William Greider: Is Hillary Ready for Us?

William Greider is an old populist warrior, whom I greatly admire and respect. He used to be a national political columnist at the Rolling Stone in the 1980s and 1990s, which of course was the position of the legendary Hunter Thompson in the 1970s, and the wonderfully acerbic Matt Taibbi in our times. In 1987, Greider published Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, an exhaustive history of the Federal Reserve, with a strong forewarning of the twin problems of deindustrialization and financialization that were already well underway at that point.

Unfortunately, not many people seem to have read the book, because if they had, I very much doubt if Paul Volcker and TPTB would be able to continue their charade that Volcker is one of the "good guys."

In December 1989, Greider was one of two speakers at a special event in St. Louis on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the populist People's Party "Sub-Treasury Plan" for financial reform. The other speaker, Dr. Lawrence Goodwyn, was the author of what is far and away the best history of the populist movement. What makes it the best? Goodwyn fully understood the Greenbacker critique of the U.S. financial and monetary systems that powered the extraordinary political success of the populists. The two speeches, by Greider and Goodwyn, at the event are available online, and if you have not read them, you are missing important interpretation on a key issue of economic reform we still face today: Democratic Money: A Populist Perspective. You especially need to read these speeches if you are wondering what the Greenbacker critique is.

The other night, Meteor Blades at DailyKos highlighted a recent article by Greider at The Nation, But Is Hillary Ready for Us?. I think the article is important enough that it merits bringing your attention to it again. Greider expresses skepticism about the recent conversion of Larry Summers and Hillary Clinton to economic populism.
...the message is: Hillary gets it. She’s ready to confront the inequality thing. She will bring fresh ideas to the campaign on how to reverse the deterioration of middle-class American life. Her list includes everything from parental leave to care for newborn infants to equal pay for women and paid vacations for all working people. The CAP agenda, among many sound ideas, opts for stronger labor unions, worker ownership of corporations, faster growth and full employment, a reformed global trading system that for American working people will become a “race to the top” instead of the bottom. What’s not to like?
But Greider points out that what Summers and Clinton are now talking about, is nothing more than the focus-group tested populist rhetoric of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. Pointing to Summers' recent remarks about avoiding "a politics of envy," Greider argues that it is going to be nearly impossible for Clinton to actually follow through on her new-found populist rhetoric because of "the practical problem of which political constituencies Democrats must be prepared to abandon this time—working people or financial contributors."

Greider then offers an observation that I do not remember seeing anyone make before. I think it explains in no small part the shocking electoral weakness of Democrats in running against Republicans whose policies the majority of Americans actually revile.
The trouble is, the [Clintonite] New Dems are now the Old Guard. Their center-right program—financial deregulation and “free market” globalization—has not only run out of gas but is rightly blamed for laying the groundwork for financial catastrophe. Yet the New Dem wing still holds the high ground, with big money and loyal supporters as well as Clinton clones populating the key governing positions. The labor-liberal insurgency has a weak bench because for a generation its promising young people were excluded from governing ranks—systematically screened out by both Clinton and Obama administrations—if they showed telltale signs of leaning leftward or embracing non-conformist ideas that resonate with the party’s New Deal values. By contrast, Republican regimes since Ronald Reagan have always made a point of appointing thousands of young right-wingers to second-level government posts as the training ground for long-term governance. Dems still invoke sentimental rhetoric from the New Deal era, but the practical reality is that the party’s economic policy makers went to school on Wall Street, either before or after their public service (sometimes both).
And you really need to read Greider's summary of the crucial meeting between Summers and Senator Elizabeth Warren. There is little doubt in my mind that Summers and the elite circles he moves in are scheming to destroy Sen. Warren when they get the chance.

 I want to direct your attention back to the paragraph on Clinton's proposals for
how to reverse the deterioration of middle-class American life. Her list includes everything from parental leave to care for newborn infants to equal pay for women and paid vacations for all working people. The CAP agenda, among many sound ideas, opts for stronger labor unions, worker ownership of corporations, faster growth and full employment, a reformed global trading system that for American working people will become a “race to the top” instead of the bottom.
Look, these policies, if Clinton follows through on them, if she is elected, are completely inadequate. Climate scientists have recently begun renewing their warnings that we now have less than two years before reaching a tipping point. That's the bad news. The good news is that we HAVE the technology, in hand, needed to stop climate change. The build-out of solar and wind power has already begun, but it has just barely begun. Here, for example, is the situation in Germany, which is much more progressive on this issue than USA - largely, I believe, because they don't have a bunch of petroleum billionaires and companies pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an obstructionist conservative movement.  
Annual electricity power generation in Germany as percentage of total consumption.  
Source: Can there be a renewables juggernaut?, by DoDo, March 12th, 2015, European Tribune.

