Thursday, December 18, 2008

Joe the solar panel installer

The basic philosophy of the upcoming stimulus package goes something like this: our old-school manufacturing base, born at the turn of the 20th century, is dead. The model T isn't coming through that door again, folks. USS Steel ain't gonna be ramping up jobs in Pittsburgh--and as far as the textile industry goes, I think even "Made in America" tags are now stitched in China.

We're a country that buys more than it produces. (In this global market, that's almost like a household constantly spending more than it makes. Hmmm...) Now this system is imploding, because the false wealth of real estate is gone.

So government investment will focus on infrastructure, to make us more productive--so we can create goods more cheaply, competitively, and efficiently. And it'll push forward (through incentives, and research dollars) an agenda to make us less dependent on foreign fuel (to reduce the trade deficit, among other things) and put us in the lead in manufacturing and creating green technologies. Maybe America's Model T of this century is the solar panel. Or the wind turbine. Or some other technology not yet even created. The people behind the upcoming stimulus are hoping to kick-start American manufacturing dominance for a new "green" world.

For an example of the green economy's potential, here's an article from the jobs section of the Times, talking about all of the new work being created by the solar industry. It says that even during this recession, business is booming for solar panel makers and installers.

But here's the big, troubling question: Is it possible for a government to be able to kick-start a new manufacturing industry in a country? Has it ever succesfully happened before? Or does such a process have to happen naturally and organically, through market-driven means? (Meaning, if times are tough enough, American entrepreneurs will bootstrap themselves up to dominance through their own ingenuity--and not through government stimulus and intervention.) Is the artificial creation of a green economy kind of a Soviet-lite philosopy? Or, given the situation--both economic, and in terms of the looming environmental catastrophe--do we have no choice but to follow this route?

We Americans often think we can change the world just by exerting our will--whether it's about democracy and human rights around the world, or even economically (home and abroad). But change and growth comes through a natural process. You can throw fertilizer on a seedling in a flower garden to make it flourish more quickly, but you can't put a gun to it and say "Bloom now! Or else!" The last eight years should have taught us that.

Ouch, this all makes my head hurt. I make a promise to all 16 of you regular readers (hi mom and dad): only low-calorie posts from now on.