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The Green Jobs Chimera


Europe is mulling import tariffs on cheap Chinese solar panels to protect its own manufacturers; it could learn something from America’s attempt to do the same last year. Hint: it didn’t work.

China heavily subsidized its own solar industry, which led to a rapid expansion in the supply of solar panels. Demand didn’t keep up with supply, so the price of panels plummeted. Western producers couldn’t keep up with China in the race to the bottom, and companies like Solyndra closed up shop.

Last year, the US responded by enacting a set of import tariffs on Chinese panels, hoping to protect domestic producers. But slapping China with tariffs didn’t return the US solar industry to health. Instead, other cheap Asian manufacturers jumped in. The FT reports:

Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said tariffs have had “a very small impact on the US market”: neither sending cell prices soaring, nor rebuilding the domestic manufacturing base. While imports from China have slowed significantly, those from other parts of Asia have soared. […]

The US imported almost as many Malaysian solar cells in the first three months of this year, as in the whole of 2011.

Europe is facing the same problem and considering the same solution. But America’s experience tells us that this is not easily fixed. The market is heavily distorted at this point; governments are propping up a nascent technology that can’t compete on price on its own. States can continue to subsidize producers and tax imports all they want, but that doesn’t fix the underlying problem: this technology isn’t ready for market.

The greens have deluded themselves into thinking that somehow market forces didn’t apply to manufacturing “clean” tech. It just illustrates the lack of policy competence in the green community, and the cleverness of crony capitalists, who know the silly greens will lobby for your sweetheart deal if you sprinkle some of their favorite phrases into the promotional literature.

[Broken solar panel image courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • Luke Lea

    The thing about green jobs is that they subtract rather than add to our overall standard of living. Sure, they show up in our GDP. But then so do reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of a hurricane. (Except in this case it is an imaginary hurricane that probably won’t happen.)

    • Corlyss

      Agree. The whole object behind green everything is to return the modern world to pre-modern conditions, including cottage producers, poverty, and primitivism in which the Greens run the world (and coincidentally get all the perks and energy THEY need to keep the rest of us peons in line). It’s never been about anything but power, in the rawest political sense of the word.

  • Corlyss

    Boy, if anyone wanted to model what happens in a managed economy, they need look no further than Obama’s green energy debacles.

  • Mark Michael

    An irony for the “Greens” who believe so fervently in textbook socialist arrangements (in their heart-of-hearts) is that they must learn the basics of how capitalist economies actually work – if they want to avoid these kind of foolish situations in which they now find themselves w.r.t. solar panels.

    Some kind soul should volunteer to provide these theological Greens with online courses in economics – charging them a handsome fee, of course. Advertise them as a Supplement to Saul Alinsky’s 1970’s “Rules for Radicals”: what you need to know about macroeconomics that will allow you to better transition the American economy from its current free-market capitalism to your fervently-desired textbook socialism.

  • Toads

    The funny thing is, most ‘environmentalists’ appear to be the people who would be LEAST capable of surviving in the wilderness on their own….

    They are the most pampered, detached from natural forces group of sheltered morons around.

  • Toads

    “who know the silly greens will lobby for your sweetheart deal if you sprinkle some of their favorite phrases into the promotional literature.”

    A lot of those are women.

    And women will believe anything… and I mean ANYTHING, that makes them feel good about themselves…

    What do you think pickup artists teach, and why do you think it works so well?

  • I BarKahn

    Mead: You had an absolute duty to protect Conservative citizens from the machination of the left. You, and your Conservative media colleagues, turned your back on your duties, fled into silence and permitted an ineligible candidate with a shockingly unsavory past to become President and the sign bills into law with an alias (an alias!). The capitulations, the self-imposed censorship, and the collaboration of the Conservative media–which never allows itself to mention, let alone discuss–Obama’s illegitimacy,
    is on a scale not seen since the pre-WWII German and Itlalian press, and the press during the Vichy government. What company to be in.
    This is the saddest and most shameful period since the Civil War.

  • bannedforselfcensorship

    But waht if “recycling” government aid into political donations and the photo ops before the plants close down are what the pols are really after?

  • Whitehall

    Professor Mead is being both far too kind and far too naive.

    The self-delusion of the greens can be assumed but the corruption must be uncovered and exposed.

    Renewable energy has been a self-evident hoax from the first to any honest and aware person with an understanding of the role of energy in our economy.

  • richard40

    Gov subsidies or spending never create jobs, theymerely move them from the private sector to the public sector, or from an unsubsidized to a subsidized sector, with an acompanying loss of efficiency due to gov burocratic/political overhead.

  • teapartydoc

    Check out Ben Stein’s take on Smoot-Hawley in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

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