President Obama’s second inaugural address included a few lines about the new “green energy economy” that he has often spoken of. The green energy economy arguably represents the most hope-filled vision Obama set forth during his first presidential run, and also arguably the biggest failure of his presidency to date. It’s curious to see him bring it up, and a sign that facts aren’t getting in the way of optimism — at least not in the focus groups that his political advisors study.
Here’s what Obama said today:
We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
It’s one thing to say that we have to throw a lot of money at global warming for fear of the end of mankind. It’s quite another to pretend that there is a “green economy” just waiting to happen that is filled with hundreds of thousands or even millions of good jobs, as Obama often has.
When Obama pledged $150 billion over ten years, he said it would create 5 million green jobs — in fact, about 30,000 jobs have been created by the Department of Energy’s 4,000 or so green energy projects.
From the stimulus package, we got two big ticket items: One is the subsidy program which helped several now-bankrupt firms (Solyndra being just one of them) remain solvent for a bit longer than they would have otherwise, and which is still propping up others that will go bankrupt soon. We also got a $400 million green-jobs training program which, in the rare cases where it puts participants into new “green jobs,” puts them into jobs with an average annual salary of less than $26,000 per year.
One could at least point to the increase in wind and solar electricity production that Obama has overseen — although bear in mind that even this has been driven by expensive state and local government mandates and built with large subsidies and higher electricity rates for customers. Still, one must acknowledge that during Obama’s term, wind and solar have gone from producing 1.4 percent of the nation’s power to 2.9 percent. But even before even counting the opportunity costs of the subsidies and expenses involved, these fields promise to produce relatively few permanent net jobs.
More importantly, even if the net number is positive, a handful of jobs in the utility industry does not a “green energy economy” make. It does not even come close to fulfilling Obama’s green-energy promises of hundreds of thousands or millions of “jobs of the future” and “jobs that lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth.”
One typical example of Obama’s rhetoric on this point came in a 2010 weekly radio address, which he gave to announce $2 billion in subsidies for two companies, one of which has since gone bankrupt:
“[W]e’re going to keep competing aggressively to make sure the jobs and industries of the future are taking root right here in America. That’s one of the reasons why we’re accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and doubling our use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power – steps that have the potential to create whole new industries and hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America.”
This “potential” that Obama mentions simply has not materialized, and nothing he has done so far has moved the ball toward bringing it about. If you’re expecting a windmill factory to pop up in your town and hire you, don’t hold your breath.