Smart Jobs, Green Growth, or is it the Other Way Around?

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine gave his State of the State address to the Legislature yesterday, an event reported in today’s Washington Post under the headlines, “Economic Recovery A Priority For Kaine — Governor Pushes For Green Jobs as Legislature Opens.”

“Green jobs” is a recurring theme for Governors and Legislatures as the 2009 sessions get under way across the country, an emphasis on transforming the economy in the pursuit of new employment, national leadership and a sense of purpose. (See the relevant passage from Kaine’s speech.)

It’s this decade’s “smart growth.”

Remember smart growth? A dozen years or so ago, governors and states were touting their smart growth agendas, claiming that a new emphasis on planning, urban density and environmental sensitivity would create a better world, with shorter commutes, more time for the family and simply a better, less-polluting way of life. Initiatives, planning groups, grants, spending and spending and spending resulted. It was a moment in the sun for land-use planners, academicians, and those who wanted to direct the economy away from the vicissitudes of the free market. (The National Governors Association was a fan, and Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening led the way, in the process creating a post-governor gig for himself.)

Now?

The advantage of smart growth as a political platform was that no one really knew what it meant, and its lack of specificity allowed politicians to claim victory no matter the outcome.

Today, “green jobs” is serving the same function for elected officials. Yes, we all want jobs, and good jobs, and environmentally sensitive jobs. Sustainability, etc., great!

But without a clear definition, “green jobs” lacks accountability, efficiency and ultimately public support. It could well prove itself to be a fad, doing nothing to improve the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. economy.

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