Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Green Jobs

I've been working on a "green jobs" article the past few days for my job. I read way too many state and non-profit reports on the "green economy" and "green jobs," and then wrote up a comparison of different approaches. I will say it has been interesting to see the different methods used, and the different ways to define the ubiquitous, and too-often malleable, concept of the green economy. That said, the process has been as infuriating as it has been enlightening. A few thoughts:

For one, no study that I read mentioned any downside to the "greening" of the economy, as it is called. Going green is universally acknowledged as the saving grace of the US economy, the thing that will launch us into the 21st Century. This in spite of the fact that even the most optimistic studies put green jobs at somewhere between 3 and 4 percent of total employment. Since green is universally good then, these researchers never seemed to meet a green proposal they didn't like. No mention of opportunity costs, no mention of profitability lost by diverting resources to money-suck projects like wind farms. Certainly no mention of individual rights. What are you, crazy?

Second, the identification of a green job is difficult. Is the term limited to those employed at "green firms" like solar power manufacturers? Or does it include workers at non-green firms that perform green functions, like updating production lines to be more environmentally friendly, whatever that means. This creates discrepancies in final jobs totals on a scale of about 3.

Third, identifying a particular job activity as green is suspect. One study I looked at found hundreds of glaziers to be "energy efficient" jobs. This data was reported by employers in a survey. Glaziers, for those of you who've never worked on a house, are the people who apply glazing to windows. Glazing is the stuff that forms a seal on the outside of the window between the glass and the wood of the frame. Since it's used on wood frames, it's typically used on older houses. Nevertheless, I had a difficult time understanding how this job, one that's been around basically since glass windows were invented, could be anything but green. By keeping the pane in place, you are necessarily increasing "energy efficiency." Not much regard for marginal effects in this study.

What I'm trying to say is that the green economy consists of two components: economic activity that adds value by saving people and businesses money on energy, and economic activity that couldn't exist without coercing people into supporting it. This means that the policy implications are none for the former, since it will occur just fine on its own, and "stop, stop, for the love of god stop!" for the latter, since it shouldn't occur, EVER.

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