that the rich will pay and not you. We need to make a positive argument, to show how green jobs will be better and more plentiful than the jobs they replace. In the United States and in much of Europe, good jobs are declining in number. That is why those who work as coal miners, in oil and gas fields and refineries, and in munitions plants fight so hard to preserve those jobs, which are among the best-paying working-class jobs in the United States. When Trump talked of bringing back coal-mining jobs, he was not just appealing to racism by evoking an imagined all-white workforce of the past; he was speaking to the working class’s wish for stable, well-paying jobs. Those jobs are especially precious because they are located in rural areas with few other good jobs, and their high wages support entire families and infrastructures of small businesses. When a coal mine or oil field shuts down, entire communities die. Unemployed oil workers can no longer support the stores and other businesses in their rural communities, and departed oil companies no longer pay the taxes that support schools and other local governmental functions. We can, of course, point out that even if coal production increases, it will create few jobs, and that almost all the job losses in the carbon fuel industries have been due to mechanization, not to a transition to green energy. Coal production in the United States has increased almost 50 percent since the 1930s, but it is being extracted with less than a tenth of the workforce.16 We can show that green energy already is a rapidly growing source of jobs. In 2016 there were 475,000 Americans working in solar and wind energy production compared to only 136,000 in coal, oil, and natural gas.17 But that, too, will not be enough to build mass support for the Green New Deal. Instead, we need to explain how green energy will create millions of permanent good jobs that will not be vulnerable to the vicissitudes and cruelties of capitalist markets. Capitalist firms, especially the large corporations that overwhelmingly dominate the fossil fuel industry and provide most of the jobs in that sector, have no commitment to any particular community. Nor do they care about their employees. They seek to maximize profit and therefore will abandon facilities that are insufficiently profitable, even when that devastates the communities in which those workplaces are located. Most coal mines in the eastern United States have

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been closed. Workers in the extraction industries have by far the highest rates of injury and workplace death of any employees in the United States.18 Unlike work in the fossil fuel industry, work in green energy is inherently local. It must be located in places where wind or sun are plentiful and where land can most easily be used for wind turbines and solar farms. Environmental rehabilitation must be done where land has been polluted or otherwise harmed, which is much of the United States. The infrastructure for transmitting green energy and for a green transportation system must be built everywhere. Thus, green jobs will be located throughout the United States and mostly in rural areas. A Green New Deal therefore will ensure that the workers who already have lost or will lose jobs as a result of the ordinary operation of a capitalist fossil fuel industry will gain new secure jobs. Since the new jobs will involve construction and skilled manual labor, they will meet former fossil fuel workers’ selfconceptions of what it is to be a useful worker. The Green New Deal, by offering fulfilling and rewarding work to manual laborers who mostly lack college educations, can draw those workers into a coalition that will support the broader expansion of public sector employment that is needed to address the mass transfer of industrial jobs out of the United States and the loss of highly skilled as well as less skilled jobs to increasingly sophisticated programs that rely on artificial intelligence. Public sector employment is the only realistic alternative to the current trajectory, which will doom far too many workers to contingent employment if not permanent joblessness. The political virtue of the Green New Deal is that it can draw manual workers, many of whom live in rural areas that carry disproportionate weight in the U.S. constitutional structure. However, we need to see the Green New Deal and its direct beneficiaries (the people who will be employed building carbon-free energy and mass transit and making existing facilities energy efficient) as part of a broader alliance that will include people who can be employed in care work, including health care and support for the elderly and education for children, as Alyssa Battistoni argues in chapter 4 of this volume. That alliance of course also would include the children and adults who will benefit from making childcare, eldercare, and education at all levels public goods. President Joe Biden recognizes this reality in his infrastructure plan, which includes social service and green energy jobs along with traditional infrastructure. Republicans who oppose Biden’s plan, and who counter by claiming that infrastructure only encompasses roads and bridges, certainly perceive the political potential of

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Biden’s plan as well as the threat that an ambitious program that offers jobs to such a broad array of workers poses to their reactionary, race-baiting politics. As I explain in the next section, green energy is produced most efficiently by decentralized, non-capitalist entities. As a result, workers in that sector will not have their jobs degraded, they will not be exposed to dangers to fatten profit margins, and they will be able to sustain control as skilled workers over their daily work process. Thus, green energy will preserve and enhance workers’ human dignity and potential at the same time as it repairs the global environment. Jobs in green energy will provide stability and security for workers at the same time as the work will stabilize the planet’s climate.


Despite the grandiose claims of self-proclaimed “green capitalists,” for-profit firms have not been able to significantly reduce CO2 emissions anywhere. While capitalism has given birth to a significant green energy sector, the scale is insufficient to actually prevent CO2 levels from continuing to rise. The United States and European countries claim to be reducing CO2 emissions and point to China as the current leader in CO2 output. However, what is really happening is that pollutive industries have moved from the West to Asia.19 From one-third to twothirds of the reductions in Europe and one-third of the increases in China are because more and more of the industrial products Europeans consume are produced in China rather than in the ultimate consumers’ home countries.20 The United States also has shifted much of its CO2-heavy industry to China, Mexico, and other countries of the Global South. Such moves have been facilitated by the World Trade Organization and through international trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Green energy is most effective when it is localized and when pricing is stable in the long term to justify the upfront investments in solar panels, wind farms, hydroelectric dams, and turbines powered by ocean waves. Green energy also is inherently local and is more labor intensive than fossil fuels. While nuclear energy is also zero emissions and labor intensive, it is more expensive and far riskier than green energy. Despite more than sixty years of experience, the nuclear power industry still has not figured out how to safely remove and store

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spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants at a reasonable price. As a result, fuel rods are either left in storage pools next to the power plants to emit radiation or are reprocessed at costs that make nuclear the most expensive energy source of all. Promises of cheap and safe smaller-scale nuclear power plants remain just that: promises. And the danger of a catastrophic meltdown, as happened at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, in 1979; Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986; and Fukushima, Japan in 2011 could—and probably will—happen again somewhere, resulting in enormous cleanup costs and deaths from radiation. Germany may have made a mistake in rapidly shutting down its nuclear power plants in favor of natural gas imports, but it certainly is better to focus future investments on green energy instead of additional nuclear power plants. The inherently local nature of green energy undercuts the usual capitalist strategies of increasing profits by moving jobs to places with lower labor costs. Thus, it is no surprise that the fastest transitions to renewable energy have taken place where the electric grids and the utilities that manage them are publicly owned, whether by a central government, by locally based cooperatives, or by a combination of the two rather than in the hands of for-profit businesses. This opens the possibility (or perhaps necessity) of creating public entities that will own and manage the grids and wind and solar farms that will replace oil, coal, and gas. Such jobs, as the Green New Deal resolution promises, will be more easily unionized than others since they will be government jobs or lodged in nonprofit, community-based entities. Unionization rates in the United States are far higher for government workers, despite the spate of state-level laws and Supreme Court decisions that have weakened public worker unions, than in the private sector. While some green sector jobs will be temporary, lasting only as long as workers are needed to build a new grid, to build and install solar panels and windmills, and to construct mass transit, many of the jobs will be permanent. Green energy facilities will require continuing maintenance, as do mass transit systems. The scale of the work needed to convert the United States economy, and the world economy, from carbon to green energy will require the cost to be financed by national governments, the only entities capable of marshaling the amounts necessary, and rich countries will need to assume much of the cost of conversion in the rest of the world. However, just because the money needs to flow from national entities doesn’t mean that the detailed decisions about where and how to build green energy facilities need to be left entirely to national

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decision-makers. We need to analyze the relative benefits of assigning the various tasks to national or local governments, public cooperatives, or public– private partnerships. The advantages of each will vary in terms of efficiency, the quality of jobs created, and sensitivity to local concerns. Regardless, we will need to weigh the political support each sort of organizational entity can win for the Green New Deal. There may be advantages of coordination from lodging green energy in a national government agency; however, those advantages also can come from centralized coordination through the energy grid of a multitude of locally based energy producers. Ultimately, whether green energy is produced by government agencies or local cooperatives will vary across and within countries and will reflect the political process by which conversion to green energy is financed and the way mass and electoral support for green energy is won. The United States, with a federal structure that leaves significant autonomy and resources to the fifty states and, above all, with a Congress that is elected from states and local districts, advantages political coalitions and programs that are built from entities that have enduring bases of support at the local level. For that reason it is more likely that green energy in the United States will be constructed and maintained by local cooperatives (as was the case for electrification in the New Deal) than by a single national entity, although financing and coordination still will be best set at the national level by a federal agency. We need to be aware of the risk that numerous local entities, and especially public–private hybrids, will be vulnerable to cooption, influence, and corruption by capitalist interests. The solution to that danger is the same as what is needed to generate political support for the Green New Deal in the first place: fostering organizations that can bring together workers, community members, and other popular groups that will benefit from green energy projects and that can monitor the operation of energy cooperatives and other entities that will build new infrastructure and produce and distribute green energy. Attempts to design and impose a Green New Deal from above will undercut the political support needed to sustain it and will open opportunities for elites to maneuver to gain control of, or extract revenues from, projects that should be carried out by local entities controlled by workers and consumers. Political opportunities and dangers both are present in the ongoing debate over President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan. Biden’s great contribution so far is to change the terms of debate and to present green energy, childcare,

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and eldercare as essential elements of the nation’s infrastructure. More perilously, the proposal is somewhere between vague and silent on what entities will administer the spending. That lack of clarity is smart politics in the short term: it creates openings for deals between Biden and members of Congress who are under pressures from various local interests to deliver funding. Such horse-trading probably is necessary to ensure passage of a large-scale infrastructure plan in a closely divided Congress. However, in the long term Biden’s plan runs the risk of allowing big capitalist firms to control much of the spending and, even more dangerously, the energy infrastructure that is built. Similarly, the childcare and eldercare programs that Biden includes in his infrastructure bill could, like much of such spending that currently is administered by state and local governments, be contracted out to for-profit entities that exploit workers and operate beyond the influence of community groups. What matters, if we are to sustain support for green energy and comprehensive programs of childcare and eldercare, is that the public at large is able to see that green energy is being produced on their behalf by entities that are open to popular preferences and by workers that are able to control their work lives and the organizations in which they work. The same is true for childcare and the eldercare programs. Such influence can be won through unions that represent workers in large national agencies or through more direct participatory power in local cooperative entities. Similarly, the public at large can determine policy through electoral means that shape governmental agencies or on a local level through cooperatives. Either direction or a combination of the two will be far more democratic and more respectful of workers’ interests and of the environment than for-profit capitalist corporations. The work of greening energy on a national level, making buildings energy efficient, and restoring ruined environments will take decades, providing lifelong careers for millions of today’s workers. In addition, the CO2 already in the atmosphere and the amounts that still will be added even in a rapid conversion to green energy will be enough to cause rising sea levels, more destructive storms, and other environmental disasters for centuries. Workers will be needed to mitigate those consequences, and that work is not profitable. Even though for-profit firms can vie for contracts to do that work, it will be done more successfully if it is performed by locals who are available for the long term to construct and maintain the needed facilities, and to restore built and natural environments after the inevitable and repeated natural disasters.

