From the TUC

So, green jobs are a bad thing, are they?

20 Apr 2012, by in Environment

Right-wing blogger (that’s the politest I can be) Tim Worstall writes in the online version of the magazine for millionaires, Forbes, that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have got it all wrong about green jobs. In the strange world of Worstall, it’s a bad thing that green industries could produce 48 million jobs in the 12 countries* studied by the ITUC. Because jobs cost money, see, so they’re “a cost, not a benefit”.

It’s often difficult to identify unconscious self-parody (after all, what he says may explain the thinking behind policies like the EU fiscal pact and the UK government’s austerity policies), but what Tim says is that jobs are definitely a cost to employers because they have to pay the wages (er, don’t they get the profits out too, so actually most jobs are net benefits even to employers? Moving on…) But jobs are also a cost to the people who do them, because otherwise they could be living it up and relaxing (Tim does grudgingly accept that this might be difficult without a wage coming in, but remember, this is Worstall’s world we’re in now).

Arguments that unemployment costs us all because it requires public services to be provided with less tax revenue, and unemployment and other state benefits being paid out are, I suspect, unlikely to cut much ice with Tim, because I suspect he sees tax, public services and benefits as bad things too.

So let’s tiptoe quietly away from Worstall’s world, back to the real one where it would be a good thing if 48 million jobs were created from greening our economies, because it would help save the planet, produce remunerative (and, hopefully, fulfilling too) work for millions of people and an income for them and their families, as well as the tax revenues needed to start rebuilding welfare states. Some people may even make a profit out of it too. Although I’d advise against using those profits to buy a subscription to Forbes until they get a better class of writer….

* The countries are Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Brazil, Dominican Republic, USA, South Africa, Ghana, Tunisia, Indonesia, Nepal, Australia.

7 Responses to So, green jobs are a bad thing, are they?

  1. Tim Worstall
    Apr 20th 2012, 11:29 am

    “But jobs are also a cost to the people who do them, because otherwise they could be living it up and relaxing (Tim does grudgingly accept that this might be difficult without a wage coming in, but remember, this is Worstall’s world we’re in now).”

    Exactly my point. Having to go to work is a cost: the income you get from having done so is the benefit.

    Come along now, even Keynes was with me on this one. Economic opportunities for our grandchildren. As the world gets richer people will have to work ever less to earn the money to fund their lifestyles. This is a clear admission that the having to go to work bit is a cost while the lifestyle is the benefit.

    And you guys talk about shorter working hours all the time. Indeed, you’re proud of the way in which over the years that you’ve been able to reduce working hours (10 days, 8 hour days etc).

    Why would you campaign for shorter working hours is having to work wasn’t a cost?

  2. Gareth
    Apr 20th 2012, 11:34 am

    Non sequitor.

    Yes, having to work is a “bad thing” in the long run. We would all prefer to work less, consume more, right? Maybe it’s not in a union bloggers self-interest to face that fact. We don’t really WANT to work, you know.

    And Tim makes a perfectly reasonable argument: if building windmills does not pass the cost/benefit test and makes us all poorer, we will (collectively) have to work harder to consume the same amount. So we should apply cost/benefit analysis to building windmills. And hiring people is a cost.

    Imagine it this way: the government guarantees to give paid work to all the unemployed, but the work will be breaking the windows of other people. Broken windows ensure that demand for glazers is high, thereby there is a virtuous self-fulfilling cycle towards full employment. Do you think that is a good idea merely because it achives full employment? Or should we consider the cost/benefit of higher people to break windows? That is Tim’s point.

  3. Gareth
    Apr 20th 2012, 11:37 am

    Ooops. glaziers ;)

  4. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Apr 20th 2012, 11:52 am

    Don’t worry, Gareth, I got that!

    Look, there’s a philosophical point here about work, and a practical point.

    On the philosophical point, actually a lot of people DO want to work. All our surveys and discussions with our members tell us that people want to do something useful with their lives, not merely exist. That’s why rich people work, isn’t it? (At least in part.) People want to be useful, they want to be productive, they want to apply skills. Socially, people also tell us they want to work woth other people, etc etc.

    The more practical question is about PAID work. Yes, unions exist in part to raise the rate at which people get paid, not least so that they can CHOOSE how long to work, rather than have that choice made for them by management diktat or by economic necessity. But from our earliest, we have not advocated that people should give up work altogether or reduce it to the absolute minimum: the original 8 hour day campaigners actually advocated 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep and 8 hours relaxation, NOT “up to 8 hours work, and less if we can get it”.

    But the main point is that, in the real world, people who aren’t independently wealthy want decent work and decent pay. It may sound simple, but boy do we have to struggle to get it!

  5. Gareth
    Apr 20th 2012, 2:59 pm

    I don’t disagree with much you say there, Owen. Perhaps to draw a distinction between “work” and “doing something useful with their lives”. I’m pretty sure I could do lots of the latter without calling it the former.

    But you don’t do anything to actual counter Tim’s point: we must assess projects on a cost/benefit basis, and jobs are a cost, not a benefit. It really is lazy to justify spending on the basis that it creates jobs. Digging holes or breaking windows can be justified on that basis. It’s not enough, and Tim does well to highlight this point.

  6. Owen Tudor

    Owen Tudor
    Apr 20th 2012, 11:57 pm

    Well, as John Maynard Keynes has been preyed in aid of this argument, and not by me, let me recall what he said on the subject of Government employment schemes in recessions. He advocated the state taking unemployed people and putting them to work burying cash and then digging it up again, on the basis that this was better than leaving them unemployed and poor.

    I think that spending that creates jobs is actually a good idea. The traditional right-wing argument against is that government spending only displaces jobs that the private sector would otherwise be creating, and I’m not surprised that argument has been abandoned, as the opposite (cutting spending so that the private sector creates more jobs than are lost in public services) has failed so manifestly.

  7. Green Jobs UK
    May 20th 2012, 10:11 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more, this is complete nonsense that green jobs are a bad thing. A job is a job, in the UK there a different view in some sense to green energy sector as some of it is subsidised but is that unlike nuclear energy world wide.Its a double standard really, but no one thinks twice about nuclear energy as being part paid for by the government.