One of the notable moments from the meeting with the Greek prime minister yesterday was when someone asked him how he was planning to get the economy back on its feet, and he answered with . . . green jobs, of course! He correctly pointed out that Greece, having all those islands, has a great opportunity to install windmills. But aside from early modern Holland, I'm not sure where windmills have proven a useful antidote to massive economic and political problems. (Today's exhibit: protesters clash with police in Athens).
But green jobs have become the ginseng of progressive politics: a sort of broad-spectrum snake oil that cures whatever happens to ail you. They are the antidote to economic malaise, an underskilled labor force, the inherent unwillingness of the public to suffer any significant economic and personal dislocation in order to save the environment. They enhance nationalistic vigor. (If we don't act now, the Chinese will steal all of our green jobs!) They stave off aging of stale political platforms. And I'm pretty sure they're good for bunions, too.
Obviously it is true that if we subsidize various environmental activities, this will create jobs for some people. Unfortunately, it will also destroy jobs for other people--people who make the things that would otherwise have been purchased with tax dollars. They may partially offset the economic losses of switching off a very efficient, cheap, high density energy source. They will also, hopefully, give us cleaner, cooler air to breathe. But they do not represent a net improvement in either GDP or the unemployment rate. They represent a loss.
But they're green! And green is such a pretty color. Also, everyone loves frogs. So who could possibly be against my green jobs except some cranky libertarian? And even this crazy libertarian isn't really against the green jobs, as such . . . only the ridiculous way politicians use green jobs to shield them from hard questions.
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is a columnist at Bloomberg View
and a former senior editor at The Atlantic.
Her new book is The Up Side of Down