Accuracy in Media

It might help VOX’s Recode’s readers if Recode could learn some basic economics. They’re shouting about how great it is that wind power creates more jobs than coal-fired power does. But this is evidence that wind power is more expensive than coal power – more jobs equals higher costs.

Their headline: “Biden’s offshore wind plan is also a jobs plan” and they also say: “the White House and Transportation Department are aiming to create nearly 80,000 offshore wind-related jobs by 2030” and “Tying the fates of 80,000 jobs (nearly double the number of coal jobs currently in the country) to offshore wind“.

We want people to consume. For nearly all of us, that means needing an income, and that income requires that we have a job. So, jobs are good. But looking at it the other way, a job is the cost of getting something done. We prefer to get things done at a low cost, so we’d like to create our electricity with as few jobs as possible.

Think about it at the level of the whole economy. There are some 160 million Americans who work.  If we get our power from coal then that’s 159, 960,000 who can be making everything else for us. Government, schools, food, childcare, Amazon deliveries, everything else. If we now use 80,000 – double the coal number – to make our electricity, then we only have 159,920,000 people to make everything else for us.

No, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have wind power, nor that we should go back to burning coal. But it is still true that jobs are a cost of getting something done, not a benefit of doing something. So, good journalism would not be praising a plan because it creates jobs – that’s a cost of the plan, not a benefit of it.

Recode is now a part of Vox, it was taken over when Recode couldn’t survive on its own. Vox says it “explains the news” which does mean that it should try harder to actually, you know, explain. It’s also within the top 100 media sites and gains near 25 million views a month. There’s a substantial YouTube presence as well.

Good journalism would attempt to explain that news properly. For example, it’s perfectly open to argument that even while wind power uses more human labor – that is, it’s more expensive – it’s still a good idea. But the idea that it is a good idea because it creates more jobs is untrue. Because if more people work on wind power, then we can have less of everything else they might have worked on instead.

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