Thursday, March 3, 2011

The motion is 'Clean Energy Can Drive America's Economic Recovery?'

Dear Colleagues

I would like to share this note with you. I have been contacted in connection with attending an Intelligence Squared Debate in New York. I decided that a quick note to the organizers was in order, since while the premise of the debate is interesting, it fails to address the reality that no matter how much this agenda is promoted, it will be subsumed by all sorts of other issues with bigger financial and political import.

My bottom line, as always is simply that you manage what you measure ... and nothing that is of vital importance is being measured by the key institutions engaged in policy formulation and decision making, and accordingly there is a serious disaster in the making. This is what I wrote:
Dear Colleagues

Thank you for inviting me to come to the next of your debates. The motion is 'Clean Energy Can Drive America's Economic Recovery?'

I am very interested in the topic and have been for a long time ... but the current dialog about this and many other important issues really disappoints me.

There are huge opportunities but most of the time the dialog misses the point. If one starts off with the premise that technology is now more productive by an order of magnitude or two or more ... that is resource use effective ... then the progress of modern society on a global basis is rather pathetic. There are real reasons for this, notably that leadership has made poor decisions over and over again and the high powered high profile analysts and the dialog in the media avoids looking at this.

The prevailing metrics that are the starting point are fatally flawed. Most decision making ... that is allocation of resource ... metrics are simply about money and profit, about GDP growth and about the performance of the capital markets. These have some importance, but other metrics have importance as well, such as the progress in improving quality of life and issue regarding sustainability.

There are a number of well known people who have highlighted the issues around economic metrics besides myself. The huge mistakes that get made by investors and macro-economic managers as they focus on profit and growth without looking hard at the socio-economic and sustainability dimensions make it difficult to be optimistic about any future for the American economy. If profit, measured as it is now, is the only goal then the corporate community will use low cost workers and as a result will leave the American economy a hollowed out shell. The government will be asked to help unemployed more and more and more ... and it is not inconceivable that there will eventually be economic revolution in the US just as there is now in North Africa and the Middle East.

A value construct would change the trajectory of the US economy in meaningful ways. The profit one will send the US economy over the cliff ... essentially the same cliff that almost consumed the US just over two years ago.

Green jobs can make a huge difference to the United States and the world ... but it is a value construct that is an essential prerequisite in order for decision makers who have resources to flow funds into that segment of the economy. Neither the media nor the well-known academics, economists and policy analysts seem to have any deep understanding of this ... and it scares me to death.

Peter Burgess

These are points make FOR and AGAINST the motion
** The current administration expects its clean energy policies to generate 800,000 jobs over the next two years, laying the foundation for lasting economic growth.
** Consumers can save billions of dollars relying on clean energy sources and increasing energy efficiency, leaving more money to be spent on other goods and services.
** Major investment in clean energy will lead to innovation and new technology.
** Reducing dependence on imported energy frees us to spend our limited resources domestically and protects us from fluctuations in oil prices and climate change.
** The Department of Energy’s own job creation estimates are far more modest than those of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
** A significant portion of clean energy funding has gone to foreign companies who have the advantage of having been heavily subsidized by their own governments for a number of years.
** Clean energy jobs face the same problems any other industry faces--competition from cheap foreign labor.
** A real green economy wouldn’t rely on government regulation and taxpayer financed subsidies.

Peter Burgess
Meaningful Metrics for a Smart Society
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Of course, there is a lot more to say ... but what bothers me is that most of the people that engage in the dialog avoid the core issue of unbelievable waste of available resources while bemoaning the lack of resources that are in short supply. Nothing is going to change until profit is diminished in importance and value adding is increased in importance.

I see obscene waste when 10 or 15 million capable workers are unemployed in the USA. The reason for this is that there is not enough profit in putting these workers on a payroll to do the many things that need to be done. The economy needs a better infrastructure ... but how to profit from this. Not easy, but commuters lose millions ... billions of hours a year wasting time in traffic jams ... that comes free within the prevailing system of socio-economic metrics. If there are 15 million unemployed workers (say $400 a week) that is like throwing away about $4 billion a week of lost economic product. Actually it is worse than this because social costs go up when unemployment is elevated. Nothing will change as long as the corporate community can make no money from employing these people ... and nothing will change as long as the public sector is constrained by all sorts of rules about what they can and can not do with the budget ... and I might add, when there is no value balance sheet to hold government authorities accountable for their decision making.

It is a mess ... but TrueValueMetrics is a methodology that can help.

Stay tuned ... the website evolves.

Peter Burgess

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