Why hardcore environmentalists are rooting for a coronavirus epidemic
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February 27, 2020 (American Thinker) — Wall Street's two-day panic, which saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average drop 1,911 points (6.8 percent), was sparked by the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. It is not just that the virus is spreading to lands far beyond its origin in China, but that the full impact in China has not yet been felt. A lengthy article from state media China Daily predicted that the disruption may last beyond the first quarter and notes that "industrial production has been negatively affected to varying degrees in terms of labor, orders, inventory, production and transportation." Because lax policy in the U.S. and elsewhere has allowed China to become the hub of multilateral supply chains in so many sectors, often on a single-source basis, the disruption is threatening a global slowdown that will affect far more people than the virus.
There is one faction in the U.S. that hails the chaos and welcomes the economic decline: the Green movement. It holds that human activity is bad for the planet, thus anything that reduces human activity is a blessing. And this is not just the braying of a fringe group on the far Left. Its argument recently appeared in the New Republic, long the flagship of mainstream liberalism.
"The Coronavirus's Lesson for Climate Change: What society can learn from the tragedy's impact on carbon emissions" appeared February 20, written by staffer Kate Aronoff. She is the co-author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need A Green New Deal and the co-editor of We Own The Future: Democratic Socialism, American Style. She thus represents the nexus of environmentalism and socialism that dominates the Democratic Party this election cycle, an alignment that makes perfect sense within radical ideology, as will be seen as this story unfolds.
She starts by noting that "people are staying home from work and consuming less, as wages remain unpaid, and commutes remain untraveled. Manufacturing and construction in some places have slowed or ground to a halt, and air travel throughout the country has decreased by 70 percent." The online version of the article features a solitary figure walking down the center of a city street devoid of traffic or any other signs of life. But that's okay, because the drop in activity has reduced China's emissions by a third!
There are two key paragraphs. The first makes the case for bringing the economic downturn in China to America by policy rather than by plague.
It's no secret that certain types of misery and societal upheaval can reduce emissions — from recessions to the collapse of the Soviet Union to epidemics such as the current coronavirus. Those are hardly formulas activists should cheer, much less try to replicate going forward. But the recent statistics out of China are a reminder of the remarkable impact of working patterns on emissions levels. There is a policy that could mirror some of the emissions reductions from undesirable events such as outbreaks, while improving quality of life: a four-day, 32-hour workweek.
The offer of constant three-day weekends is a lure to voters but loses its appeal on examination. How many would accept the 20-percent cut in income? That is what the Left is really offering, because less income is what drives down production by cutting demand — the real aim of the Greens. No one could really expect to receive the same pay for doing less work, though that is the deception the Left is promoting with promises to raise the minimum wage by fiat. Why not raise all wages by fiat if there is no base relationship between the value of work done and pay? Though if less is going to be produced, there will be less to buy regardless of nominal income.
It was the Industrial Revolution that allowed the work week to drop from six 12-hour days to the present five 8-hour days. Technology increased productivity so that by working smarter rather than harder, output could increase by such a large amount that people could work less and still earn more. The higher incomes would be used to purchase the greater supply of goods and services available. Henry Ford is credited with instituting the 40-hour week in 1926. His assembly lines were pioneering progress as much as were his cars, but both are now anathema to the Green Left.
The second key paragraph from Aronoff attacks material living standards and consumption.
Working less won't get us to "net-zero" emissions, at least not on its own. But beyond the more direct planetary benefits listed above, a four-day week could have a ripple effect throughout the economy on how Americans — a notoriously carbon-intensive bunch — consume. Rather than mindlessly scrolling Amazon or bingeing Netflix shows with our zonked-out after-workday brains, we could spend more time with friends and family, lounge in the park, and learn a language or how to cook a new dish.
These alternative lifestyles would come from lack of income. It doesn't cost anything to lounge in the park, but it is a thin line between that and idleness. She is doing nothing more than returning to the romantic "back to nature" sophistry that has always failed to persuade people that unemployment is "improving quality of life."
The Green movement is not a new phenomenon. It came out of the New Left a half-century ago. I remember seeing it celebrated at the University of Illinois as a student. One of the attractions was asking people to smash up a car with baseball bats. Its message was to embrace a simpler life as a hippie on a commune. Few tried it, and most who did fled from it. Poverty is not romantic; it is bleak, unhealthy, and dull. Escaping poverty has been and remains humanity's central collective desire. Last year, Chinese president Xi Jinping declared, "Not a single person should be left behind in the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects" and renewed his vow that abject poverty would be eliminated from his country in 2020. On Feb. 25, President Xi pledged that despite the epidemic, "[e]fforts should be made to fully unleash the huge potential and powerful driving force of China's development."
In the earlier speech, Xi said, "Socialism means development. Development must serve the common prosperity for everyone." He means "socialism with Chinese characteristics," which has incorporated a large dose of capitalism. It was the economic reformer Deng Xiaoping who declared, "To get rich is glorious," and there are almost as many Chinese billionaires today as American. Though state planning and control of major industries are still features of the Chinese system, opening the door to private initiative and reward has propelled the economy forward in ways that have astonished the world. It is a very different approach that the "socialism with Green characteristics" being offered in America. Beijing's abandonment of traditional socialism after the U.S. victory in the Cold War likely contributes to Aronoff's glee at China's present difficulties.
The Greens want to share poverty, not eliminate it. They hate capitalism because it produces growth, which is deemed harmful to the planet. It has provided a perfect solution to the problem of traditional socialism long championed by people like presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders. The Marxist program cannot produce growth and has always depended on seizing control of an economy that had been built by capitalism. The wealth the socialists could not create can be redistributed once stolen. The Greens have rescued the socialists by proclaiming growth to be evil. Capitalism must be destroyed to put an end to growth. People will be forced away from consumption and denied material progress. Socialism will guarantee the decline in human activity the Greens want while Green fear-mongering will put the socialists in power.
Aronoff serves as proof that the greatest threat to the United States is not virology; it is ideology.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor who has served on the staff of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Published with permission from the American Thinker.