by Jill E. Stein
September 5, 2011
President Obama’s new job proposals are intended to send a political message that the President cares about the dismal state of the economy. But America needs a decisive and immediate solution, not a limited gesture for the unemployment emergency facing 25 million workers in need of full time jobs that aren’t there.
We need a Green New Deal that will establish government’s responsibility to guarantee the right to a job for every American willing and able to work. The roots of this lie in the Employment Assurance concept that the Roosevelt administration used to tackle the great American depression in1935. Let’ s turn the unemployment office into the employment office: if the private sector fails to provide you a job, you go down to the employment office to get work that keeps you afloat until things turn around.
The “green” in the Green New Deal means that we can solve our jobs problem as we build the economy of the future – a sustainable, green economy that protects the environment as the core foundation for economic prosperity. The Green New Deal would tackle multiple environmental threats to our economy – not only climate change, but also the converging water, soil, fisheries, forest, and fossil fuel crises that imperil our fundamental needs for food, water and energy. Other countries are already making major investments for a secure, carbon-free future. America needs to catch up.
The Green New Deal would enable us to build sustainable energy, transportation and production infrastructure: clean renewable energy generation, energy efficiency, intra-city mass transit and inter-city railroads, “complete streets” that safely encourage bike and pedestrian traffic, regional food systems based on sustainable organic agriculture, and clean manufacturing of the goods needed to support this sustainable economy.
The Green New Deal would also address the enormous, urgent need for social infrastructure – for public education, health care, child care, elder care, youth programs, and arts and culture. Since a Green New Deal would go where the unemployment is, severe pockets of joblessness – where the poor and people of color are suffering rates as high as 30% – would not be bypassed.
It is time for the White House and Congress to admit that Obama/Bush approach of showering money on Wall Street has failed. Decades of hard-won experience – plus basic economic theory – show that government spending is essential in a recession to stimulate demand and put people back to work. Both major parties, as well as Obama, instead have used the recession caused by Wall Street abuse, costly wars, and bogus trickle-down economics as an excuse to slash funding for vital programs. As a result, seniors, working families and the poor are footing the bill for tax giveaways to the wealthy and large corporations. This is not only wrong it’s also guaranteed to destroy jobs and weaken the economy.
We have put America to work through public works programs many times since the 1930s. We did it with the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in the 1930s and CETA (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) of the 1970s. These programs employed millions of workers to provide socially needed public infrastructure and public services like education, health, child care, elder care, youth programs and arts and cultural programs. How much would such a full employment policy cost? Surprisingly, the final cost is almost nothing. It pays for itself over the course of the business cycle according to Philip Harvey, a professor of law and economics at Rutgers in his paper, Learning from the New Deal.
Assuming that for every two public jobs created, an additional job would be stimulated in the private sector, we would need about 17.5 million public jobs. Harvey notes that all these jobs increase tax revenues that defray the cost of the program. Government saves money on unemployment insurance and other safety net programs. As working people spend their earnings, business booms and stimulus programs can be curtailed. The bottom line is simply this: Full employment through a Green New Deal is cheaper than rampant unemployment.
An initial investment is required, of course. The first year net cost for 17.5 million living-wage public jobs, $666 billion, would be less than Obama ’s ineffective $825 billion stimulus of 2009. The net cost per job would be only $28,600 compared to $228,055 per job cost of Obama’s indirect stimulus.
The cost could readily be covered through a combination of needed tax reforms – such as taxing Wall Street speculation, off shore tax havens, millionaires and multimillion dollar estates – in addition to a 30% reduction in the trillion dollar bloated military-industrial-security complex budget. A Green New Deal that decisively ends unemployment and the escalating Bush/Obama recession is within our reach – technically and financially. All that ’s needed is the political will to stop throwing money at Wall Street and start building the sustainable prosperity American workers deserve. In spite of Washington’s slavish addiction to serving Wall Street, that political will may finally be catching fire in the American electorate.
Jill Stein is a medical doctor, an environmental health advocate, and former candidate for Governor of Massachusetts for the Green-Rainbow Party. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org