Month: June 2019

History Has Taught Us That Concentration Camps Should Be Liberated

“YES, WE DO have concentration camps,” began the stinging critique of the Trump administration’s immigration detention facilities. It was written earlier this week by the editorial board of the Salt Lake Tribune, in the reliably conservative state of Utah.

Andrea Pitzer, author of the definitive book on the global history of concentration camps, agrees. So do people who were once forced to live in another era’s concentration camps.

But amid the debate about what to call immigration detention facilities, few people have disputed the truly terrible conditions that exist within them. Migrants have long reported awful experiences in immigration custody, but in recent months, an increase in the number of people, especially families and children, crossing the border and being detained has led to severe overcrowding.

Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier was granted access to a Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, and wrote in her report about it that “the conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities.” They “felt worse than jail.” The kids she examined were forced to endure “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”

It’s not an accident. These systems are cruel by design.

Over the past year, seven children have died in U.S. immigration custody or shortly after being released. These deaths occurred after 10 years during which not a single child died. Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, told The Atlantic that the stench in some detention facilities is so horrible that it was hard for her to even have a focused conversation with the children. Babies didn’t have diapers. Young kids were forced to care for infants who they didn’t even know. Clothes were covered in snot and excrement. Baby bottles were used without being properly cleaned and sterilized. All of these conditions have created environments where sicknesses and diseases spread like wildfire. In one facility, lice spread from child to child, and when the children were forced to share “lice combs,” and one somehow got lost, dozens of kids were punished by having their bedding removed. They had to sleep on the cold concrete floor.

This is why we say that cruelty is the point. It’s not an accident. These systems are cruel by design. The idea is to make it miserable to deter people from coming to the U.S. These detention centers are reckless and dangerous.

As many have pointed out, we need to remember exactly how and why the teenage diarist Anne Frank actually died. She was not gassed to death in a Nazi death camp. Instead, she died of neglect, malnutrition, and disease. It’s believed that she and her sister Margot contracted and died from typhus. In December 1944, a minor miracle occurred when Nanette Blitz, a lifelong childhood friend and classmate of Anne’s, was transferred to the Bergen-Belsen camp where the Frank sisters were being held.

“She was no more than a skeleton by then,” Blitz recalled. “She was wrapped in a blanket; she couldn’t bear to wear her clothes anymore because they were crawling with lice.” Guess what? Lice are the primary carriers of typhus. That’s how the disease spread.

And right now, today, we have prison camps across the United States where the same thing is happening. Multiple reports state that emergency conditions are repeatedly ignored until they result in death. The adults and children in these camp aren’t accused of being a danger to society. They haven’t been charged with violent crimes. Yet they are clearly being punished in the most severe ways.

Here’s where I am. If we have doctors, historians, and leading congress people calling these facilities “torture facilities” and “concentration camps,” and we all see the deaths piling up, and the conditions growing perilous, the question becomes: What exactly are we going to do about it?

For all the years that we’ve read and heard about concentration camps in other countries under other regimes, I don’t think many of us fully considered what we would do if such camps were built and operated in our nation, by our government, on our watch, on our dime. But that’s exactly where we are right now.

My soul is uncomfortable with where we are.

I swear, I am not trying to be inflammatory. I don’t mean this as a threat of violence or physical force, but I thought that concentration camps were supposed to be liberated. I thought that kids being held against their will in such atrocious conditions were supposed to be rescued. I don’t know what that kind of rescue would look like in present-day terms, but I know this much: My soul is uncomfortable with where we are.

It seems like our game plan is to focus on defeating Trump, and in the meantime, sue the administration until it incrementally agrees to start allowing kids to brush their teeth or wash their hands with soap. It just doesn’t seem to be enough. What if Trump wins again? Is our game plan then to wait four more years to hope we end these monstrous camps? Even if a Democrat wins, pledging to improve conditions, how can we hold them to account and demand that migrants be freed?

