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More on the Myth of "Green Jobs":

Speaking of "green jobs," my former colleague Andrew Morriss has co-authored a paper with Roger Meiners, Andrew Dorchak, and William Bogart debunking basic "green jobs" claims. The full study, "Green Jobs Myths" is on SSRN. Here's the abstract:

A rapidly growing literature promises that a massive program of government mandates, subsidies, and forced technological interventions will reward the nation with an economy brimming with green jobs. Not only will these jobs improve the environment, but they will be high paying, interesting, and provide collective rights. This literature is built on mythologies about economics, forecasting, and technology.

Myth: Everyone understands what a green job is.

Reality: No standard definition of a green job exists.

Myth: Creating green jobs will boost productive employment.

Reality: Green jobs estimates include huge numbers of clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative positions that do not produce goods and services for consumption.

Myth: Green jobs forecasts are reliable.

Reality: The green jobs studies made estimates using poor economic models based on dubious assumptions.

Myth: Green jobs promote employment growth.

Reality: By promoting more jobs instead of more productivity, the green jobs described in the literature encourage low-paying jobs in less desirable conditions. Economic growth cannot be ordered by Congress or by the United Nations. Government interference - such as restricting successful technologies in favor of speculative technologies favored by special interests - will generate stagnation.

Myth: The world economy can be remade by reducing trade and relying on local production and reduced consumption without dramatically decreasing our standard of living.

Reality: History shows that nations cannot produce everything their citizens need or desire. People and firms have talents that allow specialization that make goods and services ever more efficient and lower-cost, thereby enriching society.

Myth: Government mandates are a substitute for free markets.

Reality: Companies react more swiftly and efficiently to the demands of their customers and markets, than to cumbersome government mandates.

Myth: Imposing technological progress by regulation is desirable.

Reality: Some technologies preferred by the green jobs studies are not capable of efficiently reaching the scale necessary to meet today's demands and could be counterproductive to environmental quality.

In this Article, we survey the green jobs literature, analyze its assumptions, and show how the special interest groups promoting the idea of green jobs have embedded dubious assumptions and techniques within their analyses. Before undertaking efforts to restructure and possibly impoverish our society, careful analysis and informed public debate about these assumptions and prescriptions are necessary.

A second paper — which is basically just a shorter version of the first one — "7 Myths About Green Jobs" is also on SSRN here.

Waldo (mail):
I'm reminded of what a visiting professor from Portugal quipped over dinner:

Environmentalists are like watermelons: green on the outside, red in the middle.
4.20.2009 9:53pm
Guesty McGuesterson:
Some of these are just pathetic. I mean, the second "reality" takes the cake.

Myth: Surgery will save countless lives
Reality: Surgery requires significant amounts of cutting into people which causes blood loss and scars.
4.20.2009 9:58pm
Richard A. (mail):
Guesty McGuesterson: You failed to refute the point. Just which green jobs will provide productive employment, i.e. employment that produces a net gain for the United States economy?
4.20.2009 10:06pm
Guesty McGuesterson:
Richard A. - I wasn't making a positive claim of my own, just showing that the quoted material was non responsive. I mean, who is surprised that these estimates include clerical jobs? And why shouldn't they? If the proposals won't actually create productive jobs, then the authors should have come out and said that. If they believe the numbers include so much noise as to make the signal meaningless, that's something else they could have said. They don't make these strong claims. Instead, they just hand-waive.
4.20.2009 10:24pm
Gilbert (mail):
I'm sympathetic to the perspective of the paper, but these points are not compelling. For example.


Myth: Creating green jobs will boost productive employment.

Reality: Green jobs estimates include huge numbers of clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative positions that do not produce goods and services for consumption.



The "reality" is unresponsive to the "myth."

A lot of the rest seem to just be a restatement of the 'free markets are better than government intervention' position. However true that may be, most people have already made up minds on that one.
4.20.2009 10:26pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
Did the Spanish study control for the effects of the economic downturn, or did it simply blame "green" for the troubles? That would be typical.
4.20.2009 10:29pm
Steve:
Even the first "reality" is nonresponsive! Sounds like a pretty worthless polemic.
4.20.2009 10:49pm
MCM (mail):
I have to agree with Steve, Gilbert, and others. It's not that I don't agree with the paper, it's that it doesn't seem to make any god damn sense. Not to mention that the whole thing is a straw man from the start.

Myth: Everyone understands what a green job is.


Really? Whose myth is that? Who's saying that? I've never heard anybody suggest anything of the kind.

This is just propaganda.
4.20.2009 11:00pm
Randy R. (mail):
I wonder what these guys would have done during the Industrial Revolution.