In the United States, the amount of wind energy capacity is expected to double in the next five years, but that still leaves wind power at only about ten percent of total USA electrical generating capacity.

Building enough solar power, wind power, and other renewables to stop climate change in time is going to be a $100 trillion investment. That's not my number, that's the number from the November 2009 article in Scientific American by Mark Z. Jacobson, at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, and Mark A. Delucchi, at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Davis. In 2011, they posted two pdf files providing heavily footnoted details of their 2009 Scientific American article; the pdfs provide all the details you could want, including discussion of critical material shortages, such as rare earth elements, for a mass, crash program.

Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure, and materials

Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power, Part II: Reliability, system and transmission costs, and policies.

A few days ago, Ian Welsh discussed another aspect of the climate change solution, in The Quick and Clean Guide to Fixing the Economy (Keynesian Stimulus #2)
1) Every federal building in America to go to energy neutral at least, or energy surplus ideally. That’s a massive stimulus.
2) In order for a house to be “conforming” and thus qualify for federal loan guarantees it must be energy neutral at least, as well.
3) A subsidized waiver system for retrofitting civilian buildings to be energy neutral—the cost of which is paid back by savings, so homeowners pay nothing, and commercial guys pay little. You can create a securities market for the certificates to bring private money online.
4) No mortgage can be conforming if any laws or homeowner agreements forbid the homeowner from growing their own food or selling it.
5) All new condominiums and apartment complexes must provide for growing food, through hydroponics or other means. Without it, they are, again, not conforming or the income from them gets taxed higher.
6) Substantial tax breaks for telecommuting. (See section below for how to make corporations do this.)
7) Move to a high speed rail system, subsidize electric cars with certificates (buy one while turning in a non-electric car and the government pays half), and so on.
These actions give you a massive renewable buildout, fast. Most of the jobs are domestic (even if panels are bought from China). They reduce energy use significantly, including peak turbine oil use and they enable people to grow food when needed, reducing pressures on various carbon sinks and renewable resources.
Does the $100 trillion price tag scare you? It doesn't scare me. It gets me all fired up! First, put it in perspective: the entire world economy produces $71 trillion in goods and services each year (of which the U.S. economy produces around $16 trillion). $100 trillion over 15 years is just under $7 trillion a year. That’s just a ten percent increase in world output, right now.

And, wow!, you want to talk about a jobs program? Right now, the unemployment rate in construction is 10.7 percent, significantly higher than the national average. Nearly one million construction workers are still looking for work, but there are only 117,000 openings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as Ian lays out above, we need a complete rebuilding / refurbishing of almost every building and house on the planet to be carbon neutral. Do you have any idea how many carpenters and construction workers that is going to require? There will not be enough people to fill all the jobs.

And what do you think is going to happen to wage rates under a 15 year program to spend $100 trillion building all this stuff? Imagine the political campaigns Democrats can run. We will solve climate change, make sure your kids and grandkids have a future without being burnt to a crisp or drowned by encroaching oceans, and we are going to create massive shortages of labor in your field that are going to drive your wages up at least 50 percent in the next five to ten years. The Republicans will be mincemeat if Democrats can run a campaign based on the $100 trillion climate solution and its implications.

Isn't that the kind of economic problems you want to hand to your kids and grand kids to solve? "Uh, sorry, we're creating way too many jobs right now. We've kind of tipped the balance of power away from capital and back to labor. Yeah, we're real sorry about that. Hope you can figure out what to do with those rapidly expanding paychecks." 

And here's something even better - at least I think it's better. We simply cannot do a $100 trillion investment under our existing financial and monetary system, which is now so screwed up that there are negative interest rates. Investors are paying some national treasuries to hold their money. To keep the principal safe, investors are willing to forgo interest. Under these circumstances, it doesn't cost governments anything to borrow money! It's crazy not to launch a massive spending program under these circumstances!

And if investors don't want to use their money to help build the $100 trillion program, the inevitable question arises: what damn good are these investors? The very existence of the present financial and monetary system will be shaken to the core once people begin to seriously consider how the world finances the $100 trillion program.

So, hell yeah, the $100 trillion price tag gets me excited - real excited! A lot more excited than Clinton's warmed over hash from 1992.