I always wondered how concentration camps lasted for so many years during the Holocaust, but now that we have our own, I see how. It’s a mix of fear, indifference, and lack of political will. We see the consequences of doing nothing, but it seems as though we’ve put all of our eggs into the basket of a far-off election. And I just don’t feel good about it.

Sudan’s Military Is Killing Pro-Democracy Protesters

It was 43 years ago, almost to this very day, that at least 176 civil rights protesters, most of them young students, were slaughtered in Soweto during a brutal massacre by the white supremacist government of South Africa.

That was the single deadliest day of the apartheid regime. When my family and I lived in South Africa in 2014, we quickly learned that June 16 is still a national day of mourning there. It’s called Youth Day, and it is literally a federal holiday.

In Sudan, June 3, 2019 will now be that day. Earlier this month, at least 100 young civil rights protesters were shot or bludgeoned to death in Khartoum; many of their bodies were tossed into the Nile River. Hundreds of other protesters were shot or critically injured. Experts believe that at least 70 women were sexually assaulted. Businesses were ransacked. And the space that the protesters were occupying outside of the capitol was cleared.

Less than two months earlier, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a long-indicted war criminal, stepped down in disgrace after nearly five months of protests over economic conditions that had brought the entire country to a halt. The protesters were right to call for his removal. But what followed was painfully predictable. The military, led by many men who for generations proudly did the work of a war criminal, took over the government and started cracking down on the protesters.

The protesters were calling for a civilian-led government. Soon, the military cut off all internet services to prevent them from communicating with each other and with the outside world. Then the military cut off cell service. But the sit-in demonstrations continued. So then the military ordered armed forces to clear the protesters out, which led to the June 3 massacre. The military has even admitted it.

For months, the Trump administration has said and done virtually nothing. One could reasonably argue that it’s better to keep Donald Trump far away from Sudan. Hell, he might love what the military is doing there. With his penchant for dictators and brutal strongmen, it’s not like Trump would identify with civil rights protesters calling for free and fair elections. That’s not on-brand at all. This administration has proven itself to be consistently cruel to all people of color who seek refuge from dictators here or abroad. And that belies the more disturbing point. The world is learning that cruelty to human beings is not a bug in the Trump philosophy on governance, it’s a feature.

The Trump administration has loudly signaled to the world that it doesn’t give a damn about Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordering the torturous murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist, or a North Korean dictator executing whoever irritates him on any random day of the week. Maybe you missed the news, but earlier this week, Israel named a whole damn town after Trump. It’s literally called “Trump Heights.” But of course they would. Israeli snipers shot a staggering 1,350 people last May — killing women, children, journalists, and nurses — and the U.S. government proudly relocated its embassy to Jerusalem at Trump’s behest. Trump didn’t do as much as bat an eye at the slaughter of so many civilians.

Think about it for a moment. What could the United States say to Sudan with any level of seriousness or moral ground to stand on? Nothing! Whether or not that calculus went into the decision for the Sudanese military to order the wholesale slaughter of civil rights protesters is unknown, but this much is clear: They knew, as the world knows, that the Trump administration has no inclination whatsoever to do anything substantive about such abuses.

All of this has made it difficult to figure out exactly how well-meaning, everyday people around the world can actually help bring safety and democracy to Sudan — especially since the internet remains cut off and social media virtually inaccessible nationwide. This may sound nebulous, but the first thing I ask people to do is to simply make a place in their hearts and minds to actually care about the human rights abuses in Sudan. People are understandably suffering from compassion fatigue. So much is wrong in our nation, and wrong around the world, that it can be legitimately difficult to make room for one more crisis.

Once you make up your mind that you are going to care and stick with Sudan, you need to follow, read, and amplify the voices either on the ground or seriously in the know. Here’s one person to follow. And another. And another. And what you will learn from them about Sudan will be immensely richer than anything I could ever tell you. I’m learning just as much as you are, but this much I know: I won’t turn my head and pretend this abomination is just a bad dream. It’s very real.

