April 22 2010

The 'Green Jobs' Gamble Has Not Paid Off

It is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Strangely, today's "celebration" reminds me of Frederick Douglass's 1852 Independence Day speech when he so poignantly asked, " What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence?" Today, black America should ask the same question of Earth Day, and more specifically, of the rallying call for "green jobs": "What have we to do with it?"

If someone could define what a green job is, and if they really existed, and if they could alleviate staggering unemployment within the African American community, more of them would be great. But big money is being spent to promote projects based on their political support rather than environmental content. This is cutting economic growth when black unemployment is approaching 17 percent. All Americans, especially black Americans who are truly in crisis, need real jobs today, not the promise of green jobs tomorrow.

The environment has been one of America's great success stories over the last four decades. Our air is clearer. Our rivers are cleaner. Cars pollute less. Americans recycle more. People genuinely care about the environment. However, that does not mean that everything we have done made economic sense. Americans acted decisively to protect future generations. Today, we must remember the current generation.

Environmental problems remain, but many have been distorted for political purposes. Consider global warming. Most scientists agree the globe is warming, but only a minority believe that crisis is upon us. We've recently learned that the alarmists have manipulated data, cited dubious studies, and covered up their misconduct. We must not allow the fear-mongers to pressure us to adopt measures such as "cap and trade" that could wreck the economy.

Unfortunately, promoting "green" jobs isn't a feasible alternative.

Although African-Americans are concerned about the environment, we are most likely to suffer in any campaign to create green jobs. In Focus magazine, a publication of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins warns that "Without strong standards for job quality, career opportunities and community hiring, the green industry will follow the well-trodden path of the 'race-to-the-bottom.'" Indeed, minorities are most vulnerable to the painful side-effects of such government programs. "Too often, subsidy-seeking companies simply take the money and run," writes Ellis-Lamkins.

Furthermore, the overall record of "green jobs" is extraordinarily poor.

The basic point is Milton Friedman's old maxim: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." Money has to come from somewhere. If government is spending money on one job, it is taking money from another job.

That was the experience in Spain, which attempted to be a global leader in creating "green" jobs. It was later estimated that for every "green" job created, 2.2 jobs were lost elsewhere in the economy.

The same effect is likely in America. A report from the Institute on Energy Research, "Green Jobs: Fact of Fiction?" warns that: "the distortionary impacts of government intrusion into energy markets could prematurely force business to abandon current production technologies for more expensive ones. Furthermore, there would likely be negative economic consequences from forcing higher-cost alternative energy sources upon the economy." Energy would cost more. Products and services which use energy would cost more. And there would be fewer jobs.

Carrie Lukas of the Independent Women's Forum points out that the 2009 "stimulus" bill appropriated billions of dollars for "green" employment, yet many of these tasks look no different than normal construction work. Moreover, Lukas adds, "the Administration has struggled to quantify how many jobs were created." And in many cases "green" jobs cost more than $100,000 each. It would have been cheaper to have given people the money directly.

We cannot tolerate this kind of folly with Uncle Sam broke and millions of Americans, especially African-Americans and other minorities, jobless.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans is 16.75 percent, twice that of whites. Almost one-in-five black men are out of work. Include those who are working part-time out of necessity or who have given up looking for a job, and the African-American unemployment rate is 25 percent.

The word "crisis" is much over-used today. But it applies here. We need real jobs. And we need them now. Fancy talk about economic transformation is just that: talk. A "green" transformation might eventually come. But it won't be today, when people need work the most.

As we seek to transform our economy over the long-term, we must ensure continuing growth. That means not inflating the price of today's efficient energy sources, particularly oil and coal. It also means enacting a jobs policy for all industries and companies. Rather than playing political favorites with financial subsidies and regulatory favors, the national and state governments should improve the economic climate by cutting tax rates, streamlining regulations, and getting public finances in order.

Earth Day reminds us about protecting the environment, but the environment ultimately is about people. "Green" jobs might arrive some day in the future, but they won't be here in time to help people, and especially minorities, who are out of work today. Our political leaders need to focus on the present and free the private sector to do what it does best--create jobs.

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