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  • Writer's pictureAllan Dyen-Shapiro

So, you’re believing scientists, now? Well, it will cost you.

Up to recently, I had thought the most important role for educators, broadly defined, in this country was debunking climate change denial. Only in the US had it taken hold, and only the US, among the industrialized, mucho carbon-emitting countries of the world, had elected a denier President.

But, lo and behold, common sense has prevailed. Recent polls show that a strong majority of even white, male, conservative Republicans accept climate change science. So, how did the shills for the oil companies counter this stunning success in public education?

With a new set of lies, of course. I first encountered the lies on my phone, which I haven’t managed to configure not to show the headlines from Google News. Google News quoted a story from FOX News purporting to show that the Green New Deal will cost Americans a whopping $93 trillion over ten years. When I came home and Googled, I saw many links to the story, but they were all from some website or other run by FOX News. Determined to get to the actual study rather than an attack piece, I traced it back to the American Action Forum, the group founded by former Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman.

Coleman is not a denialist; more, an obstructionist. From a speech he made at the board meeting of a power company in Minneapolis back in 2008 in his last year as a Senator: "Don't panic. This [climate change] is an issue we're going to have to deal with, but we will deal with it in a way that takes into consideration the impact upon other folks who are producing energy." So, he isn’t going to deny the science, but if action in any way inconveniences the energy monopolies, well, the future of our planet just isn’t that important. And the oil and gas lobbies rewarded him for his courageous stance with $376,505 in contributions. Sure, that pales in comparison with the $7.2 million given to Mitt Romney. Even some Democrats got more fossil fuel bucks than this, with Barack Obama raking in over $2 million and Hillary Clinton, just over $1.5 million. But it was enough to buy him.

One reason why few non-FOX-affiliated news outlets picked up on the story was that the numbers were inflated. In the words of a Huff Post piece, they were “pulled from a single, extremely tight white ass.” A few figures from that article to illustrate how shaky the numbers were: Coleman’s estimate of the cost of a jobs guarantee was $38 trillion, as compared with the centrist, Brookings institution number of $5.4 trillion.

However, the most important omission from the press this announcement received is that total price tag rather than price minus current spending was relied upon. $36 trillion over ten years to fund Medicare-for-All, it claimed. Leaving aside why health care even figured in an argument over conversion to a green economy, Americans already spend one-sixth of GDP on health care. An earlier study by the libertarian Mercatus Center that intended to disparage universal healthcare inadvertently showed that Medicare-for-All, rather than bankrupting the country, would actually save $2 trillion over the ten-year period.

Subtraction folks. Cost of program minus cost you are already spending equals new cost. Or in this case, cost already being spent on the world’s most wasteful system minus cost of single-payer, universal health insurance equals savings even in pure dollar terms, not even considering other benefits of a healthier country.

The other omission is a Macroeconomics 101 concept called a multiplier. If the government spends money, it goes into somebody’s hands. That person generally does something with the money. Everyone who makes money off of that initial investment pays taxes. Those taxes reimburse the government.

Other than education spending, transportation spending is generally agreed to have the largest multiplier. As such, it’s especially odd how Coleman breaks down the transportation numbers: $1.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion for a near-zero emissions transportation network, and $1.1 trillion to $2.5 trillion for high-speed rail sufficient to obviate most air travel. Over ten years. So, for far, far less than we spend on useless wars in places like Afghanistan, we can get this nifty new stuff? And it will undoubtedly pay for itself many times over in new tax revenue?

Shhhh!!!!! The FOX folks might be listening. I’m reasonably certain they’ve yet to staff their private assassination squad to take out those who disagree with them, but just in case, please don’t share my blog post with any oil execs.

The final piece of Ridiculo-Economics (just made that up. Like my new term?) in the American Action Forum report is dividing the inflated cost among the population of the US. Yep, you, McDonald’s worker, are going to have to shell out between $36,000 and $65,000 per year from your salary to pay for all of this. But wait, even with the new $15-per-hour minimum wage those Democrats want, 50 weeks per year times 40 hours per week times $15 per hour comes out to only $30,000 per year. How will I ever live on negative $6000 to negative $35,000? The payday loan guy won’t give me that much! I better not vote for any candidate talking about that Green New Deal stuff.

That’s the hope of the oil and gas industry shills: make Americans think a sustainable future is going to bankrupt them. They who are being offered not only a livable planet, but also a job, healthcare, education, and a transportation network to get them places.

Subtraction to get net costs or savings and multipliers: your economics lessons for today, prepared for your social media posts and water cooler conversations.

My willingness to take my payment for your edification in likes on Facebook/Twitter establishes that I know a whole lot more about sustainable environmental practices than I do about sustainable business models.

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