Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The empty promise of green jobs

The Washington Post had an interesting and insightful piece today revolving around how the promise of green jobs in at least one Florida county has turned out to be hollow. Seems the local colleges (using federal stimulus money, of course) are active in training people to work in "green" jobs like detecting lead in old paint, carbon sequestration, alternative fuels, solar panels and the like. But 3/4 of those with such training, including impressive-sounding certificates of completion, have been unable to find green jobs. Even though Florida should be a prime spot for solar energy, for example, and the fedgov provides a 30% tax credit, the industries just aren't growing. Partly it's the collapse of the economy, led by the collapse of the housing and therefore the construction market.

I don't honestly know if I understand the desire to "push" the market for so-called green jobs with federal subsidies, tax credits and the like. The superficial short-term appeal seems obvious -- though it obviously isn't working in a down economy. But the problem with providing subsidies of various kinds is that it creates incentives for subsidies to remain permanently, which distorts the market, keeps taxpayers on the hook forever, and makes it virtually impossible to determine whether the green jobs are or ever would be self-sustaining -- i.e., would they pay for themselves in a voluntary marketplace. I suspect that for some jobs a genuine market will emerge, but trying to push the process with subsidies prevents a realistic assessment and in some cases -- subsidies behind jobs or technologies that turn out not to be viable but are continued anyway, like ethanol -- may actually delay the onset of truly viable alternatives to those favored by gummint bureaucrats.

A footnote: Maybe it's because I've seen newspaper operations from the inside and consorted with people from other papers at various conferences and the like, but I think many of the criticisms of the "lamestream" media are somewhat misplaced. I acknowledge that most editorial boards, whether putatively "liberal or "conservative" are unremittingly statist and more inclined to try to explain the wayward ways of government to benighted readers than to lament or excoriate them. Even so, however, as this WaPo article attests (and I could find many other examples) on some occasions newspapers are quite willing to document wastefulness or misdirectedness in government programs, and when they get on a case they are generally more competent and professional at it than (most) bloggers and citizen-critics because running down stories and documenting facts is what reporters do, and many of them still take pride in doing it well. Not that the media should be exempt from criticism -- far from it, and I can tell you stories from the inside too -- but much of the standard criticism from both left and right is overblown, based on misunderstanding of how newspapers work, or not well rooted in fact.

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