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Time To Change Course on Green Jobs

Is there something about the word ‘green’ that makes people go weak in the head?

Rivaled only by the ‘get tough on Netanyahu’ fiasco and the Gunwalker scandal, the ‘Green Jobs’ meltdown is the most comprehensive and conspicuous policy failure of the Obama administration to date.  What three months ago was widely hailed by the establishment press as a sign of the futurism and forward-thinking of the Obama Administration now, post-Solyndra, is increasingly seen for the bone headed blunder it was. The Washington Post piles on with a report on congressional hearings concerning the Energy Department:

In several of his investigations, Friedman has noted that the political push to quickly create jobs and spur economic development didn’t match up with economic realities on the ground. And while he credits the department for making significant progress in distributing the federal aid, 45 percent of stimulus dollars distributed by Energy still hadn’t been spent by state and local government as of Oct. 22.

In his testimony, Friedman notes that the department failed to properly document and couldn’t always demonstrate how it resolved or mitigated risks prior to granting loan guarantees. Critics have said that such steps might have prevented the Solyndra scandal[…]

Friedman is also critical of the administration for touting the existence of “shovel ready” projects that needed federal funding in order to be quickly completed. From the start, administration critics were skeptical that enough such projects existed to spur the economy.

A lot of money was spent; precious few jobs were created and the failure damages the Obama brand in three distinct ways.  First, poor jobs growth is the root of all the administration’s other woes.  Second, the story undercuts the idea that the stimulus was a good idea and supports the narrative that special interests hijacked it for a porkfest.  Third and most deeply, the story reinforces the belief that government planning and industrial policy don’t work.

The administration needs to come to grips with this policy failure; when something isn’t working it is time to change course.

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  • Neville

    It’s surely time to notice that precisely nothing has changed in this respect for at least half a century, despite a consistent and lamentable record of failures worldwide, so I’m not so sure a policy shift from the left can be confidently expected.

    Wikipedia: At the Labour Party’s 1963 annual conference, Wilson made possibly his best-remembered speech, on the implications of scientific and technological change,[10] in which he argued that “the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated measures on either side of industry”.

    The ‘white heat’ was intended to describe the progress generated by the Wilson government’s investments in new technology.

    The result was of course an industrial policy featuring one failed public investment after another (most notably and repeatedly in the auto industry), and an enormous expansion of exactly the “restrictive practices [and] outdated measures” Wilson said would not be tolerated.

    ‘Green’ is just the latest fig leaf for this dear to the left policy of handing out public money and calling it ‘investment’. A reversion to ‘income distribution intervention’ seems already to have been prepped and canvassed as the next cover story.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I’m reminded of the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) during the 80’s, the US was terrified that government sponsored research and development was going to beat the US free enterprise system, and Japan would become #1 which would make the US #2. We all know how that worked out, Japan has now been in a Depression for over 20 years, and Japan didn’t take over the computer industry, they were a Paper Tiger. (Origami, get it? he snickers)
    The Government Monopoly can’t pick winners and losers in the market place, the market and only the market can pick the winners and losers. The Government Monopoly lacks the feedback of competition that the free enterprise system provides to the market, and so its picks are based on reasons important to the Monopoly (Graft, Empire building, Feather bedding, Vote buying, etc…), and not on improvements in quality, service, and price.

  • megapotamus

    Oh yeah, MITI! Man, that takes me back. Development of a copy-cat crony capitalist industrial policy nearly made that prediction a reality. Astonishingly Perry has come out clearly against all energy and industrial subsidies. Less clearly has Bachman but as Romney’s claimed ambition to repeal Obamacare, these statements are undercut by personal history. It seems what will happen, at best, is the subsidies will be restrained to some limited extent and then branded as something else. “Investments” is already a weary cliche as are many other terms appropriated from the realm of liberty to the realm of compulsion. Even Ron Paul, allegedly now beloved by the Occupiers, is more a poseur than a seriously principled actor. Clearly what has to happen is for the whole shebang to collapse simultaneously or special pleaders will be able to make common cause with others to perpetuate their particular boondoggle. Global currency collapse fits the bill. Yes, we should fear that but not as much as a continuance of socialism to its inevitable endpoint.

  • a nissen

    Anybody know the employer of “watchdog” Friedman? Post commenters raised that question, but so far the reporter has not responded. Something that WRM should be interested in including too.