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The costs of conversion and environmental restoration and mitigation will be beyond the ability of capital to finance. The costs will have to be borne by states. Indeed, capitalists will turn to states for bailouts as their real estate and other investments lose value or disappear under the seas as global warming progresses and as insurance companies turn away from writing policies for the most exposed industries and locations.21 This was the exact pattern that capitalist investors and firms followed as they got states to bail them out from their financial speculations and illegal frauds in the 2008 financial crisis. And just as the 2008 bailouts did, such demands by capitalists could provoke mass anger if capitalists are seen to have caused environmental disasters in the same way that bankers were accurately understood to have caused the 2008 financial crisis. If the connection is not made, then anger will be diffuse and centered around the disruptions caused by climate change and the costs governments will have to assume, much of which will be spent on mitigating the effects of climate change and is likely to disproportionately hit the already poor and marginalized. The great political question is who will be able to channel that anger and in support of what policies. We now know that in most countries right-wing populists succeeded in winning that political contest after 2008. This was in part because the Left parties had become too deeply associated with neoliberalism during their time in power and because some of them had joined in the corruption that surrounded capitalist looting of the economy. Most fatally, Left parties in government were unable to offer coherent strategies that would have provided a real alternative to austerity. The Green New Deal is a viable and realistic alternative. In its vision of workers holding good jobs—as they convert and rebuild energy production, transform human communities to be energy efficient and shielded from climate change, and restore the natural environment—it offers a sharp contrast to the dismal vision of sacrifice presented by analysts such as William Barnes and Nils Gilman. The only alternative, they argue, in the absence of a fortuitous technological breakthrough or the investment of unprecedented resources and geographical space to green energy, “is a drastic reduction in aggregate global production, which will require enormous shifts in the way people in many societies live: less travel, less heating in winter, less cooling in summer, less light at night, less opulent housing, less gadgetry, less elaborate clothing . . . and the list goes on. In sum, with regard to all forms of material production and consumption, serious emissions reduction boils down to just one word: LESS.”22

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With a Green New Deal there would be less of some things. Less opportunities for capitalists to profit as much of the economy would be decommodified and there would be fewer workers to exploit since so many of them would be working for governments and publicly owned entities at local, regional, and national levels. And there would be less government bailout of capitalists from the consequences of the global warming they created. The Green New Deal promises the investment needed to convert to a zeroemissions economy, but the consequences of such intense spending would be to improve most Americans’ lives. They would end up with more of good things not less: More good jobs, cleaner environments, and more collective control over investment decisions. Above all, workers would gain the satisfaction of doing work that preserves rather than destroys the natural environment and that ensures the well-being of future generations rather than making our planet uninhabitable. Such a vision offers a compelling contrast to what we can expect to hear from the Right. Since climate change will create an unprecedented number of refugees, the Right will be able to appeal to racism and other forms of bigotry. If most people have less, as has been the case in the United States for forty years, and especially so since 2008, those appeals will be effective unless there is a realistic promise of good jobs. The Green New Deal offers that and so can effectively counter the Right’s most potent issues. The Green New Deal’s name is designed to evoke the last time in U.S. history that a large public sector was created and capital was regulated. However it will be politically difficult to recreate today the political conditions that allowed for the original New Deal. We need to remember that large national-level firms coexisted with a large number of locally based firms in the 1930s. New Deal regulations limited the extent to which large corporations could impinge upon smaller firms’ markets and unions gained important legal protections that endured into the 1970s.23 Today large corporations can engage in predatory behavior against smaller competitors and break unions with little fear of sanction from government. Similar neoliberal restructuring and declines in rates of unionization have transformed the political economies of many European countries, narrowing the space for popular mobilization there as well.24 Today the space for workers and other non-elites to organize and mobilize is far narrower than in the 1930s or 1960s. At the height of the misery caused by the lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were some signs of

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mass mobilization, such as the teacher strikes in “red” states and wildcat strikes and protests by workers who endured low wages and unsafe working conditions in warehouses and meatpacking plants.25 Those actions offered the hope that the United States was entering a period of rapid unionization or escalating mass demands for reforms and reregulation, recreating a new era of reform that preserves the essence of capitalism as happened during the 1930s. Under immense pressure, capitalists would agree to concessions that could include greatly expanded social benefits, a higher minimum wage, limits on predatory behavior toward workers and consumers, and new regulations to reduce environmental damage such as CO2 emissions. So far protests and strikes have not been sustained, perhaps because the generosity of the various pandemic relief bills have sufficiently softened mass misery. It is, however, impossible to see how owners of fossil fuel firms could agree to reforms that would abolish their industries and negate the value of their property. Those capitalists whose businesses are based on the endless increase of CO2 emissions, like the slaveholders of the American South, have to be defeated and their property nullified. The question thus becomes what programs and strategies can build an alliance powerful enough to win against fossil fuel capitalists, even if capitalism and capitalists outside that sector continue to exist? Politically, the original New Deal and the post-1945 European social democracies were made possible by worker–farmer alliances. Gøsta Esping-Andersen shows that such alliances were necessary for any Left party to take power through democratic elections in wealthy capitalist countries.26 Today farmers are a much smaller part of the American electorate and, indeed, of electorates in Europe or East Asia. They certainly can be recruited into a green alliance. Farmers already are suffering from the effects of climate change, and they have been immiserated by corporate control of land and especially of the transport and processing facilities that determine farmers’ abilities to sell their produce and the prices they will receive. The Green New Deal has said little to farmers so far, but it can easily be extended to offer public funds for farmers to manage land in ways that will reduce CO2 emissions and produce food in environmentally responsible ways, as Raj Patel and Jim Goodman argue in chapter 3 of this volume. Farmers can be paid for such work, and, as with other sorts of green jobs, these will be lasting and not easily open to capitalist exploitation. Environmentally sustainable agriculture is also inherently small-scale and localized. Thus, a Green New Deal for

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agriculture would preserve and revive small farming communities, allowing those who want to live in rural areas to do so. Workers and farmers will be joined by another group that has often been central to radical movements: young people. The numerous organizations involved in the Global Climate Strike and other such actions are predominately joined by students who see that they will have no future if CO2 levels aren’t capped very soon.27 Young people also are looking toward adult lives in which they will be contingent workers without clear career paths or incomes that will allow them to support families of their own. A program like the Green New Deal, which offers jobs that are both good in terms of pay, benefits, and security and that also are meaningful, will be enormously appealing for our nation’s young people. Climate change is and will be catastrophic. The enormity of the disaster already is leading many to become fatalistic. However, it is also becoming a basis for mobilization, especially among the young who will live long enough to see the full consequences of global warming. The Green New Deal offers an alternative to pessimism and denial. As a plan for action, it provides a focus for political organizing and presents a vision of a just society that can overcome the corrosive and corrupt effects of neoliberalism and the reactionary political movements that follow from severe inequality. The Green New Deal promises good jobs doing socially valuable work and the fulfillment of collective action to create a political opening for a far less exploitative society.


I finished this chapter in July 2021 when the United States and a few other parts of the world were emerging, thanks to mass vaccinations, from lockdowns that were designed as efforts (with varying success) to stem the spread of COVID19—lockdowns that produced levels of unemployment and declines in GDP that approached, and in some countries exceeded, those of the 1930s Great Depression. The Right, not surprisingly, argues that the pandemic shutdowns are foretastes of the economic dislocations that will occur if fossil fuels are eliminated.28 Such a claim could convince many voters that the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic and efforts to slow its spread demonstrates the dangers of strong

354 The Work of Building a Better Society

governmental actions to prevent or undo vast and, in some ways, invisible or unstoppable natural disasters. It could turn out that people who paid the price for the efforts to stem COVID-19 may feel they can’t afford any more costs to combat an unseen problem that lies decades in the future. Holly Buck notes that already Republicans are clearly putting in place a narrative for the [2022] midterm elections: Democratic politicians ruined your livelihoods out of fear, they kept your businesses and schools closed through heavy-handed interventions that brought no real benefit, and now it’s time to vote them out. With an uneven, K-shaped recovery, this message may find support. There are now networks of people who have forged social ties, a sense of community, and a sense of mission in resisting Covid lockdowns. They could well transfer these political assets to the fantasy of resisting climate lockdowns. We’re looking at a fundamentally different kind of politics than we had just a year ago.29

