Our former president Obama loves education and he also loves green energy and “green jobs.” During his days in office, he wanted to make sure America and its children stay on top (or if they are not currently on top to encourage them to race there, quickly). If this means a Chinese child must be left behind because of the competitive nature of today’s global economy, that’s tough but at least it was a fair race. I supported our President in these efforts, but how do you teach Civics in a Government School?
To promote the jobs of the future we need “schools of the future,” and these schools must teach the children how to engineer amazing products which allow us to maintain the lifestyle to which we are accustomed without polluting. However, this will not work if the solar panels for our roofs are constructed by the soft hands of children working under sweatshop conditions in China or anywhere else but here in the U.S.A.
President Obama and his Energy Secretary were having a dilemma though which goes to the heart of trying to do education/economic battle with China on its own terms though Trump has taken that to new levels. The big government people know that the “free market” in the U.S. will not make me buy a twice-as-expensive-as-normal car right now when gas is so cheap. They know that I will not spend $10,000.00 on solar panels for my roof when my electric bill costs less than a decent sushi dinner.
So they figured that the government has a role in promoting clean, green, or alternative energy. Not just to bribe me into using the stuff, but to actually try to get Americans to build things. The problem is both Democrats and Republicans have bought into the idea of “government by proxy”–that is, the notion that the private sector is better at everything so we just need to pull some levers and stuff will get done (often through contracting, for example).
Therefore the obvious, New-Deal-style thing to do–to have the government hire a bunch of unemployed people to build and run a solar panel design facility and factory–is never considered. Instead what we get is a gaggle of carrots and sticks designed to get otherwise-busy people to get into solar, wind, etc. with their time and (especially) their money and under Trump, that’s gone beyond control, I fear. Reciprocal teaching won’t do any good here as, under Trump, nothing goes bottom-up. It seems to go all top-down, right?
But these people with enough money to create a solar-panel company are smart and whether or not they care about the environment they definitely don’t want to lose their money. So, of course, they lobby politicians with cash and words to create a favorable business environment. It seems our present administration has been caught up in that, and Republicans are crying foul. It’s very sweet for the G.O.P. because they’re not into “green” that much to begin with, and they favor “free market” solutions (which as I pointed out are not working on me).
The Civics lesson here is that advertising-dependent democracy, capitalism, and government-by-proxy are dicey in combination. Chinese political leaders have it easy because they don’t have to raise a lot of money for television ads to get elected. They don’t have to be subtle in their use of carrots and sticks to get the “green economy” going because they have (more) centralized control.
But we (Americans) have to live with messiness: we reject centralized planning and a command economy because of their freedom-restricting consequences. The Federal Government cannot mandate “green education” in every school or online education program in the nation because local school boards would object. I mean, we have trouble even forcing the nation’s children to learn math because it might interfere with locally-sourced math curricula though we all know that the first years in a child’s life are so crucial! I am sure that Kim Yong Un enjoys this problem and would probably say to us, “You made your bed, now lie in it” because there is a price to freedom.
In conclusion: because of a strong sense of individualism permeating the American psyche, we are unable to easily create a strong ‘mercantilist’ economy. So all this effort to educate American children to win the race of the future (exemplified by “green jobs”) toward nationalist aims may not work. If the best jobs in green sprout up in Asia somewhere, you can bet that the best American technologists and business-types will show up there, not on Main Street. If you ask a recent Stanford graduate if she’d rather take a great job in a totalitarian state or a mediocre one in Springfield, U.S.A., the answer is obvious.