  • Jim

    Green jobs were always malarkey. Compare A, the (temporary) construction and equipment manufacturing jobs, and handful of permanent operating jobs required to produce a megawatt-hour of wind energy, for example, with B, the employment necessary to deliver that same megawatt of power sourced from fossil fuel exploration, development, production, transportation, and generation. Obviously, more people are involved in B than in A, so to the extent that A replaces B, total employment goes down.

    Now, this may be a desirable outcome in the long run, and in an economy characterized by creative destruction it is inevitable as the availability of fossil fuels continues to slowly decrease. But to claim that people will be employed in green jobs funded by taxpayer subsidies defies common sense, while the government is simultaneously destroying more jobs in industries that actually pay taxes and firing employees who also actually pay taxes. It is ludicrous.

  • Will mind Rodrik’s recent work on industrial policy. A painful read that was. Are we really going to do the Japan semiconductor and ship building mistakes of MITI?

  • JAWilson

    It’s well known that the stimulus money created jobs at a ridiculous cost per job. I am still baffled by the costs associated for each job. Where did that money go? Regulatory approval process? Waste? Theft?

  • craig

    Another interesting thing the Obama admin should stop doing is using China’s ridiculous industrial policy as an excuse for a bad loan policy. China throws billions at solar companies with basic commodity solar signs in order to employ lots to low cost labor. Once China turns off the tap these companies usually go out of business just like Solyndra. My attitude is to just buy up the panels and build our solar future at the chinese expense, but of course that would not require lighting our own money on fire.

  • john werneken

    No jobs whatsoever are preferable to the existence of a single green job. Green, the color of Auschwitz.

  • Uncle Bob

    Gregory H. Friedman is Inspector General og the Department of Energy. He was appointed by President Clinton in 1998. See

  • Sherlock

    An administration in complete miserable failure.
    Opportunity to correct coming soon at a voting booth.

  • AllSeeingEye

    Gregory Friedman is the Inspector General for the Dept of Energy, a political appointee nominated to the position in 1998 by then president Clinton. In what now passes for acceptable journalism however, WaPo apparently considers the ambiguous and unofficial title “watchdog” to be all the reader needs to know about the person on whom the entire article revolves.

  • MacWell

    If this, or any administration had the foresight to apply the money, time, and expertise to invest in nuclear combustion instead of trying to capture this unicorn fart farce, we’d probably be driving nuclear powered autos as I speak. After all, why couldn’t we invent a small nuclear powered engine that would last a lifetime.

  • AllSeeing Eye

    Another poster queries how it could cost so much to create so few jobs. Although a legitimate question, it reflects a false premise that masks an even harsher truth than the fuzzy math of dollars-spent-per-jobs-created myth. The premise is that the stimulus money squandered created ANY jobs. Merely dividing the monies doles out into the number of positions filled over an arbitrarily selected period of time presumes a cause and effect that may not actually even exist. We know the money was given away, and (I suppose) we know some jobs were filled, but who can say with certainty that some jobs would not have been created or filled anyway. To accept this premise, one would first have to assume that not a single job would have been filled had these billions of dollars not been drained from the public Treasury. And when you consider that even the “number of jobs created” figure is likely inflated, the reasonable conclusion of any logical thinker is that the truth lies closer to the possibility that NOTHING of any stated purpose was accomplished from this granddady of all boondoggles.

  • MWK

    So, it’s OK for China to support their solar industry with subsidy, but we can’t? Sure it was a mistake, in hindsight, but if it were easy to pick winners, then private capital would do it. The government (NASA, NIH) does the research that no one else can do and has taken us to world leadership with it. Do you think the pentagon wastes any less on useless cold war weapons on a daily basis and produces less useful or unclassified research that we can actually use?

    Spend more time railing on the waste, fraud, and useless spending in the medical industry and you’ll find something that will actually make a difference. Things like number of surgeries in the last 3 months of life for people after 70. Why can’t we just pass away with dignity?

  • Robert

    Long ago I noticed that anything marketed with “green” as part of its appeal will (1) cost more, (2) do less, and (3) take longer.

    This holds for everything from appliances to politically-favored companies.

  • http://RCP Rocket Surgeon

    I have found many things turn green when they have spoiled, and I love the description of many environmentalist as ‘watermelons’ – green on the outside and red on the inside!