Myth: Everyone understands what an 'industrial job' is
Reality: There is no standard definition.

Myth: Industrial jobs are productive
Reality: Many jobs are clerical, like keeping railroad timetables.

Myth: Industrial jobs are reliable
Reality: They come and go, depending on new markets, recessions, etc.

And so on. I guess the Industrial Revolution then was a big mistake!

But good thing these guys are on top of it -- it's so clear that green jobs, which didn't really exist even a decade ago, are a complete failure. No use trying!
4.20.2009 11:03pm
RPT (mail):
It is no wonder that Prof Lindgren would not allow comments on his hit and run posts on the same topic. This is just bad.
4.20.2009 11:07pm
Richard A. (mail):
At the risk of injecting some harsh reality, most of the effect of green philosophy requires few if any jobs. Tax the heck out of gasoline and you drastically cut carbon emissions. The Brits are energy-independent though their per-capita oil production runs just a bit above our own.
You can indeed hire people to do "green" things with the tax money, but it is the tax itself that causes the decrease in carbon emissions.
4.20.2009 11:14pm
Avatar (mail):
Yeesh. It's a crappy abstract, okay, but the article's considerably better. Just download it and read, it's not like SSRN requires you to pay.
4.20.2009 11:15pm
John Moore (www):
The green jobs mythology is of the order of the broken window fallacy - break a bunch of windows and more labor (jobs) is required.

If "green" were such a good economic policy, entrepreneurs and businesmen would have been doing it for a long time.

But green does not derive from sensible economics, it is driven by a non-economic agenda - environmental concerns.

It would be a nice coincidence if environmentally friendly approaches actually were a net economic benefit, but it is extremely unlikely. Furthermore, the economic burden of "green" will result in transfers of productivity to countries with lower standards. Attempts to prevent this (say, carbon tariffs) would be even more economically damaging.
4.20.2009 11:49pm
Richard A. (mail):
Can anyone name a single job more green - in the sense of producing more energy in proportion to carbon dioxide - than Homer Simpson's
4.21.2009 12:06am
Richard A. (mail):
Can anyone name a single job more green - in the sense of producing more energy in proportion to carbon dioxide - than Homer Simpson's
4.21.2009 12:06am
Kazinski:
This is the issue in a nutshell:

Myth: Green jobs promote employment growth.



Mechanizing agriculture in the first half of the last century destroyed millions of green jobs. Those jobs could all be recovered, and we could dramatically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by getting people back to the land harvesting crops by hand.
4.21.2009 12:23am
dr:
Professor, you accidentally left this post open for other peoples' opinions.
4.21.2009 12:41am
trad and anon (mail):
Huh, who knew that "clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative" jobs aren't productive employment? Most businesses are hurting for cash right now: they could save a bundle by getting rid of all those unproductive people in the mail room, the copy center, the records center, human resources, accounting, and marketing. All the secretaries too. I'm sure the companies that did that would have a real leg up on the competition.
4.21.2009 1:07am
LarryA (mail) (www):
Myth: Everyone understands what a green job is.
I'm not sure this one is a myth. Everyone I know knows what a green job is.

Of course none of them agree with each other, each of them thinks their job is green, and each has a list of other jobs that definitely aren't green.

I'm reminded of something that happened in Vietnam. When I arrived the Army vehicles, including everything from jeeps to trucks to personnel carriers to tanks, were painted green with white stars and lettering. A few units had taken the initiative to repaint the white stuff black, as a white star made an obvious aiming point. But most units were resisting the change away from how it ought to be.

Then the brass published a policy stating that the standard was white stars and lettering, and all vehicles would adhere to that standard except those vehicles in a combat role.

About three days later the only vehicles left with white stars belonged to the chaplains.

I predict the same will happen here. Every job will somehow be green.
Huh, who knew that "clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative" jobs aren't productive employment?
Green clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative jobs tend to be counterproductive. A clerk who makes sure everyone gets paid the correct amount on time will increase productivity by maintaining morale and avoiding lost work time by employees trying to figure out where their checks are. But that's not "green." The "green" clerk, who counts how many paperclips each worker uses, will usually cause workers to waste far more resources than they save. Guess which job the government will subsidize.
4.21.2009 2:05am
John Moore (www):
I predict that the word "green" will be striken from the English language for over-use and misuse.

Everywere I turn, I'm told about "green."

I'm starting to turn green with nausea from all this green insanity.

Besides, I live in a desert. Nothing's green here anyway.
4.21.2009 2:13am
Steve:
The "green clerk who counts paperclips" sounds like a great myth for the next article.
4.21.2009 3:27am
martinned (mail) (www):

Economic growth cannot be ordered by Congress or by the United Nations.

