Off the Top of My Head

World War II Required Sacrifices to Combat the Nazis. Why Are So Few Willing to Sacrifice to Combat the Pending Climate Disaster?

by John Lawrence, January 26, 2021

John on the trolley in Budapest2It will take the equivalent of the World War II effort to combat climate change, but millions of Americans won't even wear a mask to protect their fellow citizens. So is the effort to combat climate change DOA? Some people think we must approach the Green New Deal as the real MEOW—the Moral Equivalent of War. Money should be no problem as J. D. Alt asserts in Paying Ourselves to Save the Planet. This should appeal to all those who will be making good money from a full employment economy. The problem is, as it was in the WW II effort, that resources must be diverted from the consumer economy. During WW II, Americans were asked to make sacrifices in many ways. Rationing was  one of those ways. Supplies such as gasoline, butter, sugar and canned milk were rationed because they needed to be diverted to the war effort. If workers in good paying jobs are using their paychecks to consume more, the price of consumer goods will be bid up, and there will be massive inflation so the Freedom to Consume may have to be limited. After all, there is no Freedom to Consume in the Constitution.

Because war time workers were restricted in their consumption patterns, they were forced to save. That would probably be a good idea for our debt ridden society, but will it work if massive numbers of people think that that would interfere with their freedom to consume? After WW II was over, the pent up demand which was caused by forced saving was unleashed to yield the greatest consumer society in history. All kinds of consumer appliances including television were now available to patriotic citizens who helped win WW II. Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randall Wray say in their paper, "How to Pay for the Green New Deal":

"War spending plus the New Deal reforms led to an unprecedented increase in the size of the government and its deficit (government spending reached a peak of half of GDP, and the deficit reached 26 percent of GDP in 1943 ). Can we compare that to the alternative which might have been global domination by fascism, including elimination of the United States and western democracy? It was only WWII that freed the government’s budget on the necessary scale. This was justified on the basis that there was no alternative—either global subjugation to Nazis or “whatever it takes” (to borrow a phrase) spending. We chose survival. We learned that “taxes for revenue are obsolete,” as Beardsley Ruml put it. And we came out of WW II stronger and richer than ever before. Some of this was thanks to the New Deal institutions as well as the infrastructure created in the run-up to the war; some of it was due to industrial might created by the war machine; and some of it was due to the good wages and benefits on which economic growth could be sustained after the war. It is preposterous to think that we should have just surrendered in order to forego the financial cost of the war."

So is the survival of the planet as a habitable place for human beings to live as important as living on a habitable planet under the Nazis? I should think so, but since climate change is not a clear and present and obvious danger, many people can not even be convinced that the effort to combat global warming is even necessary or, if it is necessary, they could care less because they personally will have vacated the planet by the time existence here gets really hellish. The authors cited above say: "The task ahead of us is bigger. The stakes are higher. The future of humanity lies in the balance. Half measures will not do. It might take all our available resources—and then some—to win
this battle. The experts say we have most of the technology we need. We have unused resources to put to use. We can shift others from destructive uses to be engaged in constructive endeavors. We can mobilize the population for greater effort with the promise of greater equality and a shared and sustainable prosperity. We can make a good effort. We might win."

Modern Monetary Theory has made it clear that the money is available and that taxes need not be raised as long as inflation is controlled. The successful efforts of the New Deal and WW II point the way. Deficit spending is not a problem as it wasn't then. The aftermath of   WW II saw the greatest increase in consumer spending and prosperity in American history. The same can be true after a Green New Deal is implemented and infrastructure around the world has been rebuilt in such a way that we have no further greenhouse gas emissions. That is a metric that can be known, measured and realized. It will take a world wide effort and cooperation, not competition or rivalry, to win the battle against global warming. As the pandemic has demonstrated, we are all in this together.


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