The current state of American foreign policy will have to be completely overhauled (I mean torn down to the studs) and reimagined in order for the United States to actually be able to play a positive, substantive role in such a conflict. Of course that will mean that the president of the United States can’t be a superfan of brutal dictators and state-sanctioned violence against citizens calling for civil rights and human rights. But it also needs to mean that presidential candidates and congressional leaders have to express more courage, clarity, and consistency on the human rights abuses of “allies” like Israel. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. ring true here: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The most prominent leaders in our nation rarely seem to operate from that philosophy. It’s easy to imagine that they are as overwhelmed by the state of the nation as the rest of us, but the current crisis in Sudan, and the historic abuses and carnage suffered there, simply have not gotten the attention it deserves. When everybody is in campaign mode, trying to give red meat to their base and focusing on domestic policy issues, it just seems like the crisis in Sudan gets squeezed out. Our job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Medicare For All Goes To The Hill

House committee hearings for Medicare for All are finally starting today. It’s a testament to M4A’s rising popularity — but overcoming opposition from Republicans, Democrats, and the health care companies will require a mass movement.

Remarkably, the real legislative fight to win Medicare for All is just beginning. With a hearing today, the Ways and Means Committee of the US House is the first congressional committee to consider Medicare for All that has primary policy and funding jurisdiction.

Witnesses will include Rebecca Wood, who spoke in 2017 at the introduction of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All bill about her inability to get appropriate dental treatment, among other horrors visited upon her and her family by the US health care industry — a bleak typical picture of workers’ experience with their private health insurance. Former CMS administrator Donald Berwick, a strong single-payer advocate, will also testify.

Otherwise, at the hearing academics and consultants affiliated with the health care industry offer their prescriptions for “universal coverage.” State-based health exchanges created by the ACA, in the business of marketing private plans, have latched onto the “public option” (at least in Democratic-led states), so they will be represented in the hearing as well.

The hearing is the first step, setting the table for how Medicare for All will be debated in the House: how the hearing gets conducted, who testifies, matters. But here’s the thing: this powerful committee is not actually exercising its power on Wednesday.

The Ways and Means committee has the power to pass the funding and policies to establish improved Medicare for All, in what’s called a “mark up” of the HR 1384 — the single-payer bill — to prepare it for consideration by the full US House. This hearing on “universal coverage” is not a mark-up.

It may instead be the final act of this year’s mini-drama, “The Left and Progressives versus Nancy Pelosi.” This winter, at closed-door meetings, top Democratic staff assured health insurers that Medicare For All isn’t going anywhere, and public statements by Speaker Pelosi and by other leaders of the Democrats’ congressional campaign operation repeated industry talking points on costs and the impact on current Medicare. But within the last two weeks the snide is gone and key congressional leaders, including the chair of Ways and Means, Richard Neal, has co-sponsored HR 1384.

So what happened? Movement pressure and the popularity of Medicare for All, reflected in the continuing support of Democratic presidential candidates, particularly for Sanders’s Medicare for All bill, S 1192.

When 85 percent of your party favors a reform, as they do with Medicare for All, it should create a problem for leaders if they are not leading on the issue.  But despite these Democrats’ giving in on the hearing, they continue clinging to rhetoric about Americans being able to “keep your private insurance.” This directly follows the health care industry’s campaign developed by the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future to scare Americans about losing their existing private health care coverage and having it replaced by Medicare for All.

The reality is congressional Democrat campaigns and state Democratic parties  are funded by the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital corporations, whose “community hospital” CEOs  are on speed dial of their district Democratic House members’ chiefs of staff. These relationships matter. Very few congressional staffers are left-progressive, and most strongly believe taking on the health care industry cannot succeed.

That creates a very cynical dynamic in Washington, reflected in the DC paper the Hill reporting that Democrats want to highlight the costs of Medicare for All and Republicans believe opposing Medicare for All works politically.

