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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

May 22, 2009 at 9:50 AM

Calculating the benefits of a green recovery

Top of the News: Gov. Chris Gregoire’s order to state agencies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and forceful support of EPA regulation of the gases is another indication of Washington’s seeming leadership in green issues. Admittedly, the bar is low, considering the polluting tendencies of most states.

Can there be a green recovery? Consider that so much of the economy is dependent on fossil fuels. Sprawl has left many Americans without even the option to take transit — and sprawl housing is a major industry desperately trying to revive.

With oil prices lower — for now — the incentives for alt-fuels are disappearing. Much of the Obama stimulus is going to build highways for a 1965 transportation system, as if peak oil and global warming don’t matter. Critics of change say even the modest fuel-econ standards of the Obama administration will “wreck the economy.”

But that’s not the end of the story.

Economists Trevor Houser, Shashank Mohan, and Robert Heilmayr at the Peterson Institute for International Economics took a look at a dozen federal programs. They aim to reduce greenhouse gases, improve transit and rail service, enhance energy efficiency and encourage renewable energy. Using conservative economic modeling, the economists found the government investment produced more “job hours” than tax cuts or traditional infrastructure spending.

These are real, value-added jobs — not boiler-room positions helping to inflate the next bubble.

So a green recovery could indeed work — including creating new industries that would add to America’s export muscle. The counter-incentives are real, of course, with some costs involved from the transition. But the benefits from policy that encourages green…priceless.

The Back Story: There’s Kerry Killinger. Then There’s Jamie Dimon. Killinger piloted the destruction of Washington Mutual through a headlong plunge into subprime lending — even after it became clear that the housing bubble was disastrously popping.

Dimon adroitly pulled JPMorgan Chase away from subprime, becoming the Last Man Standing — and snapping up what was left of WaMu, with disastrous consequences for Seattle. The loss of thousands of well-paid headquarters jobs is one big reason for the pressure on downtown retailers.

Now comes Gillian Tett, a columnist for The Financial Times, with the book Fool’s Gold. In a major Irony Alert, Tett details how many of the derivatives that helped crash the economy were cooked up by the brainos at…JPMorgan. The concepts were then taken by the rest of Wall Street, and WaMu, and you know what happened. Tett had access to Morgan executives, including Dimon. It’s a riveting read, and should make WaMu victims even madder.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Credit card outfits

Will make up lost fees, just watch

Next up: breathing charge

Today at noon: This week’s Econ Haiku poll. Vote early and often — or write your own

Comments | More in Banking, Sustainability, Washington Mutual

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