Buck wisely argues that we should be very wary of referring to the climate crisis as an emergency. It is more sensible to present climate change as a decade-spanning challenge that will need careful and consensual planning of the kind that rarely manifests itself in an emergency. Instead of calling for restrictions on people’s behavior, which will be grist to the mill for predictable right-wing reaction, we should focus on the kind of action that’s really going to be effective, like funding a nationally networked electric grid, or regulating emissions from the highest-polluting industries.30

In other words, we need to press for a Green New Deal along the lines I describe in this chapter. We need to focus on the fact that the Green New Deal will create permanent jobs and stabilize communities, especially rural ones. That promise of permanence and stability is the opposite of the sort of emergency created by the pandemic, which is leaving in its wake mass economic losses and social disruptions that are the opposite of what the Green New Deal is designed to deliver. There is, however, reason to expect that our experience with the pandemic will alert much of the public to the extreme ways in which seemingly small changes in the natural world can disrupt economies and endanger human life as

Creations of the Green New Deal 355

well as the importance of preparing for possible future disasters. Little has been spent in recent decades on vaccine development anywhere in the world or toward creating new antibiotics to combat the evolving varieties of bacteria generated by factory farms. The price of such research and development pales in comparison with the costs of even a month of the shutdowns necessitated during the pandemic. Similarly, prevention of global warming will be much less expensive than mitigation, which itself is cheaper than the costs of uncontrolled climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic makes real the potential consequences, in death and economic loss, of ecological crises. The cost of ignoring one environmental eruption—the appearance of a novel coronavirus—until it rapidly developed into a pandemic alerts us all to the dangers of closing our eyes to the much bigger coming disaster of global warming. The orders of magnitude differences between the costs of disease prevention and the price we are paying to deal with the aftermath of public health failures should make obvious to people in the United States and other countries that investing in a Green New Deal, even if it costs 1  percent of GDP each year, is much cheaper than dealing with the effects of climate change. We need to remind publics throughout the world that climate change also will make future pandemics more likely as species to move into new ecological zones, increasing the transfer of bacteria and viruses from species to species and on to humans. Climate change will turn large parts of the globe into the equivalents of the Wuhan, China, live animal market. The COVID-19 pandemic is a natural experiment in comparative political sociology. In the realms of both disease prevention and economic recovery, we see how governmental capacity—to gather information, make sustained investments in research and infrastructure, engage in planning, and deliver social services—determines the death rate for COVID-19 and the speed and degree of equality in economic recovery. Citizens of the United States in 2020 could see other governments’ successes alongside their own nation’s failures and could understand that they were regarded with pity by people from other countries.31 The lesson for anyone who can see—or who can be made to see by activists, journalists, and intellectuals, or through their own experiences—is that governments can be effective and that markets are totally inadequate for addressing any aspect of epidemiological or environmental disaster. The failures of the U.S. government’s response to the economic consequences of widespread lockdowns and the inability of the American medical system to

356 The Work of Building a Better Society

deliver rapid testing or to treat the flood of ill patients exposes long-standing and deep-seated structural problems with American capitalism and the U.S. system of governance. The speed and severity of economic collapse led even rightwing politicians to advocate levels of public spending they never countenanced in the past, although with Biden’s election Republicans did a dramatic turn away from support for the government spending they had advocated in hopes that it would aid Trump’s (and their own) reelection. Our task is to make clear which sorts of interventions are effective and for whom, and to draw parallels between what is working in the present moment and what is proposed in the Green New Deal. The COVID-19 pandemic, as a living example of the extreme form that natural disaster can take, provides a demonstration of the urgent need for fundamental economic and social restructuring. The pandemic, along with the growing signs of climate change, can combine to build and mobilize mass support for a Green New Deal.



2. 3.


5. 6.



Sadly, Richard Lachmann died suddenly on September 19, 2021, less than two months after completing this chapter. He is missed, and his voice remains important. H. Res. 109, Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal, 116th  Congress, 1st  sess., February  7, 2019, bills / hres109/BILLS -116hres109ih.pdf. Dave Levitan, “The Green New Deal Costs Less Than Doing Nothing,” New Republic, May 3, 2019, Jessica McDonald, “How Much Will the ‘Green New Deal’ Cost?,”, March  14, 2019, -cost/. Office of Management and Budget, Historical Tables, Table 6.1: Composition of Outlays: 1940– 2026, accessed August  1, 2021, historical -tables/. Richard Lachmann, First-Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship: Elite Politics and the Decline of Great Powers (London: Verso, 2020), 458. Denise Lu and Christopher Flavelle, “Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows,” New York Times, October 29, 2019, /2019/10/29/climate/coastal-cities-underwater.html. Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss, “New Elevation Data Triple Estimates of Global Vulnerability to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding,” Nature Communications, October 29, 2019, 019 -12808 -z. Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (London: Verso, 2018), 65.

Creations of the Green New Deal 357 9.


11. 12. 13. 14.







“Summary for Policymakers,” in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel, and J. C. Minx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 15, Jonathan Herz, “The Fairy Tale of Eternal Economic Growth,” Environmental and Energy Study Institute, October  11, 2019, /articles/view/the-fairy-tale-of -eternal-economic-growth. Renee Cho, “The Glaciers Are Going,” State of the Planet, Earth Institute, Columbia University, May 5, 2017, Chris Hayes, “The New Abolitionism,” The Nation, May 12, 2014, https://www.thenation .com/article/archive/new-abolitionism/. Ipek Gencsu and Leo Roberts, “G20 Coal Subsidies: Tracking Government Support to a Fading Industry,” ODI, June 25, 2019, /documents/5977/12744 .pdf. Somini Sengupta, Jacqueline Williams, and Aruna Chandrasekhar, “How One Billionaire Could Keep Three Countries Hooked on Coal for Decades,” New York Times, August 15, 2019, .html. Jeff Nisbet, “China Finances Most Coal Plants Built Today—It’s a Climate Problem and Why US- China Talks Are Essential,” The Conversation, May  24, 2021, https:// theconversation . com /china -finances - most- coal -plants - built- today -its - a - climate -problem-and-why-us-china-talks-are-essential-161332. Mikael Höök and Kjell Aleklett, “Historical Trends in American Coal Production and a Possible Future Outlook,” International Journal of Coal Geology 78, no. 3 (May 2009): 201–16. Data on U.S. Coal Mining Employment 1900–2016 at - content /uploads /2017 /02 / US - Coal -Mining -Employment- 1900 - 2016 -MSHA - series -e1487808914791.png. U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Energy and Employment Report, January 2017, https:// Report_0.pdf, Figure 12. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Fatal Occupational Injuries in Private Sector Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction Industries,” accessed August 1, 2021, https:// www.bls .gov/charts/census -of-fatal-occupational-injuries/fatal- occupational-injuries -private-sector-mining.htm. For comparison with other industries, see U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Number and Rate of Fatal Work Injuries, by Industry Sector,” accessed August 1, 2021, /number-and-rate-of-fatal-work-injuries-by-industry.htm. Keith Bradsher and Lisa Friedman, “China’s Emissions: More Than U.S. Plus Europe, and Still Rising,” New York Times, January 25, 2018, /25/ business/china-davos-climate-change.html. Zeke Hausfather, “Mapped: The World’s Largest CO2 Importers and Exporters,” CarbonBrief, July 5, 2017, /mapped-worlds-largest-co2 -importers -exporters.

358 The Work of Building a Better Society 21.


23. 24.

25. 26. 27.



30. 31.

Jeffrey Ball, “Climate Change Is Hitting the Insurance Industry Hard. Here Is How Swiss Re Is Adapting,” Fortune, October  24, 2019, - industry - climate - change - swiss - re - reinsurance / ? utm_campaign=Brookings%20 Brief&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=78582344. William Barnes and Nils Gilman, “Green Social Democracy or Barbarism: Climate Change and the End of High Modernism,” in The Deepening Crisis: Governance Challenges After Neoliberalism, ed. Craig Calhoun and Georgi Derluguian (New York: NYU Press and Social Science Research Council, 2011), 51. Lachmann, First-Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship, chap. 6. The literature on European neoliberalism is large. For a concise and theoretically sophisticated point of entry, see Wolfgang Streeck, “The Crises of Democratic Capitalism,” New Left Review 71 (2011). Eric Blanc, Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (London: Verso, 2019). Gøsta Esping-Andersen, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990). The Global Climate Strike site offers a list of organizations throughout the world that participated in or sponsored the September  2019 global climate strike: https:// Lisa Friedman, “G.O.P. Coronavirus Message: Economic Crisis Is a Green New Deal Preview,” New York Times, May  7, 2020, /coronavirus-republicans-climate-change.html. Holly Buck, “We Need to Change How We Talk About Climate Action,” Jacobin, May  22, 2021, -technology. Buck, “We Need to Change.” Fintan O’Toole, “The World Has Loved, Hated and Envied the U.S. Now, for the First Time, We Pity It,” Irish Times, April  25, 2020, /fintan-o -toole-donald-trump -has -destroyed-the-country-he-promised-to -make-great -again - 1 . 4235928 ?mode=sample&auth-failed=1&pw- origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww. o- toole- donald- trump- has- destroyed- thecountry-he-promised-to-make-great-again-1.4235928.


We are grateful above all to those who have pressed for a Green New Deal, recognizing the imperative for large-scale, structurally transformative government policy to confront both climate change and the crisis of work and livelihoods. This includes trade union organizers, climate activists, and many others committed to finding optimism in the face of challenges and a path to genuine improvement in social conditions and human lives. This has been most importantly a practical struggle, only intermittently helped by academic engagement. We hope this book enhances the scholarly contribution. We are also grateful to many who have made crucial contributions. The authors of the different chapters are most important. Wendy Lochner, our editor at Columbia University Press, was not only supportive but insightful. Our former student Elizabeth Whiteman provided excellent editorial support. We are even in the unusual position of thanking copyeditors for finding the right balance of genuine improvement and light touch. We thank Arizona State University and the ASU Center for Work and Democracy for their support of this project. Barrett, the ASU Honors College, enabled us to teach a joint class with motivated and engaged students who pushed us to think better. Not least, we thank our families for their forbearance. They complained less than they probably should have when this project distracted us from them.


AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Administration), 63, 74, 84– 85, 315 Adams, M., 299, 301, 305 Adani, Gautam, 343 AFL (American Federation of Labor), 64, 144 AFL- CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations), 133– 35, 184– 85 After Virtue (MacIntyre), 310 Agricultural Adjustment Act, 25, 47n4 Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), 63, 74, 84– 85, 315 agriculture: AAA, 63, 74, 84– 85; American Farm Bureau’s historical development and, 82– 83; automation and, 86, 88; capitalism and, 82; cheap food and, 93; climate change and, 78, 83, 94– 95; climate change mitigation for, 340; ecological care and, 112–13; employment in, 88– 89, 89; environmental damage from, 90, 91; extension services, 82; Farmers’ Holiday movement and, 84; farming costs in, twenty-first century, 86– 89, 87– 89; food sovereignty and, 92; generational challenges in, 90; Global South vulnerabilities in, 95; GND and, 39–40, 89– 90, 92– 95, 352– 53; healthy food and, 78; immigrant workers and, 88, 112–13; monopolies and, 92– 93; New Deal and, 39, 83– 86; parity pricing and, 93– 94;

public grain storage and, 93– 94; public work in, 326– 27; race and, 86; small-scale farm challenges in, 90; STFU and, 84– 85; subsidies for, 83, 94 Ajl, Max, 95 Alexander, Neville, 296– 97 alienation, of work and nature, 55– 56 Allen, Robert C., 17n4 Alston, Philip, 295 alternative work arrangements, 121 Amalgamated Dwellings, New York, 249– 50 Amazon, 7, 218 American Action Forum, 336 American Farm Bureau, 78; historical development of, 82– 83; unions opposed by, 83 American Farm Bureau Federation, 157 American Federation of Labor (AFL), 64, 144 American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL- CIO), 133– 35, 184– 85 American Jobs Plan, 119 American Petroleum Institute, 186 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, 31, 37 American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, 32, 35, 128, 132 Amin, Samir, 297 Ansell, Christopher, 326 anticonsumption scolding, 228

362 Index antipoverty agenda, 158– 59 apartheid: climate, 298; South African, 297 apprenticeship programs, 202 “appropriate technology,” 224 Arizona, carbon-based energy in, 278 Arruzza, Cinzia, 107 art, GND and, 219– 20 artificial intelligence, 4 Australia, 338 automation, 4; agriculture and, 86, 88; fear of, 219; unions and, 135; work changed by, 5, 128– 29 bargaining for common good (BCG): community control and, 302–4; in education, 114–15, 188; GND and, 134– 35; just transition plan and, 207– 8; race and, 303–4 Barnes, William, 350 Base Realignment and Closing Commission, 206 BCG. See bargaining for common good Bears Ears National Monument, 73 beauty, urban development and, 225 Beck, Ulrich, 17n2 Becker, Howard, 227 Bellah, Robert, 311 Bellamy, Edward, 144 belonging and civic muscle, public work for, 324 Benanav, Aaron, 18n5 Bethune, Mary McLeod, 29 Bevan, Nye, 163 Beyond the Welfare State (Myrdal), 228– 29 Bezos, Jeff, 164 Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), 343 Bhattacharya, Tithi, 107 Biden, Joe, 8, 23, 173, 224; childcare, eldercare and, 349; election of, 356; empathy of, 41; failures to pass agenda of, 52n69; GND and, 105– 6; housing plans of, 237– 38; infrastructure and, 37, 345–46, 348–49; leadership challenges of, 43–44; minimum wage and, 35; public education

funding and, 42; public lands and, 73; solar energy and, 272 BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), 343 “Black Community Control Over Police,” 299, 301. See also community control Black Lives Matter, 115, 149 Black Marxism (Robinson), 297 Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, 296 Black Reconstruction (Du Bois), 303 BlackRock, 271– 72 de Blasio, Bill, 125 “blue collar blues,” 145–46 Boulding, Kenneth, 221 bourgeois environmentalism, romance of, 55– 60 Bowman, Jamaal, 248 Braverman, Harry, 223 bread-and-butter issues, unions and, 188 Brecher, Jeremy, 194 Brenner, Robert, 107 Bruce, Lenny, 228 Bruenig, Matt, 161 Buck, Holly, 354 budgeting, participatory, 300– 302 buen vivir concept, 129– 30 Build Back Better Act, 32, 38, 224 buildings: energy efficiency of, 38; pollution and safety of, 183– 84. See also housing Bureau of Labor Statistics, 114 Bureau of Public Roads, 27 Bureau of Reclamation, 27 CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations), 94 CAISO, 280 California Conservation Corps, 112 Calnitsky, David, 162– 64 Canada, 343 capitalism, 1; agriculture and, 82; disintegration of, 8; Great Depression as failure of, 24; organized, 14; platform, 70; racial, climate change and, 296– 98; technology and, 5; work fulfillment and, 125; workplace cooperation in, 169

Index 363 carbon-based energy: in Arizona, 278; costs of ending, 341–43; decarbonization and, 15; fight for replacements of, 272; GHG emissions and, 255– 57, 257; indirect costs of, 338; political economy and, 270; in Puerto Rico, 278; solar energy compared to, 274; subsidies for production of, 342–43; transitioning away from, 106, 285– 86 Carbon Democracy (Mitchell), 270 carbon emissions. See greenhouse gas emissions card-check union recognition, 203–4 care: agriculture and, 112–13; climate change increasing needs for, 113; crisis of, 106; ecological, 111–13; GND for, 106– 7, 115–16, 124– 25; job creation in, 124– 25; jobs guarantee and, 108; “logic of,” 231; pink-collar jobs and, 107–11; political struggles with, 113–16; unions and, 108, 114; wages in, 110–11, 125, 126, 132. See also education; health care CARES Act, 132, 201 Carson, Rachel, 58– 59 Carter, Jimmy, 160 Caucus of Working Educators, 183– 84 CCC. See Civilian Conservation Corps Center for American Progress, 242 Central America Free Trade Agreement, 88– 89 CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act), 159– 60 Chait, Jonathan, 165 Chamber of Commerce, 82, 157, 189 Chavez, Cesar, 59 cheap food, 93 Chernobyl disaster, 347 childcare, 349. See also care China: GHG emissions in, 346; solar energy in, 278 CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), 64, 67, 156 Citizens for a Better Environment, 316 citizenship: schools, 327; war talk and, 316–17. See also democracy

civic autonomy, 320 civic environmentalism, 325– 26 CivicGreen, 325 civic muscle and belonging, public work for, 324 civic science, 322 Civics of a Green New Deal, The, 325 Civilian Climate Corps, 34– 35 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), 13, 26, 28, 35, 39, 63; gender and, 111–12; as green jobs model, 111–12; public awareness of conservation through, 67; public work and, 321– 22; F. D. Roosevelt and, 321; work and nature accomplishments of, 64– 65, 71 civil rights movement, public work and, 323–24 Civil War, 303, 320 Civil Works Administration (CWA), 25 Clark, Septima, 327 class consciousness, 53, 67 Clean Air Act, 59– 60 Clean Water Act, 59– 60 climate activism: passion and, 3; unions and, 115, 137. See also mobilization climate apartheid, 298 climate change: agriculture and, 78, 83, 94– 95; care needs from, 113; costs of, 338–41; COVID-19 pandemic and response compared to, 353– 56; denial and, 2, 226– 27; evidence of, 2– 3; as middle-class luxury, 1; mitigating or adapting to, 339–41, 349– 50; mobilization and, 353; New York City and, 185; Ocasio-Cortez on crisis of, 310; politics of discussing, 316; public sector approach to transportation to combat, 263; racial capitalism and, 296– 98; urgency of, 2– 3; work and nature and, 53 climate colonialism, 298 climate denialism, 2, 226–27 Clinton, Bill, 281, 313 coal production: safety and, 345; subsidies for, 342–43; Trump and, 344; wages for, 110

364 Index Cohen, Lizabeth, 67 Cohen, Stanley, 226 Cold War, 315 collective development, 129– 30 colonialism, climate, 298 commons-building, of public work, 319– 20 communications infrastructure, 131 communitarian language, 318 Communitas (Goodman and Goodman), 224 community control: BCG and, 302–4; “Black Community Control Over Police” and, 299, 301; in GND for housing, 301; New Communities and, 301– 2; participatory budgeting and, 300– 302 community organizations, GND and, 133– 36 commutes, 222– 24 Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), 159– 60 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), 94 Conference for Progressive Political Action in 1922, 84 Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), 64, 67, 156. See also American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations conservation: CCC and public awareness of, 67; definition of, 61; fragmentation of total, 68; New Conservation’s work and nature goals, 62– 63; New Deal projects for, 27–28, 61– 66, 71– 72; unions and, 66; utilitarian view of, 62. See also Civilian Conservation Corps consumer politics, war talk and, 311–17 consumption, GND and, 228– 29 cooperation, workplace, 169– 71 co-op groceries, 131 Country and the City, The (Williams), 53, 56 COVID-19 pandemic, 3; climate change crisis and response compared to, 353– 56; employment impact of, 120– 21; energypoverty nexus and, 284; gender and race inequalities revealed through, 7– 8; health care inequality and, 106, 113; housing impact of, 237; lessons of, 355– 56;

political engagement during, 149; public transit impact of, 259; race and, 70; recovery from, 31– 32; Restaurant Revitalization Program and, 140n49; rightwing response to, 353– 54; state and local budget impact of, 32– 33; unemployment and, 8, 31, 201; union mobilization and, 351– 52; war talk and, 312; work patterns of, 126– 27, 222 Cox, Oliver C., 297 Cox, Stan, 95 creative economy, 219 Croly, Herbert, 313–14 Crowley, Joe, 237 Cuomo, Andrew, 124 CWA (Civil Works Administration), 25 Dakota Access Pipeline, 115, 178, 218 danger, of work, 122– 23 Darity, William, 297 Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, 203 decarbonization, 15 decentralization, energy and, 283 Decomposed (Devine), 230 deindustrialization, work changed through, 4, 69 democracy: citizenship schools and, 327; defining, 331n24; energy, 208, 282– 83; GND and restoration of, 45; green energy and, 346– 53; public education for, 42; regrowing, public work and, 326– 27; shrinking of, 326 Democratic Party, 67 denial, climate change and, 2, 226– 27 Department of Agriculture, 63, 86, 326–27 Department of Labor, 112–13 desalinization, 340 DESERTEC project, 273 deskilling of working class jobs, 56– 57 development, work and nature and, 62 Devine, Kyle, 230 Dewey, John, 144, 228 “digital sobriety,” 230 dignity: King’s concept of, 323– 24; work and, 16, 337