We have to set the terms of debate now. The Ways and Means Committee must be used as a platform today and a focus for organizing based on our program. Let’s amplify the messages of cost savings and comprehensive benefits; more important, let’s make every politician who doesn’t support Medicare for All defend the health care industry — its rapacious profits ($35 billion in 2018!), the obscene CEO salaries (average is $22 million per year), the denials of care, and the tax subsidies that make it all possible.

We cannot stop our outside agitation. The doors knocked, the local support built, the actions organized now will continue to determine if there are more rooms to take over, and what happens inside those rooms.

Our demand is very simple: guaranteed health care when we need it, with no barriers to care.

It’s a matter of justice, rooted in solidarity, to create a humane health care system based on caregiving, raising up the material quality of life for workers, providing security and expanding freedom. If we want to go beyond just House committee hearings on Medicare for All to actually winning it, let’s keep building a mass movement that demands nothing less.

Mass Shootings, Dinner, And The Cognitive Dissonance Of Just Living In America

On Friday evening, my wife and I were on our way to dinner with our three youngest kids when I happened to learn from Twitter that a man in Virginia Beach had just shot and killed 12 people. And so my struggle, which I am sure is also regularly your struggle, began.

In almost every developed nation in the world, 12 people being killed in a mass shooting would make that incident the deadliest in years. In some nations, it would be the deadliest ever. But in the United States, they happen so often, with such ferocity and carnage, that when we learn about the next one, we hardly skip a beat. Indeed, 2018 was by far the most violent year ever measured for school shootings in the United States, and 2017 was the deadliest year in at least a half-century for gun deaths altogether in this country — with an astounding 40,000 people killed by guns. That’s 110 people per day. We couldn’t keep up if we tried.

After seeing the news of this latest mass shooting, I wanted to somehow relay the fact that 12 people were just murdered to my wife without actually saying the specific words in front of our kids. “Oh no. 12 people,” I said to her, not speaking in a complete sentence. “Virginia Beach,” I continued. I know my kids are aware of gun violence and mass shootings, but it just seemed like too much in that moment to say in front of them something like, “12 people were just shot to death.” Between the seriousness of my tone and the six words that I assembled for her about the shooting, she knew exactly what I was trying to relay to her without the kids quite catching on.

They were happy. And we were pulling up to a fun restaurant in Brooklyn. And so I used the strange skill that none of us should have but all of us use almost every day. Somewhere deep in my mind I tucked the thought of that horrific shooting in Virginia Beach away. I compartmentalized it — boxed it up and closed the door to the memory — so that I could be emotionally present during dinner, so that I could listen to the kid’s stories about their day at school, and excitedly order from the menu with the family. And I did it. I moved on in that moment so that I could enjoy the taste of Vietnamese food. And while I ate dinner, as I reflect back on it, I don’t think I once thought again of the victims in Virginia Beach.

That’s the game we play. To get through dinner, to get through a movie or a game, to get through quality time with our loved ones, we must temporarily suspend our knowledge that people are being slaughtered all around us. We speak of the wild, Wild West as some nostalgic era of the past, but we’re living it. The United States is the only nation in the world estimated to have more guns than people. And it shows. Americans are shooting and killing themselves and killing others with guns at a pace that should be treated as a dire national emergency. If we just enacted a fraction of the basic standards and norms held by the rest of the world, our nation would be so much safer.

In New Zealand, after 51 men, women, and children were shot to death earlier this year while gathering for prayers in their local mosques, the nation, in a matter of just a few days, made radical shifts in their gun laws: banning assault rifles and so much more. And that urgency is just what the United States needs, but I am afraid we’ve crossed some invisible threshold, having given up after burying so many thoughts of so many shootings and so much violence — so that we can just have dinner in peace.

