Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Revolutionary Proposal from Al Gore

by Norman Markowitz

Former Vice President Al Gore in a speech in Washington called for a policy that would lead to the elimination of all fossil fuel based electrical power production in the U.S. and its replacement by solar, wind, and other renewable energy source. Gore used the successful landing of men on the moon in 1969 fulfilling the pledge that John F. Kennedy made at the beginning of the decade as an example that an undertaking that many considered impossible at the time could be accomplished in a decade.

Although many will jump to the conclusion that such a profound reorganization of the forces that power production and transportation is socially impossible even if it were scientifically achievable (which many scientists, especially those employed by industry, will deny is true) Gore did come forward with a remarkably progressive pro working class policy suggestion as a way to foster a carbon dioxide free environment, a tax on on carbon dioxide production(which would be a tax on capital) to be accompanied by reductions on payroll taxes that currently are used to fund social security/Medicare-Medicaid, and are made by employers and employees.

"We should tax what we burn, not what we earn," Gore said, words that might be trite as poetry but sound brilliant as policy. Gore also pointed to the deepening crisis in economy, foreign policy and environment, pointing to Iraq and Afghanistan and said (quite rightly), "We are borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that has got to change."

Gore's suggestions are breath-taking and, in the context of contemporary global capitalism (but only in that context) in all likelihood Utopian. He is right about the disasters that are in the offing, but his belief that business, especially large corporate power, can be made to see that these policies are in their best interest, in creating over the long haul far greater efficiency and balance in production, are the sort of liberal hopes that have been dashed over and over again. Most European and Japanese large capitalists would say that the systems of socialized medicine in existence in their countries have helped them become more productive and have reduced labor costs, but this did not mean that they supported such programs which were implemented in European countries at least either directly or indirectly by powerful labor movements, labor and socialist led governments, and Communist parties.

In the U.S. large corporations have not shown any willingness to lead in the creation of a national health care system comparable to those that exist in Western Europe, even though it might benefit them by reducing their overall labor costs both for health insurance payments and in losses from worker illnesses. My analysis is that most capitalists do not and will not support pro working class reforms even if it benefits them, because those reforms represent a strengthening of the working class and the possibility that the working class will build on those gains to more effectively fight capital. This does not mean that far-reaching changes in political economy that benefit the environment and the people are not possible under capitalism. It does mean that those changes do not emanate in advanced countries from the capitalists and will only be accepted by them after intense political and social struggle.

Although Gore's idea about a pollution payroll tax for employers is the best idea I have heard from a major party politician about taxation in a long time, it will take more than a government funding scientific research and development for a fossil fuel free environment to really achieve that goal (also such policies in themselves are very positive). It will take the sort of national planning and investment that have been the hall mark of socialist societies on an international level. At the very least, it will take the kind of overall national policy commitment of the kind that has characterized advanced countries in warfare, particularly WWII and the subsequent cold war.

But the present military-industrial complex and its oil company allies stand as a and perhaps the major roadblock to the creation of a fossil fuel free "clean" industrial complex based society. Although Al Gore mentioned the possible "national security" implications of hundreds millions of people from the poor countries fleeing the climate disasters that global warming is bringing (which is a real danger) he didn't specifically address the military industrial complex for which "national security" has been a slogan used to bury serious criticism since the beginning of the cold war in 1947. The dismantling of the military industrial complex in the U.S., as I see it, is a precondition to the achievement of Gore's vision of a pollution free economy and environment. Gore's speech though deserves full fledged support from all progressive people and hopefully will become a part of the presidential campaign, especially Gore's innovative tax reform suggestions.

Al Gore is right on the problem confronting the U.S. and the world. And I believe that he is right on the solution, even if his time frame for achieving that solution is something of a "maximum demand." Where he is weak is how to implement that solution, beyond his tax reform suggestion. It is there that the progressive people in labor, the arts sciences and professions can and must come forward with practical plans to achieve these lofty but socially necessary goals.