Index 365 displaced workers, just transition plan for transportation and, 265 diurnal variation, of solar energy, 279– 80 domination, work as, 119, 125 Douglas, Mary, 228 Dreamscapes of Modernity (Jasanoff), 271 drug abuse, 42 Du Bois, W. E. B., 250, 303 Dudzic, Mark, 167 Dueker, Eli, 124 early retirement programs, just transition plan and, 200 Echo Park dam, 68 ecological care, 111–13 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (Marx), 56 “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” (Keynes), 144–45 economic stabilization and recovery: GND and, 31– 34; New Deal and, 24–25 ecosystem services, 111 education: BCG in, 114–15, 188; funding public, 42; GND for, 248; just transition plan and, 201–2; union activism in, 114–15, 183– 84; wages in, 110; for work, 130– 31. See also care; training 8toAbolition, 115 eldercare, 349. See also care electric buses, 261 electric grids, 38 electric utilities market, 278– 79 electric vehicles (EVs): assembly time for, 265; electric buses, 261; GHG emissions from, 257; job creation from manufacturing, 258– 59 Emanuel, Rahm, 115 employment: in agriculture, 88– 89, 89; COVID-19 pandemic impact on, 120– 21; geography and, 36; GND for working class and, 34– 36, 173– 74; in national parks, 112; New Deal for working class and, 26; right to, jobs guarantee as, 165– 67; F. D. Roosevelt’s initiatives for, 156– 57; self-employment policy, 132;

unions and, 36. See also job creation; jobs guarantee; public work; wages; work Endangered Species Act, 58, 59– 60 energy: daily routines and shifting use of, 280– 82; decentralization and, 283; democracy, 208, 282– 83; efficiency, 37– 38; electric utilities market and, 278– 79; future opportunities of, 282– 87; GND for, 271– 72, 283– 87; inequality and, 285; International Dark-Sky Association and, 281; monopolies and, 283; nuclear, 346–47; poverty, 283– 84; public power, housing and, 249– 50; renewable compared to sustainable, 94. See also coal production; solar energy; wind power energy-poverty nexus, 284– 85 Engler, Mark, 315 Engler, Paul, 315 environment: agriculture and damage to, 90, 91; material engagement with, 71– 72. See also climate change; work and nature environmentalism: civic, 325–26; criticisms of, 57– 58; job creation’s relationship to, 54– 55; “owls versus jobs” and, 58, 177– 78; PES refinery closure and, 178– 82; romance of bourgeois, 55– 60; unions’ common enemy with, 186– 88; unions’ future with, 188– 89; unions’ shared interests with, 182– 84; union tension with, 177– 82; urgency of, 189; war talk and, 316 equitable transit, 263– 65 Erem, Suzan, 95 Espin, Johanna, 297 Esping-Andersen, Gøsta, 352 “essential” work, 127 Estes, Nick, 113 eviction epidemic, 240 EVs. See electric vehicles extension services, agricultural, 82 Fair Housing Act of 1968, 241 Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, 26, 207 Family Farm Defenders, 82 farmers. See agriculture

366 Index Farmers’ Holiday movement, 84 Farm Security Administration, 11 Farm Tenant Act, 29 fascism, 82 Federal Duck Stamp program, 28 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40 Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), 25 Federal Housing Authority, 13 Federal Reserve Bank, 31, 33 Federal Trade Commission, 92 FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), 40 FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Act), 25 Ferriss, Tim, 147 Fight for $15, 115 financial sector, regulation and reform of, 33– 34 Finland, UBI experiment in, 128 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, 198– 99 flood control, 40 Florida, Richard, 216 Floyd, George, 115, 149, 313 “folk epidemiology,” 221 food sovereignty, 92 foreign trade, Trump and, 4 Forest Service, U.S., 28 fossil fuels. See carbon-based energy Foster, John Bellamy, 58, 59 Foucault, Michel, 281 four-day workweek movement, 147–48 Fraser, Nancy, 106– 7 Freedom Budget, 13 “Freedom Dividend,” 164– 65 French, David, 54 Friedman, Thomas, 9 Fukushima disaster, 347 fulfillment, of work, 122, 125–28 Full Employment Bill of 1945, 157 garden city movement, 213 Garfinkel, Harold, 221, 227 Gates, Bill, 164

gender: CCC and, 111–12; COVID-19 pandemic revealing inequalities of, 7– 8; green jobs and, 109; New Deal and, 73– 74; pink-collar jobs and, 107–11; service economy and, 6– 7; wage growth and, 35– 36; wage inequality and, 110, 220; work identity and, 109 General Education Board, 82 gentrification, 240 geographic universality, GND and, 42–43, 345 Gephardt, Richard, 4 GHG emissions. See greenhouse gas emissions gig economy, 5; promises compared to realities of, 7; unemployment and, 199; work and nature and, 70 Gilbert, Jess, 327 Gilman, Nils, 350 Gilmore, Ruth Wilson, 297 Global Climate Strike, 353 globalization, 3, 4, 202 Global South: agricultural vulnerabilities in, 95; energy-poverty nexus and, 284– 85 GND. See Green New Deal GNP (gross national product), 221 Goffman, Erving, 227 GoFundMe, 106 Goldbach, Eliese Colette, 127 Goodman, Paul, 224 Goodman, Percival, 224 Goodwin, Michael, 129– 30 Gorz, André, 137, 148 Gourevitch, Alex, 163 Gramsci, Antonio, 16, 78 grant criteria, for GND, 132– 33 Graphic Arts International Union, 135 Grazing Service, U.S., 28 Great Depression, 61; as failure of capitalism, 24; New Deal’s approach to, 25; work hours reductions and, 145. See also New Deal Great Recession, 31, 69– 70 greenback issue, unions and, 175n18 “green bill of rights,” 209

Index 367 “green crime havens,” 297– 98 green energy, democracy and, 346– 53 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: in China, 346; from EVs, 257; GND and reducing, 37– 38; from oil sands, 343; public transportation reducing, 256– 57, 257; from transportation, 255. See also pollution green jobs: CCC model for, 111–12; defining, 124; gender and, 109; pink-collar jobs as, 107–11 Green New Deal (GND): agriculture and, 39–40, 89– 90, 92– 95, 352– 53; aims of, 9; art and, 219–20; BCG and, 134– 35; Biden and, 105– 6; bread-and-butter issues and, 188; building support for, 338; for care, 106– 7, 115–16, 124– 25; CCC as green jobs model for, 111–12; community organizations and, 133– 36; commutes and, 222– 24; consumption and, 228– 29; cost estimates for, 336– 37, 341–43; democracy restoration and, 45; for economic stabilization and recovery, 31– 34; for education, 248; for energy, 271– 72, 283– 87; energy-poverty nexus and, 285; fear of, addressing, 217–18; future of work and, 131– 36; geographic universality and, 42–43, 345; GHG emissions reduction and, 37– 38; Green Party version of, 18n13; healthy food and, 78; high-speed rail for, 260– 61; for housing, 238– 39, 250– 51, 301; infrastructure and, 36– 37; job creation focus for, 15–16, 34– 35; loan and grant criteria for, 132– 33; material engagement with environment and, 72; mobilization for, 10–11, 13, 44, 69, 266; for modernization and rebuilding, 36– 38; multiple urgencies of, 2–4; music analogy for, 230; national purpose renewal and, 44–45; natural disaster response and, 40; for nature restoration, 38– 39; necessary questions on, 15–17; New Deal as example for, 11–14, 23, 47, 60, 69, 95– 96, 351; NIMBY and, 229; Ocasio-Cortez’s

primary campaign and, 237; origins of, 1– 2, 9; policy proposals for, 131– 33; political alliance for, 344–46; political challenges of, 16–17, 226; for political renewal of nation, 43–45; programs for people in, 40–43; proposals of, 9–11; public decencies and, 227– 28; public education funding and, 42; for public health and happiness improvements, 41; public lands and, 72– 73; public presentation of, 311–12; for public transit, 259– 65; public work frame for, 324–27; race and, 11, 74, 142, 295– 96; right-wing criticism of, 46, 54– 55, 336; rural reactions to, 78; savings from, 338; subsidies in, 131– 32; taxes and, 132; taxing the wealthy for, 33; unions and, 36, 133– 36, 182, 184– 86, 347; versions of, 119– 20; viability of, 350– 51; for wage growth, 35– 36, 125, 132– 33; as war talk, 310–12; welfare rights movement lessons for, 146–47; “we-the-people” narrative for, 311; work and nature and, 54– 55, 58– 59; work centers and, 133– 36; work hours reductions and, 147–49; for working-class and employment, 34– 36, 173– 74; as work in progress, 9; youth engagement in, 353. See also just transition plan Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, 246–48 Green New Deal Task Force, 9 Green Party, GND of, 18n13 “green retrofitting,” for housing, 301 gross national product (GNP), 221 Growing Up Absurd (Goodman), 224 growth machine: job creation trap of, 215–17; terminology of, 215; of urban development, 214–15 Gudynas, Eduardo, 129– 30 Guevara, Che, 231 Haaland, Debra, 73 happiness, GND improving, 41 Harvey, Philip, 176n21 Havel, Václav, 226– 27

