Our Low Energy Media at Work

One of my favorite Milton Friedman stories concerns the time he was driving along in postwar West Germany in the late 1940s, on his way I think to the first Mont Pelerin Society meeting, when he spotted a large number of workers shoveling out a building site. Milton asked his German host, “Why don’t you get a tractor and some mechanized equipment for that?”

“Ah, but Prof. Friedman, you don’t understand—this provides jobs!

Milton, quick as always, responded: “Well in that case why don’t you give them spoons.”

This came to mind when I saw the April 25 New York Times story, “Today’s Energy Jobs Are in Solar, Not Coal.” You could guess from the headline that we’re headed into “why-don’t-you-give-them-spoons” economic illiteracy, and you wouldn’t be disappointed. The fact that there are more people working in solar power than coal is a measure of the gross inefficiency of solar power. This is like saying that because McDonalds provides more jobs per calorie consumed than a high end restaurant we should want more McDonalds built.

I have Mark Perry of AEI to thank for running the numbers as I haven’t had the time. This chart tells the story succinctly:

Energy Workers

Mark’s conclusion:

Bottom Line: The goal of America’s energy sector isn’t to create as many jobs as possible (as the NYT article would apparently have us believe) especially the politically-favored and heavily-subsidized renewable energy jobs. Rather, the economic goal is to produce as much electric power as possible at the lowest possible cost, and that means we want the fewest number of energy workers!