The Best Things in Life are Free

Matthew Yglesias explains why we should be happy that the Chinese are subsidizing their solar industry:

I do think it's always helpful to try to take a "real resources" viewpoint on these things. What's at issue here, basically, is that China is trying to give us a bunch of free solar panels. It's quite true that insofar as we've been organizing economic activity around the (reasonable) assumption that China won't give us a bunch of free solar panels, that getting the free panels will cause some dislocations. But it seems implausible that the best possible way of dealing with the situation is to refuse to accept the panels. That (poor) China has chosen to boost domestic employment by subsidizing consumption in (rich) America is slightly bizarre, but we may as well try to enjoy it while it lasts.

But won't they gain a permanent strategic advantage over us, I hear you cry?

Well, this does sometimes happen. But it's actually really rare. Notice how all the electronics goods seem to be manufactured in China? Even though we invented many of them (and the Japanese are responsible for a lot of the rest?)  Notice that all the jobs assembling sneakers and looming textiles seem to have moved along with them?  Sure, we had know-how and strategic supplier networks.  But these were no competition for enormously cheap labor.

Even if we succeeded in creating, via subsidy, a vibrant domestic solar panel manufacturing industry, there's no reason to think it would stay here . . . unless you're planning to continue the subsidies forever, which is like trying to get rich by paying yourself to mow the lawn.

This is why it's so stupid to focus on "green jobs".  The reason to promote green energy is to mitigate global warming, lessen economic dependence on some very volatile and unstable parts of the world, and build enough scale and demand that you maybe someday usher in an era of power that's "too cheap to meter", as they used to promise about nuclear.  I understand why it makes sense politically for Democrats, but it's also dangerous, because if you can't produce the jobs, a lot of your support for the "green" evaporates, a long with a lot of green money.

In other words, calm down and enjoy your complimentary solar panels.