When Solyndra went belly up last month, less than a year after it started making solar arrays in Fremont, California, an Energy Department spokesman insisted that the $535 million the federal government had loaned the company was well spent. "The project that we supported succeeded," he said. "The facility was producing the product it said it would produce."The administration saw the recession as an opportunity to rebuild our economy by channeling money to approved industries without ever asking themselves if those jobs are ones that deserve all this federal funding. If these jobs wouldn't exist without federal subsidies, they aren't jobs that will survive when the gusher of federal funds dries up.
That rather short-sighted definition of success exemplifies the loopy logic of President Obama's "green jobs" agenda, which justifies subsidies based on good intentions and employment opportunities rather than profitability or cost-effectiveness. This policy is rooted in the broken planet fallacy, which treats global warming not as an environmental threat to be handled as expeditiously as possible but as an economic opportunity to be milked for all the jobs it can provide.
But if work is not worth doing—whether it's weatherizing homes or making newfangled solar arrays that prove to be uncompetitive—the money paid for it is an unjustified cost, not an economy-boosting bonus. Obama, who bragged about the 3,000 workers who built Solyndra's factory and the 1,000 who were employed there, ignores the possibility of alternative, more productive uses for resources squandered on bad, government-subsidized investments. Those uses would create jobs too, although not ones for which he could take credit.The administration needs to go back to school and learn about Frédéric Bastiat's Broken Windows fallacy so that they can learn about the tradeoffs between what is seen and unseen. But they never seem to understand about tradeoffs.