An Interview With Yanis Varoufakis

The last few years have been a bit of a rollercoaster for the European left. Riding up front has been Yanis Varoufakis, the charismatic economist and former Greek finance minister who went to war with the troika—the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund—in 2015 as it sought to inflict brutal austerity as a penalty for his country’s debts and its decision to elect an openly left-wing government headed by Syriza.

They lost that fight, but Varoufakis escaped mostly unscathed. Amid Brexit and a wave of Euroskepticism, he went on to found the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), pushing for a more democratic and inclusive continent, free of austerity. The group mounted several candidates under the mantle of a European Spring this May, including Varoufakis himself. They failed to gain a single seat, though his vote total came in a hundredth of a percentage point below the 3 percent threshold needed to gain representation. While the center-right faltered in May, so, too, did the left.

Particularly among young voters, progressive and social democratic parties—including those in the DiEM25 orbit—seem to have lost many of their votes to the European Greens, which successfully tapped into the momentum of the youth-led Fridays for Future protests around Europe and Extinction Rebellion in the UK. Voters across the continent now rank the climate crisis among their top concerns. The great irony in left parties’ generally meager showing is that, from La France Insoumise to Labour in the UK, they are greener than they’ve ever been, in many places rejecting the old-school productivism that fueled them through the postwar era.

In Europe, all politics is now climate politics. The question is whether the left can ground the conversation about rising temperatures in a broader egalitarian vision that can counter tepid centrist technocracy and far-right xenophobia alike, and the response of each to the existential threat hurdling toward us. In its push for a Green New Deal, DiEM25 wagers that it can, but it has hit no shortage of road bumps along the way. Engaging in the largely symbolic European Parliament elections was one piece of an effort they’ll continue as the left attempts to craft the kind of systemic and internationalist climate response that science is demanding.

The interview below was recorded a few days before voting began.

DiEM25 and many others are advocating a Green New Deal, something you’ve worked on for several years. What do you think it is about that framing that is grabbing people’s attention, despite it being seemingly so American?
What is important about a Green New Deal is that it concentrates the mind on the main task, which is to swiftly and efficiently find massive funding for a cause that is in the public interest. The New Deal began with Roosevelt in the 1930s in the midst of a Great Depression. The innovation of this thinking by Roosevelt, who wasn’t exactly a radical, was to concentrate on the fact that even during the Great Depression—when everybody was short of money—there was a mountain of idle cash, which could be converted into investment. So instead of thinking of a different social system, like changing property rights, he used the toolkit of the federal government, and in particular U.S. Treasury bills, to put billions of dollars into the service of investments in jobs, in building roads and hospitals, even art projects and so on.

Our version of the Green New Deal [in Europe] combines the original aims and inspiration of Franklin Roosevelt. We want governments to use public financial instruments to massively increase investment in good quality jobs, and technologies and facilities that are necessary for green transition in the fields of energy, transport, manufacturing, and agriculture. That is absolutely essential, and this is what we’ve been working on for years now.

As part of that, you’ve also called for refashioning the Bretton Woods institutions and referenced the Marshall Plan, which, as you’ve written, was arrived at for a mixed bag of reasons, a big part of which was U.S. policymakers’ self-interest in having allies around the world in the context of the Cold War. What does refashioning the Bretton Woods institutions look like today? Is there a similar appeal to be made for the sort of self-interest that propelled the Marshall Plan?
The Bretton Woods system was originally conceived by the New Dealers as the global framework within which Roosevelt’s New Deal in the United States could prevail.

Today, if we want a European Green New Deal, or an American Green New Deal, we will have to look beyond the confines of the borders of our countries to build the circumstances in which the New Deal can go global. It requires something like a new Bretton Woods. If you look at the old Bretton Woods institutions that are still with us, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in the era of financialization, they have become toxic. They have become detrimental to the interests of the multitudes around the world. In DiEM25, but also as part of a progressive international that we are slowly building with our friends and colleagues in the United States, in Japan, in Iceland, in Africa, and so on, we are envisioning a new Bretton Woods that will have a very little to do with the old Bretton Woods, except in the original idea of creating the international framework and the international institutions that are absolutely necessary to maintain an international Green New Deal.

