Krugman: In The Real War On Coal, The Mining Industry Won And Workers Lost

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"Krugman: In The Real War On Coal, The Mining Industry Won And Workers Lost"

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CREDIT: EIA

Paul Krugman has another column in the New York Times explaining that slashing carbon pollution has a small economic impact while “the consequences will be terrible if we don’t take quick action.”

For those raising concerns about the impact on coal miners, he offered this chart in his blog of total mining jobs from Historical Statistics of the United States (HSUS) and the FRED database:

Krugman-Coal-Jobs

As he explains, “strip mines and machinery in general have allowed us to produce more coal with very few miners”:

The real war on coal, or at least on coal workers, took place a generation ago, waged not by liberal environmentalists but by the coal industry itself. And coal workers lost.

Strangely, we never hear about Reagan’s war on coal (as I’ve said). Or George H. W. Bush’s war on coal.

Of course, if conservatives truly cared about coal miners they wouldn’t work so hard to block coal dust reforms — an action that United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said in 2012 “amounts to nothing more than a potential death sentence for thousands of American miners.”

Pretending to care about workers and jobs while really promoting the agenda of the 1 percent — industry and pollutocrats — is a classic rhetorical strategy conservatives use to maintain support for their job- and climate-destroying agenda from the 99% who are in fact hurt by their policies.

Krugman points out that today, “coal mining accounts for only one-sixteenth of 1 percent of overall U.S. employment; shutting down the whole industry would eliminate fewer jobs than America lost in an average week during the Great Recession of 2007-9.” Again, if conservatives were actually concerned about the jobs of the 99 percent, they wouldn’t put so much effort into blocking all progressive job creation proposals.

Given that every major study makes clear that the cost of action is low, that the new EPA power plant standards could spur investment that would give the “US economy a boost,” as Krugman has argued, why is there such visceral opposition from conservatives? The Nobel Prize winning economist asks you to look at this from the point of view of Ayn Rand devotees, who believe that “the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution”:

Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes made a similar point on his climate special last August, “That is the logic behind the pervasive view on climate change on the right: We don’t like the solutions to this problem, so we officially declare this not to be a problem.” See also my 2008 post, “Krauthammer: The real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science.”

Interestingly, for all you pessimists out there who see only a dung heap in GOP delay and denial, Krugman remains optimistic in a “Where’s the pony?” sort of way:

So the real obstacle, as we try to confront global warming, is economic ideology reinforced by hostility to science. In some ways this makes the task easier: we do not, in fact, have to force people to accept large monetary losses. But we do have to overcome pride and willful ignorance, which is hard indeed.

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