Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bjorn Channels Bastiat to Expose the "Green Jobs" Myth

Bjorn Lomborg, "the skeptical environmentalist," has a good piece in Slate taking on the myth of the "green energy" economy -- which should be required reading for all those who are still drinking the "new energy economy" Kool-aid peddled by one former Colorado governor. The claimed economic benefits are largely an illusion, Lomborg explains, which results from studying only one side of the ledger, a common mistake among economic illiterates.

Lomborg's analysis is straight out of Bastiat, the free-market pamphleteer and popularizer who explained this oft-made mistake in a famous essay, "What is seen and what is not seen." Wikipedia explains Bastiat's point as follows, for those who aren't inclined to read the essay:

"One of Bastiat's most important contributions to the field of economics was his admonition to the effect that good economic decisions can only be made by taking into account the "full picture." That is, economic truths should be arrived at by observing not only the immediate consequences – that is, benefits or liabilities – of an economic decision, but also by examining the long-term consequences. Additionally, one must examine the decision's effect not only on a single group of people (say candlemakers) or a single industry (say candles), but on all people and all industries in the society as a whole. As Bastiat famously put it, an economist must take into account both "What is Seen and What is Not Seen." Bastiat's "rule" was later expounded and developed by Henry Hazlitt in his work Economics in One Lesson, in which Hazlitt borrowed Bastiat's trenchant "Broken Window Fallacy" and went on to demonstrate how it applies to a wide variety of economic falsehoods."

The "green energy economy" is an illusion generated by looking at only one side of a multi-sided equation -- by focusing on the apparently-obvious benefits and beneficiaries, while ignoring the less-obvious costs and economic casualties that stem from a government-ordered reallocation of scarce resources. The economic illiterate applauds the new job being "created" in the wind turbine plant -- a job being subsidized by federal or state "incentives" -- but ignores the job that's destroyed at the coal mine or on the drilling rig, all because politicians decide that they know better than the market does about how to organize the energy sector.

True "economic literacy" requires an ability to see not just what seems obvious, but what is harder to see but is just as consequential. When you see the picture in totality, the "green jobs" delusion disappears.

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