How does that get around some of the problems that have been faced by bodies like the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change in trying to arrive at a global solution to this problem?
The approaches that you mentioned have so far been approaches focusing on constraints. Now, this is very important, of course: physical limits to growth and setting ceilings for CO2 or methane gases is essential. But the problem with these international agreements is that while all countries around the world would benefit if everybody stood by those constraints, each one of them individually has an incentive to find some pretext, either covertly or directly, to break those commitments. However, if the international agreements on climate change move into creating public financial tools that allow banks to collaborate to issue bonds that soak up the excess liquidity, then suddenly the incentive would be there for countries to opt in. This would be a very large-scale international investment fund from which to create jobs and from which to do good things regarding technologies for renewables and so on. A large-scale, international green investment plan would offer not just sticks, but also carrots for countries to participate in these international agreements—something that has never been attempted before.

Adam Tooze responded to some of your writing on this point by arguing that power isn’t really held in nations as it was toward the end of the Second World War when those institutions were created, and is now concentrated among central bankers, lawyers, and financial economists. How do you respond to that critique in terms of where power is held today?
I agree with that. We should never underestimate the importance of functionaries, both functionaries who work for the states and functionaries who work for large corporations. But to say that because they are vested with inordinate power, the rest of us should simply throw up our hands in the air and surrender to climate change or to underinvestment or to what Larry Summers refers to as secular stagnation, that is a non sequitur for me. My assessment of Bretton Woods in 1944 is that it was driven by a combination of a very powerful moral commitment by people in the New Dealers’ administration who felt in their bones the inequities and the wretchedness of the Great Depression, and they didn’t want to live to see it again. That moral political force, ideology if you want, was a necessary condition, even though it was not sufficient. As Adam Tooze points out, it took many lawyers and functionaries, who recognized the self-interest in participating in this majestic new internationalist project, to then bring it about. I don’t see why we should not aim to do the same thing at this juncture. The year 2008 was spectacularly similar to 1929.

There’s this tendency to treat climate as something that can be walled off from the financial sector or from issues of immigration. Could you say more specifically about why massive reforms to the financial system are so important to dealing with the climate problem?
If you look at what’s going on in Wall Street today, it’s as if 2008 never happened. The financial sector is like a driver who was caught doing 130 miles an hour, gets a huge fine, and after half an hour forgets all about the fine and starts speeding again.

As for climate change, in my own country, we have a feast that is being prepared by the oligarchs of the eastern Mediterranean, including the Greek ones, and the American multinational companies that will soon be extracting oil and natural gas from deep sea wells. All that’s being financed by a financial sector that is going haywire yet again as if 2008 never happened.

In the 1930s and ’40s there was this real change in how people were thinking about the role of the state in the economy and what it is governments should be doing and providing. There was a similar paradigm shift in the 1970s that created an opening for neoliberals. Does the climate crisis offer that kind of opportunity today to folks looking to put a new paradigm into place that can actually deal with it?
I think that this shift has already happened. A majority of people in every country realize that Alan Greenspan’s touching faith in the capacity of markets to self-regulate was nothing but a particularly toxic form of idiocy. The question now, however, is this: how do we go from the serious weakening of the libertarian paradigm to creating a political consensus toward a Green New Deal? This is the task ahead for all of us.

At the moment, instead of progressives getting together and planning a new Bretton Woods, what we have is a neo-fascist international led by people like Matteo Salvini in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, Orban in Hungary, Steve Bannon—who is traversing the continent spreading his poison—Donald Trump in the White House, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Modi in India.

