A few months after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, my wife and I were wandering around the eastern part of that city and came upon a little antique shop, where the last vestiges of the old Communist ways were slowly being flushed out, much to the owner’s dismay.
Under the Soviet-backed regime, he told us through our translator friend, he’d had a dozen employees to staff a business that would have fit in the average American living room, with space left over for a bratwurst stand and a beer garden. All those workers were paid by the state. In fact, the shop owner got his paycheck from the government, too, since his cheesy junk emporium never turned anything that remotely resembled a profit.
He snorted (in German) at the mention of that word (also in German). It wasn’t about profit he said, it was about jobs. And if we didn’t buy something, he wasn’t going to have one for long.
We did our bit for the fledgling market-based economy by purchasing a “guaranteed authentic,” Lucite-encased piece of the now-defunct wall. Never let it be said I don’t care about jobs.
Actually, I don’t care about some jobs. Particularly if they’re phony ones like those subsidized by the former commie government. I’m also not much of a fan of pseudo-capitalist promises of jobs, when they serve as inducements to win support for political positions that are about as sustainable as the old East German economy.
For example, even though I have no problem with gambling, I was turned off by the ad campaign last year for a racino in Biddeford that barely mentioned its real purpose. Instead it stressed that it was all about jobs. In spite of a sell that was harder than a Lucite case, the plan to legalize slot machines went down to defeat, in part because voters believed its proponents were being deceptive weasels.
I was reminded of the failed racino on Jan. 24 when I read an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News by Jeremy Payne, the executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. Payne is pushing a referendum that may be on the ballot later this year to increase the amount of wind power and other alternative energy sources that Mainers use. But he devotes precious little space to that aspect of the proposed law. Instead, he says it’s all about jobs.
Payne insists the measure will create “hundreds of jobs.” He contends they’ll be “manufacturing, engineering and construction jobs.” He’s sure the referendum is “the right idea to put people back to work” and reminds his readers that “Maine needs jobs.” In all, he cites jobs and employment at least eight times.
He mentions wind turbines once.
I checked carefully, but couldn’t find anything about gambling, although that could be hidden in there, too.
Supporters of this effort to require that 20 percent of Maine’s electricity comes from new renewable sources do have something to say about how much such a mandate will reduce electric bills.
Beth Nagusky of Maine Citizens for Clean Energy told a State House news conference on Jan. 18, “Nobody has a crystal ball and can accurately predict energy prices, but we have looked at a range of assumptions in doing our analysis, and we believe it will lower prices over time.”
Of course, over time, we’ll all be dead.
According to Payne, under his group’s most optimistic estimates, the cost of electricity would start going down in 2020. Under a slightly more pessimistic projection, it could be more like 2030. By which time, the average customer would be saving a whopping 34 cents a month. That’s after paying as much as a buck a month more for those intervening years.
Here’s one of the cardinal rules of politics:
Whenever anyone promises that if you vote a certain way, you’ll pay more in the short term, but less in the long term, they’re always at least half wrong. Unfortunately, that’s likely to be the long-term half. Just ask the folks who’ve allowed wind farms in their towns how much their property taxes have gone down. Or their electric bills. Check with drivers who’ve been forced to buy expensive ethanol-laced gasoline that they were taxed on in the first place to pay for production subsidies.
Affordable alternative energy is a lovely idea. Particularly, if you’re in the business of selling the equipment it requires or building the facilities to produce it or marketing this scam to an unwary public that’s inclined to believe the basic principles of economics have been suspended by little solar-powered fairies.
Otherwise, it’s not so lovely.
Trying to artificially alter the electricity market through the referendum process won’t create real jobs – or cheap power – because once you’ve finished constructing all the windmills it’ll take to get us to the 20 percent mark, there’ll be nothing more for those workers to do.
Except go in search of understaffed antique shops looking for government- subsidized employees.
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