by maayan kreitzman
This post is meant to introduce, briefly describe, and finally give a critical perspective on the economic and social plan that the Green Movement is rolling out this week. I hope it will be the starting point of a discussion in the party regarding this core aspect of our future policy, which these last weeks have proven to be so necessary and relevant.
The document צמיחה ירוקה לישראל – כלכלת המחר is the result of an in-depth project since 2009 to adapt the Green New Deal paradigm developed after the 2008 financial crisis to Israel’s politics, society, and natural resources. The project is not officially affiliated with the Green Movement.
As of the last secretariat meeting of the party, The Green Movement has adopted the summarizing paper of the Green New Deal project in full, and calls upon other bodies, including other parties and the current coalition, to likewise adopt all or any part of the recommendations. So, what is the project all about? The “green new deal” paradigm alludes to Roosevelt’s famous New Deal which was introduced in the depths of the great depression before WWII broke out. Roosevelt’s New Deal in fact provided the first massive public welfare funding in America in numerous sectors: employment, health, and stipends. It also enacted strict regulation of the banking sector, and commissioned massive public works to improve infrastructure and provide employment. This investment by the public sector in the welfare of citizens during a time of great hardship was a turning point in American society, and largely shaped its social policy for the subsequent four decades. Support of citizens in need had previously been the sole domain of private charities. The New Deal put responsibility for the welfare of citizens in the public domain. In this way, the legislation reflects a social democratic ideology.
The title ‘Green New Deal’ explicitly says two things: the most obvious one is “green” – this is supposed to be an environmentally responsible policy which looks to the long term and factors our descendants’, and our planet’s future into the equation. The “new deal” part hints at the method of reform: this proposal, like the original new deal, uses the power of government to enact and implement public social policy and planning to benefit all its citizens. The toolbox offered here to improve our society, economy, and environment are resolutely in the hands of the public sector: long-term planning, progressive and smart taxation, monetary incentives, and large-scale public works. This is not to say that private initiative and endeavor are not part of the solution – they are. But the driving engine behind the social and economic change called for in this document is none other than a democratically elected government.
The Israeli Green New Deal project is tasked with getting us out of a crises. Instead of a depression, this time it’s a crisis of excess. Despite sundry financial “crises” which rock the world’s markets every so often, let us not be deceived. The method remains the same, and it is in trouble for completely different, and much more fundamental reasons than those trotted out whenever stocks plummet and bailers bail. Our economy is unsustainable because it wastes and plunders natural resources faster than they can be replaced. It is also unsustainable because it often produces societies where human resources are wasted and plundered. This project attempt to address both these shortcomings.
The document produced by the Israeli Green New Deal project, צמיחה ירוקה לישראל – כלכלת המחר begins with its most important point: changing the measure of success. The most basic faulty assumption of a chiefly capitalist economy is that people’s chief motivator is their own benefit, and that this benefit is measured in monetary terms. Thus, everything must have a money value to be considered in the system. Those things that don’t have a money value, or are difficult to translate into monetary terms are not included (“externalities”), leading to the absurd situation in which the economy can be said to be “healthy” and “growing” while most of its participants do not benefit, and the world’s natural resources are annihilated. One solution to this problem is to attempt to give a price to everything. For example, great effort has been invested in pricing “ecosystem services” (things that the environment provides us like air cleaning, water, pollination, recreation, soil, etc) so that they can be included in economic decisions. The more basic solution, suggested here, is to change the measure. Instead of counting only money (GDP) as a measure of success, we can create a measure that recognizes value in the natural world and our society whether it has an obvious price or not. This measure is still an approximation of our total well-being, but it is based on additional data and better reflects the true health and growth of our economy.
The document goes on to outline policies in various areas: industry, employment, energy, construction, housing, and financial tools. Perhaps surprisingly, the strongest theme in all these fields is not environmentalism. The document does not set out specific goals to improve Israel’s air, water, and and land use, protect nature, and reduce the economy’s carbon footprint. These goals are implicit in the policies, however to my eyes, they do not take center stage. The strongest theme in the paper is in fact social justice. Narrowing gaps between rich and poor, affirmative action to increase equality, and proactive economic development for the middle and lower classes are points included that come up in many forms throughout the document. This emphasis is particularly relevant in the context of the last month in Israel. Ideally, we could capitalize on the current wave by supplying the concrete policy solutions to the notions of social justice and public welfare that are flooding the streets now. This is an ambitious and far-sighted document, economically, socially and environmentally. It outlines policies that are in many cases unprecedented in Israel and represent a deep change of consciousness. Our challenge is to find the audience that will seriously read, understand, and internalize its approach.
I have one major criticism of the document which you can align yourself on depending on how you answer this question: does it go far enough? If the Green New Deal project is, as I believe it to be, an attempt at deep and far-sighted economic reform, I think that a fundamental aspect is missing: a discussion of economic growth. I’m aware that the document has to toe a delicate line between being practical and understandable in the language of today’s economy, and introducing new values that have heretofore been considered antithetical to economic success: an unwavering commitment to environmental sustainability over the long term and to social justice. Nonetheless, I believe that the document as it is communicates a cheerful optimism of “everything is going to be OK,” which is no way justified by the facts. These facts compel us to acknowledge that even with the most progressive government, we are not out of trouble. An economy which continues to grow its participants, products and services cannot, by definition, be sustainable. Our planet is not growing, and neither are its natural resources. This inexorable fact cannot be changed by all the green-collar jobs, renewable energy generators, carbon taxes, and green technologies in the world. This document has bravely challenged one of modern capitalism’s erroneous assumptions – that humans are best defined by a dollar sign. I think that it needs to challenge an additional false idol: the growth economy.
Finally, I want to thank everyone that invested themselves in producing this impressive and important project. I believe it can be the key to the Green Party’s success, and a truly better future.