Government Support of Innovation – We Need More, Not Less

   Yesterday I posted a brief opinion about our bumper-sticker society on Facebook.  The gist of the few short sentences I wrote was that I am discouraged by the tendency to issue bumper-sticker opinions about complex subjects. 

   A few wrote back asking for examples.  Here is one: Solyndra was a failure and a scandal, therefore the federal clean energy loan program should be scrapped.  In an essay in the August 10th issue of TIME magazine, author Michael Grunwald points out the following facts.

    First, Solyndra was chosen for the first loan by both the Bush and Obama administrations from among 143 applicants.

    Second, nobody has turned up any evidence of political influence on the decision to approve the loan to Solyndra.

    Third, government aid doesn’t guarantee success.  As Grunwald writes: “…subsidized farms and entrepreneurs with Small Business Administration loans fail all the time.  According to one White House official, some students who receive Pell Grants wind end up drunks on the street.”

    Fourth, Solyndra was killed by the plunge in silicon prices, but Solyndra’s failure didn’t slow down the 600% increase in solar power since 2009.

    Fifth, “…the $90 billion in the stimulus actually crowded in private investment, luring an additional $100 billion in matching funds….” 

   Sixth, government has already been subsidizing manufacturing, agriculture, and postal services for a long time.

   Finally, “Solyndra was one of the losers, but the winners might change the world.  No more Solyndras is just another way of defending the fossil-fuel status quo.”

   And I offer a public thank-you to Michael Grunwald for taking the time to examine an issue with more than a bumper-sticker slogan or knee-jerk reaction to stifle all government support of innovation.