The Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at the jobs numbers that have been cited in news stories about the Keystone XL pipeline and traces them back to their shaky foundations.
It is a detailed and useful reminder of the slim link to reality that these claims have. (I use an easier method: anytime I hear a politician or project promoter talk about jobs, I assume they are lying.)
But more to the point, such job counting exercises ought to have no influence in public policy decisions, so no role in policy discussions. Policies ought to be evaluated on whether the overall expected benefits are reasonably believed to exceed the overall costs, with a moment or two of silence for the peoples whose rights will be trampled by the projects.
If jobs are the goal, we can mandate that every truck used have five drivers and every pipe laid be dug up twice and buried again. I trust that even the newspaper reporters of the world can see how silly that would be. (The politicians? I don’t have much hope, but it doesn’t really matter since I already assume they are lying.)
In my view most “green jobs” arguments are bunk. While such estimates may have their practical uses, for the most part they are convenient lies. Industry lies to politicians and bureaucrats to get subsidies, and politicians recycle the lies to get votes. My view is not particularly subtle.
Edward Glaeser provides a subtler view, illustrated in his assessment of the most recent “green jobs fiasco” argument. Evergreen Solar recently decided to move its manufacturing plants from Massachusetts to China. Evergreen had received several million dollars in green energy and local economic development subsidies as it grew from an idea to an employer of 800 or so workers, but in the end lower costs (and an offer of still more subsidies from the Chinese government) led it to move manufacturing oversees. Does this mean subsidies for green jobs don’t work?
The main difficulty with solar energy has always been cost, which is why the falling price of solar panels that seemingly pushed Evergreen to close Devens is actually good news.
As long as solar panels are getting cheaper, we shouldn’t worry about where they are being produced. We should continue financing research on solar technology as long as that research continues to produce cost-cutting breakthroughs, like “string ribbon” technology, but we shouldn’t pretend that cheaper solar energy will end up employing millions of our less-skilled citizens.
And even more to the point:
Massachusetts’s edge lies in ideas, not products. Those ideas are best produced in creative clusters, built around cities, where knowledge moves easily from inventor to entrepreneur. The only production that really needs to occur in greater Boston is the early-stage manufacturing that can be an important part of the research process. Mature companies, like Evergreen Solar, naturally move their factories to lower-cost areas.