On the silliness of Geoffrey Lean


There are useful conversations and discussion we can have about matters environmental: perhaps, for example, it is right that we give up a little bit of material production in order to reduce pollution. As we do already. There are also conversations and discussions where nothing of use can be achieved: for example, when some insist upon grasping firmly the wrong end of the ordure stained stick:

Green technologies also seem to provide plenty of jobs. Exploiting renewables now employs 2.3 million people worldwide, more than the entire oil and gas industries, even though they contribute a small fraction of the amount of energy. They provide several times as much work per dollar invested than fossil fuels, with other green measures like recycling and saving energy proving even more job-intensive.

That is Geoffrey Lean who seems to have become the Telegraph's point man on matters environmental. Something which is not to the credit of that newspaper for while what he's noted is true he notes it with approval rather than the correct approach which is to use the very same facts as a rejection of such schemes.

Jobs, you see, are a cost: yes, I know I've said it before but apparently I need to continue doing so. Having more people labouring away to provide our energy is a bad thing, not a good thing. It stops people from doing other things rather than labouring away to produce our energy.

If by some mischance a Green reads this, a simple and basic example. Imagine an economy of 100 people. 80 of them must labour to provide the food for all 100. This leaves only 20 to do the arts, the crafts, the medical care, lawyering, defence, banking and manufacturing. Over time we get better at that farming thing. We now need only 20 to produce the food for 100, we have perhaps 50 doing manufacturing and 30 doing the services. Times and technologies move on again and we need only 2 to feed us all, 12 to make things we can drop on our feet and 84 can run creches, tend the sick in the NHS, write Grand Theft Auto and appear on the X-Factor.

Roughly speaking that is what has happened in the UK economy over the past couple of hundred years. We have become wealthier by reducing the amount of labour required to produce food and things and services meaning that we can produce more of all of them to share among us out of the labour we have available. We've even, over the same time span, gone from the majority of everyone's time being spent in labour to the minority of it.

A useful shorthand for this process is "we've got richer". We have done so by making all the tasks we face less "job-intensive". Mr. Lean, and he's not alone in this among the deeper green parts of the political spectrum, seems to believe that we'll get richer by increasing job-intensity rather than reducing it.

This is the economic equivalent of declaring that apples fall up to the tree. How can anyone have a useful conversation or discussion with someone promoting such nonsense?