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Serious About Green Jobs? It's Time to Throw 'Free Trade' out the Window

If we want a greener world and green jobs for our citizens, we have to ditch the 'free-trade' ideal -- markets on their own won't do it.

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Free-traders will argue that this is all for the good. Production should go where it is cheapest so that we all can buy more of it and lower costs. This creates higher-value jobs at home while benefiting everyone with lower prices for imported goods, assuming of course you have a job.

But part of what makes these imported products so cheap is that the global market does not price the cost of the carbon used during the production and transportation of green goods around the world.

The obvious solution is to install border-adjustment taxes on the carbon inherent in imported products. This tax would take into account the carbon emissions that are generated in the production and the transportation of good. If India or China produce wind turbines using dirty steel processes and dirty fuel sources, and then ship the steel and turbines around the world to the U.S., there must be a tax at the border on the carbon emissions involved in the production and transportation of those goods. Otherwise, we will have neither green manufacturing jobs at home, nor serious carbon reduction around the world.

My God, isn't that protectionism? Of course it is. It's also sanity. The ideal world of free global trade doesn't exist. Globalization is a policy, not an act of God. If we want a greener world and green jobs for our citizens, we'll need to protect green production with border-adjustment taxes, because markets on their own won't do it -- never have, never will.

 For more on this topic, read Robert Kuttner's "Smoking the Green Shoots."

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity -- and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).

 
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