This paper examines the political acceptability of climate policies and the prevalence of the argument that these policies kill jobs. The author argues that the aggregate losses from climate policies are significantly smaller than the benefits, in terms of health and labor market outcomes. Using case studies and empirical evidence, the author maintains that the “job-killing” argument is exacerbated by a collective action problem. Individuals who are modestly “winning” have little motivation to organize to support climate policies, while those most negatively impacted are more likely to rally against these policies. Concerns for jobs tend to outweigh climate change concerns, especially in the face of extreme negative economic shocks.
The author identifies several factors that amplify the prominence of the “job-killing” argument in affected communities. In addition to the financial crisis and the increase of international competition from China, the geographic concentration of affected workers in the same area is also a key factor. The author also highlights political factors, such as the weakening of unions, which has led to job quantity being prioritized over job quality.
The author suggests that decisionmakers should consider implementing countervailing policies that minimize the collective action problem resulting from negative economic shocks. The author uses examples to suggest some possible policies. These include using lump-sum transfers to affected workers and their communities as a means to increase the political acceptability of climate policies and revenues from a carbon tax being either used to finance workers’ retraining programs or recycled to reduce labor taxation.