What is the value of the Green New Deal, kids?
What is the value of the Green New Deal, kids? Charles Mudede

On March 15, teens around the world demanded that serious action be taken to address the real and growing dangers of climate change. The idea for the protest, described as a strike (students left their schools), came from a Swedish teen, Greta Thunberg, who has been nominated for a Noble Peace Prize. The zone of the climate issue is now located between those who will be dead before the heavy shit happens and those who will have to endure it. The fact that high school students are naming the source of inaction as existential adds the force of immediacy to their cause. And this is not about death, it's about life, about living in a world that's livable.

Climate existentialism (or nihilism) is only pronounced because the current economic system is fatally stuck, it absolutely refuses to change, it's welded to denial. Why? Because it itself knows that it could not survive the massive and far-reaching social processes that a Green New Deal (GND) would set into motion. The repeated cry from the right that GND would result in socialism is just another way of saying that value, as fabricated, sustained, and made meaningful by the market, would lose much, if not all, of its force. The youth need to be up on what value is. It's the soul of your world, and it's grinding your one and only world into the dust.

The world is made of many competing forces. Some are natural, others are cultural. Over the past 300 years, humans have increasingly been dominated by one force, which is cultural. It's called value. It's what connects a worker at a construction site in Seattle, to one at a call center in the Philippines, to one cleaning an apartment in Dubai. It is absolute because it is the same wherever you go.

When economics was born at the end of the 18th century, the main question was: Where does value come from. The first thinkers (Adam Smith and David Ricardo) argued it was labor, but this interpretation was fine when capitalists had land-owning aristocrats as their main opponent. (Land-owners insisted, of course, that the source of value was the land and its natural productions—this is called physiocracy.) However, the capitalists changed their tune when, in the middle of the first half of the 19th century, workers emerged as their opponents. At that point, value moved from the hard-working hands of labor to the deep pockets of those who owned the means of production. This relocation amounted to value as not grown (or as originating from the processes of photosynthesis), as not made (or originating from the "expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles"), but to just as value, which is measured by money and, when sufficiently accumulated, becomes capital.

The leading economist at the end of the 19th century, Alfred Marshall, argued that value is primarily determined by "the reward of waiting." The worker worked but could never wait. The money in his or her hand was lost as soon as it was grabbed. But capitalists could wait. This idea enjoyed a force that was moral and even Christian ("...the postponement of, and waiting for enjoyments"). The idea of waiting eventually transformed into the idea of the job creator. The job does not create value, the job creator (or entrepreneur) does. And here we have your worship of Steve Jobs. The mainstream economists of our times still support and repeat in classes, in academic journals, and in newspapers this idea (the many forms of expressing the reward of waiting).

Here is the bad news for the young, and it stands as the key obstacle to making the world livable in the future. Any serious and thoroughgoing reconstruction of our global society that can realistically reverse or stabilize the climate will necessarily require the extinction of value, which is the universal subject, the absolute of the world's economy. The only way Wakanda can open a Starbucks is because the value that makes Howard Schultz a billionaire has somehow entered and is shaping the defining cultural codes of that fictional African country.

If the Green New Deal is implemented, the present expressions of value in the US's energy, housing, transportation, and agriculture sectors will necessarily go under. The noise being made about taking away hamburgers from Americans is not empty. The proponents of the Green New Deal should be honest and direct about that. The only reason why fast food is "cheap" is because it's undervalued for the maintenance of a high level of value, which can be transformed into profits. What this requires is that a major part of the cost (health, environmental, and so on) of, say a hamburger, is picked up by the public's tab. The question for those in power, those with the most force, and express it as value, then is: can the current power relations be maintained in the aftermath of this Green New Deal? This uncertainty is terrifying for many politicians and the powerful interests they represent.

But how would a critical consideration of market value be useful to the climate action that the youth of our changing times feel is existentially pressing? Because this value, which is culturally constructed, is used to discredit the fiscal feasibility of the leading program to address global warming, the New Green Deal. Those in power have an argument that's been built and reinforced for 150 years by economist after economist. Value comes first, and what makes it happen are the job creators. How will there be value in a world that has no value creators? How can you beat this argument if you are using the same terms as those who do not want the world to change, and therefore its defining value system to change?

Sen. Joni Ernst: "At $93 trillion, the Green New Deal would cost more than the entire recorded spending of the U.S. since the Constitution went into effect in 1789." This is what you are up against. She has set the terms because they are already there for her to deploy. They are not there for you, students walking out of classes in Paris, New York City, and Seattle. As is, you have nothing to counter it because all other forms of economic thinking have been stifled (and I'm not even talking about Marx, but also John Maynard Keynes and Joan Robinson and the like). You must instead participate in this argument that is completely one-sided because you are not defining the terms of value, you are not defining the terms of what kind of cultural force must shape the kind of society you want to live in. (In another post, I will offer an alternative to value as we understand it, but I have said enough for now.)