by Robert Murphy

On February 3, 2009, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), in conjunction with union leaders and environmental groups, released their “Good Jobs First” report. Although advocates of a “green recovery” point to estimates that 456,000 green-collar jobs would be created by the stimulus package, the new Stabenow/Inslee report reveals the dirty little secret that many of these new jobs would offer low pay and poor working conditions. For example, the Good Jobs First report discusses a recycling firm in Los Angeles-which is just the type of operation that will “green” stimulus money-where workers make $8.25 an hour and receive no health insurance.

Of course, the Good Jobs First report doesn’t state the obvious conclusion: government efforts to “help” workers and “stimulate” the economy will only make things worse. Faced with the unintended consequences of their original scheme, the proponents of a green recovery want to double down and shovel more tax dollars at the problem and hope something sticks.

Although critics have pointed out the plan’s flaws since its inception, it is at least encouraging that the unions-the alleged beneficiaries of green-collar stimulus money-are beginning to realize that the deal isn’t as rosy as they have been led to believe. No matter how much politicians might like to claim otherwise, they can’t repeal the laws of economics.

“Demand curves slope downward,” economists say, meaning that people buy more of something only when its price is lower. This law applies to consumers who walk the aisles in grocery stores, but it also applies to businesses that make solar panels. To get the biggest bang of jobs “created” for the stimulus buck, those jobs have to be low-wage. The higher the pay and other perks the unions demand, the fewer jobs that employers will be able to afford-even with government subsidies.

This underscores a basic flaw in the whole notion of a green recovery. Of the millions of unemployed Americans today, not many of them have the specific background and skills necessary for the good-paying jobs that are available in the so-called green sectors of the economy. So even if the government provides the handouts, the only way to get these people into green jobs quickly is if they fill positions requiring no extensive training.

The popular pro-green recovery studies, which purport that there are plenty of American workers with the right skills to fill the new, high-wage positions, suffer from a basic flaw in their methodology. As IER pointed out in its critique of such studies, they count up the number of skilled workers in the work force as a whole, rather than counting up the qualified workers in the current pool of unemployed workers. The only way, then, that these alleged hundreds of thousands of high-paying, “green” jobs could be filled-relying on government subsidies, of course-is to siphon most of their workers away from other industries. No net jobs would be created, because the new green slot would be offset by the existing jobs vacated by the skilled worker.

Confusion between gross and net job creation is typical of the green jobs. For example, the 456,000 figure touted by the Center for American Progress does not take into account the jobs that would be destroyed by the government’s methods of paying for the necessary subsidies. The CAP estimate simply assumes that all 456,000 workers filling these new green slots would have come from the ranks of the unemployed and that the higher taxes and Uncle Sam’s increased borrowing will have no job-destroying impact on the rest of the American economy.

It is refreshing to see that even the unions are catching on. But rather than ask for a bigger handout, they should stop looking to the government to help workers. Only when the government stops trying to pick industrial winners and losers can true economic recovery begin. Only when the government stops changing the rules and throwing around hundreds of billions in borrowed money will the unemployed get good jobs in the private sector.

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