Democrats’ Green New Deal envisions transforming the American economy into a carbon-neutral system. It is named after President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policy agenda. But the actual inspiration for it is the Great Leap Forward.
Roosevelt’s New Deal didn’t intend to modernize the American economy. It was ambitious, to be sure, but its purpose was merely to reduce unemployment, reform banking, and strengthen the social safety net. The Great Leap Forward and the Green New Deal, on the other hand, are both national economic modernization plans.
Instead of carbon-neutrality, the measure of success under the Great Leap Forward was steel production. Mao Zedong, who implemented the Great Leap Forward, governed China: a poor, agrarian country. He wanted a prosperous, industrialized country instead. So his government issued mandates to make it happen. Greater steel production implied successful industrialization not just because steel is a valuable product in itself, but also because it is an intermediate good used to build everything else: cars, airplanes, skyscrapers, etc.
Instead of moving people into “green jobs,” people would be moved off farms and into factories. China’s agriculture system, dominated by small family farms, would be collectivized. This would make agriculture more efficient through economies of scale. Instead of each farmer working a small plot of land owned by his family, farmers would cooperatively cultivate large swaths that belonged to everybody. Instead of each household feeding itself and raising its own children, communes would feed everyone through mess halls and raise everyone’s children. (It takes a village.)
Like the Green New Deal, the Great Leap Forward would “guarantee economic security.” Chinese rural poverty was even worse than American student-loan debt. China’s industrialization would improve the standard of living for the poor, first and foremost, but ultimately it would benefit everyone.
Like the Green New Deal, the Great Leap Forward would answer the question of “what will we do with our new shared prosperity.” Government would collect and distribute wheat, rice, and industrial products across the country, taking care that everyone’s needs were met, discouraging overconsumption and hoarding. Wealth inequality would fall. China would not be “a system that allows billionaires to exist” side-by-side with rural poverty.
Unfortunately — but predictably — the Great Leap Forward failed. Steel production did increase. But China’s factories focused on government-imposed production quotas: they delivered quantity instead of quality. Chinese steel was too brittle for industrial purposes. Much went unused. China’s farms were collectivized. But with farm labor being diverted to factories and private trade being banned, land went fallow. Yields dropped. Bureaucrats collected the harvest, but failed to move it where it was needed. Grain rotted in silos while several Holocausts worth of people starved to death.
China suffered until the government reversed itself. Hoping to “reform and open,” the government loosened its restrictions on private property and trade. Rather than whine about wealth inequality, billionaires, and “the one percent,” Mao Zedong’s successor encouraged the opposite: “let some people get rich first,” said Deng Xiaoping. Hundreds of millions of Chinese people lifted themselves out of poverty. Today, China is the world’s most productive economy, second only to The United States.
The surest way to reduce carbon emissions is to destroy the wealth that begets these emissions. The Green New Deal will be successful in this regard, just as the Great Leap Forward increased China’s steel production. But “reform and opening” is a better model, and getting rich is a better goal. Greenback dollar bills beat green carbon offsets. Americans would rather have more money and bigger carbon footprints than less money and smaller carbon footprints. After all, “to get rich is glorious.”
Lew Olowski is an attorney and formerly a clerk to Radovan Karadzic, president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Lew served under Peter Robinson, who is among the world’s premiere international criminal trial lawyers litigating war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. He is a graduate of Georgetown Law School.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.