by Nick Loris
Proponents of the $787 billion economic stimulus package said it would be quick and effective. It’s turning out to be neither. And the transformation to a new green revolution is off to a shaky start.
One of the largest chunks of money from the federal spending is the $25 billion allocated for energy-efficiency. The Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis wrote, “If the New Deal was focused on building new things — schools, courthouses, libraries — then the stimulus is to a great degree focused on retrofitting what’s already there. The $25 billion for energy efficiency, which is the same amount as is being spent on roads and bridges, is split roughly equally among programs for homes for low-incomeworkers, federal buildings, public housing, military facilities and initiatives by local and state governments.”
Thus far, the effort to create or save jobs hasn’t been successful. MacGillis details several energy efficiency initiatives that have failed to create new jobs. In Baltimore, for instance, stimulus dollars have been spent to patch roads, install newer furnaces and painting rooftops white to conserve energy. According to MacGillis, none of these projects, as well as others, have created a single job. Another example is in the state of Indiana, where companies have “weatherized 82 homes out of its three-year goal of 25,000, and reported zero new jobs from the spending.” Maybe by the time they get to the other 24,918 homes a job will have been created.
When it comes to quickly injecting money into the economy, nothing could be farther from reality; in fact, many of the projects are just getting started: “The program is sending $394 million to New York, but it had produced only 43 jobs there by early October; Michigan had spent $3 million of the $243 million it received.”
One of the biggest and allegedly easiest targets for the green stimulus was improving energy efficiency in buildings since buildings in the United States account for 40 percent of the nations’ energy usage. But a number of hurdles are preventing building retrofits and enhancement before the winter hits: “Officials in charge of the spending have become entangled in bureaucratic disputes over federal wage requirements, historic preservation rules and environmental regulations.” And with so much money at stake, another legitimate concern is fraud.
If the government is good at doing one thing, it’s spending other peoples’ money. The money will eventually be spent and the government will create some jobs to build windmills, solar panels and weatherize buildings. But Christmas didn’t come early this year; that money is not coming from Santa. It must either be taxed or borrowed from someone else and it’s money that could have been spent elsewhere for more productive use. John Stossel agues that the government can easily create jobs, but it’s creating wealth that’s the problem:
“Creating jobs is not difficult for government officials. Pharaohs created thousands of jobs by building pyramids. Our government could create jobs by paying people to dig holes and then fill them up. Would actual wealth be created? Of course not. It would be destroyed. It’s like arguing hurricanes create jobs. After all, the destruction is followed by rebuilding. But does anyone seriously believe that replacing destroyed buildings creates wealth?”
The government is certainly good at destroying wealth, too, and that’s exactly what will happen if cap and trade becomes law. Mandating higher energy prices will slow the economy and reduce wealth by $9.4 trillion from the years 2012-2035. The top concern for most Americans is understandably the economy and jobs. Instead of implementing policy that would reduce wealth and destroy jobs, Congress should focus on tax, energy and spending policies that would allow the market to operate more productively.