New Deal 2.0: Third Gubernatorial Option for NY: A Green New Deal?

New Deal 2.0
by Bryce Covert
October 18, 2010


Howie Hawkins is the Green Party candidate running for New York State governor against Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino. I got a chance to sit down with him to discuss his ideas for a Green New Deal. He told me how his plans will create jobs, address climate issues, and base our economy on real production — not speculation.


Bryce Covert: You’re running on what you call a Green New Deal. Will you explain what you envision?


Howie Hawkins: We are emphasizing this because the Democratic leadership has abandoned the New Deal legacy. I think people support the majority of things in the New Deal. There’s evidence in polls for support of funded schools, higher wages, the single payer option. We adopted the New Deal to appeal to the rank and file, the little guy. Today’s politicians talk Left and walk Right once they’re in office. They respond to their funders — telecom, defense, oil. And now Social Security is in the sights of fiscal commission. We have to defend the idea that in a recession we need fiscal stimulus. It’s basic macroeconomics.


I’m focused on three areas: full employment, national health insurance, and public enterprise.


Full employment: In the original Social Security Act there was employment assurance. It generalized the WPA program. It had centralized taxes but decentralized distribution. Counties planned public works and services and the Federal and state governments funded the jobs. I want to bring this back, particularly now in the jobs crisis, with the “new normal“, and a slow recovery. It’s fiscal stimulus itself — people with jobs go spend money.


Public health insurance: It was taken it off the table. We’re continuing a system where profits go to the private sector and the poor go to public services. Taxpayers pay for that. This would be particularly significant in New York because in upstate New York it makes up for over half of the county budget. The most powerful move would be the state taking over Medicaid through a single payer system. The state’s own study said that compared to the individual mandate, the single payer system would save New Yorkers $10 billion per year. You get better health care at lower cost.


Public enterprise: You can use the TVA as a yardstick. There was racial discrimination, but the principle was that public enterprise can step in when the private sector fails and set a standard. This can happen in health care, energy — municipals and co-ops provide cheaper power with less perks and corporate compensation.


BC: Why is it important to not only put people back to work, but also to focus on the energy industry?


HH: New York had been a very diverse manufacturer in the 20s. After WWII they sold that out. It made the city less stable in this economy. It’s a one-crop economy: financial services.


We have excess capacity in so many industries, and it’s not sustainable how much CO2 we’re spewing into the air. We need a World War Two-scale mobilization to convert to a green economy. What stands in the way is the incumbent energy industries: oil, gas and nuclear.


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It could function as a public jobs program. Local officials would work with the state agency and say, “What needs do we have here?” Maybe it’s building repairs, services, childcare, elder care, parks revamped, infrastructure repair. The sewer and water systems are old and leaky. In Syracuse it will cost $2 billion to fix the sewer and water system, and the city can’t finance it. It requires state and Federal aid. Officials could look at their communicates and see what’s needed and then create jobs. The WPA was about public works.


One area that fits in is building green and efficient buildings, retrofitting buildings, conducting audits, and adding solar panels, even on homes. I used to do this in the 70s and 80s in Vermont. Those jobs require training but they should be a part of the public works. You can set the wage at a minimum wage to compete with the private sector. People can get the training from the public works program and then go get a private sector job.


I’d like to see 7 million energy efficient homes in 10 years. A public jobs program could spawn the business that would do that.


BC: How would you finance your plans for a green economy and public works programs?


HH: I would create a state bank like the Bank of North Dakota [a state-owned bank]. The problem with the huge financial industry is that it’s mostly speculation, not investment by banks. They’re focused on M&A and derivatives — it’s all about rearranging paper entitlements to existing income from an existing means of production. The theory of giving money to the wealthy was they would invest in new production and employ people. That hasn’t happened. If you don’t make things that add value it won’t be self-sustaining. You can only do so many back-door deals.


The state bank can give the public a measure of control in terms of economic development and how to get to a sustainable green economic recovery. Through taxation you can take a portion of the wealth in speculation and run it through the public sector and put it to better use. It relates to the stock transfer tax. That tax took in $15 billion and it was all given back. That would have led to $7 million in surplus. They deny they’ve heard of it but the forms are easy to find.


Obama and Andrew Cuomo have versions of an infrastructure bank, but the investment goes to the private sector and it will attach debt to assets we’re creating rather than having the interest paid to the public and owned by the public. This bank could be organized as a worker co-op. When I did this it was a co-op. I worked in construction, and it was the best of both worlds. You share, work regular hours and get the full fruit of your labor. There are 100,000 of these in Europe.


BC: How do you view our current political system?


HH: Liberals have to realize that the Democratic Party is a complete dead end. Obama is all image but not policy substance. If you look closely, he’s really corporate and conservative. Cuomo is the lesser evil. He says he will slash everything. He’s all about fiscal austerity. I say have austerity with Cuomo or Paladino or prosperity with the Greens.


Progressive social movements — labor and ethnic movements, the women’s movement, environmental, peace — it’s time to understand that you’re being taken for granted if your vote is in the Democrats’ pocket. These movements are Charlie Brown and the Democrats are Lucy. The movements ask to hold the football, they say can I get reform, and Democrats say we’ll hold the ball. The movements go out and campaign and they kick the football and it’s not there. We need an independent movement. Labor could fund it — they’ve spent $15 billion on Democrats since 1980. Imagine that spent on an independent party. You could have a labor newspaper, talk radio, a labor party organizer in every county.


Democrats and Republicans outbid each other on how much they say they’ll cut in spending. They say they will create jobs, but I say it’ll only create a depression. Only public spending can raise demand. As for the underlying problem of excess capacity and overproduction, I argue that we need to build a new system. We can get the economy going and get on a green path.

BC: Women hold a fraction of green construction jobs. Do you have plans to address their needs in this recession?


HH: This is part of the reason I’m including services and not just focusing on construction. It excludes women, blacks and Latinos who are fighting to get into those trades. If you focus only on construction you won’t help all the same. You won’t help women and racial groups.


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