Kermit the Frog Meets the Underpants Gnomes: Ron Gettelfinger's Pitch for Green Auto Jobs

Easy greenery and magical economic thinking add up to expensive trouble

Gnomes Plan

One hates to argue with such a trusted and beloved figure as Kermit the Frog, but nowadays it’s easy to be green — if anything it’s too easy. Witness Ron Gettelfinger’s half-baked argument for green automobile jobs in today’s Detroit News.

The UAW chief tells us that there are 190,000 new automotive-sector jobs about to be created, and we can have them all right here if Republicans and Democrats do…something. What exactly Gettelfinger hopes they will do isn’t spelled out or even hinted at but it probably involves gobs of taxpayer money. That’s a favorite tactic of salesmen who are tasked with moving an expensive product of dubious value: wait as long as possible to mention a price tag.

Gettelfinger points to a study that backs up his prediction. How exactly this will work is not entirely clear, but reading between the lines it would appear that stricter emissions standards will result in automakers using new technologies, which in turn will create new jobs. How this will result in new jobs, as opposed to a retooling of existing facilities, is something of a mystery though. More efficient and environmentally friendly cars are all very nice, but it’s not at all clear how the creation of green cars will spur demand for vehicles overall. The fact that cars will soon be greener doesn’t mean that anyone is suddenly going to need a new one. To the extent there is a plan here at all it depends on ham-handed environmental regulations based on questionable environmental theories. The whole green car business is dependent on regulations that make fuel more expensive and subsidies to make expensive green technology affordable.

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It’s interesting to note that Gettelfinger never says explicitly who wrote this report. One can’t help but wonder if it won’t turn out to be like the Underpants Gnomes of "South Park" fame. The Underpants Gnomes would sneak in at night and swipe underpants, all in the name of profit. The gnomes themselves weren’t clear on just how they were going to make money from the whole thing though. Eventually the gnomes present a flow chart for their operation: Phase I is “collect underpants,” Phase III is “Profit." Phase II is a big question mark. The same sort of thinking runs throughout Gettelfinger’s article; fuel-efficient cars and underpants are both valuable, therefore there just have to be profits and jobs to be made from them. How? We'll get to that later.

It’s not that simple. The environmental movement is at its zenith right now. Its influence over politics and taste may be about to plummet as more is revealed about misuse of data, but for years “green” technologies have been both trendy and popular among the political class. Being Green has been easy lately, and Ron Gettelfinger appears to have gotten caught up in all that. He’s not the only one. Gov. Granholm has long been a proponent of green jobs, promoting and subsidizing them while unemployment rises in the state. It’s tempting to think that “green” technology must generate lots of “green” jobs, and maybe it will. But if the technology is as valuable as advertised, there should be no need for subsidies.