The recent decision in Kansas to proceed with the building of a coal-fired power plant still generates discussion. Today’s Wichita Eagle carries a letter to the editor that deserves discussion of its claims.
The main focus of today’s letter is that we as a state missed out on an opportunity to “produce thousands upon thousands of new jobs in the green-energy manufacturing and operation sector.”
This writer has obviously bought into the notion that creating jobs for the sake of reducing carbon emissions is a good thing. So we first need to look at the worthiness of the goal of reducing carbon emissions. When you do that, you realize that mankind’s contribution to global warming is minor at best, and that even the most ambitious plans to reduce carbon emissions would produce changes in temperature that are so small, they’d be difficult to measure.
This tiny reduction in carbon emissions would come at a great cost to our economy, as the writer rightly notes, although inadvertently. It’s true that the shift to a so-called green economy would require many new jobs to be created. These jobs would create no more energy than we presently produce. But the cost of energy would increase, and that would lead to a decrease in wealth.
The new “green” workers are merely an illusion that masks what’s really happening, which is that they displace other workers.
The myth of the green job is one that deserves study. A recent publication titled Green Jobs: Fact or Fiction? An Assessment of the Literature makes this assessment:
Unfortunately, it is highly questionable whether a government campaign to spur “green jobs” would have net economic benefits. Indeed, 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. These factors would likely increase consumer energy costs and the costs of a wide array of energy-intensive goods, slow GDP growth and ironically may yield no net job gains. More likely, they would result in net job losses.
If we really wanted to turn our energy policy into a jobs creation program, we could do what George Reisman suggests, somewhat tongue-in-cheek:
Or is it the case perhaps that this problem is to be taken as an opportunity for even greater gains in employment in connection with wind and solar power? These might be achieved if, in all those times when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine, human beings were employed in rotating copper-clad generator shafts, in a manner similar to that of rotating a grindstone in a gristmill, only in the presence of surrounding magnets, so that electricity could be produced by the rotation. (I don’t know how much, if any, electricity might actually be produced in this way. But it would provide at least the appearance of employment in the attempt, which is all that many other “stimulus” programs accomplish.)
The best energy policy is one that provides the energy we want at a low price. Anything else reduces our country’s wealth.