Robert Reich used to be Labor Secretary in Clinton’s Administration. You know, one of those jobs we hope goes to someone with a clue about labour and its part in the economy. Sadly, we’ve evidence that far from being wise on the subject Reich is a fool. Here he takes us to task about climate change with five little points we should consider. Four of them we’ll grant him, or at least not argue about today. It’s the fifth that is so at odds with reality:
Tackling climate change is good for the economy. Clean energy creates more jobs than natural gas or coal, with 3 times as many Americans already employed in clean energy as in fossil fuels. These jobs also tend to pay more. States like California that have invested heavily in clean energy have grown their economies, while reducing carbon pollution.
Renewables do indeed require more human labour than fossil duels, they do indeed produce more jobs. Which is why renewables are a bad idea. Or, if we prefer, requiring more labour is a cost of renewables, not a benefit. For, as absolutely anyone talking about labour must understand, jobs are a cost, not a benefit.
Start from the beginning. We are in a world of scarce resources. We wish to have the most that we can from those scarce resources. Note that this point doesn’t depend upon capitalism or socialism, upon being Green or polluting. Whatever the limits are to what we can use then we want to have the most we can within those limits.
If it is true that to preserve wildlife we should rewild 90% of North America then it is still true that we want the highest standard of living we can gain out of that last 10% we’ll allow ourselves to use.
Human labour is one of those scarce resources. Sure, there are 7 billion of us but we can all think of things it would be nice to have if only someone would come do it for us. That we can’t find someone to come do that thing for us shows that human labour is scarce in that economic sense. There’s not as much of it as would produce everything we might want or desire from labour.
As with any scarce resource the use of what there is to do one thing means that we cannot do some other thing with it. We cannot use the same piece of copper both as a rheumatism bracelet and also the wiring of our computer – well, not at the same time at least, we can recycle one into the other. The same is true of human labour. If we use what there is to build solar cell plants then we cannot be using that same labour, at the same time, to be running a hospital.
This is opportunity cost – the cost of doing something is what we give up to get it. That missing rheumatism bracelet is the cost of the computer, the child dying for lack of a hospital bed is the cost of the renewable power.
Yes, obviously, extreme examples but the logic is solid.
So, consider again Reich’s point. Renewables provide more jobs than fossil fuels. Is this good for the economy? No, obviously not, for by this one measure alone renewables make us poorer. By using more human labour to produce our power desires we have less available to produce other things we want – those opportunity costs again.
It’s also true that if these jobs pay more then that just means renewables are even more expensive. For we’ve got to devote even more of our scarce resources to this one activity.
Jobs are a cost, not a benefit, of getting something done. Something requiring more jobs, more human labour, to be done is by that very reason alone something that is more expensive. And we’d rather hope that the people who run the labor part of government know this. But on the evidence of Robert Reich they believe the opposite. Which is a useful explanation of how the modern world is screwed really, it’s being ruled by the ignorant and incompetent.
Hey, it may even be true that renewables are a great idea, much better than fossil fuels. I tend to think so, I’ve even spent some of my very own cash on research into a basic point about how to make and supply renewables. Doesn’t change the fact that Reich is being an idiot on the point above.