The human brain is torn between simple intuition and the more complex hard work of figuring out the unintended consequences of any policy. Who doesn't like thinking about trees and greenery and happy animals? Who doesn't want to see steps taken to protect those things, all else being equal? But all else is not equal. Civilization doesn't work when central planners treat each tree as if its value is infinite.
Politicians specialize in convincing you that, with their help, you can have your cake and eat it, too. The idea of a new "green economy" that is both clean and rich with jobs became popular under Bill Clinton's administration, thanks in large part to a compliant media and Vice President Al Gore. But anyone who understands economics knows that President Obama's green jobs initiative is snake oil.
Obama boasted that his $2.3 billion plan would "help close the clean-energy gap between America and other nations." But other nations now move in the opposite direction. "Countries are cutting these programs because they realize they aren't sustainable and they are obscenely expensive," says the American Enterprise Institute's Kenneth P. Green. In Spain, economists at La Universidad Rey Juan Carlos found that each "green" job cost more than $750,000.
Obama claims that if we "invest" more, we can "create millions of jobs -- but only if we accelerate the "green transition." What could make more sense? A little push from the smart politicians, and -- voila! -- an abundance of new jobs and a cleaner, sustainable environment. It's the ultimate twofer. Except it's an illusion, because governments do not "create" jobs.
"All the government can do is subsidize some industries while jacking up costs for others," writes Green. "It is destroying jobs in the conventional energy sector -- and most likely in other industrial sectors -- through taxes and subsidies to new green companies that will use taxpayer dollars to undercut the competition. The subsidized jobs 'created' are, by definition, less efficient uses of capital than market-created jobs."
This is good, solid economic thinking. Many years ago, Henry Hazlitt wrote in his bestseller, "Economics in One Lesson," "The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups."