Feature: The Green New Deal's Predecessors

Feature: The Green New Deal's Predecessors

US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, introduced in the House of Representatives on February 7th 2019, is a bit of a game changer. Referring back to President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which was introduced during the Great Depression to restore prosperity to Americans, the Green New Deal institutes a new wave of ambitiously progressive reform for the 21st century.

What is the Green New Deal?

The Green New Deal is the popular name for House Resolution 109 of the 116th Congress, called ‘Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.’ It is a proposed nonbinding resolution recognizing a duty on the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal (GND). The GND itself would aim to:

  • Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions

  • Ensure economic prosperity and security for all people of the United States

  • Secure clean air, water, healthy food, access to nature, and a sustainable environment for all people of the United States and generations to come

  • Promote justice by ending, preventing, and repairing the historic oppression of vulnerable communities

  • Invest in infrastructure fit for the 21st century

It would do this through a 10-year “national mobilization”. To achieve its goals, the GND will require the federal government to do the following:

  • Make public investments into researching clean and renewable energy

  • Guarantee a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States

  • Provide capital, technical expertise, policies for the GND mobilization

Since it is a nonbinding resolution, no actual programs would have to be created if it passed, but it would be an important affirmation that progressive changes have to be made in the coming years.

What Was President Roosevelt’s New Deal?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932

The New Deal was a series of reforms in the United States in the 1930s, instigated by then Democratic Party President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt had ousted Republican President Herbert Hoover, whose government inaction in the face of the Great Depression was seen to be ineffective. Here is an excerpt from Roosevelt’s speech at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, when Roosevelt was put forward as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President in the 1932 United States presidential election:

There are two ways of viewing the Government's duty in matters affecting economic and social life. The first sees to it that a favored few are helped and hopes that some of their prosperity will leak through, sift through, to labor, to the farmer, to the small business man. That theory belongs to the party of Toryism, and I had hoped that most of the Tories left this country in 1776.

Many of Roosevelt’s reforms were enacted in his first three months as President, known as the 100 Days. They included setting up the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide short-term governmental aid and temporary jobs to the unemployed. Roosevelt also enacted legislation to regulate the financial markets and different industries, and to strengthen the organizing power of labour unions. During the 100 Days Roosevelt also created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which spent around $500 million on soup kitchens, blankets, employment schemes and nurseries, in an attempt to alleviate poverty.

Despite resistance from the business community, amongst others, the New Deal was gradually accepted by both political parties and was largely followed in President Truman’s 1945 ‘Fair Deal’, which expanded social security, and sought to prevent racial and religious discrimination in employment through the Fair Employment Practices Act.

What Other ‘New Deals’ Have There Been?

Well, for starters, there was the UK’s 1942 Beveridge Report, which became a blueprint for the UK’s modern welfare state. It preceded the 1946 National Insurance Act, and many other social policies enacted by the Labour Party after they won the 1945 election. The National Insurance Act, for example, created a comprehensive system of unemployment, sickness, maternity, and pension benefits, funded by employers, employees and the government. The National Health Service Act created a universal state health service in 1948.

 Like Roosevelt, William Beveridge – the economist behind the Beveridge report – put “freedom from want” at the top of his agenda. His report sought to tackle the “five giants” - Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, and Idleness. In Roosevelt’s 1941 Four Freedoms speech he sought to establish “a world founded upon four essential human freedoms”, including “freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a health peace time life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world.”

In this article we’ve covered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and William Beveridge’s broad-sweeping economic plans.

Can you add any more below?


*Ocasio-Cortez image by the Senate Democrats used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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