How to kick-start green jobs

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Is creating green jobs a sensible aspiration for governments? That’s the question being debated by Van Jones, author of “The Green-Collar Economy” and scholar Andrew Morriss. Though Jones recognizes that the private sector must be the main driver in creating green jobs, he argues that it will never happen “unless the government becomes a constructive partner in the effort.” He points to rural electrification, the building of the interstate highway system, and the telecom revolution as evidence that the government is capable of undertaken such massive projects.

On the other hand Andrew Morris argues that governments should let market forces lead the way. He worries that special lobbying interests will screw it all up, as they did with ethanol:

The ethanol problem is no accident. Such programmes draw special interests as picnics draw ants. Beneficiaries of federal largesse, such as Archers Daniels Midland, lobby to divert public money for their benefit while Iowa corn interests ensure that presidential candidates pledge fealty to ethanol before the Iowa caucuses. This support comes at a high price for ordinary Americans: a Cato Institute study found that every dollar of ADM’s ethanol profits costs taxpayers $30. Despite these problems, federal policy has promoted ethanol as a “green” technology for years. Many environmentalists now disclaim corn-based ethanol but, because it has been promoted as an example of the federal government’s ability to pick green technology, they bear the burden of showing why their current proposals will not yield the same results. Before we can be sure that a “green” jobs proposal is going to improve environmental quality, we need to know how those promoting it plan to avoid the problem of politics diverting public resources into corporate welfare.

Morris’ point is an interesting one and he is right to point out the ethanol disaster. However, by his logic, that would mean that government should simply refrain from promoting socially desirable goals, in spite of its long tradition of doing just that. Wouldn’t it be preferable to properly reform lobbying rules instead?