It was right about there that I lost any doubt that these authors simply had an ideological axe to grind. If you're in the middle of a perfectly good rant, why not take a stab at the UN while you're at it?
4.21.2009 6:20am
obi juan (mail):
Reality: By promoting more jobs instead of more productivity, the green jobs described in the literature encourage low-paying jobs in less desirable conditions.

Isn't that just creative destruction?
4.21.2009 7:16am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Really? Whose myth is that? Who's saying that? I've never heard anybody suggest anything of the kind.


Of course no one expicilty writes that sentence. But that doesn't mean it is not a myth... something can be unspoken but assumed to be true when speaking about a subject.

For example, if Obama keeps talking about "Green Jobs", but never bothers to define the term, one might say he's assuming everyone knows what that is. One might also say he's leaving it undefined on purpose so he can slip all kinds of positions into the "green jobs category" that may have little to do with green.

Many of these myths are of that type... things not explicitly said, but generally assumed by either the proponents of "green jobs" or even society at large.
4.21.2009 7:27am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
RPT: It is no wonder that Prof Lindgren would not allow comments on his hit and run posts on the same topic. This is just bad.


Yes. It is indeed a shame that Prof Lindgren does not provide you an oppertunity to offer hard-hitting and insightful commentery like "This is just bad". We are all the poorer for not having the standard peanut gallery in on every single post. The Horror.
4.21.2009 7:31am
erics (mail):
Kazinski

Surely you're not serious. What's green about reducing the yield of land and employing less efficient resources to do the same job?
4.21.2009 8:30am
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
For more on the author of the Spain study (like his links to ExxonMobil and climate change denialism), click.

At least as reported there, the study's methodology consists of assuming that efficiently-created private jobs will be replaced by inefficiently-created public jobs.

Remind me again, how many jobs did the TVA destroy?
4.21.2009 9:58am
nutbump (mail):
Green jobs essentially mean farming, service and repair of wind turbines and solar panels, research on how to convert energy from sun to heating gas etc. Growing crops for biofuel, conversion of oil waste to biodiesel are the green jobs. Green jobs also include jobs in railroad service and manufacturing. I believe Obama or someone from his surrounding has communicated that to public.
Not sure why there are any doubt that green jobs are bad for the economy. Yes it is bad for current economy based on unsustainable fuel consumption; it is bad for those who made billions by killing public transportation and electric cars.
Green jobs are great thing.
4.21.2009 10:00am
A.C.:
So, using conventional agricultural methods to grow corn to make ethanol is a "green job." Okay. Just so we know what we are starting with. Corn is pretty green when it's in the field, in the actual color-oriented sense of the word.

I also agree that Homer Simpson is pretty green, as are the real-life nuclear plant employees I know. (One even does a bit of organic farming on the side.) And some of the companies that run coal plants and nuke plants are also planning to put up wind turbines. How do you decide which are the "green" jobs if one company is burning coal, trying to reduce the impact of burning coal, running a nuclear plant, sponsoring an energy efficiency program for its customers, and putting up windmills?

If you want to shoot some money at the solar and wind industries, just do it without the hoopla. Maybe some companies will go from start-ups to major players as a result, but most likely you'll just see incremental change in how things are done and who does them.

Until someone comes up with a radically different biofuel technology that doesn't have the problems associated with ethanol from corn.
4.21.2009 10:29am
geokstr:

For more on the author of the Spain study (like his links to ExxonMobil and climate change denialism), click.

Anything said, proposed or researched by anyone that has any private sector funding whatsoever, no matter how small, must be wrong, and motivated purely by greed, especially if it disagrees with my views.

Anything said, proposed or researched by anyone who has been totally funded by government or anti-market "non-partisan" entities, must be correct, especially because I agree with it.

If one does not get money from government, or from organizations antithetical to the private market, how exactly can anyone fund research where the findings might disagree with those entities? Print it? Tax stuff? Borrow it from the Chinese government?

Or should we just assume that the motivations of those "public", "non-partisan" entities are somehow as pure as the (hybrid) driven snow, and that they will happily accept results no matter which way they go, even if they don't like them?

In this era of politically influenced "science", how about instead we maintain some degree of skepticism about all "studies", even if our fave congresscritters like them?


Remind me again, how many jobs did the TVA destroy?

An interesting thought experiment would be - in this day and age, what is the likelihood that the TVA would actually happen at all, and if it did, would it cost 10 times as much and take ten times as long, precisely because of the "green" philosophy so pervasive in our political culture?

