Why Van Jones should be Obama’s Secretary of Prosperity

  • Published on October 1st, 2008

In his new book to be released next week, Van Jones lays out a sensible roadmap to solve our long-term economic problems. How? By making sustainability the centerpiece of a national renewal. And, if we justify spending hundreds of billions on an economic solution no one completely understands, why can’t we make it an even greater priority to create a sustainable economy that will last us the next thousand years or more?

Let me start with the obvious: these are some wild times. Since this whole financial mess began to unfold, we’ve learned a lot about what’s possible. Although I knew how much we’ve borrowed to pay for the Iraq war, I never really understood that we could just up and borrow upwards of a trillion dollars in one fell swoop. Ever since I became aware of the possibility, I’ve been telling people that Obama should hit back. “$700B? Why not borrow a trillion and solve our energy dependence, and fix health care to boot?” Of course, that was before the bailout bill failed in the House.

[social_buttons] As we face the potential for a new depression, along with the potential stresses caused by global climate change, possibly the greatest immediate need we have is for people to show us Americans the difference between what we know the present looks like and what we know is possible.

Faced with a national hopelessness during the (first?) Great Depression, FDR was masterful at connecting our greatest problems to our greatest opportunities in speeches like his 1933 inaugural address:

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accompanied in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our national resources.

Barack Obama has been almost FDR-like at inspiring people to believe at a gut level that in the face of a new depression, a national renewal is possible. However, it’s people on the ground like Van Jones who light the way for exactly how it could happen.

Which is why I’m advocating a campaign to draft Jones into the (hopefully) coming Obama Cabinet, ideally as the new “Secretary of Prosperity.” Hillary Clinton proposed a ‘Poverty Czar’ earlier this year, but I think that’s terrible framing; someone in that position should be creating solutions, not ruling over problems. Ever since I’ve talked about the potential to draft someone like Jones into a bold new position, people have told me that a Secretary of Prosperity could never happen. My response?

Who cares? Just adding Van’s perspective to the conversation about the need to take bold leadership of the great problems of our time would be a great accomplishment.

Over the last couple years, I’ve watched Jones relentlessly turn years of experience pursuing social justice and shared prosperity into a credible case for the win-win-win green collar economy of the future. I’m a huge fan of solving problems that occur in patterns by addressing their underlying roots, and that’s what his ‘green collar’ approach does.

Let’s look at the variables. We have a society with quickening energy and economic insecurity, and flagging international leadership. We have inner cities and rural communities in need of jobs. We have a capital base in need of sustainable returns. And we don’t take no for an answer when we rally around a national imperative. All we need is for someone to take the lead and inspire us to connect the dots.

The Green Collar Economy

The “Green Collar Economy” may sound like a grandiose, unachievable vision, especially in a financial situation where capital for any purpose is and will be increasingly hard to come by.  But Jones knows how to put these issues in perspective:

There’s no way to get changes big enough to solve these problems without creating pathways out of poverty for millions of new green-collar workers. The renewable economy is more labor-intensive, less capital-intensive; therefore, there should be a net increase in jobs (1).


Jones’ new book is a start, but I’d also like to issue an open challenge to Netizens to start a grassroots campaign to ‘Draft Van.’ I will give the DraftVan.org domain to anyone who wants to take the project on, and have started a Facebook group for people who might be interested to congregate and brainstorm. Do America a favor and get this post out there as widely as possible in the hopes that someone who’s looking for a way to make a difference will take up my challenge. Let’s bring the renewable economy into the national conversation. Trust me, most people don’t even realize that it’s possible.

More background on Van

Image copyright Comedy Central

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