The Truth About 'Green Jobs'

April 22, 2009|By Andrew P. Morriss

Green jobs" are touted as the universal cure-all, saving the environment and the economy at the same time. Congress included more than $80 billion in spending and tax incentives to promote them in the recent stimulus bill. It is a wonderful vision that fits nicely with Wednesday's 39th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Unfortunately, claims about the wonders of green jobs are all too often constructed on myths about economics, forecasting and technology.

In a recent study I co-wrote, we waded through the most comprehensive green jobs proposals and found that most plans are a gamble on unproven technologies.

Spending billions would certainly produce green jobs, but it would also eliminate jobs in areas that lose government favor. For example, shifting electricity production from coal to wind means that many coal miners, truck drivers, utility workers and other employees will lose their jobs as energy prices soar. And because wind and solar power are much more costly than our current sources of energy, people will lose their jobs elsewhere as higher energy prices slow the economy.

What kinds of jobs will the government's green programs create? Proponents focus on retraining construction workers to insulate schools and hiring unemployed auto workers to manufacture solar panels, in an effort to buy labor unions' support. But a close look reveals that the biggest increases in employment would be among secretaries, management analysts, bookkeepers and janitors.

Everyone favors good jobs and a clean and healthy environment, but throwing money at people who label themselves green won't make either possible. We should insist on careful analysis before we risk public money in such efforts. Our children's economic and environmental future depends on us making wise choices today.

Andrew P. Morriss is a research fellow at the Independent Institute and a professor of law and business at the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

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