Training for Jobs That Will Never Come
A lot of people are pinning their hopes to the emergence of a “green economy,” but wishing won’t make it less of a fad:
Although it offers general optimism about the green sector, the state plan does not say how large the industry could be in Rhode Island or how many jobs it could create. The New England Economic Partnership, however, issued a report in November that projected the green economy would not be a major engine of growth in Rhode Island and the region in the immediate future. That report cited a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts that found only about 2,300 green jobs in Rhode Island in 2007.
The major difference between “green” and other revolutionary developments is that it doesn’t create anything new. The Internet was an entirely unexplored public square and marketplace. Green energy is, well, energy. It doesn’t do anything that regular old energy doesn’t do, and the only thing “new” that it offers is a chance for everybody along the line of its production and usage to feel as if they’re helping the environment. If there’s any price differential at all, few people are going to seek out green.
Yet, we’re distorting market dynamics in expectation of a wave that may not come:
The Providence Plan, a local nonprofit focused on socioeconomic advancement, will launch a jobs-training program next month geared at getting low-income city residents trained in the energy-efficient construction and renewable-power industries.
Thanks to a $3.7-million grant from the federal stimulus plan, the Providence Plan will be able to expand Building Futures, the agency’s program helping urban residents prepare to enter apprenticeships in carpentry, electrical work, welding, plumbing and other construction trades.
Training low-income, under-skilled people for work of any kind is a positive good of itself. But construction has been among the most receding industries in the state, and if the “green” thing doesn’t pan out, there will be even more workers chasing even fewer jobs.
From where I sit, the situation appears to be one in which activists, politicians, and invested private business interests are pushing to use public money to create an industry segment for ideological and financial reasons. They’re using public money because the private money is not there, and if their gamble doesn’t yield rewards, the consequence will be paid by the working class in suppressed wages.