Coming to a government near you

We need real-world teaching tools to combat easy-answer policy solutions.

This issue of Thinking Minnesota devotes more than a few pages to revealing how the vacuous popularity of “Green New Deal” politics is blowing across the nation, far beyond Washington, D.C., and taking root like Creeping Charlie in our own political backyards.

In an original new analysis that proves how simple solutions frequently produce far-reaching consequences (p. 38), Policy Fellow Isaac Orr concludes that a proposal to raise Minnesota’s “renewable energy” mandate from 25 percent to 50 percent will ultimately cost each Minnesota family a whopping $1,200 per year while having virtually no impact on the climate. In another piece (p. 28), Isaac details how first-term Governor Tim Walz surprised many voters in the early days of his term with an abrupt leftward lurch toward the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of his party. Our Thinking Minnesota Poll (p. 34) provides some relief by revealing the skepticism with which most Minnesotans are receiving Walz’s rhetoric-centered policy agenda, especially the 20-cent per gallon increase in Minnesota’s gas tax.

And our superb Senior Policy Fellow Katherine Kersten (p. 20) contributes another in her series of articles about challenges in the Edina School district. This time, she discusses how parents are trying to regain their district’s academic excellence while the administration continues to emphasize its social agenda.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we got here because it is happening everywhere. And these are truly some crazy and silly ideas. Such proposals would damage our energy businesses so that we go from energy independence to energy dependence. Even our agriculture industry would be required to counter the ill effects of cow flatulence. As I say, silly and crazy.

We all experienced a head-scratching exhibition of modern progressive politics when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—and many of her Democrat colleagues—first outlined her initial Green New Deal in the same 24-hour news cycle that the angry Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had set up troops to block the delivery of 50 metric tons of humanitarian aid for his starving citizens. Today, his economy is ravaged by a 51 million percent inflation rate, and a recent five-day power outage that effectively wiped out what was left of the county’s industrial sector. There is no food, no sanitation and increasing anarchy in the streets, yet the thug-president stubbornly sticks to controlling his country through the power of empty rhetoric and strong-armed tyranny—always the two fallbacks of failed socialist regimes. And trust me, they always fail.

Still, here was AOC, the internet sensation, standing near the steps of the U.S. Capitol to outline the sweeping components of her vision of a new command economy for the U.S. Her proposal includes an American economy free of fossil fuels but also single-payer healthcare, tuition-free education, and a guaranteed income for every American. These are the same kind of utterly fatuous free-for-all policy proposals which Hugo Chávez first charmed Venezuelans and which Maduro has been trying to repair. From what I’ve been able to discern, like AOC, they never talked much about who would pay for these policies, or how. And history now tells us they had no idea.

What brings us to a position where so many Americans place a premium on simple political rhetoric over real-world realities? Is it the fact that our internet-based culture has shrunk our attention spans? Could it be that so many of us get our news from screaming-head nighttime cable shows whose contrived rhetoric and predictable melodrama seem to borrow heavily from professional wrestling broadcasts? Or, are we victims of our own economic success, in which our need for instant gratification seems to be seeping from consumerism into our politics?

Some analysts point to America’s young people, who—through no fault of their own—have spent their impressionable years marinating in a public-school stew of radical ideologies and unrepentant intolerance toward opposing points of view. Too many students today, they say, think about cultural issues and public policies not in terms of societal challenges that must be solved, but as “solutions” that must be imposed. Anyone who questions their approach—or, worse, disagrees with it—is vilified as either stupid or evil. Anyone who has followed Katherine Kersten’s Edina series is well acquainted with that point of view.

Or could it be that we just lack a Big Picture teaching tool? In some ways—facetiously only—I sometimes lament the fall of the Berlin Wall. While I consider that moment to be among the most significant hinges of history in my lifetime, I confess to having a twinge of regret—if only facetiously—that the crumbling bricks marked the loss of a powerful teachable moment.

The Wall gave us a useful teaching tool. It effortlessly symbolized the differences between triumphs of free-market capitalism versus the failures of top-down totalitarianism, in which government squelched all in order to serve the needs of the state. With the Wall in place, one did not need to be very analytical to conclude which system was better, which system cared most about its people, and which system was most conducive to human rights. The Wall constantly reminded us all that socialism always fails. We need look no further than the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela…and maybe now the Green New Deal. Experience matters. With luck, it will bring us a more reasonable political debate.