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Private vs. Public Investing

Friday July 22nd, 2011   •   Posted by Stephanie Freedman at 9:14am PDT   •  

This article I found in “The Moral Liberal” discusses how the government takes on pet projects and decides to invest on behalf of it’s taxpayers. The article asserts an example of the business Solyndra Inc. which is ironically is located near The Independent Institute’s headquarters.

The government’s “investment” in green energy startup Solyndra Inc. is a case in point. Last May, President Obama visited the Fremont, California-based solar panel maker in a highly publicized photo-op to hail it as the kind of business in which he thinks the country should invest. And that’s just what the government did. In September 2009 the administration announced that it was awarding Solyndra $535 million in taxpayer-funded loans to finance the construction of a new solar-equipment factory. The following June, just one month after the President’s visit, the company cancelled its initial public offering, and its CEO quit the following month. In November 2010 the company announced it was abandoning its plans to expand its Fremont facility (and the planned hiring of a thousand workers) and would even have to close another factory in the East Bay, eliminating nearly 200 additional workers. That’s some investment.

This isn’t the first time we have seen these issues:

Government has never been particularly good at picking economic winners. Consider, for example, the government “investments” in Amtrak, which has never turned a profit since it began service in 1971 and has lost about $35 billion in its 40 years of operation—or the U.S. Postal Service, which lost a record $8.5 billion last year alone and has projected an additional $6.4 billion loss this year.

The article cites Senior Fellow Robert Higgs:

Unfortunately, the federal government has not learned the lessons history has tried to teach us about subsidizing business and illusory job growth. This ignorance is especially on display when politicians react to the onset of a recession. The prescription made famous by economist John Maynard Keynes is to “stimulate” the economy through government spending and job creation (otherwise known as “make-work”). Never mind that this means fighting a problem of too much debt by incurring even more debt. As Freeman columnist Robert Higgs, senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and author of Crisis and Leviathan, has said, “Every drunk understands this way of fighting depressions.”

With the current state that our country is in, it seems as good of a time as ever that the government starts learning to make better investments. It is misleading and irresponsible to allow the taxpayers to believe that certain ventures will offer a beneficial return.

View full article here

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July 2011