Almost a century ago, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) erected a series of government programs that together became known as ‘The New Deal’. While intended to remedy the hardships of the Great Depression, there is strong evidence that these programs actually delayed, not quickened, the return to prosperity.
If anything, these programs have expanded the government’s power to encroach on civil liberties, and engendered the fiscal and monetary policies that have caused our nation’s debt and deficit to skyrocket. To achieve his aims, FDR attempted to pack the Supreme Court in his favor; removed the gold standard and confiscated all gold; expanded the power of the Executive Branch while minimizing that of the Legislative Branch, and went against the ‘balanced budget’ status quo followed by his predecessors. One could say that he completely disregarded the vision our Nation’s founders had: his vision for country was the antithesis of why this country was founded — to avoid and prevent monarchy.
In my opinion, he is the worst president this country ever elected. I thought we were done with these policy fallacies. But, as the saying goes, ‘history repeats itself’: U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently released her ‘Green New Deal.’
Given the lack of success, increased national deficit and debt, and government overreach caused by the New Deal, it is dubious whether Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal will be any better. Public choice economic theory demonstrates that it will not.
Public choice theory uses economic theory to analyze political actors — among which are politicians. In theoretical welfare economics, private individuals are assumed to be self-interested people, while politicians are often characterized as benevolent, altruistic people, acting in the people’s’ ‘common interest.’ But are politicians not self-interested like the rest of us? Are they not influenced by special-interest groups that get them re-elected?
Ocasio-Cortez thinks politicians are influenced by special interests. This makes sense because, just like us, politicians want to keep their jobs and advance their careers. They do this by securing the most number of votes — which is often done through special-interest groups, since these groups have influence over average voters. In essence, politicians aim to win the votes over the group that gives them the majority to win— which is their interest and the special interests’ agenda, not the public’s interest.
If politicians aren’t acting in accordance with the public’s interest, why, then, would we give more power to the government? Doing so has caused, and will continue to cause, great aberration between the public’s interest (which often differs among many people) and each politician’s’ personal self-interest. This was the issue with the New Deal, and now is the issue with Green New Deal: providing government actors with more power worsens, not ameroliates, the economic issues we are facing.
This should be no surprise, given that politicians are ambitious people. This is precisely why James Madison wrote in Federalist 51 that the purpose of separate branches and a bicameral legislature was to have ‘ambition counteract ambition. Without checks on each other, politicians would do whatever they could to satisfy a ‘faction’ — which he wrote about in Federalist 10. Madison says that factions are inevitable, but our goal is to control it. As he said:
“If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
The last sentence was precisely the impetus of our Constitution: to ensure that politicians — who are also people, who, by definition are fallible and imperfect — have the ability to protect our rights but do not have the ability to encroach on our rights.
As F.A. Hayek wrote in Individualism: True and False, this is why classical economists assumed that people are self-interested, because, by doing so, we can implement rules (laws) that ensure that the worst people who hold political office can do the least harm.
The New Deal catalyzed the growth of government that allowed government actors to do harm. The Green New Deal, given is prescriptions, would exacerbate this very problem..
This great nation was founded on the promise of liberty and self-governance, opposing coercion and, what Jefferson referred to as, ‘absolute despotism.’
Self-governance has been studied by many social scientists, most notably Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom. Ostrom’s work focuses on what she terms “common-pool-resources” (CPR) of which the environment is one. She studied how communities and community actors, not governments nor markets, can solve CPR issues. For example, in her book Governing the Commons, she describes some of her field research in which communities, not governments, provided a solution to “the commons,” the overuse of natural resources, issues.
In one of her projects, she examined and found that citizens of Torbel, Switzerland mitigated an environmental issue of the village’s forest resources, on their own, without federal or national edicts. Together, as a community, they were able to devise rules of self-governance on how to use and prevent overuse of the forests. This, of course, is one example. However, Ostrom provides countless examples of how community-led governance is more effective than that done by a national government. This type of analysis hasn’t been done by those proposing the Green New Deal. Before jumping to the conclusion of federal involvement through the Green New Deal’s prescriptions, this solution ought to be examined.
The New Green Deal has good intentions, but it provides a solution that adds more to the problem: government overreach. We should heed the lessons from the previous New Deal taught us. More importantly, we should, once again, embrace the principles upon which this great Nation was founded: liberty, dignity, and self-governance.