Monday, January 31, 2011

Green Un-Jobs, Right Here in Virginia

Sorry, Thomas, Your Invention Was Too Useful and Cost-Effective

You've probably heard proponents of "green" policies claim that such initiatives create "green jobs" and that the creation of such jobs can justify such programs. These same individuals are silent, however, about Green Unjobs --- that is, jobs lost because of "green" initiatives. According to the Washington Examiner, a classic example will soon occur right here in Virginia, when General Electric closes down it last remaining factory that manufacturers incandescent light bulbs, invented by Thomas Edison, pictured above. (According to the Post, the factory employs 200 workers.) You see, the National Government has, by enacting the 2007 Energy Indepence and Security Act, decided that such light bulbs use too much energy and thus should be replaced by mercury-laden bulbs manufactured in China. (See this article by the Times of London, reporting that hundreds of Chinese workers suffered mercury poisoning while manufacturing such light bulbs.) To be more precise, the law imposes hefty civil penalties on firms that manufacture light bulbs that are insufficiently efficient, thereby dooming the traditional incandescent bulb, which Americans would otherwise prefer to purchase over the more expensive mercury-laden options. It's not clear how this requirement will enhance our energy independence or security, given that 99 percent of America's electricity is generated via coal (a fuel we export), nuclear power, natural gas, hydro-electric power, and renewable sources of energy. (Note that, while the United States is a net importer of natural gas, we are also the largest producer of natural gas in the world, export the fuel to Japan, Mexico and South Korea and receive the vast majority of our imports (including 99 percent of our pipeline imports) from our neighbor and close ally, Canada.)

Of course, the mere fact that a new regulation eliminates jobs does not ipso facto require rejection of the regulation on policy grounds. Then again, the fact that regulation will create jobs does not necessarily recommend it, either. If a mercury factory repeatedly spills its output in local streams, thereby poisoning those who live nearby, closing the factory would be warranted, even though doing so would eliminate jobs. At the same time, a law the required all citizens suddenly to paint their houses purple would create jobs in the purple paint industry and, of course, ensure full employment for painters. This would not, however, establish the law's wisdom. Perhaps the best question to ask instead is whether the law bans conduct that produces more harms than benefits. If "energy security and independence" is the true point of the de facto ban on Mr. Edison's invention, the answer seems plainly "no."