368 Index health care: home health aides and, 132; inequality and, 106, 113; just transition plan and, 200; unemployment and, 199– 200; wages in, 110–11. See also care; public health healthy food, GND and, 78 hegemony, 78– 79 Hetch Hetchy valley dam, 68 high-speed rail, 260– 61 Hilco Redevelopment Partners, 181 historic bloc, 79 home health aides, 132 Hoover, Herbert, 31, 43 Hopkins, Harry, 29, 322 housing: Amalgamated Dwellings, 249– 50; Biden’s plans for, 237– 38; climate change mitigation for, 339; as consumption, 228– 29; COVID-19 pandemic impact on, 237; eviction epidemic and, 240; Fair Housing Act of 1968 and, 241; federal grant programs for, 239; gentrification and, 240; GND for, 238– 39, 250– 51, 301; Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, 246–48; “green retrofitting” for, 301; LIHTC and, 241; low-carbon, 244–46; New Communities and, 301– 2; People’s Policy Project proposal for, 244–45; public power and, 249– 50; public transportation and, 239–40; Section 8, 241–42; subsidies for, 237, 241; utility costs and, 240; Vienna’s public, 242–44 How Will Capitalism End? (Streeck), 8 Hughes, Thomas, 278 human rights, solar energy and, 275– 76 Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act, 160 Hunnicutt, Benjamin, 143 Hurricane Katrina, 298 immigrant workers, agriculture and, 88, 112–13 India, 343 Indigenous peoples, ecological care and, 113 inequality, 19n22; energy and, 285; health care and, 106, 113; increasing, 192; public

sector approach to transportation to reverse, 263; race and, 295– 96; wages and, 121–22, 122, 220; work and nature and, 53 infant mortality rate, 106 infrastructure: Biden and, 37, 345–46, 348–49; communications, 131; GND and, 36– 37; high-speed rail, 260– 61; New Deal and, 27; for solar energy, 275. See also housing; transportation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 340–41 International Association of Machinists, 135 International Dark-Sky Association, 281 International Energy Agency, 285 International Joint Commission on Great Lakes Water Quality, 194 International Labor Organization, 10 International Woodworkers of America (IWA), 66 International Workers of the World, 66 interpretive flexibility, of solar energy, 273– 74, 283– 84 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), 340–41 Isherwood, Baron, 228 IWA (International Woodworkers of America), 66 Jaffe, Sarah, 115 James, William, 320–21 Jasanoff, Sheila, 271 Jefferson, Thomas, 219 Jim Crow laws, 304 job creation: in care, 124– 25; dignity and, 16; environmentalism’s relationship to, 54– 55; from EV manufacturing, 258– 59; GND focus on, 15–16, 34– 35; government programs for, 34– 35, 216; green jobs and, 107–12, 124; growth machine trap of, 215–17; pink-collar jobs and, 107–11; from public transit buildout, 258, 262– 63; in service economy, 219; subsidies for, 216; THRIVE Act and, 123–24; WPA for, 322. See also employment; public work

Index 369 job loss, 1; military budget cuts and, 337; urgency of, 3–4. See also unemployment jobs guarantee, 7; antipoverty agenda and, 158– 59; care and, 108; CETA and, 159– 60; confusion around, 161; contemporary concept of, 160– 62; defining, 161; Full Employment Bill of 1945 and, 157; Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act and, 160; just transition plan and, 205, 208– 9; left-wing criticism of, 155– 56, 162; March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963 and, 158; meaning in work and, 171– 72; momentum for, 155; political prehistory of, 156– 60; postwork socialism and, 170– 71; as right to employment or workhouse, 165– 67; UBI and, 18n11, 162– 65; unions and, 166– 69; wages and, 162, 166; workplace solidarity and, 169– 71; work reconceptualization with, 167– 71 Jobs to Move America, 263 John, DeWitt, 325 Johnson, Cedric, 113–14 Johnson, Lyndon B., 159, 312–13 Jones, Van, 105 just transition plan: BCG and, 207– 8; card-check union recognition and, 203–4; definition and origins of, 194– 95; early retirement programs and, 200; education and training in, 201– 2; energy democracy and, 208; “green bill of rights” and, 209; health care and, 200; jobs guarantee and, 205, 208– 9; key elements of, 198– 208; local tax revenue and, 205– 6; moral argument for, 193, 208; overview of, 194, 208–10; pragmatic argument for, 193, 208; as protective, proactive, and transformative, 193– 94, 196– 97; race and, 195– 96, 295– 96; sectoral bargaining and, 207; social justice in, 198– 99; social safety net and, 199–201, 209; solar energy and, 276– 78; stakeholder participation in, 206– 8; Taft-Hartley Act and, 204; for transportation, displaced workers and, 265; UBI and, 201; union opposition to,

197– 98; unions and pro-worker policies for, 202– 5; wages and, 195, 203 Kalecki, Michał, 157 Karl Marx-Hof, Vienna, 242–44 Katz, Lawrence, 121 Kelton, Stephanie, 108 Kester, Howard, 84 Keynes, John Maynard, 17n4, 144–45, 146 King, Martin Luther, Jr., 323– 24 Klein, Naomi, 124, 239 Kohler, Brian, 194 Krueger, Alan, 121, 123 labor unions. See unions La Follette, Robert, 84 language: communitarian, 318; liberal, 317–18; of public work, 318–19 Larcom, Lucy, 143 Latour, Bruno, 231 leadership, for political renewal of nation, 43–44 Learning to Labor (Willis), 57 Lebowitz, Michael, 125 Lenin, V. I., 297 Leopold, Les, 194 Leuchtenburg, William E., 314 Levine, Peter, 325 liberal language, 317–18 liberation, work as, 119, 125 lifelong learning, 129 LIHTC (Low-Income Housing Tax Credits), 241 Lincoln, Abraham, 319– 20 Lippmann, Walter, 313–14 living wages, 120, 203 loan criteria, for GND, 132– 33 local tax revenue, just transition plan and, 205– 6 “logic of care,” 231 Looking Backward (Bellamy), 144 Love Canal disaster, 59 Lovins, Amory, 273 low-carbon housing, 244–46 low-carbon transportation, 255– 59

370 Index Lowell Mill “girls,” 143 Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), 241 Lyft, 7 machines, urban development and, 224– 26 MacIntyre, Alasdair, 310 Madden, David, 240 Magubane, Bernard, 296– 97 Maher, Neil M., 61– 62, 67– 68 Make the Road, 136 Making of the English Working Class, The (Thompson), 53 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 73 Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962, 159 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963, 158, 323 Marcuse, Peter, 240 Markey, Ed, 9, 78, 185, 192 Marx, Karl, 55– 56, 125, 170– 71 Massachusetts National Education Association, 133 material culture studies, 228 material engagement with environment, 71– 72 Mathews, David, 319 Mazzocchi, Tony, 17n3, 59, 178, 182– 83, 189, 194, 265 McAlevey, Jane, 114 McCartin, Joseph, 303 McKibben, Bill, 106 meaning in work, jobs guarantee and, 171– 72 meatpackers, railroads and, 92 Medicare, 83 Medicare for All, 115, 161, 164 microelectronics, 4 military budget, 336– 37 minimum wage, 35, 203 Mitchell, Timothy, 270 mitigation efforts, for climate change, 339–41, 349– 50 mobility hubs, for public transit, 264– 65 mobilization: climate change and, 353; COVID-19 pandemic and union, 351– 52;

for GND, 10–11, 13, 44, 69, 266; war talk and, 316 modernization: GND for rebuilding and, 36– 38; New Deal for investment and, 26– 27; research investment and, 38 Modi, Narendra, 343 Mol, Annemarie, 231 Moley, Raymond, 320 monopolies: agriculture and, 92– 93; energy and, 283 Moore, Sharlissa, 273 morality: of just transition plan, 193, 208; machines and, 224– 25 mortality rate, 106 Muir, John, 60, 62, 68 Mumford, Louis, 63 Murray, James, 157 Musk, Elon, 239, 276 Myrdal, Gunnar, 228– 29 NABTU (North America’s Building Trades Unions), 186– 87 NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), 88, 197 Najimy, Merrie, 303 National Agricultural Workers Survey, 112–13 National Alliance of Businessmen, 159 National Association of Manufacturers, 157 National Environmental Protection Act of 1970, 221–22 National Farmers Union, 78 National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), 25, 47n4 nationalism, 45 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 26, 64 national parks: employment in, 112; New Deal and, 71– 72 national purpose, GND and renewal of, 44–45 National Reconstruction Administration, 323 National Recovery Administration, 63– 64, 315

Index 371 National Resources Planning Board, 157 National Welfare Rights Organization, 146 natural disaster response, 40 nature. See environmentalism; work and nature Nature Conservancy, 57 nature restoration, 38– 39 Nature’s New Deal (Maher), 61 Naylor, George, 82, 84– 85 Nembhard, Jessica, 297 neoliberalism, 3; definition of, 167; New Deal era’s end with, 14; public education cuts and, 42; unions and, 351– 52; wage stagnation and, 5, 6; welfare state impacted by, 114 Networks of Power (Hughes), 278 New Communities, 301– 2 New Consensus, 184 New Conservation, 62– 63 New Deal: agriculture and, 39, 83– 86; conservation and restoration projects of, 27– 28, 61– 66, 71– 72; controversy of, 12; cost of, 25; criticisms of, 24, 47; for economic stabilization and recovery, 24– 25; for employment and work, 26; gender and, 73– 74; geographic distribution of, 29; GND using example of, 11–14, 23, 47, 60, 69, 95– 96, 351; Great Depression approach of, 25; infrastructure and local projects of, 27; investment and modernization of, 26–27; lessons from, 23; material engagement with environment and, 71– 72; national parks and, 28– 29, 63, 71– 72; neoliberalism and end of era of, 14; 1930s crisis response of, 24– 30; nostalgia for, 217; origins of, 11–12; for political renewal of nation, 29– 30, 43; polycentric governance and, 323; public work and, 320– 23; race and, 13, 28, 30, 73– 74, 142, 250; universal programs of, 28– 29; urban development and, 60– 61, 65; as utilitarian view of work and nature, 60– 68; as work in progress, 9 New Republic, 313–14

