November 14, 2010

NOBODY HAS IT HARDER THAN THEIR FATHER DID:

Clean Energy Driven Job Growth Is A Return To The Stone Age (Mark Mills, 11.12.10, Forbes)

At the risk of sounding something like a Green Grinch, let me be the first to say that I truly hope that America's recovery does not come on the back of a clean tech job revolution. [...]

Why in the world would anyone want the energy sector, in whatever form it might take, to be the engine of American employment recovery? Sure, at one time in history (and today in subsistence cultures) nearly 100% of employment was anchored in fuel jobs: food for humans and their animals, and fuel for heat and cooking. That, thankfully, isn't the case anymore.

The underlying fact-of-merit here is that about 5% of employed Americans work in businesses that produce energy, and 95% work in energy-consuming businesses. This is a good thing. In a perfect world, we would have an even smaller share doing the production. We would, to use the economists' term, increase labor productivity, not decrease it. In the reductio ad absurdum, one person could control the technology that supplied all the energy needs of 310 million citizens. Productivity is what grows economies, makes people wealthier and helps businesses create more jobs--not jobs in "energy," but jobs overall. It has always been thus.

Agriculture provides the seminal example of this phenomenon. Total farm employment in both relative and absolute terms has, as every elementary school student knows, collapsed from early American days. Setting aside the farmers' vaunted place in American politics and social history (and I'm biased here--my father grew up on a farm and I spent my fair share of time on one), this has been a very good trend for America, and the world. America moved from a 19th-century economy with agriculture accounting for over 70% of employment, to just a couple percent of jobs today. Even in the 20th century farm productivity (the measure of labor-hours per unit output) grew from a post-WWII level of 14 labor-hours to yield 100 bushels of corn, to below three today; a seven-fold gain in productivity. That's the kind of gain that deserves a "Hoorah."

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 14, 2010 6:11 AM
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