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Caught in their own nets

Sit down. I am about to astonish you. Via the Drudge Report, I found this: Seattle’s ‘green jobs’ program a bust.

A green jobs scheme has failed. Over the shock yet? I’ve always meant to ask one of the enthusiasts for these schemes why they do not also support a job-creating proposal to forbid the generation of electricity by any means other than men on treadmills, but I have not done so for fear of giving them ideas.

I was lying earlier. I am not surprised at all and do not expect you to be. The best that any government “job creation” scheme can ever do is “create” a few jobs in some specific place or profession while the spotlight is on that place or profession – at the cost of destroying the wealth that actually creates long term jobs, but in a conveniently spread out way so no one much notices. Greens strive to convince us that there are external costs paid by the community as a whole when jets fly or factories produce geegaws. “Look at the whole picture,” they urge. “Don’t be bedazzled by the transitory benefit accruing to a few and fail to see the larger but subtler harm being borne by the many.” They have a point. I wish they could apply it to ‘job creation’.

Apparently, however, this Seattle scheme was even a bust in its own terms. It withered even before the spotlight moved on.

The unglamorous work of insulating crawl spaces and attics had emerged as a silver bullet in a bleak economy – able to create jobs and shrink carbon footprint – and the announcement came with great fanfare.

McGinn had joined Vice President Joe Biden in the White House to make it. It came on the eve of Earth Day. It had heady goals: creating 2,000 living-wage jobs in Seattle and retrofitting 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods.

But more than a year later, Seattle’s numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.

I enjoyed the implication that there are others who do not wonder at all, no sir, no sliver of doubt that the original goals might not be met has ever crossed their minds.

That was not the only part of this article rich in irony. Look at this:

“Who’s benefitting from this program right now – it doesn’t square with what the aspiration was,” said Howard Greenwich, the policy director of Puget Sound Sage, an economic-justice group. He urged the city to revisit its social-equity goals.

….Greenwich said the energy retrofit market has turned out to be extremely complicated, with required hammering out of job standards, hiring practices, wages and how best to measure energy benefits.

Market? Where was the market there? The things that have “turned out” (talking as if it all happened by chance) to be “extremely complicated” (that I can believe) are the workings of the interlocking tangle of government rules and protections that people like him and his “economic justice” group advocate. Job standards. Hiring practices. How best to measure energy benefits on some government form. It is sad for all those whose hopes are dashed by these schemes, like the mugs here in the UK who trained as assessors to issue Energy Performance Certificates, or like the unfortunates who got burnt metaphorically and literally in the great Australian insulation debacle. (Not surprisingly, Tim Blair, chronicler of that saga, also has a post about this Seattle fandango. Mine was started first, though.) But what a joke when the very thing that reduces the progressive silver bullet to a twist of mangled brass is… all the stuff that progressives wanted all along.

On second thoughts, I need not worry about giving them dangerous ideas. The great ‘men on treadmills’ job creation scheme would never get moving. It would have to be persons on treadmills regardless of gender, age, religious belief or sexual orientation for a start. And what about disabled access?

8 comments to Caught in their own nets

  • Paul Marks

    It is the great mystery.

    Reason should tell the interventionists that their schemes will not work (will cause harm – not good) – but they reject reason.

    However, they also reject experience – for this experience (nor any others) will not put them off. They will just come back with more (and larger) interventions.

    With the failure of each intervention leading to demands for still greater interventions.

    That, after all, has been the story of American health care.

    With every regulation (mandate….) and every subsidy scheme (Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP) leading to higher and higher costs (every year).

    Yet the interventions are never reversed – on the contary, the high cost of health care (high cost caused by the interventions) is used as proof of the need for still greater interventions.

  • bobby b

    I’m stumped as to how and why such a scheme might fail so miserably and so quickly.

    They’ve designed a business plan for a labor-intensive, low-skill, high-volume home-inspection-and-insulating program, requiring a high volume of lowly-skilled insulators.

    And, like good big-government people everywhere, they’ve primarily hired . . . administrators.

    They’ve taken their cue from Obama, whose motto is “we need to help ourselves first”. He made that clear to all when, during our big Stimulus Party, he bypassed the useful, shovel-ready projects with which he had justified the program and instead sent the bulk of the money out to state and local governments to help them avoid laying off unionized public employees. All of whom vote for him, coincidentally.

    So, when judged by the likely true intent of its initiators, this “failure” story is overblown. If you ask those now-employed administrators in Seattle, they’ll probably tell you the program has been a success.

    Just like The Stimulus was successful.

  • Ian Bennett

    It’s green, though, so the usual (ie, sensible) criteria don’t apply. Similarly, we see the BBC wetting themselves in excitement at the prospect of the construction of new offshore wind farms while admitting (here) that “Right now, it’s the most expensive means of generating electricity, costlier even than nuclear.”

  • Johnathan Pearce

    It is very simple: opportunity costs. If you understand that economics is the discipline of understanding how scarce resources are allocated, then it should not surprise anyone about this.

    Remember, jobs are a “cost”. We want more output, more stuff to consume, not simply to create work as an end in itself. So much of what passes for “job creation” ignores this rather fundamental point.

  • Jerry

    This has ALWAYS been the case with leftist/socialists.

    Everything ( rules, regulations, laws behavior, on
    and on ) applies to SOMEONE ELSE – NEVER to themselves.

    Now, they have gotten caught in their own morass of ‘requirements’ that everyone else has had to abide by and, surprise, it cripples ANY business that is subjected to it !!

    Will this cause any reassessment or change ??
    Of course not.
    The leftists are NEVER wrong !!
    It will just take some time to figure out how to tell the rest of us that this really is a success story !!

    Bobby, you should read the story about how the federal gov’t, because of unpaid back taxes, took over a perfectly legal ‘house of ill repute’ ( in Nevada ) and tried to run it – it failed.
    They couldn’t even run a ‘combination bar/whorehouse’ successfully !!!!!

    But, there are droves who think the gov’t can run ANYTHING better than those wicked, selfish, RICH business people !!!!!!

  • llamas

    If recycling is such a great economic benefit, why is it necessary to sentence petty criminals to perform it as their punishment?

    I knew that the ‘home insulation’ schemes so touted by President Obama and his ilk would founder when they met the real world. Because they were always touted as job-creation schemes that would do a bit of insulating on the side. And insulating homes correctly is actually dirty and sometimes-difficult work that requires a fair degree of skill and should not be left to amateurs. The Canadian contractor and TV personailty Mike Holmes makes a special point of educating homeowners on the perils of poorly-performed insulation – it can literally wreck the very fabric of a home beyond repair – and he never lacks for subject material.

    But these jamokes, who have never picked up a roll of Owens-Corning in their lives, assume that it is a simple task that any unemployed drop-out can do. It’s actually a very telling marker of just how little these folks really know or care about skilled manual labour.

    They also fail to understand the basic economics that show that in most cases, retrofitting existing homes with insulation seldom makes much economic sense.

    Mind you, in their eyes, that probably not a bug, but a feature.



  • Laird

    “Remember, jobs are a ‘cost’.”

    A brilliantly succinct observation. One which is probably completely incomprehensible to many people (and all leftists).

  • Marty

    The best way to get rid of unemployment is to destroy our entire capital stock and reduce us all (well, the survivors) to subsistence agriculture. Anyone who can work, will be working.

    That’s really no different in principle from all the Keynesian stimulus measures, it just takes them to their logical conclusion in a more direct fashion.