February 16th, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Flitting about the land again, sprinkling progressive economic vibes in my wake…at least that’s the goal.  Started out a few days ago talking immigration policy in NYC and then off to Portland.

First, let me say that I like Portland.  I’m not an expert, and every city’s got its challenges, but:

–It’s easy to get around, consumer prices seem pretty reasonable (they had a terrible real estate bubble, but “correction” seems largely over), food’s great and healthier than average (as we speak, I’m at the airport very much enjoying vegetarian chili topped with fresh tomatoes—that’s right: the airport!);

–I like the temperature, though you’ve got to be into grey.  As Eskimos allegedly have dozens of words for snow, do Portlanders identify many different shades of grey?

–They’re a hardy people.  Back in DC, when it rains, they cancel the soccer game.  Here, all the parents huddle under a shelter and the kids get a little wet.  No biggie.

–Free internet at the airport—as OTE’ers know, that’s big for me.

I’m here talking about green jobs and the economy.  Punchline: green jobs—jobs associated with some aspect of environmental improvement—must be part of the solution to two problems: fossil fuels/climate/environmental degradation/exposure to Mideast geopolitics, and jobs.  But they will be a small part, at least for now.

A Brookings study I review here finds that by their definition, there are three million such jobs, out of 130 million total jobs.  I’m sure there’s many ways to cut this but that’s likely the reality for now.

One thing I emphasized was the role for government to help private firms overcome market barriers they can’t get over by themselves.  There is no private firm that can coordinate a national smart grid, make or recoup the investment needed to move advanced battery technology from the labs to the factory floor, penetrate export markets, and fight back against mercantilists trying to sew up market share here in clean energy manufacturing.

And there is no transformative investment that reshaped our economy, from railroads to the internet, wherein the federal government did not partner with the private sector to overcome these barriers.  Not here, not in any other advanced economies, not even in emerging economies.   To ignore this reality in the interest of “not picking winners” or “government doesn’t create jobs” or whatever atavistic ideology you want to plug in, is to concede global competition to those unburdened by such dangerously wrongheaded thinking.


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9 comments in reply to "Roadwork!"

  1. Blake says:

    Welcome to Portland. We’ve had less rain and grey than usual this February, but you’ll probably be gone by the time this batch of rain is gone.

  2. Mark says:

    Welcome to Portland Jared! Be sure to check out our local brewpubs like Deschutes or Rogue. For downtown dining I recommend Clyde Commons, Gruner or Little Bird (if you can get in)

    For a closer look at the quirky side of Portland, cross over the river to N. Mississippi St, or NE Alberta and see the side of Portland that makes the Brooklynite hipsters envious. Get a taco at Por que no, and if you want to dine on the east side then my single most favorite place is Ned Ludd.

  3. Mark says:

    p.s. As a backup, go to Higgins Restaurant, one of the originators of the “local food” movement and always a great choice.

  4. Chris says:


    Just started reading your blog and enjoy it. You are so right about Gov. private partnership I work in aviation and like to point out to my right wing co-workers that if Gov. had not built the airports/A.T.C. system in the beginning or for that matter currently how would aviation have advanced as rapidly. Also the vast majority of safety improvements over the decades have come about and been implemented by Gov. mandate. 30 years of having their brains re-wired by the right wing talking machine has destroyed so many peoples ability to exercise rational thought that I fear for the future at times. Keep up the good work.

  5. Michael says:

    As a person with a major food allergy, Portland is a slice of Heaven.

  6. Chris G says:

    Portland. I was puzzled for a minute by your comments and then I realized you must be talking about the one in OR not the one in ME… I’m only familiar with the latter 😉

    More power to green energy (pun intended) and to green jobs in general. I’m a defense contractor. That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I was working on my Ph.D. let alone when I was growing up. Be that as it may, if you’ve got an advanced degree in the physical sciences (i.e. not bio) and you’re not a programmer then working for a defense contractor is probably one of your better options. Of my classmates from grad school most have left the field – most gone to work for financial services firms or become patent lawyers – a few went into academia, and I think most of the rest of us are working for defense contractors. I can only think of one guy who went into manufacturing. (IIRC, he’s at 3M developing better roofing shingles.) Anyhow, all that is to say when I went to grad school I had a notion that after I graduated I’d use my skills to help make useful stuff – or make useful stuff even better. With the decline of American manufacturing I don’t see too many opportunities for that type of work and I’d be thrilled if a green energy push created some. Towards that end, I think your points about the potential for govt to help private firms overcome market barriers are good ones.

  7. Tom Shire says:

    Jared, I work in trucking, an industry not known for being green. We could save millions of gallons of fuel every week if trucks didn’t idle their engines to power HVAC and electrical needs. Shore power, a mature off-the-shelf technology used in RV campgrounds and marinas around the country, could dramatically reduce idle time if it weren’t for a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Neither trucks nor the places they park overnight have shore power equipment installed, and neither has an incentive to install the equipment since the corresponding facilities or demand don’t exist.

    This seems like an ideal circumstance for government intervention in order to create a functioning market. The government could require that new trucks with sleepers include shore power hookups from the factory, and that truckstops gradually install shore power facilities in their lots (say a minimum of 5 spots a year until the entire lot is converted).

    The DOE has estimated that truck idling burns 1 billions gallons a year, or almost 3 million gallons a day. I think that’s about 10% of our diesel consumption. Those figures are a few years old, and shore power won’t eliminate idling. But even saving 1 million gallons a day would have huge benefits for both the economy and the environment.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      Sounds like a great idea. In order to fully understand the energy implications you’d want to net out the energy consumed by shore power, of course, but I’m sure it’s more efficient than burning diesel.

      • Tom Shire says:

        Yes, much more efficient. Especially in the worst case scenario when drivers are idling a three hundred to six hundred horsepower engine in nice weather just to watch some TV.

        We waste so much.

        On a different note, don’t forget to tweet your upcoming media appearances. Or have you gotten complaints about tweeting frivolously?