The Clean Deal: A Strategy for Healing and Renewal

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The Clean Deal: A Strategy for Healing and Renewal

Solar panels dot the rooftops of homes in Salt Lake on Oahu, Hawaiʻi. (Photo: Matt Mallams/EarthJustice)

The country needs to heal.  It can do that by renewing itself.  Both are possible, but only if the parties put aside their treasured shibboleths and commit to a twenty-first century economic renaissance, a Clean Deal.  The harkening to Roosevelt’s New Deal is intentional.

Donald Trump’s election was an economic revolt, a rejection by the working class of a system that had abandoned it.  A similar animus motivated many Bernie Sanders supporters.  The Clean Deal is a bold, ten-year program to re-employ millions of workers by modernizing the nation’s energy infrastructure.  It will both heal and renew.

Here’s the plan. 

Trump should commit one trillion dollars over ten years to upgrading the transportation, energy generation, and housing infrastructures of the economy. 

Half of the money should go to developing the highest mileage automobile in the world, a car that gets 200 miles per gallon equivalent and runs on renewable energy.  Half of that — a quarter of a trillion dollars — should be devoted to research and development to achieve a quantum leap in both efficiency and cost.   This is a Manhattan Project for energy. 

The technology would be licensed to any private manufacturer who built the cars in the U.S.  Cars could be exported and sold around the world.

Another quarter of a trillion dollars should be offered as subsidies to help American drivers buy the new automobiles.  Gasoline taxes would be raised slowly but irreversibly to give drivers both the incentive and planning horizon to begin switching out of old cars and into new.  They could also help fund the program.  

This would create millions of jobs in U.S. manufacturing.  The U.S. would become the highest volume, lowest cost producer of the highest mileage cars in the world. 

Another half a trillion dollars should be devoted to modernizing 50 million American homes with their own energy generation and improved energy efficiency.  Energy generation would be accomplished by installing American made solar power systems.

Improved efficiency would come from upgrades to windows, insulation, water heaters and other systems. In both cases, American workers would be installing American-made products.  As with cars, all products could be exported to anywhere in the world. 

This would create tens of millions of jobs for U.S. factory and building trades workers.  As with transportation, the U.S. would become the highest volume, lowest cost producer of the highest efficiency energy systems in the world. 

The plan is straightforward.  But can it work? 

Legend holds that Henry Ford created the automobile revolution.  In fact, Ford’s assembly line was important, but no less so than the millions of miles of paved roads that governments built to make automobiles useable.  The results were epochal.

Automobiles spawned dozens of adjacent industries, from steel, glass, rubber, and asphalt to the panoply of culture we call suburbia.  GDP grew 40X over the twentieth century.  Average incomes increased ten-fold.  It was the greatest inadvertent public-private partnership in the history of the world.  The Clean Deal holds the same potential, but this time advertently. 

Can we afford it?  The one trillion dollar cost, spread over ten years, is almost trivial.  We spend almost a trillion dollars every year on the military.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost over $6 trillion.  What did we get for it?  ISIS?  We gave $17 trillion to bail out the banks after they bankrupted themselves in the Great Recession.  What did we get for that?  Too bigger to fail?

The Clean Deal would require Republicans to put aside their quasi-religious aversion to anything governmental.  That aversion, of course, has always been quasi.  Note, for example, how they are never averse bailing out banks or glutting weapons makers with ever more cash. 

And The Clean Deal would require Democrats to help Republicans engineer what could be the greatest revitalization of the American economy since Roosevelt’s New Deal.  The success of The New Deal helped entrench Democrats into national power for a generation. 

In other words, both parties will have to accept something they’d rather not.  But the gains to the country and its people would be worth it.  The Clean Deal would:

  • Employ millions of underemployed blue collar workers;
  • Improve the energy efficiency and competitiveness of the entire economy;
  • Substantially reduce the nation’s energy footprint and its impact on the environment;
  • Shrink the trade deficit by boosting exports and reducing the need for imported oil and automobiles;
  • Reduce the need for garrisoning the Middle East to secure energy supplies. 

Indeed, savings from reduced expenditures on war alone could pay for the entire program.  Increased taxes from higher employment and on gasoline would easily pay for even more.  Reductions in terrorism following a reduced U.S. presence in the Middle East would be a “collateral benefit” but invaluable. 

Viewed in a long historical perspective The Clean Deal could literally save the country.  The nineteenth century was dominated by the country that first learned to exploit coal:  England, in the Industrial Revolution.  The twentieth century belonged to the country that best exploited oil:  the U.S. and the automobile revolution. 

The twenty-first century will be owned by the country that best learns to do without dwindling fossil fuels and the calamitous imperial overstretch that is attendant on seizing them.  For, does anyone really believe the U.S.’s future will be claimed by continuing to invade and destroy Muslim countries in the Middle East?  Provoking war with Russia?  Attacking China?  That is a future of folly. 

This is the time and place where we can and need to chart a new direction. 

The Clean Deal would heal many of the wounds that divide the country.  It would fulfill Trump’s promise to create jobs and Democrats’ longing to aid the environment.  It will reduce war spending and terrorism.  It is a win for both parties.  Most important, it would renew the American economy as a leader in twenty-first century industry and commerce. 

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman

Robert Freeman writes about economics and education. He is the author of The Best One-Hour History series which includes World War I, The Vietnam War, The Cold War, and other titles.

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