  • don

    In addition, what I find amusing about the alternative energy craze among the left, and its fundamental market and energy inefficiencies, is its Van Jones “survivalist” flavor, a communal share the wealth flavor through egalitarian energy poverty that is usually looked down upon by the left as the domain of knuckle draggers and head-for-the-hills militia types on the right. Curious how birds of a feather flock together when it comes to rationing out a static resource pie.

  • Jay B. Born

    Obama believed his own campaign rhetoric and has taken a “wishin’ and hopin'” approach to getting things done. Except, he needed a plan of action bolstered by factors such as experience, project research, known stakeholders, financing, etc. At any rate, green jobs was campaign buzz, and it’s just jobs, jobs. Jobs for people who need them.

  • Bernd

    Why was it ever necessary for the government to subsidize green jobs in the first place?

    Because green jobs produce expensive energy that no one wants to buy, and Obama’s plan to drive up conventional energy prices to a level that made green energy competitive failed as soon as people saw $4 per gallon gasoline.

    Lesson. Wasting our tax dollars to pay people to produce things that the rest of us refuse to pay for is a waste of our money and all politicians involved should be fired in 2012.

  • elisa

    But they don’t chance course and they won’t change course.

    So we must ask why that is.

    Life has led me to the informal study dysfunctional relationships. Since that is a study of people and their behavior, it offers a lot of useful knowledge for other areas – such as politics and policy.

    Here is something I have learned. If a relationship problem can be solved through better communication, then it usually is. When things stay in a state of failure, despite all attempts to communicate better or in a different way, or to show how things could be improved or bettered, it is because the situation that exists (no matter how disastrous, undesirable, wretched, wasteful and squalid it may appear) is in the interests of the person who controls the situation. They are gaining.

    The controller has no real interest in a different approach, because what they are gaining is something different than the success of the policy. They are not honestly *in* the relationship. They are using the relationship to gain something separate.

    So when you have a situation such as we have here, there comes a time when you must stop making excuses for the person or people who seem so incapable of grasping a better idea or entertaining a different way. They are where they want to be. They are not listening because they don’t care that everybody is wretched in that place. Not their problem.

    But you say, good policy is enlightened self-interest. The controller doesn’t care about that. Look at what they do – do they change policy direction? No. They come around and they say evil things about everybody else, and gin up a dust cloud of manipulation and allegation. If they never happen to do the right thing – it is because they do not want to.

    There really is only one thing to do with individuals like this who are invested in dysfunction, obstruction and manipulation and that is to move on.

    Not so easily done when we are talking about a large percentage of people who are all invested in the same behavior. There really is not much difference between the leadership and the voters who choose them, nor the media who covers for their behavior.

    So how can we motivate our fellow Americans to choose to move on into sunlit uplands of behavior, policy and enlightened self-interest and abjure the strategems and manipulations of the terminally selfish who seek to pit us against each other so nobody will be watching the cookie jar?

  • Rod Handler

    “The administration needs to come to grips with this policy failure; when something isn’t working it is time to change course.”

    The problem with this recommendation is that Democrats never admit they are wrong about anything. Think about it, can you name ONE Democrat policy they will admit was a failure? The only thing you’ll get is “we were wrong to support the Iraq war”, but that’s just a backhanded way to say Republicans were wrong.

    No, I’m sorry but Democrats are so proud and arrogant they will never admit they are wrong.

    Look at CLASS…Kathleen Sebilius says it will bust the budget but Obama refuses to repeal it. Obama just can’t bring himself to admit any part of Obamacare is a failure.

    The ability to admit you are wrong is a hallmark of intelligence. Yet Democrats want to convince us all they are the intelligent party. Ha ha, what a joke.

  • dgforbes

    ‘First, poor jobs growth is the root of all the administration’s other woes.’
    This misstep of Obama’s is a mystery to me, in practical political terms, and proves that the claim that he and his key political advisers – Jarrett, Axelrod and Plouffe – walked on water in their superiority was just false. They made a fundamental political blunder in not giving priority to job resurrection across the economy and not just in the unionised public sector. Perhaps, in their ignorance and executive inexperience, they punted on what Summers/Goolsbee/Geithner told them would be the classic, Keynsian outcome to Stimulus 1 and thought that that gave them leeway to pursue their transformational agenda. But the level of unemployment is the one factor that resonates above all, and always, in any kind of economy. Obama got the cart before the horse. If he had focused on promoting a jobs-for-all resurgence and won the credit for it, the controversial stuff like health care reform and green energy subsidies would have slotted into place painlessly instead of becoming a millstone. But instead, he quite clearly paid no real heed to unemployment levels during his first two years and this hurts the credibility of the current ‘pass this bill’ stunt and, by extension, Obama himself. People aren’t as stupid as the professional pols think.

