It would indeed create jobs, but it would do so by killing other jobs. Is that really what Americans want?
President-elect Barack Obama has put energy policy at the forefront of his agenda. He says that his plan will boost our national security, help us achieve “energy independence,” reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote job creation. Indeed, Obama vows to create around five million new jobs by increasing federal spending on renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and biofuels.
As many experts have observed, the science behind the Obama plan is dubious, particularly when it comes to ethanol. The renewable energy industry simply does not have the capacity (at least not yet) to power large swathes of our fossil fuel-driven economy. Just look at the United Kingdom, where a shortage of windmill-building capability has hindered the government’s plan to replace aging nuclear reactors with wind power.
If Obama’s energy promises rely on questionable science, they rely on even more questionable economics. We are to believe that replacing conventional energy sources (especially coal) with renewables (especially wind) will create five million new “green jobs.” The hope is that armies of workers will be enlisted to build tens of thousands of windmills; to manufacture and deploy solar-power installations; to harvest, transport, and process huge amounts of biofuel feedstock; and to string the power lines that will allow the U.S. power grid to incorporate a major expansion of intermittent energy.
Unfortunately, the idea of government “job creation” is a classic example of the broken window fallacy, which was explained by French economist Bastiat way back in 1850.
The Obama plan reflects fallacious thinking of the first order. There may be sound reasons to switch from existing energy sources to renewables, including the need to slash greenhouse gas emissions, the need to reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and the need to meet growing energy demand. If Americans wish to pay for a wholesale transformation of the energy industry, that is their choice. But let’s not lie about the costs, and let’s not espouse an economic fallacy that is nearly 160 years old. Obama’s “green jobs” plan would indeed create jobs, but it would do so by killing other jobs. Is that really the type of energy policy Americans want?