It initially derived most of its energy from hydroelectric dams, which are now out of favor for environmental reasons. Imagine having armies of green scientists and lawyers looking for the depression-era equivalent of furbish louseworts and wonder whether any of those dams would have gotten built at all.
4.21.2009 11:34am
Connecticut Lawyer (mail):
Peter Huber has an excellent article on the same subject in the current issue of City Magazine.
4.21.2009 11:42am
A.C.:
TVA is still around. It builds nuke plants now, at least in theory. It has applied for a license to put up two new reactors at the Bellefonte plant in Alabama.

Environmental groups are attempting to challenge the application, of course.
4.21.2009 11:56am
byomtov (mail):
Just to endorse what others have said: this whole thing is idiotic.

"Forecasts are unreliable." What? an ureliable economic forecast? A scandal.
4.21.2009 11:58am
trad and anon (mail):
Green clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative jobs tend to be counterproductive. A clerk who makes sure everyone gets paid the correct amount on time will increase productivity by maintaining morale and avoiding lost work time by employees trying to figure out where their checks are. But that's not "green." The "green" clerk, who counts how many paperclips each worker uses, will usually cause workers to waste far more resources than they save. Guess which job the government will subsidize.


When these guys complain that "green jobs" figures include all these supposedly unproductive people with "clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative" jobs I doubt those are the only people they have in mind. Presumably they're also including the people who work in the mail room at Subsidized Windmills Inc.

Also, I'm pretty sure my law firm has some clerk counting paperclips, or they wouldn't be sending us those emails reminding us not to steal office supplies.
4.21.2009 12:09pm
A.C.:
I've got TVA on the brain now. If you go to their web site (www.tva.gov), you will find a "Green Power" link. Their efforts in this area are trivial compared to the output of even one large power plant, but they do have some windmills up near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. And they produce electricity from the methane captured from the sewage treatment plant in Memphis.

None of this is horrible, especially not on the current scale, but I still don't see how it changes anything structural. Or how it CAN change anything structural without massive subsidies and distortions.
4.21.2009 1:45pm
MartyA:
There will be wonderful green jobs caring for, grooming and feeding the large herds of unicorns that will grow in a kinder, gentler world. These jobs will be held by highly educated (Ivy League Ph.D.s mostly) who belong to a union (Teamsters, naturally). It will be a beautiful time.
4.21.2009 3:38pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

At the risk of injecting some harsh reality, most of the effect of green philosophy requires few if any jobs. Tax the heck out of gasoline and you drastically cut carbon emissions.
With no effect on employment! Why, everyone will just happily bicycle to work!

My employer requires me to show up for work every fourth week in Bend, Oregon--only a six hour car drive away. Sure I could get a very "green" job closer at hand--and get paid about $40 an hour less. (Maybe. I'm not even sure that I can get a minimum wage job anymore, now that I'm over 50.) But it would be so good for the environment!

The fantasies that environmentalists live in are so wonderful! I do hope that they can continue them after they graduate.
4.21.2009 5:25pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
The worst aspect of the whole green fantasy is not that environmentalism is bad, but that the people pushing the current incarnation don't understand the difference between research and development.

If the government funded research that figured out a technology that made it possible to produce photovolatic panels for $2/watt output, and then made this technology available to manufacturers, that would be a big win. At $2/watt, solar panels might be cost effective over their anticipated life. Right now, they are not cost effective. Not even close. It takes enormous tax credits to make anyone fool themselves that they make sense for most Americans.

I would love to see a full lifecycle evaluation of the energy inputs for the panels, the batteries, the inverters, etc. Generally, if something is expensive it is usually because it has one or more of the following contained in it:

1. Expensive raw materials.

2. Lots of labor.

3. Lots of energy.

4. Lots of transportation of heavy parts.

5. Too many lawyers. (Okay, that's #1.)

My guess it that PV panels are strong on #3 to refine the silicon, run the furnaces used when doping the semiconductor, and so on.

Hiding the true costs of something often means hiding the true energy inputs--like the Prius batteries that start out as raw materials in Canada, get shipped to China, get made into batteries, and then shipped back to the U.S.
4.21.2009 5:34pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Surely you're not serious. What's green about reducing the yield of land and employing less efficient resources to do the same job?
Mass starvation reduces CO2 production (from respiration) and from burning of non-renewable resources. Think of the Ukrainian famine under Stalin as the first step towards a sustainable future.
4.21.2009 5:43pm
John Moore (www):

At $2/watt, solar panels might be cost effective over their anticipated life.


