"This issue of energy and global warming has the promise of creating millions of new jobs in America. It can be a win-win, if we do it right."—Sen. Hillary Clinton, at last night's Democratic debate in South Carolina
And with that, Clinton seemingly stumbled into the classic economic trap known as the Broken Window Fallacy. As described by the French economist Fredric Bastiat, the fallacy imagines some punk kid chucking a rock through a store window. A bad thing, right? Yet a contrarian onlooker offers that the troublemaker may have actually helped the economy because now the storeowner will have to hire a glazier, who will make money replacing the window. Then the glazier will use that money to buy bread from a baker, who then might buy shoes from a cobbler. And the "multiplier effect" goes on and on, creating a more prosperous economy.
But Bastiat points out that such reasoning ignores the hidden costs to the shopkeeper, who was forced to spend money on windows instead of something else that may have had higher value to him or society, like a new suit or investing in a start-up tech firm. As the great economics writer Henry Hazlitt once put it:
The glazier's gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor's loss of business. No new "employment" has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.