The Green Jobs Con
Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 9:37AM
John Prothro

By John Prothro

Last week published an article from Jesse Jackson, the founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network.  The article was meant to promote a march (also supported by the UAW) on behalf of the so-called “green jobs” movement.  The idea is government should be targeting investment into green technology, thus creating American jobs and improving the environment. The slogan “green jobs” is an attempt by the environmental movement, supported by opportunists in big labor, to address its main shortcoming; that is, the environmental movement is often anti-growth, and in tough economic times, people aren’t as willing to save the whales if it means losing their job.

Enter the “green jobs” mantra as a way to recast the message.  Here we have a policy where everyone wins—we have more jobs and cleaner air.  From a social perspective, it's nice sounding policy.  From an economic perspective, however, it’s indefensible.  Let’s take for instance the quite mainstream arguments of Jackson and Rogers: 

“A key component of stable job growth is our nation's energy policy. If our country gets serious about energy savings and independence from oil, we could rebuild domestically and power the U.S. economy with American jobs.”

While saving energy is a worthy goal, there is no link between saving energy and job growth.  If that were true, North Korea would be an economic powerhouse.  Of course, if a company develops an energy saving device or a way to replace oil, more people are employed creating that device.  But the same goes for any other industry, and the private sector is much better at R&D than the government.

“We need an economy that creates employment that can't be shipped overseas. You certainly can't retrofit a house in the Midwest from China or India. Home-grown American labor will be installing windmills and solar panels.”

There is nothing unique about “green jobs” in these examples.  One could just as easily say, “You certainly can’t paint a barn in the Midwest from China or India.” Or “You certainly can’t mow a Milwaukee lawn from China or India.”  The industry in question is not the issue; what matters is the strength of the economy.  Does the family in Milwaukee have enough surplus capital to retrofit their home, paint their barn, or hire someone to mow their lawn?  That’s the question. 

But it’s a question the left believes it doesn’t need to answer.  If resources are limitless, the government can simply give the family enough money to pay for the retrofit.  And there you have it.  Someone has a green job and a house is more energy efficient. 

But the economy doesn’t work that way; government expenditures must come from the private sector’s pocket.  In our example, while both the person hired for the retrofit and the Milwaukee family temporarily benefit, the family next door does not.  The neighbors live in a global and open economy, where the private sector needs surplus capital to expand production, research new products, and create jobs.  The global economy is harmed each time government robs from the marketplace to fund its pet industries.

“Some reports estimate that a clean energy industry can provide 3.2 million jobs. As just one example, since initiating its clean energy plan, Assembly Bill 32, California has added 500,000 green jobs.”

And how many jobs did California lose to add 500,000 green jobs?   How much productive capital—that could have been used in more efficient, sustainable job creation—did California pull from private industry to pay for those jobs?  (The same question, by the way, should be asked of the Stimulus.)  As of June 2010, California had 12.2% unemployment, well above the national average.  These numbers are a product of a well-meaning but imprudent state government, famous for its intense belief in unlimited capital.

“Even now, the only sector of the economy that has seen job growth during the recession is the green job sector.”

Real growth must be sustainable.  Like the “cash for clunkers” program, government sponsored growth is spurned by artificial demand, demand that exits when government either runs out of cash or changes priorities.

“Our current path favors big oil and coal interests, which don't offer the potential job growth of a clean energy economy. Offshore drilling and mountain top removal provide a few thousand jobs nationwide, but, as the BP oil spill recently demonstrated, can jeopardize millions of other jobs in other industries such as fishing and tourism.”

Offshore oil drilling and coal mining provide only a few thousand jobs nationwide?  This is probably news to the heavy equipment manufacturer, the coal coking plant, the logistics firm, the catering service, the electricity provider…and the thousands upon thousands of other interconnected benefactors.  We live in an open economy. The end of coal harvesting and offshore drilling, if not replaced by something economically superior, would have damaging effects far beyond the people who actually work in the coal mines or on the oil rigs.

“The European Union and China are investing considerably more than the U.S…We can sit idly as China and Germany invest in clean energy -- a soon-to-be $8 trillion world market -- or we can step up, get Americans back in the work force and export the best clean energy vehicles and technology.”

China’s investments into clean technology are strategic and reflect China’s ever-growing demand for a national infrastructure to support 1.4 billion people rising from poverty, not a need to satisfy left wing pressure groups.  This is why China has made the construction of nuclear power plants the cornerstone of its energy policy, something impossible to support within the American left. America needs an energy policy, to be sure, one designed to promote its national interests, not one designed—under the cover of green jobs—to promote the interests of organized labor and the global warming crowd.

And as for the “soon-to-be $8 trillion world market…” Assuming this number is even knowable, there is no potential 8 trillion dollar market that needs any help finding capital.  Green technology is and will be a large market, but it’s best to let private capital decide how to place investment in the most efficient areas with the highest returns.  Only in this way will we see any meaningful improvement in American jobs.













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