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The elusive green collar job

Someone help me puzzle this out:

Proposition 1: a shift to renewable energy and energy efficiency will result in a boom in green collar jobs, good service-industry work that can’t be outsourced. This proposition is attractive because it holds forth the promise of a grand alliance between greens and the labor movement. See, e.g., Tom Friedman and everyone who posts on Grist.

Proposition 2: the optimism over green-collar jobs is a classic example of the make-work bias, a widespread economic fallacy that mistakes amount of work for wealth creation. The actual effect of greenhouse gas reductions on labor markets is unclear, so environmentalists should stick to environmental policy. See, e.g., various environmental economists.

I don’t have a clever opinion here, although I will say that the case for a positive labor impact from energy efficiency measures seems decently solid. Efficiency is, after all, an unambiguously good thing for the economy as a whole. If it costs us less to get the same amount of stuff, we’re all richer. Certainly this is a nice thing for consumers, and because energy industries tend not to be labor-intensive, we can expect that wealth creation at the expense of energy producers will be a net benefit for employment as well. I think.

The impact of renewable energy, on the other hand, is more difficult to suss out. More to the point, it’s not clear that anyone has sussed it out. Discuss.

Photo available under Creative Commons license from Flickr user billjacobus1.

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