Op-Ed: Recall pragmatism of the New Deal

BY MARK E. NEELY, JR.

The “Green New Deal” was introduced in Congress as House Resolution 109 (Feb. 7, 2019), and already enough time has elapsed for the writing, printing, publication and distribution of whole books referencing the subject — for example, Naomi Klein’s “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.”

That is a sign of the rapid and enthusiastic embrace of the idea by many Americans, but what exactly is or was the original New Deal?

I have observed what I think is a common misimpression about the New Deal of the 1930s. Put simply, it is this: There are those today who imagine that the New Deal was a bundle of radical programs “rolled out” (a term used by Klein, as though it were an all-new car coming off the assembly line of a Detroit auto factory). Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it is argued, presented a “transformational” (a word Klein uses) program to the people.

In fact, he did no such thing and did not claim to.

Rather New Dealers stressed the “experimental” nature of the new Democratic administration. FDR “signed on to a program of experimentation or trial and error,” says Robert Dallek in “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.” The liberal economist John Maynard Keynes, as Dallek points out, pronounced Roosevelt to be “the trustee … of the existing social system.” In time, admirers of the New Deal came to call its very essence “pragmatism.”

The New Deal emerged during the awful 1930s after all, and Roosevelt and the New Dealers did not want the American people to think that they were offering up some altogether new “ideology.” The notable ideologies when the New Deal was cobbled together were Fascism (in continental Europe) and Communism (in Stalin’s Soviet Union). Thank heavens, New Dealers were not about to espouse one of those deadly systems. They were not avowedly out to change the system. No, they just experimented, and retained after implementation, those things that worked to pull America out of economic depression. They were not seeking a “transformation,” a much-abused term these days.

The real New Deal embodied the spirit we need today. The essential thing is to find a solution to the increase of carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere. Literally thousands of economists agree that the best solution is a carbon tax, a device that would expose in real dollars and cents the true and total cost of using carbon fuels to power our rapid modern life styles, including the invisible costs to the whole of society of accumulating CO2 in the atmosphere.

But we need something else. As Joseph Haloua explained in a previous op-ed here, the emergence of the Yellow Vest movement in France reveals that the resulting higher prices on carbon-based fuels must be accompanied by a dividend, returning to the people the dollars the government collects from the sources of CO2 fuels. That dividend will cushion the changes, so that consumers can put their dollars on the real lowest-cost sources of energy.

HR 763, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, embodies exactly such a solution. And it is like the venerable old New Deal of the 1930s, practical, solutions-based, and unencumbered with “transformational” and controversial ideology. Check it out.

This article originally appeared in the print version of Centre Daily Times on January 28, 2020.

MARK E. NEELY, JR. IS A MEMBER OF STATE COLLEGE CHAPTER OF CITIZENS’ CLIMATE LOBBY.

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