An article in today's Washington Post is "déjà vu all over again." Rama Lakshmi's report from New Delhi ("In India, a Mountain of Trash Means a Living," Washington Post, 11/21/11, A7) on the plight of the people at the bottom of the social and economic scale who make their livings mining recyclable material from the garbage heaps highlights the fact that, however beneficial non-polluting alternate energy systems may be for the environment and the economy, it doesn't do much for the people who stand to lose what little they have as they are displaced by advancing technology.
Technological displacement is one of the most serious problems associated with technological advancement and economic growth in which everyone does not have an equal opportunity to participate. While alternate sources of energy are clearly desirable on the "macro scale," these and similar changes can and frequently do have a devastating effect on those who rely on the old system to make a living.
The solution is not to stop progress, however, but to figure out a way in which those displaced by advances in technology can benefit from those advances. In the case of the people who mine the trash heaps for recyclable materials, the answer is obvious, and was given by the late Louis Kelso in an editorial in a 1964 issue of Life magazine: "If the Machine Wants Our Job, Let's Buy It." How this principle can be applied in the situation you described is relatively straightforward:
First, rather than have the new energy plant owned by the government or a few rich domestic or foreign investors, it should be owned — and owned directly — by everyone in the area served by the power plant. This can be done by setting up a "Citizens Land Bank," or CLB. The CLB is a proposed ownership and financing vehicle that consists of a private joint stock corporation that is owned by everyone in the area by granting each citizen and permanent resident a single, no-cost, non-transferable, voting and fully participating share in the CLB. A CLB would take immediate title to all land and infrastructure currently owned by government, and gradually acquire other land and infrastructure as it comes on the market.
Second, change the basic method of finance for such financially feasible new industries. Instead of relying on rich domestic or foreign investors, bond issues, or inflationary government spending, finance the operation by drawing bills of exchange and either discounting them with other businesses and individuals, or at commercial/mercantile banks, that can rediscount the bills at the central bank. Collateral can be in the form of commercial capital credit insurance and reinsurance instead of the usual existing accumulations of wealth.
Third, give the displaced trash miners priority in getting jobs at the new energy plant.
Fourth, for those miners that the new plant cannot absorb — and 300,000 workers is far too many for one plant to hire — make capital credit available to start new enterprises that can absorb the "excess" workers as worker-owners. This is similar to a proposal by William Thomas Thornton, a clerk in the East India Company, in 1848 in A Plea for Peasant Proprietors. Thornton proposed that the Irish affected by the Great Famine of 1846-1852 be given the opportunity to become owners of land and other capital as a permanent solution to the problems that caused the Famine.
This is a very broad and sketchy outline of a proposal that we call "Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen" (from the book with the same title), that we believe has the potential to turn the global economy around in 18-24 months, but can effectively end world poverty except on an individual basis.
It's at least better than mining trash for a living.