Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

I can't support the Green platform

In a conversation with an acquaintance about the political ethics of voting for Jill Stein, I realized that I had very little idea what the Green Party stood for. (Um...the environment?) So I spent a few hours today reading the Green Party platform. I can't say it was an exciting experience, but now at least I feel like I have some sense of what it means to be Green. I liked a good deal of what I read, but in the end, there were a few things that I just couldn't stomach.

note: At no point in this post am I going to discuss the political ethics of voting for a third-party candidate, in general, in a first-past-the-post race. If you want to read about that sort of thing, you're in the wrong place; this is a post unpacking what the Green Party specifically does and does not (claim to) stand for.


1. There's actually a good deal to like about the Green platform. It's pro-UBI, (mostly) pro-immigration, pro-space, pro-Land Value Tax, and generally promotes its environmental agenda through disincentive taxes, rather than hard regulation. These are pretty incredible ideas, and I'd be overjoyed to see any of them move into the Overton Window of American politics in the near future. Good on the Greens for getting behind them.

Also in the list of good -- though less revelatory -- ideas are pro-LGBT, anti-prohibition, anti-incarceration, and pro-infrastructure planks.

2. There's a great deal more cloying utopianism that doesn't even mean anything on a policy level. There are pages upon pages that just read like "...and we will have better schools, and we will have stronger communities, and we will have a vibrant culture of grassroots democracy echoing from sea to shining sea, and a national zero-waste policy, and..." There's a bunch of great ideas about how to spend a federal budget with infinity dollars of annual revenue -- and no indication about what principles should guide the hard tradeoffs that we have to make in the real world.

3. There's a pretty regular drumbeat of Marxism, which is either awesome, terrifying, or 'meh', depending on your point of view. (For me, it's the lattermost.) To wit:

  • Workers should own the means of production! (II.G.2.n: "Labor's right to stock ownership and oversight of the investment of its own funds in the company where it works.")
  • Citizens should own the broadcast media! (I.C.1: "Return ownership and control of the electromagnetic spectrum to the public."; I.C.4: "Reinstate and strengthen the Fairness Doctrine...")
  • Hooray for local communities! (IV.F.2: "Support incentives for co-operative enterprises, such as consumer co-ops, workers' co-operatives, credit unions and other institutions that help communities develop economic projects.")

Ho hum. This is not the sort of blog where I get lost in arguments about Marxism, so I'm just going to mention that it's there and leave it at that.

4. And then there's a small number of random little issues that push my buttons. Like, really push my buttons...


II.F: Social Justice / Health Care

Greens support a wide range of health care services, not just traditional medicine, which too often emphasizes "a medical arms race" that relies upon high-tech intervention, surgical techniques and costly pharmaceuticals. Chronic conditions are often best cured by alternative medicine. We support the teaching, funding and practice of holistic health approaches and, as appropriate, the use of complementary and alternative therapies such as herbal medicines, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine and other healing approaches.

In case you missed it, the Green platform includes the sentence "Chronic conditions are often best cured by alternative medicine." Which is...uh...just wrong?


III.I: Ecological Sustainability / Agriculture

14. Applying the Precautionary Principle to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), we support a moratorium until safety can be demonstrated by independent (non-corporate funded), long-term tests for food safety, genetic drift, resistance, soil health, effects on non-target organisms, and cumulative interactions.

15. We support mandatory, full-disclosure food and fiber labeling. A consumer has the right to know the contents in their food and fiber, how they were produced, and where they come from. Labels should address the presence of GMOs, use of irradiation, pesticide application (in production, transport, storage, and retail), and the country of origin.

Sigh. If you ever find yourself astounded that the American Right can make room in its party for the sort of people who believe that Vaccines Cause Autism and adamantly refuse to have their children vaccinated...take a deep breath and remind yourself that the American Left has its own anti-science conspiracy theorists as well.