New York City: Amalgamated Dwellings in, 249– 50; climate change and, 185; Labor Council, 185; public transit inequity in, 264; Restaurant Revitalization Program of, 140n49; subway in, 256 New York Times, 2– 3 NIMBY (not in my backyard), 229 NIRA (National Industrial Recovery Act), 25, 47n4 Nixon, Richard, 159, 313 NLRA (National Labor Relations Act), 26, 64 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 88, 197 North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), 186– 87 Norway, 226–27 not in my backyard (NIMBY), 229 nuclear energy, 346–47 Nudge (Thaler and Sunstein), 229 NY Renews, 246 Obama, Barack, 31, 37, 107, 229, 312 O’Callaghan, Ryan, 187 Ocasio-Cortez, Alexandria, 9, 78, 86, 185, 192; Amazon in Queens controversy and, 218; on climate change crisis, 310; GND in primary campaign of, 237; Green New Deal for Public Housing Act and, 246–48 Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 123, 183 Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union, 59 Oil and Natural Gas Industry LaborManagement Committee, 186 oil sands, GHG emissions from, 343 Olmstead, Frederick Law, 60, 62 Omar, Ilhan, 244–45, 248 O’Neal, Ed, 84 organized capitalism, 14 Ostrom, Elinor, 323 “owls versus jobs,” 58, 177– 78 Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921, 92 Parenti, Christian, 150n18

372 Index Paris Climate Accords, 10, 107 Paris model, urban development and, 223 parity pricing, agriculture and, 93– 94 participatory budgeting, community control and, 300– 302 Payne, Charles, 327 Pelosi, Nancy, 9 People’s Policy Project housing proposal, 244–45 Perkins, Frances, 29 permanent agriculture, 62 Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery closure, 179– 82 Philly Thrive, 180– 82 photovoltaic technology. See solar energy Pigford v. Glickman, 86 Pinchot, Gifford, 61– 62, 73– 74 pink-collar jobs, 107–11 platform capitalism, 70 Polanyi, Karl, 17n4 police reform, 115 political economy: alternative imagined futures of, 273– 75; carbon-based energy and, 270; daily routines and shifting, 280– 82; future opportunities of, 282– 87; reshaping and redesigning, 271– 72, 286– 87; of solar energy, 271, 275– 82 political renewal of nation: GND for, 43–45; leadership for, 43–44; New Deal for, 29– 30, 43 politics: care struggles with, 113–16; climate change conversations and, 316; consumer, war talk and, 311–17; COVID-19 pandemic and engagement in, 149; GND alliance in, 344–46; GND challenges with, 16–17, 226; jobs guarantee’s prehistory in, 156– 60; F. D. Roosevelt’s skill in, 29– 30; of work and nature, cultivating new, 68– 74; work hours reductions and engagement in, 148–49 Pollin, Robert, 106, 336 pollution: building safety and, 183– 84; “green crime havens” and, 297– 98; from PES refinery, 180– 81; public awareness of, 59; race and exposure to, 196; unions

on safety and, 182– 83. See also greenhouse gas emissions polycentric governance, 323 populism, 10 postwork socialism, 170– 71 poverty, energy, 283– 84 power purchase agreements, solar energy and, 274– 75 pragmatism, of just transition plan, 193, 208 Pratt Center for Community Development, 264 Prison Notebooks, The (Gramsci), 16 PRO Act (Protecting the Right to Organize Act), 204 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 196 producerist republicanism, 330n22 product cycle theory, 219 product design, 225– 26 programs for people: in GND, 40–43; in New Deal, 28– 29 Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), 204 public decencies, GND and, 227– 28 public grain storage, 93– 94 public health: for community recovery, 324; GND improving, 41; Medicare and, 83; Medicare for All and, 115, 161, 164; public transit improving, 256– 57. See also health care public lands, GND and, 72– 73 public power, housing and, 249– 50 public transit: cost of, 261; COVID-19 pandemic impact on, 259; electric buses for, 261; equitable, 263– 65; geospatial benefits of, 257; GHG emissions reduced by, 256– 57, 257; GND for, 259– 65; high-speed rail for, 260– 61; housing and, 239–40; job creation from building, 258, 262– 63; mobility hubs for, 264– 65; nation-wide use of, 264. See also transportation public work: in agriculture, 326– 27; for belonging and civic muscle, 324; CCC and, 321–22; civic autonomy and, 320;

Index 373 civic environmentalism and, 325–26; civil rights movement and, 323–24; commonsbuilding of, 319–20; communitarian language and, 318; GND frame of, 324– 27; language of, 318–19; liberal language and, 317–18; New Deal and, 320– 23; regrowing democracy and, 326– 27; Tocqueville and, 319; tradition of, 317–24; WPA and, 322 Public Works Administration (PWA), 11, 25, 27, 37 Puerto Rico, carbon-based energy in, 278 Puller, Armin, 243 Purdue, Sonny, 92 Putnam, Robert, 318 PWA (Public Works Administration), 11, 25, 27, 37 RA (Resettlement Administration), 29, 63, 65 race: agriculture and, 86; BCG and, 303–4; civil rights movement, public work and, 323– 24; community control and, 299– 304; COVID-19 pandemic and, 70; COVID-19 pandemic revealing inequalities of, 7– 8; GND and, 11, 74, 142, 295– 96; inequality and, 295– 96; Jim Crow laws and, 304; just transition plan and, 195– 96, 295– 96; New Deal and, 13, 28, 30, 73– 74, 142, 250; pollution exposure by, 196; public transit inequity in, 264; Reconstruction and, 303–4, 320; service economy and, 6– 7; slavery and, 303, 320, 342; South African apartheid and, 297; wage growth and, 35– 36; wage inequality and, 220 racial capitalism, climate change and, 296– 98 Rahman, K. Sabeel, 296, 300, 305 railroads, meatpackers and, 92 Rameau, Max, 299, 301, 305 Randolph, A. Philip, 13, 158 rationalization of production, work and nature and, 56– 57 Reagan, Ronald, 160 Rebuild by Design, 224

Reconstruction, 303–4, 320 RED for ED, 115 Red Vienna, 242–44 Reed, Adolph, Jr., 167 Reinventing Citizenship, 325 renewable energy, sustainable energy compared to, 94 research investment, 38 Resettlement Administration (RA), 29, 63, 65 Resilient by Design, 224 Restaurant Revitalization Program, 140n49 ReThink Health, 324 retirement plans, unemployment and, 200 Reuther, Walter, 156 Reversing Inequality, Combating Climate Change report, 185 Rhodes, Cecil, 273 Rice, Susan E., 312 right to employment, jobs guarantee as, 165– 67 “right to work” laws, 36 Roberts, Cecil, 197 Robinson, Cedric, 297 Robinson, Joan, 171 Rockefeller, John D., 82 Rockwell, William, 249 romantic view of work and nature: bourgeois environmentalism and, 55– 60; definition of, 54 Roosevelt, Eleanor, 111 Roosevelt, Franklin D., 11–12, 112; ambition of, 23; CCC and, 321; empathy of, 41; employment initiatives of, 156– 57; leadership of, 43; political skill of, 29– 30; work hours reductions and, 145. See also New Deal Roosevelt, Theodore, 61 Rural Electrification Administration, 249– 50 Rustin, Bayard, 13, 158 safety: of buildings and pollution, 183– 84; coal production and, 345; technology for work, 129; unions and, 182– 83

374 Index Samuels-Jones, Tameka, 297 Sanders, Bernie, 131, 155, 164, 247 Schumacher, E. F., 224 sea-level rise, 241, 339 seawalls, 339 Section 8 housing, 241–42 sectoral bargaining, just transition plan and, 207 Security and Exchange Commission, 11, 25 self-employment policy, 132 service economy, rise of, 6– 7, 219 Shift Project, 230 Silent Spring (Carson), 58– 59 Simonson, Jocelyn, 296, 300, 305 Sinclair, Upton, 181 Sirianni, Carmen, 325– 26 “skilled” work, 130 slavery, 303, 320, 342 small business policy, 132 Smart Growth America, 258 Smith, Cyril Stanley, 220 social capital, 318 socialism, 163– 64, 169– 71. See also specific policies social justice, in just transition plan, 198– 99 social reproduction, 107, 111 social safety net, just transition plan and, 199– 201, 209 Social Security, 11, 24 Social Security Act of 1935, 26, 48n17 SoftBank, 276 Soil Conservation Service, 28, 63 SolarCity, 276– 77 solar energy: benefits of, 273; Biden and, 272; carbon-based energy compared to, 274; in China, 278; costs of, 277– 78, 342; diurnal variation of, 279– 80; future opportunities of, 282– 87; growth in, 275; human rights and, 275– 76; infrastructure for, 275; interpretive flexibility of, 273– 74, 283– 84; just transition plan and, 276– 78; ownership models for, 277; political economy of, 271, 275– 82; power purchase agreements and, 274– 75; scalability of, 274; scaling up, 105– 6;

subsidies for, 277– 78; unions and, 277; Western Energy Imbalance Market and, 280 solidarity, workplace, 169– 71 Solnit, Rebecca, 126– 27, 227 South African apartheid, 297 Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU), 84– 85 spotted owl controversy, 58, 177– 78 Stanczyk, Lucas, 163 standard workweek, 129 Standing Rock, 115, 178, 218 state and local budgets, COVID-19 impact on, 32– 33 States of Denial (Cohen), 226 STFU (Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union), 84– 85 Strategy for Labor, A (Gorz), 137 Streeck, Wolfgang, 8 strikes, labor activism and, 79– 83, 80, 81, 114–15, 143 Su, Celina, 302 Suarez, Joel, 119 subsidies: for agriculture, 83, 94; for carbon-based energy production, 342–43; for coal production, 342–43; in GND, 131– 32; for housing, 237, 241; for job creation, 216; for solar energy, 277– 78; for training, 159, 201–2 subway, in New York City, 256 Sunstein, Cass, 229 “Superfund for workers,” 194 superfunds, 17n3 sustainability, 62 Sustainable Cities in American Democracy (Sirianni), 325– 26 sustainable energy, renewable energy compared to, 94 Sustainable Energy Transformations, Power and Politics (Moore), 273 Sweeney, Sean, 134 Taft-Hartley Act, 204 taxes: GND and, 132; just transition plan and local revenue from, 205– 6; tax havens,

