Bob Herbert lays out a strong argument for a focus on jobs in his column “A Fool’s Paradise”:

The economy won’t be saved by bailing out Wall Street and waiting for that day that never comes when the benefits trickle down to ordinary Americans. It won’t be saved until we get serious about putting vast numbers of Americans back to work in jobs that are reasonably secure and pay a sustaining wage … we need to find the money and the will to put Americans to work rebuilding the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure, revitalizing its public school system, [and] creating a new dawn of energy self-sufficiency

And none of that will happen unless we rebuild the manufacturing sector at the same time. As I have argued before, a country can’t trade services for goods. In order to be rich, a country must make most of its own goods. But in addition, most of the wealth of an economy comes, directly or indirectly, through the manufacturing ecosystem.

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Van Jones has laid out a vision to create a green collar sector of the economy, one that can employ millions of people. I think that the kinds of jobs he discusses — retrofitting buildings, installing photovoltaics — is the first stage in greening the entire economy.

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The first part of a green collar economy is the “low hanging fruit” of the basic services, such as retrofits and installation. But the second part is to actually manufacture the things being serviced — the photovoltaics, the insulation. The third part, perhaps, is to create entirely new systems that are both produced and serviced by people in green collar jobs — systems such as high-speed electric rail or large wind farms.

The fourth stage, then, might be to weave all of these systems together, so that, for instance, the high-speed rail is powered by the large wind farms, or the photovoltaics provide electricity for the grid, or thousands of people are employed to tear down old coal plants and to revive the ecosystems that the coal plants destroyed.

If we think of green collar jobs as reviving the foundations of the economy, then the response to the argument, “Greening the economy and solving the climate crisis will cost too much money” can be replaced with the argument, “The only way to save the economy is to green it.”

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