By my calculations, it takes an installed system cost of $1/watt. Trends put solar panels themselves at maybe $.60/watt in a few years, but the electronics (power conversion, control) are forecast at around $1/watt, and that uses technology that's already pretty mature and has already had it's Moore's law gains.

And even with all that, it doesn't solve the transportation problems (solar panels on cars is a joke, battery limitations severely limit electric vehicle usage).
4.21.2009 6:02pm
ChipD (mail):
As an architect working on several LEED rated (i.e., "green" buildings), I need to comment:

The first point of the article is true- the words "green jobs" is vastly overused to the point of being a cliche, like "light" foods.

However, the underlying thrust, which I see as being an argument against green or sustainable measures, is misguided.

The basic premise of "green" anything is using materials and energy more efficiently and with an eye toewards long-term cost/benefits, instead of short term cost.

For instance, a "green job" might be an industry that makes decking out of recycled plastic waste- this is an industry that didn't exist only a few years ago, but now is thriving.

Economists and politicos can debate forever as to whether these jobs were a net gain or loss but one thing is very clear, is that the use of this material is a very big net gain for our environment by reducing the waste stream and provinding a useful consumer product.
4.21.2009 7:35pm
Duracomm. (mail):
Andrew J. Lazarus said,

For more on the author of the Spain study (like his links to ExxonMobil and climate change denialism)
I looked at the link and it consisted mostly of the ritual incantations of the magic words "ExxonMobil" and "Fox News" non thinking people tend to use when faced with facts that contradict their ideology / religion.

Never hurts to know who is funding stuff but the blanket hostility to private funded information combined with the blanket blind eye to misconduct that occurs around public or foundation funded information is pathetic.

For example

The Campaign Finance Conspiracy
Charged with promoting campaign-finance reform when he joined Pew in the mid-1990s, Treglia came up with a three-pronged strategy:
1) pursue an expansive agenda through incremental reforms, 2) pay for a handful of "experts" all over the country with foundation money and
3) create fake business, minority and religious groups to pound the table for reform.
There is some quality Astroturfing for you.
4.21.2009 7:47pm
John Moore (www):
ChipD

The basic premise of "green" anything is using materials and energy more efficiently and with an eye toewards long-term cost/benefits, instead of short term cost.


This is sometimes true, but rarely.

"Green" too often means "making people feel better about mother earth, whether the actual effect is positive or negative, and with little regard for the harm that comes to humans in the process - short or long term"

For example, much of the recycling industry is a net cost, while not having a clear environmental benefit. It is not as if we don't have plenty of room to bury all that waste (I live in Arizona - we could bury ANYTHING here and never notice it).
4.21.2009 7:50pm
Duracomm. (mail):
Andrew J. Lazarus,

Green global warming enthusiasts like yourself are more environmentally destructive than ExxonMobil.

Your enthusiasm to do something, combined with your technical ignorance and corporatist rent seeking has caused a crushing loss of habitat and species extinction.

Blood for No Oil? Our obsession with climate change is killing off animals left and right.
Only recently have conservationists begun to grasp what a debacle it was to enact climate change legislation in Europe without first putting in place global deforestation treaties. EU policies promoting a market for biofuels triggered the destruction of Indonesian rain forests in favor of palm plantations.

Conservationists now have an apparent ally in the White House, so let's tell him to slow down and get those forest protections in place before the carbon-conscious spill any more blood.
4.21.2009 8:01pm
John Moore (www):
Let us also remember that when the economies of the first world suffer (as they are right now, and will surely because of "green" nonsense), people in the third and fourth world die (third world starvation is way up right now).
4.21.2009 8:08pm
geokstr:

John Moore:
...because of "green" nonsense), people in the third and fourth world die (third world starvation is way up right now).

No problem. We can just toss them onto the scrap heap with the tens of millions who died unnecessarily from malaria that could have been prevented with the judicious use of that old green bogeyman, DDT. But I suppose those deaths were justifiable in that they reduced the carbon footprint of certain African nations due to the lowered amount of personal exhalations.

I do believe that fairly soon starvation can be totally prevented by another "green" technology though - Soylent Green, made entirely from "free range" "meat sources".

Hey, I'm becoming fluent in NewSpeak.

Maybe I can scarf up one of those new green jobs.
4.21.2009 9:52pm
John Moore (www):
goekstr... indeed, the huge malaria death toll is the most significant so far at the hands of the greenies.
4.21.2009 11:03pm
Richard A. (mail):
Clayton: No offense, but you seem to have missed my point. I was speaking as a realist, not an environmentalist. I didn't advocate high gas taxes. I just simply said they work in reducing gas usage.

Please get someone more intelligent than yourself to describe to you the difference between analysis and prescription.
4.22.2009 10:29pm

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