The first thing we have to acknowledge is the false notion that you can go ‘green’ and actually improve the economy. That’s the snake-oil the Obama administration is talking about with its promise of ‘green jobs’. Alternate energy sources are more expensive, which is why we’re not using them now.
Can we all accept that as a starting point? That, at least with today’s technology, a ‘green’ mandate is going to raise the cost of energy. Perhaps not in the future, but at least in the short term.
So the next question you have to ask is whether this is the right time to do this, what with the economy in free-fall and state and federal governments up to their eyeballs in red ink. The ‘Stimulus’ was justified because the claim was that every dollars the government spends will be multiplied, so it will help rather than hurt. But there’s no question that just imposing higher costs on energy is anti-stimulative, and will hurt the economy. So again, is this the right time?
Next, you have to ask if this will help the planet. The answer is a resounding NO. Not unless you can get every other government in the world to comply. In fact, it could easily wind up hurting the planet. If the higher cost of energy pushes more manufacturing out of the United States and into countries which are less energy efficient, it’s making the problem worse, not better.
In addition, since oil is fungible, any efforts made to reduce the consumption of oil in the U.S. will have the result of driving down oil prices, which in turn will stimulate demand elsewhere. Not only that, but lower oil prices act as a disincentive to conserve or improve energy efficiency.
So it seems to me that the net effect of this legislation will be to hurt the American economy, make American goods less competitive on the world market, and simply change the distribution of oil consumption from the U.S. to other countries. The law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head again, and creates results opposite of what the ‘feel good’ legislation intended.
The one remaining argument for this is the ‘infant industry’ argument - that if only government pushed hard for alternative energy, it would unleash the forces of capitalism and spur innovation and we’d discover ways to make energy cheaper and ultimately come out stronger. I think that’s an article of faith among many on the ‘green’ side of the debate. The problem is that there’s not much evidence that this is going to work.
Previous attempts by government to jump-start complex technologies have often ended in disaster. Japan’s MITI project, France’s Minitel, various government-sponsored fusion initiatives. Hell, remember when Carter was pushing solar power in the 1970’s? The same claim was made - if government offers the right incentives, surely we’d find a way to make solar cost-effective. There was a mini-boom in solar cell and solar thermal systems due to that push, and most of that hardware is now rotting in landfills because it never did get much better.
But hey, do you know who this will be good for? General Electric. GE was one of the largest donators to Obama’s campaign and to liberals in general, hoping to cash in on a ‘Green’ program (GE is heavily invested in ‘green’ technology, and needs help to sell it). But it’s not just GE - over 700 companies are in the game. According to Green Biz, there are now four climate change lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress, and this year they’ve spent over $90 million in 2008 plying politicians with favors and donating to their campaigns. A textbook example of regulatory capture in the making.
So you can be sure that whatever program passes will be good for GE and Johnson and Johnson. Whether it’s good for the country is a completely different question.