Labor Will Save Us?

Both sides may do it, but I don’t care about sweeping Republican solutions to all of the world’s ills. Liberal solutions are different in that they are often based on empirical evidence rather than faith. Renewable energy and labor are supposed to save us; wealth inequality and carbon dioxide are going to kill us.

There is still this lingering hangover from Al Gore (and to a lesser extent John Kerry’s) presidential run that policies and programs are too boring, and we need to speak in values. That’s fine for political campaigns but we need policies and programs. Just saying “labor” and “renewable energy” are far from actual solutions, much less ones that are realistic. In a divisive political environment, each party waits for 9/11, Katrina, or a financial collapse for its “I told you so” moment and then and only then gets to implement anything.

This is a tough situation. There are other problems. It is inarguable that labor created the middle class. But it seems that it has failed to make much progress. Renewable energy is a great solution, but none has been presented that will actually keep the world powered—not yet, and how long can we wait?

In practice, “labor” has become a non-union movement that pushes for widely applicable laws (as it should) like minimum wage increases in legislatures instead of in collective bargaining. The sooner this is realized as the actual situation instead of a cognitive dissonance the better. Unions are easy to demonize and almost no one outside of old companies and the public sector is or has ever been a member. Getting everyone paid sick leave and $15 an hour leaves no one out.

The environmental movement, in thrall out not selling out to nuclear power, has sold out to all kinds of conservation sins in the name of renewable energy instead. It is inarguable that large corporations, especially Big Oil, has been the number one thing standing in the way of progress, but with nothing other than a Malthusian, Puritanical, punishing vision of the future as an alternative, it will take very big “I told you so” moment indeed to make progress on that agenda, even if we agree it should be pursued.

Specifying certain programs runs the risk of programs becoming ends in themselves. Failing to specify them fails to advance the interests. So, anyone with an interest in advancing more economic and environmental well-being should come up with as many different programs and policies as possible and forget about this bill or that one and remember the endgame.

People motivated by inequality should keep pushing things that provide for economic security, like the implementation of medicare expansion in every state, the increase of the minimum wage, and paid sick and family leave. People motivated by climate change should promote everything that takes carbon out of the air and watts in the grid.