Wednesday, October 27, 2021

“Oil Was Vomit Or A Low Gas Price.” Very few see electric cars as being anywhere near the same impact. – WF

A leading economist at Center for Global Policy Solutions just had a series of radio interviews talking about his “rabbit hole” article and the conservative point of view. Over on the right, the Washington Examiner published this interview with economist Phillip Swagel and his take on what is the truth behind the unemployment numbers and the jobs in the electric vehicle economy.

Part of my comments are targeted at Ralph Nader and his “research”. Nader gets annoyed when new job creators are covered, so he almost always tries to label them as existing jobs. For example, Nader says the manufacturing jobs being created by new companies manufacturing solar panels are old ones. To which I would simply reply: What is your definition of new? New jobs have been coming in those industries for decades. What new thing in solar panels have you ever seen? Nader’s studies could also provide numbers comparing countries with the different labor laws that the US has versus those without (the US is well above the rest of the world on these measures).

Check out Phillip Swagel’s piece at the Washington Examiner.

The expansion of the electric vehicle economy is creating a number of new jobs with growing wages. In addition, its workers get to move from poverty to moderate income. But while the high speed electrification of our cities will provide big gains in mobility, it does not create the additional jobs many believe it would and it is not necessarily helpful to our economy.

Phillip Swagel also told the Washington Examiner that the expansion of renewable energy and clean transportation technologies will create more jobs than high speed EV adoption. Why is that? One possibility is that these industries will support existing industries. For example, wind turbines have been a mainstay in wind power since 1978. But have wind power engineers or fuel engineers seen their work disappear in favor of EV mechanics? Probably not. They will take care of the existing jobs and then augment them with new jobs. Even Toyota has “disregarded green jobs” in the past—because it is not clear that these green jobs will be sustained.

Where I think the discussion over the EV economy gets crazy is its tendency to erroneously try to reduce wages for the working class. Many people believe that with green jobs from solar panels they will automatically be paid more, but many still do not get that the new jobs are only for a limited time and then there is a different job to take.

The flip side of this, of course, is the lack of alternative incomes to replace the lost income from coal miners and oil workers who were let go during the last recession. But this is likely another reason why renewable energy industries are not as unionized as the oil and gas businesses (in contrast to the auto and tech industries). Most people in these industries do not think of themselves as being “labor”. They already see themselves as having solved energy problems for people and are looking for new ones.

Moreover, there is the debate over where the economics has led. If electric vehicles are nothing but machines producing jobs for the rich, then this is the end of capitalism. This is what the “rabbit hole” became concerned about: To cut off from the world the willingness of the working class to engage in speculative profit. But if cars become vehicles that lower the cost of transport for everyone, then the radical change in mobility that will follow will be one that increases prices rather than lower them, which is what came after the technological transformation of the oil and automobile.

A key argument for the energy transition has been that the new jobs in the sectors of renewable energy and solar power are wages that will provide middle class incomes, as happened in the past. This may just be an illusion, though, and that the value created by renewable energy could be cut out of the picture with a reduction in workers’ wages. I know that it is easy to invent this argument to make your side look more attractive.

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