It seems like just a week or so ago when “green jobs” were still the rage. But in the wake of the Solyndra debacle, there is now a stampede to cough up the truth: It’s pretty much been a racket from the get-go. David Brooks is the latest to discover the scam:
A study by McKinsey suggests that clean energy may produce jobs for highly skilled engineers, but it will not produce many jobs for U.S. manufacturing workers. Gordon Hughes, formerly of the World Bank and now an economist at the University of Edinburgh, surveyed the landscape and concluded: “There are no sound economic arguments to support an assertion that green energy policies will increase the total level of employment in the medium or longer term when we hold macroeconomic conditions constant.”
Many of the most celebrated green tech companies are foundering despite lavish public support. Evergreen Solar, the recipient of tens of millions of dollars in state support, moved its manufacturing facility to China before filing for bankruptcy protection.
The U.S. Department of Energy poured $535 million in loans into Solyndra, a solar panel maker backed by George Kaiser, a major Democratic donor. . . . Late last month, Solyndra announced that it was ceasing operations, laying off its 1,100 employees. The Department of Energy placed the wrong bet, potentially losing the taxpayers half-a-billion dollars.
Brooks still insists that green jobs should be promoted, but decries government attempts to create jobs “directly.”
However, it’s not like green jobs have been working up until now. Brooks, for example, cites a 2009 book written by a Harvard business professor on the poor results from government-supported entrepreneurship. (It’s an oxymoron, actually.) It seems government is also very bad at figuring out when it is wasting money.
In this regard, the Obama administration has been edifying. It turns out that government, aside from growing the federal bureaucracy, is really bad at creating jobs out of thin air. There’s not so many shovel-ready jobs, after all. Rather than do the things that Brooks refers to as “table-setting” (“funding academic research, establishing clear laws, improving immigration policies, building infrastructure and keeping capital gains tax rates low”), government has been either inert or counterproductive.
Green jobs, like any federal program, stick around as a plaything of government well past they’ve been shown to be a failure. That is the nature of government — a constituency forms, agencies are set up, and lobby groups arise. The pols and the bureaucrat defend the use of the taxpayer’s money, enlisting the media to run sunny stories about the “success” of the endeavor. It takes a very long time, or until a high-profile collapse, for the Potemkin village to come down.
The lesson should not be simply that government can’t create green jobs; rather, it is that government spending is a hugely inefficient way to promote job growth. Alas for the Democrats, nothing beats the public sector. It’s not very “sexy” in their eyes to simply constrain government and let the private sector gain the glory. But in fact the primary role they can serve is to promote a reasonable regulatory system, a dependable legal system, sound money, low taxes and international trade. And then, get off the stage.