GMOs are safe. Distrusting studies on GMO safety because they were conducted by agriculturalists makes about as much sense as distrusting studies on vaccine safety because they were conducted by doctors. In both cases, it's irresponsible, anti-science hysteria that has the potential to cost lives. Labeling is government complicity in fearmongering. Despite the fact that I'm on record calling for charity and compassion toward anti-vaxxers, it never fails to sadden me when otherwise intelligent, pro-science people get caught up in the same kind of hysteria, except in my political camp. It's almost as bad as...


III.D: Ecological Sustainability / Nuclear Issues

2. The Green Party calls for the early retirement of nuclear power reactors as soon as possible (in no more than five years), and for a phase-out of other technologies that use or produce nuclear waste. These technologies include non-commercial nuclear reactors, reprocessing facilities, nuclear waste incinerators, food irradiators, and all commercial and military uses of depleted uranium.

8. We support an immediate and intensive campaign to educate the public about nuclear problems, including disposal, cleanup, and long-term dangers.

10. We oppose federal loan guarantees to enable the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors.

11. We oppose the development and use of new nuclear reactors, plutonium (MOX) fuel, nuclear fuel reprocessing, nuclear fusion, uranium enrichment…

III.A.2.d: Ecological Sustainability / Climate Change / Economic Policy For A Safer Climate

To prevent perverse incentives arising from higher carbon prices, the Green Party mandates clean fuels in addition to pricing carbon. Otherwise dirty energy sources like nuclear power...will become economically competitive.

III.A.5.c: Ecological Sustainability / Climate Change / Clean, Green Energy and Jobs

End the use of nuclear power... Our money is better spent on wind, solar, geothermal, conservation and small-scale hydroelectric.

The Green Party. is. against. nuclear. power. I haven't been so gobsmacked by a political position since -- well -- I genuinely can't remember. Maybe ever?

For some reason entirely unclear to me, mainstream American liberalism is consistently anti-nuke (even more dependably than it's anti-GMO). On the con side, nuclear plants require digging dirty, dirty rocks out of the ground and produce waste that needs to be disposed of pretty carefully. On the pro side, nuclear power is 400 times safer than coal -- which, like it or not, is the source that our system will fall back on if we shut down our nuclear plants in the next five years. And is the thing we could have less of if we built more nuclear plants.

Yes, it's 'non-renewable'. Yes, it feels 'dirty'. But no renewable technology is within a decade of being ready, and in the mean time, anyone who truly cares about saving the planet should realize that this is the stop-gap measure we need to use until we can get renewables online. Protesting that we shouldn't have to use energy sources that make us feel dirty and sad is about as useful as invocations of 'should' ever are in politics, which is "not useful; actively harmful". And in 2016, opposition to nuclear power is an idealism that the environmental movement -- and the planet -- can ill-afford.

Oh, and "other technologies that use or produce nuclear waste" includes radiotherapy for cancer treatment. Just saying.


So. Greens are pro-AltMed, anti-GMO, and anti-nuke. It's not a word that I like to use in political discussion, but they're remarkably...anti-science. Yes! That's a thing that happens on the left, too! And it's just as harmful when it comes from Greens as when it comes from climate-change deniers -- in both cases, it's legitimizing post-fact politics, and it's lowering the level of public discourse at a time we can ill afford to see it lowered further.

Why does this matter? Isn't a Green vote mostly a protest against the two-party oligopoly? Besides, it's not like either of the two major parties' platforms are without serious flaws...

The thing is, it's important to me -- if I were ever to lodge a protest vote -- to make sure that it was a vote for something, not just against something. More specifically, for the sort of politics I wanted to see. It's not enough for it to just be "not Democrat; not Republican"; I want to be able to vote for science-driven, expert-advised, pragmatic, visionary, rational, liberal politics -- not just for a collection of leftish, good, slightly unusual ideas. Because if I was just looking for a collection of leftish good ideas, I'd probably avoid hitching my horse to a mountain of casual Marxism.

A common critique of the two-party system is that voters aren't able to express a preference for [X] if both parties agree on [not X]. And I'm getting that feeling pretty strongly myself, this election: I'd dearly love to cast a vote that signifies "I believe in experts! I believe in technocrats! I believe in data and science over anecdotes and narratives!" -- but both the Republicans and the Democrats seem to have folded to their populist wings (the former by nominating a fascist; the latter by forcing the establishment nominee to capitulate to populist sentiment on issues like labor and trade), and so I have no way to cast my vote in support of evidence-based technocracy.

