Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.
In a column for the The Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins claimed that unemployment insurance and Social Security disability payments encourage recipients to "leav[e] it to someone else to be productive," a claim that economic research and data prove incorrect.
According to Jenkins, "our massive expansion of unemployment and disability subsidies over the past four years" is discouraging the people who would otherwise build the technologies that "will save us from the Soylent Green solution to an aging society."
Conservatives arguing that these benefits make people lazy is nothing new, but their claims are still incorrect and unsupported by data. With disability payments, the argument is laughable on its face; people collect disability because they are unable to work. It is the disability, not the payments for it, that prevents these people from contributing to the labor supply. Social Security Administration data show the average disabled worker in the program receives less than $14,000 per year, $9,000 below the poverty line and an unlikely incentive for the malingerers Jenkins is looking to scapegoat. And as Media Matters has noted, the eligibility criteria for disability benefits programs are stringent, and the upward trend in the number of disability recipients dates to a Reagan-era liberalization of the program.
Jenkins is on similarly untenable ground when it comes to unemployment insurance. Conservatives frequently cite economist Larry Katz to argue that unemployment insurance begets unemployment -- but Katz himself has said that his work isn't applicable in today's economy. Other research also indicates that UI spending doesn't substantially increase unemployment. Meanwhile, the stimulative effect of unemployment insurance on the economy is well established. And since the Department of Labor data show the average UI recipient gets just $300 per week, before taxes, conservatives making this claim are saying that many Americans would rather live on less than $16,000 a year than work a shovel-- or in Jenkins' case, than build a robot.
Finally, if Jenkins is concerned about the amount of labor Americans are willing to supply, he need not be. Based on a monthly survey known as JOLTS -- the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the ratio of unemployed persons per job opening. The latest report found 3.3 unemployed Americans for every open job as of October. Even prior to the recession (shown with gray shading in BLS's chart below) the ratio was above 1.
The Prius is now the world's third best-selling car line, but before it became a clear success story, it was the target of attacks from conservative media similar to those now being leveled against electric vehicles.
In 2000, the year the Prius was released in the U.S., Diane Katz and Henry Payne wrote at the Wall Street Journal that hybrid cars are not "what the public wants." The next year, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels declared the Prius would "never" deliver a profit for Toyota and hyped how "demand has been weak" for hybrids. That these conservative pundits have clearly been proven wrong with time is a lesson for today's pundits who suggest that current electric car sales mean that electric cars will never be successful. As Bloomberg reporter Jamie Butters noted in a video report, "a lot of people will criticize the sales of the Chevy Volt by GM or the Nissan Leaf, but when you really look back they're selling at significantly higher opening volumes than the Prius when it came out 15 years ago."
Even after Prius sales had significantly ramped up, conservative media were still downplaying the market for hybrids in the U.S. In 2004, a Fox News guest declared that "Americans don't want hybrids":
In today's Wall Street Journal, columnist Holman Jenkins engaged in an impressive about-face in a piece attacking the "individual mandate" provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). After introducing the subject by claiming "Only fools and angels ... might tread forth to defend a now-embarrassing history of conservative support for the unpopular mandate," he tried to defend the history of conservative support for the individual responsibility provision by attempting to point out how it does not and never did resemble the one passed in the PPACA. His explanation is that, while the conservative model was meant to address the free-rider problem in health care, the Obama model is merely "a tax to pay for someone else's" health care costs.
The free-rider problem in health care is an issue pertaining to people taking advantage of beneficial rules when they need health care, but not paying into the system when they don't. Although free-rider problems abound in economics, in health care policy it usually manifests in one of two ways. The first case has to do with uninsured people using emergency rooms as primary-care facilities, knowing that if they are unable to pay the state will generally compensate the hospital for the care. The second issue occurs when health insurance is made affordable and accessible, which the PPACA will do. Without a requirement to purchase insurance, people can wait until they need care, then enroll in a health insurance plan which will cover the cost.
According to Jenkins, only the individual responsibility provisions previously promoted by conservatives such as GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich attempt to address the free-rider problem, but if you "look closely," you can tell that the PPACA's individual responsibility provision is "partly about forcing the young, healthy and otherwise uninclined to overpay for health insurance so the money can be used to pay for heavy users of the health-care system." Jenkins doesn't provide any evidence for these claims, other than asking readers to "look closely" at the PPACA provision.