That Green New Deal has some see­ing only red ink

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DAVID VON DREHLE david.von­[email protected]­

Pres­i­dent Trump, dur­ing his State of the Union ad­dress, marked the turf on which he wants to fight for re­elec­tion. Dar­ing the Democrats to veer hard to the left, he de­clared that “Amer­ica will never be a so­cial­ist coun­try.” Game on, an­swered Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the fresh­man dy­namo who has en­er­gized her party’s Twit­ter base.

Though at 29 she’s too young to be the 2020 can­di­date against Trump, Oca­sio Cortez seeks to de­fine the Demo­cratic plat­form for the even­tual nom­i­nee, who­ever it is. To that end, she un­veiled her vi­sion for a “Green New Deal,” which prom­ises not only an en­ergy rev­o­lu­tion of un­prece­dented scale, but also gov­ern­ment-guar­an­teed jobs, wages, hous­ing, va­ca­tions, nu­tri­tious menus, fam­ily leave and health care. As a pro­posed non­bind­ing res­o­lu­tion, the idea is in its sym­bolic stage, but what it sym­bol­izes is way to the left of Den­mark.

So­cial­ism. It is to pol­i­tics as New Year’s res­o­lu­tions are to waist­lines. No mat­ter how re­li­ably it fails, be­liev­ers in­sist it will work next time. Swe­den can swear off fad di­ets. Zim­babwe can flop like a week-old Thigh­Master. There will al­ways be so­cial­ists to in­sist they just need an­other shot.

Thus, some 25 years ago, af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union and the de­ba­cle at Tianan­men Square, when so­cial­ism at last seemed thor­oughly dis­cred­ited, a friend from the acad­emy noted that the only Marx­ists left in the world were tenured fac­ulty on U.S. cam­puses. It has turned out to be a fruit­ful rem­nant. Given a quar­ter-cen­tury to in­cul­cate the na­tion’s youth, this pro­fes­so­ri­ate has raised a Demo­cratic Party in which so­cial­ism is more pop­u­lar than cap­i­tal­ism, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Gallup poll.

In­trigu­ingly, one data point mo­ti­vat­ing to­day’s young left­ists is the crip­pling stu­dent-loan debt they’ve been sad­dled with — money they bor­rowed to pay the steeply ris­ing cost of hav­ing their brains washed. But the com­fort­ably tenured rad­i­cals of the United States’ lux­u­ri­ous uni­ver­si­ties have not done their work alone. They’ve been helped by cor­rupt keep­ers of the cap­i­tal­ist flame: mo­nop­o­lists, rentseek­ers and mar­ket ma­nip­u­la­tors who gave the world the Great Re­ces­sion and de­manded big tax cuts for their trou­ble. With friends like these, Adam Smith might say, who needs en­e­mies?

Still, some older Democrats are wary of tack­ing too far to port in Oca­sio-Cortez’s ar­mada. They bear scars of past cam­paigns when even the mild la­bel “lib­eral” spelled doom. They be­lieve the path to vic­tory lies some­where in the cen­ter, and the sput­ter­ing of left-wing can­di­dates lends con­fir­ma­tion. Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.), for ex­am­ple, is a Green New Deal pro­po­nent, yet he ap­pears help­less to stop the ero­sion of his sup­port. Sen. Eliz­a­beth Warren (D-Mass.) is an­other cham­pion of the Deal, but is seem­ingly trapped in the weird web of her imag­i­nary Chero­kee her­itage.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pre­tended to for­get the name of Oca­sioCortez’s man­i­festo, re­fer­ring to the Green New Deal, with airy dis­mis­sive­ness, as “the green dream, or what­ever they call it.”

By their abun­dant prag­ma­tism, these el­ders show they haven’t di­gested the lessons of 2016. Oca­sio-Cortez clearly has. Pol­i­tics in the age of Trump (and the age of so­cial me­dia) re­wards the out­size ges­ture, the hy­per­bolic per­for­mance. Democrats with big dreams — es­pe­cially the ur­gent dream of ac­tion on cli­mate change — refuse to be the only ones held to the re­al­ity stan­dard. If Trump can prom­ise a 2,000-mile wall cov­ered with so­lar pan­els that Mex­ico will pay for, then they’ll prom­ise to elim­i­nate fos­sil fu­els in 10 years while end­ing poverty and putting a nice kale salad on ev­ery plate.

The goal is to whip vot­ers into camps rather than lure them into coali­tions.

Which brings us to the com­mon ground that Trump shares with Oca­sio-Cortez: Nei­ther one be­lieves in bud­gets. Cen­tral to the Green New Deal is a for­mu­la­tion known as mod­ern mon­e­tary the­ory, which holds that the spend­ing power of a sov­er­eign gov­ern­ment is limited only by its pro­duc­tive re­sources. Trump’s fis­cal in­san­ity — mas­sive spend­ing along with pleas for lower in­ter­est rates — is mod­ern mon­e­tary the­ory in all but name, and his tril­lion-dol­lar deficits are in­spi­ra­tional for the au­thors of the Green New Deal.

For to­day’s left-wing Democrats, the the­ory prom­ises to an­swer the cri­tique made fa­mous by the late British prime min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher. The prob­lem with so­cial­ism, Thatcher said from ex­pe­ri­ence, is “you even­tu­ally run out of other peo­ple’s money.” Mod­ern mon­e­tary the­ory says sim­ply: Print some more.

Even the the­ory gu­rus agree, how­ever, that printing more money can even­tu­ally lead to in­fla­tion, and enough in­fla­tion can turn a rich coun­try into Venezuela. The mantra of the Green New Deal­ers — that “deficits don’t mat­ter” — is only true un­til it isn’t.

Could it be that Trump’s reck­less spend­ing and his feck­less Re­pub­li­can en­ablers will doom Demo­cratic fire­brands to live in the real world? Seems un­fair. But the United States needs at least one party of re­al­ity.

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