Sadly, the option of voting Green doesn't help that problem one bit, since the Greens seem little better than the post-Sanders Democrats at putting evidence before narrative. To be clear, they seem to have a bunch of good ideas that from outside the political mainstream. And I'm not really going to fault them for waxing utopic in their party platform. But their positions on medicine, GMOs, nuclear power, and one more thing -- that I'll get to in a second -- indicate that these good ideas come in spite of a pervasive narrative-before-evidence politics. And if I'm ever going to cast a protest vote, it'll have to be for a party better than that.


The last disagreement I have with the platform, and the single largest reason that I can't get behind it in good conscience, is its opposition to free trade. I understand that the pro-trade position isn't a particularly popular one on the American Left, and, unlike medicine or GMOs or nuclear power, I don't think it's clear-cut enough for me to outright claim that there's a Right Side and a Wrong Side. But anti-trade sentiment is some of the most noxious populism around, and I have approximately zero stomach for it.

I'll use the Green platform as an example to explain why.

attention-conservation notice: If you don't want to read an argument about the benefits of free trade, now would be a good time to get off, because that's where this train is going.

I.D: Democracy / Foreign Policy

In the area of trade, third- and fourth-world economies and resources are being ravaged and our own economy and job security undermined by global corporatization, which concentrates greater power in the hands of fewer interests who are unaccountable to the vast majority of the world's people.

I.D.3: Democracy / Foreign Policy / Trade

a. Re-formulate all international trade relations and commerce as currently upheld by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) to protect the labor, human rights, economy, environment and domestic industry of partner and recipient nations so that the growth of local industry and agriculture has the advantage over foreign corporate domination.

d. Mandate and protect labor's right to organize, create unions and negotiate with management in all countries receiving U.S. investment, and require U.S. corporations that operate in other countries to adhere to the core labor standards established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Declaration of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

IV.D.4: Economic Justice / Livable Income

A clear living wage standard should serve as a foundation for trade between nations, and a "floor" of guaranteed wage protections and workers' rights should be negotiated in future trade agreements. The United States should take the lead on this front — and not allow destructive, predatory corporate practices under the guise of "free" international trade.

In short, the Green position holds that:

  1. Free trade is ravaging third-world economies...
  2. ...so we support their local industry and agriculture...
  3. ...by refusing to trade with any nation without labor protections significantly stronger than the US has at present...
  4. ...or without "a clear living wage standard"...
  5. ...in order to check "destructive predatory corporate practices."


Can I have the next slide, please?

Quasi-non-anonymous growth incidence curve (1988-2008). Curve begins at +70% at the 0th percentile and rises to +90% around the 45th. Around the 80th percentile, it drops below a dashed line at +41% representing the mean growth rate. It falls to about +22% around the 90th percentile, and rises to about +57% at the top percentile.

This graph (from Lakner and Milanovic 2015 (pdf)) charts the growth in inflation-adjusted incomes within individual countries' deciles, sorted by their original rank in the 1988 global income distribution. So someone in a country and economic stratum that placed them in the 40th percentile globally saw their real income rise...90%, on average. Someone whose country and intra-country decile placed them at the global 80th percentile saw 'only' a 40% rise on average. And so on.

aside: What's up with the red mean line appearing so low? As far as I can tell, it's the dollar-weighted growth average, which means that it overweights groups at the top. (Consider the case where ten $10k/yr workers see their incomes double, but one $100k/yr worker sees no change. Total income has gone from $200k/yr to $300k/yr, a 50% rise, despite the fact that 91% of workers saw a 100% rise.)

The fact that that small 80%tile-to-95%tile group can bring down the global mean so much should tell you something about how disproportionately rich they were to start with. The 80th percentile, by the way, is about $7,000 in 2011 dollars, around $20 a day. 85% of Americans make more than that.