Index 375 19n20, 132; on wealthy, GND and, 33. See also subsidies Tcherneva, Pavlina, 108 technology: “appropriate,” 224; art as backbone of, 220; capitalism and, 5; “digital sobriety” and, 230; unions and, 134– 35; work hours reductions and, 144–45; for work safety, 129. See also automation ten-hour movement, 143 Tennessee Valley Authority, 27, 63 Thaler, Richard, 229 This Changes Everything (Klein), 239 Thompson, E. P., 53, 67 Thomson, Ryan, 297 Three Mile Island disaster, 347 THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Act, 14, 119, 123–24, 132 Thunberg, Greta, 341 timber workers, unions and, 66 Tocqueville, Alexis de, 319 Trade Adjustment Assistance program, 197 Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, 134, 208 training: just transition plan and, 201– 2; subsidies for, 159, 201– 2; unions and, 136; for work, 130– 31. See also education Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act, 14, 119, 123–24, 132 Trans Mountain pipeline, 343 transportation: commutes and, 222– 24; energy efficiency and, 37– 38; equitable, 263– 65; EVs and, 257– 59, 261, 265; GHG emissions from, 255; GHG emissions reduced by public, 256– 57, 257; GND for public, 259– 65; high-speed rail for, 260– 61; housing and public, 239–40; job creation from building public, 258, 262– 63; job creation manufacturing EVs for, 258– 59; just transition plan for, displaced workers and, 265; low-carbon, 255– 59; mobility hubs for, 264– 65; public

sector approach to, 263. See also public transit Transportation Equity Network, 258 Treat, John, 134 tree planting, 39 Trotter, Joe William, Jr., 303–4 Trudeau, Justin, 343 Trumka, Richard, 198 Trump, Donald, 31, 43, 133, 356; coal production and, 344; foreign trade and, 4; on Paris Climate Accords, 107; war talk of, 312; wind power mocked by, 2 Tugwell, Rexford, 320 Ture, Kwame, 295, 305 Twain, Mark, 11 Uber, 7 UBI. See universal basic income underemployment, 34 unemployment: average benefits for, 199; COVID-19 pandemic and, 8, 31, 201; gig economy and, 199; health care and, 199– 200; job loss and, 1, 3–4, 337; retirement plans and, 200 Union Farmer, 84 unions: AFL and, 64; American Farm Bureau opposing, 83; automation and, 135; “blue collar blues” and, 145–46; bread-and-butter issues and, 188; card-check recognition for, 203–4; care and, 108, 114; CIO and, 64, 67; climate activism and, 115, 137; conservation and, 66; COVID-19 pandemic and mobilization of, 351– 52; density of, 123; education activism of, 114–15, 183– 84; education and, 114–15; employment and, 36; environmentalism’s common enemy with, 186– 88; environmentalism’s future with, 188– 89; environmentalism’s shared interests with, 182– 84; environmentalism’s tension with, 177– 82; GND and, 36, 133– 36, 182, 184– 86, 347; greenback issue and, 175n18; Green New Deal for Public Housing Act and, 247–48; importance of, 168; jobs

376 Index unions (continued) guarantee and, 166– 69; just transition plan and pro-worker policies for, 202– 5; just transition plan opposition from, 197– 98; neoliberalism and, 351– 52; PES refinery closure and, 178– 82; pink-collar jobs and, 108; pollution and safety concerns of, 182– 83; PRO Act and, 204; Reconstruction and, 303–4; safety and, 182– 83; solar energy and, 277; standard workweek and, 129; STFU, 84– 85; strikes and activism of, 79– 83, 80, 81, 114–15, 143; Taft-Hartley Act and, 204; technology and, 134– 35; ten-hour movement and, 143; timber workers and, 66; training and, 136. See also bargaining for common good United Brotherhood of Carpenters, 66 United Farm Workers, 59 United Front Against Fascism, 296 universal basic income (UBI): Finnish experiment with, 128; “Freedom Dividend” and, 164– 65; goal of, 128; jobs guarantee and, 18n11, 162– 65; just transition plan and, 201; work reconceptualization with, 169, 176n21 universal programs, of New Deal, 28– 29 urban development: beauty and, 225; commutes and, 222– 24; garden city movement and, 213; growth machine of, 214–15; machines and, 224–26; New Deal and, 60– 61, 65; Paris model and, 223; Rebuild by Design and, 224 utilitarian view of work and nature: definition of, 54; New Deal as, 60– 68 utility costs, housing and, 240 Via Campesina, La, 92 Vienna, 242–44 Vosko, Leah, 129 voting rights reform, 45 wages: care work and, 110–11, 125, 126, 132; for coal production, 110; Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 and, 203; in education, 110; gender and, 110, 220; GND for growth in, 35– 36,

125, 132– 33; in health care, 110–11; inequality and, 121–22, 122, 220; jobs guarantee and, 162, 166; just transition plan and, 195, 203; living, 120, 203; minimum, 35, 203; neoliberalism and stagnation of, 5, 6; in wind power, 110 Wagner Act, 304 Wallace, Henry A., 84 Wallerstein, Immanuel, 297 Wank, Roland, 249– 51 War on Poverty, 158– 59 Warren, Elizabeth, 131 war talk: citizenship and, 316–17; Cold War and, 315; consumer politics and, 311–17; COVID-19 pandemic and, 312; environmentalism and, 316; GND as, 310–12; historical use of, 312–13; mobilization and, 316; motivation of, 310; of Trump, 312; World War I and, 313–14; World War II and, 315 Weeks, Kathi, 109 Weil, David, 123 welfare rights movement, 146–47 welfare state, 67; neoliberalism impact on, 114 Western Energy Imbalance Market, 280 “we-the-people” narrative, for GND, 311 wetland restoration, 40 White, Richard, 57 “whole-worker organizing,” 114 wildfire control, 40 Williams, Raymond, 53, 56 Willis, Paul, 57 Winant, Gabriel, 108 wind power, 37; costs of, 342; scaling up, 105– 6; Trump mocking, 2; wages in, 110 Wolpe, Harold, 296– 97 Wood, Gordon, 319 work: alternative arrangements, 121; automation changing, 5, 128– 29; in care, wages and, 110–11, 125, 126, 132; class consciousness and, 53, 67; consumption and, 228; cooperation in, 169– 71; COVID-19 pandemic and patterns in, 126– 27, 222; crisis of, 4– 9, 120–23; danger

Index 377 of, 122– 23; deindustrialization changing, 4, 69; dignity and, 16, 337; as domination, 119, 125; education for, 130– 31; “essential,” 127; fulfillment of, 122, 125– 28; GND and future of, 131– 36; from home, 222; immigrant workers in agriculture, 88; jobs guarantee and reconceptualization of, 167– 71; as liberation, 119, 125; localizing, 128– 30; meaning in, 171– 72; nature of, 119; reducing, 128– 30; “skilled,” 130; solidarity through, 169– 71; standard workweek, 129; technology for safety in, 129; training for, 130– 31; transformation of, 4– 9; UBI and reconceptualization of, 169, 176n21; wage stagnation, neoliberalism and, 5, 6. See also employment; job creation; public work work and nature: alienation of, 55– 56; CCC accomplishments with, 64– 65, 71; climate change and, 53; cultivating new politics of, 68– 74; development and, 62; gig economy and, 70; GND and, 54– 55, 58– 59; inequality and, 53; New Conservation goals of, 62– 63; New Deal and, 60– 68; “owls versus jobs” and, 58, 177– 78; rationalization of production and, 56– 57; romantic view of, 54– 60; unions, conservation and, 66; utilitarian view of, 54, 60– 68; welfare state and, 67

work centers, GND and, 133– 36 work hours reductions: “blue collar blues” and, 145–46; four-day workweek movement and, 147–48; GND and, 147–49; Great Depression and, 145; historic fight for, 143–45; political engagement and, 148–49; popular culture on, 144; F. D. Roosevelt and, 145; technology and, 144–45; ten-hour movement and, 143; welfare rights movement and, 146–47 workhouse, jobs guarantee as, 165– 67 work identity, gender and, 109 working class: deskilling of jobs of, 56– 57; GND for employment and, 34– 36, 173– 74; New Deal for employment and, 26; welfare state and, 67 Works Progress Administration (WPA), 24, 25, 37, 39, 322 world-system theory, 297 World War I, 313–14 World War II, 315 World Wildlife Fund, 57 WPA (Works Progress Administration), 24, 25, 37, 39, 322 Yang, Andrew, 164– 65 Yoder, Kate, 316 Zoom, 223