  • Jason P

    While this is all occurring, the Administration is effectively outsourcing our nuclear power industry. The DoE gave a French company, owned by the French Gov’t a $2 billion dollar loan, instead of the only US company, USEC.

    Once Paducah shuts down, the fuel for around 20% of our electrical power generation will be in the hands of foreign Governments. Primarily Russia, France and a German/UK/Belgium conglomerate.
    In addition, we currently import around 79% of medical isotopes.

  • Spike

    #15 MWK

    You have no idea how much the Democrats rely on followers and weak thinkers like you.

    “if it were easy to pick winners, then private capital would do it”

    Honestly, words fail me. This is what we are up against folks.

  • BlackSaint

    Obama green jobs program in action…The Energy Department says on its website that the $1.2 billion loan to help build the California Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County, a project that will help create 15 permanent jobs, which adds up to the equivalent of $80 million in taxpayer money for each job.

    With Idiots making decisions like that because of stupidly or Corruption and pay offs we will be joining Greece very soon!

    Heads should roll, careers should end, prisons cells should be filled and impeachment should began!

    But nothing will happen its only 1/2 billions of tax payer,s money and Both parties view tax payer,s as fools to be fleeced, abused and used at least under Bush Jr. the Stupid and Obama the crooked.

    Hopefully tea party members are beginning to expect more out of both parties since they have seen a RINO like Bush Jr. was even worse than Democrats,……… until alone came Obama!

  • LV

    Whats needed

    565 x 0.22

  • mnemos

    On the “money for jobs” line of thought – I don’t follow that line of reasoning anymore. Here’s why:
    In a Keynesian sense (ie not the pseudo-keynes of Krugman and most politicians) there is a question of getting what you pay for. The government should spend money during slow periods in the economy because there are things that government needs to spend money on and it is a more efficient time to spend money – less demand means labor rates are lower, material costs are lower, etc. build some bridges that we need anyway. In the end you are getting something for that money. In the current situation labor rates won’t be lower due to union influence in government, but labor availability is better and material should be cheaper. The question is did you get a bridge built cheaper than it would have been otherwise? If you spend money to have people twiddle their thumbs rather than paying for the materials to build things with, you will have more jobs per dollar, but no investment from it. It only looks better if you are as naive as Krugman.

    A counter argument is that even if the jobs you create are meaningless, have no long term value, you have still kept a portion of the population in the habit of getting up in the morning and going to work, which makes them more available to rejoin the productive work force when the economy improves. There is some validity to this point although I don’t think it outweighs the point above. But mainly I see this argument as the reason why extended unemployment is completely inappropriate as stimulus. At this point, with extended unemployment fostering long term joblessness a large portion of the population has now gone from unemployed to unemployable. They no longer have the necessary habits to participate in the work force, and at the same time may be convinced they will be worth their previous wages. They go into the job search with two strikes against them.

    Anyway – if you accept the first argument, the dollars per job argument is not particularly relevant. If you accept the second it has more weight.

  • LLeone

    Solyndra may not prove that Obama is dishonest–although it’s executives did donate generously to Obama’s election and doubtless he appreciated their hardy support.

    Now we know that his own federal auditors at OMB tried frantically to warn him off from this turkey of an investment in countless emails and conversations but he chose to set aside their concerns. What this demonstrates to me is just how truly difficult it is to try to talk sense to the smartest guy in the room.

    Apparently, you have to bring plenty of glossy charts and pie graphs–in red ink-to get anything through his thick skull.