The poorest two-thirds of the world saw the real income of their country/decile groups grow at least 65% in twenty years that saw rampant -- what's the word? -- "global corporatization". People on par with the 4th decile in Brazil saw real incomes almost double. People making as much as the 2nd decile in Indonesia saw real incomes rise 70%. Some deciles in China doubled or tripled their real incomes. (Note that the chart above reports smoothed averages.)

But what about that 80%tile-95%tile group, which missed out on the explosive growth of the global middle class? They are, for the most part, the lower and lower-middle classes of economically developed nations. Lakner and Milanovic write:

[T]he country-deciles between the 81st and 90th percentile in 1988 are overwhelmingly from mature economies and come from the lower halves of their national income distributions. Out of total 420 million people belonging to this group, about 365 million are from the mature economies.

Some examples with particularly low real growth rates among rich economies include almost the entire lower halves of the income distributions in Austria, Germany, Denmark, Greece, and the United States. They all had overall 20-year growth rates of less than 20%, which translates, in the best case, as 0.9% per capita annually.

(p. 21; pdf)


Let's return to the Green position on trade:

  1. Free trade is ravaging third-world economies...
  2. ...so we support their local industry and agriculture...
  3. ...by refusing to trade with any nation without labor protections significantly stronger than the US has at present...
  4. ...or without "a clear living wage standard"...
  5. ...in order to check "destructive predatory corporate practices."

The data presented by Lakner and Milanovic do not support 1. The global lower and middle classes have done astoundingly well, on the whole, in the age of globalization. Admittedly, the German, American, &c. middle classes have done less well, experiencing only 20% real income growth in that time. But people in 'third-world economies' are richer than ever before.

Of course, correlation does not imply causation; it may in fact be the case that third-world economies would have benefitted more, except that free trade is holding them back. But I doubt it. And in any case, nothing in the Green platform provides an alternative to rampant globalization as an explanation for shifts in the global distribution of income, so it's rather apparent that they don't have the answers on how to keep this economic miracle going.

You can pretend that your protectionism is protecting first-world economic interests (and I'll think you're mistaken, but that's a debate for another post), but it's downright wrong to claim that you're sticking up for the little guy, when in fact you're benefitting you and yours by cutting off his the ladder that's been pulling him and his out of poverty.

3 and 4 are even more fun: The Greens are so certain that their ideas about organized labor rights and minimum wages are correct, they don't want to trade with any nation that chooses, democratically or otherwise, not to conform to American standards. Your nation can't afford to mandate a minimum wage that we Greens consider 'livable'? Then we won't trade with you until you do. Your electorate doesn't want to mandate pensions, labor ownership of stock, employer-provided child care, or a 35-hour work week and a minimum of 1-month vacation, because economists believe it would depress your economy? Then we don't want to associate with you if we can help it, and we'll take our business to other nations that can afford those things, like France. Good luck with your local industry and agriculture, though!

Of course, there's a Marxist argument that we're all made worse off by trade, and that it's a tragic day when a Chinese worker goes from making $8/day to $20/day because an American factory opened up in her city to make basic goods more available for poorer Americans. But I believe that days like that are good days, and that the more of them we have in the future, the better world we'll live in. And if you too don't agree that capitalism itself is inherently bad, even when everyone ends up better off, then the Green position on trade begins to read like:

  1. Free trade is a drag on first-world economies...
  2. ...so we support our local industries...
  3. ...by refusing to trade with any nation that can't afford to provide wage-workers a Western standard of living...
  4. ...in order to prevent free markets from spreading economic gains to the places that need them most.


There will come a time when we can afford the luxuries of nineteenth-century agricultural practices, or energy sources with happy names, or 'local industry and agriculture'. When everyone enjoys ample food, clean water, electricity, and a decent income, we can talk about cutting back on GMOs and nuclear power and international trade.

But today, we live in a world where genetic engineering is the only thing keeping a billion people from starvation, people go without electricity, and more than half the world lives on less than $3 a day. And I can't support keeping other people in poverty for the sake of my own peace of mind. Politics may be broken, but it's not so broken that I'll get on board with that.

And so I find that the Greens aren't the party for me.