(Van)Jones (President Obama’s chief advisor on green jobs) has been tasked to coordinate green-jobs policy as part of Obama’s bid to transform America’s fossil-fuel-heavy energy economy, and his work is cut out for him. Not that it should be difficult to create scores of green jobs: Congress and the administration are working hand-in-glove to formulate policies that subsidize renewable-energy technologies and fuels, mandate their use in our energy mix, and punish fossil-fuel usage. Strip away the novel green veneer, and the promise of job creation differs little from New Deal–era make-work efforts. Just as government can pay people to dig ditches needlessly, it can pay them to install solar panels, even if the free market wouldn’t. That may be job creation, but it’s a lot closer to welfare than to free enterprise.
But will all this subsidized activity succeed in transforming our energy economy? For that matter, will it do anything meaningful to fix inner-city problems like poverty, crime, illegitimacy, and drugs, as Jones says it will? The evidence suggests that it won’t. Wind, solar, and other so-called renewable-energy sources play negligible roles in our energy economy because they fail in competition with oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Those sources account for the lion’s share of our energy needs, not because of government favoritism or conspiracy by avaricious corporate powers, but because they provide large amounts of energy reliably and at attractive prices. Renewables don’t come close to doing either of those things. Government-directed job-training efforts, similarly, have nearly always failed to impart useful skills to disadvantaged workers (though they have succeeded spectacularly in wasting taxpayers’ dollars).