    That’s what wrong with government picking winners and losers–you can hardly tell where stupid starts and the inevitable corruption ends. Either way, we taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

  • Tom Johnson, Clearwater, FL, USA

    Just Say No to Communism
    31 August 2011
    There is one (1) good thing that has come out of Obama’s 2.75 years in office.
    During the Obama administration, the people of the United States of America, an historically center-right, God-fearing, pro-market democracy, have been witness to a real-time experiment in almost pure Marxist/communist-style government, complete with central-planning, government edicts and mandates, an exponential increase in government size, regulations, agencies, and rules, avoidance of the will of the people, economic mismanagement, and lots of long speeches.
    This all is a result of “Change We Can Believe”, which change we now know to be mass unemployment, destruction of the currency, massive accumulation of unsustainable Federal debt, all of which results in a US economy which is declining.
    Obama, et al, have made it clear to the American people that Marxism/communism does not work. This is an expensive, but extremely valuable lesson for the average American. This is a lesson that has NOT been taught in the American educational system, which has a bias to the Left. This lesson has been taught via the experiment of the Obama administration’s policies, performed in public view, which has made it clear to even the politically unconcerned, average American that Marxism/communism does not work.
    America needs jobs, not speechs, not Communism.
    Perhaps we should thank Obama for the lesson?
    Tom Johnson

  • Gary

    This administration, in addition to getting political donations from the green energy industry, they are systimatically using their regulatory agencies to add costs to coal, gas, and petrolium industies so that the costs of green energy will some day be competitive with traditional energy. We need more people to understand why this administration is Politically and economically ruining our country.

  • Cindy M

    Let me get this straight- the Obama Administration has halted the US Gov. Surplus program that feeds Low income seniors, the disabled & rural food pantries due to “budget cuts”, yet they CAN afford to spend millions to appease the Unions and their corporate donors. Are we sure Obama is a Democrat?

  • tz

    There doesn’t seem to be too many truly analytical minds at work up there in Washington, D.C.

    Washington has been focused on the wrong question – How do we create more jobs??

    The right question is – What are the conditions that must be in place to create more employers and encourage existing employers to hire more people?

    There are a host of small changes that can be made to encourage employment – changes in tax policy, fiscal policy, changes of laws and regulations.

    The challenge is to generate excellent ideas, then work down the list from those which will have the most effect and are easiest to implement and do them first.

    There will have to be many, many changes over the next few decades to keep employment up. Congress has had their eye off the ball for at least a decade (and in some cases, passed laws that have a negative effect on employment) so it will take at least a decade of focused effort to get the nation back on track again.

  • No One Important

    It never ceases to amaze me how this nation can watch billions be siphoned out the door to big donors under the farcical “green” lexicon, and yet. . . congress can’t find anywhere to cut?

    Obama also stopped a 19 million dollar grant to Catholic Charities who work to help victims of human trafficking in other nations.

    What has become abundantly clear is, Obama has disdain for this nation’s energy development, while he humps the same oil drilling jobs for Brazil.

    Those jobs aren’t good enough for americans?

    It’s not a question anymore. Obama is seriously undermining our nation’s ability to be energy independent, and with this, comes economic prosperity.

    The industrial revolution was “fueled” by energy. . .cheap affordable energy. Even China knows this when they told the stupid “hopey changey” crowd in Copenhagen they would not agree to anything that hampered their energy production and economic growth.

    Obama has taken a directly hostile approach to our nation and our energy production, because despite appearing clueless, he knows that energy production is the key to economic success. Otherwise, why would he be promoting the same oil drilling jobs for Brazil that he has deliberately destroyed here in our nation?

    It’s time to stop thinking Obama is clueless, and start pointing directly at his policies and call them what they are. Deliberately destructive to our nation. We dodn’t need to hypothosize why, no one cares. Only the end result is what matters.

    Obama does not want our nation independent and strong again. He shovels our money out the door to his big donors under fraudulent “green” banners, while whining about the government wanting more money. . . . . .

    2012, change is coming alright. . . .

  • Bobo

    Obamas Green Projects aren’t “boneheaded blunders” any more than Obama was amking boneheaded blunders letting Tony Rezko “Fundraise” huhdreds of thousands of dollars for him to get into the Illinois Senate and Obama sent at least $15 million back to Big Tony for his publicly funded private slums in Chicago. Obama didn’t care what conditions Rezko’s slums were in, he didn’t care that Rezko’s slum buildings were filled with black people who voted for Obama. What Obama cared about was making deals and gaining power. Nothing has changed for Obama. He either is the dumbest guy ever to go to Occidental, Columbia and Harvard or he is a crook. I’ll put my money on crook.

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