We are trying to create a progressive international but we are just at the very, very beginning. And the rallying call of the neo-fascist nationalist international is: Make America Great Again, Make Greece Great Again, Make Italy Great Again. On the one hand they’re saying they are nationalist, but on the other hand, they’re combining forces very efficiently across the world. What we need to do is effectively emulate their success but not by emulating their tactics. They are using xenophobia: they’re blaming Muslims, Jews, Greeks, and all sorts of categories and sets of people and nationalities and religions. They claim to be doing it on behalf of the people, but once in power they employ the worst offenders from Wall Street. Donald Trump took Goldman Sachs personnel and implanted them in the Fed and in the Treasury.

We need to use the Green New Deal as a rallying call across the world. The Green New Deal is a positive message of realism. We have excess liquidity. The world has never had savings as high as we have today. So all we need to do is find ways to turn those savings into good quality green jobs.

There’s this argument that welfare states were contingent on cheap oil. If we need to actually keep fossil fuels in the ground what does it look like to build a low-carbon welfare state?
I’m not convinced at all that the welfare state was built on cheap energy. The welfare state was simply built as a result of the political pressures upon capital to yield some of its profits in order to stabilize its rule over labor. It was a result of class conflict. Already we see that renewable energy is cheaper than oil. So what seems to me a question that would have been very pertinent in the 1970s—because back then renewables were either not available or very, very expensive—is no longer pertinent. Today all we’re missing is a massive investment in turning existing renewable technologies and technologies that come into existence in the next five years into the mainstay of energy generation.

I reject the argument that we need to go back to a bucolic existence to save the planet. When we talk to people who are struggling to make it until the end of the month, telling them that over the next fifty years we’re going to lose species, they say “I don’t give a damn! I can’t make ends meet today.” We have to talk to people in a way that combines addressing these anxieties with the issues of the environment. Unless we manage to do that, we will fail. But I think we can.

For the last several decades, GDP growth has been the main metric by which an economy’s health is judged. There is a stubborn relationship between GDP growth and emissions, but it’s also true that GDP growth is not necessarily a great indicator of human well-being, or of many other things we might think are important in an economy. Is growth a useful metric? Should there be others?
GDP is an awful metric. There’s no doubt that GDP growth is meaningless in terms of human achievements and happiness and success. You burn down a forest, GDP goes up. But we don’t just need a new metric, we need a different system of organizing economic life. We need to transcend capitalism. But as long as we are with capitalism, what is the point? Let’s say I were to design a fantastic new metric that puts a great deal of value in trees and poetry and all the other things that should be valued. If we live in capitalism, it’s irrelevant.

Among economists, the go-to answer for how to deal with climate change for years has been to correct the market failure by making the price of carbon dioxide reflect it’s true value: the social cost of carbon. Do you see that consensus slipping at all?
Economists are very funny creatures. When economists look at market value, the complete disaster in the environment, or for that matter in the financial markets, isn’t recognized as a market failure. So what are they proposing more of? More markets. They’re hoping that the market will perform its miracle and an emissions trading scheme will create a shadow price for carbon that will make it more likely that humanity will reduce its use of carbon. Now if you are interested in saving free-market ideology from failure and from becoming humiliated by the facts, then of course this is what you do. But if you’re interested in saving humanity, you just remind yourself that you started from the wrong axiom, and the wrong axiom is that the market knows best. The market doesn’t know best.

Now we’re talking a couple of days out from the European elections. However things turn out, what are the next steps?
When we announced a year ago that we’re going to run in the European elections, we were really clear in saying we don’t consider the European Parliament to be that significant. What we always savored was the process of elections in the same week across Europe that allowed us to put the Green New Deal on the agenda in Poland, Denmark, Portugal, Greece, France, Germany, and Italy. This has been remarkable. So after the election we will take stock of what happened, how successful we were in putting it on the agenda and getting some people elected. We will see what new tools we have, whether we have some new resources as a result of the election or some of us in the European Parliament, how many of those resources there are. The next stage will be national elections in Germany, in Greece, maybe in Italy. This is not going to be an easy struggle, and it’s not going to end anytime soon, and it’s not a discrete event. It’s a continuous campaign.