Posted on | September 16, 2011 | 27 Comments
“Where are you going to find a nickel’s worth of business sense in an administration where there’s no private-sector experience? And caution is for lesser mortals, not The One and his chosen crew.”
— Glenn Reynolds, “SolarGate Update”
The half-billion deficit dollars pissed away on a bankrupt boondoggle of “green jobs” may become the scandal that ultimately dooms the Obama administration. We could belabor the obvious fact that Democrats cut a sweetheart deal with a big donor to make taxpayers fund an “innovative” private company that couldn’t make it in the free market, but instead let’s consider something even more shocking: Democrats really believed in this phony-baloney stuff!
Democrats were eager to include the DOE loan guarantee programme as part of the stimulus bill in part because they believed it was, in fact, the optimal type of stimulus.
That’s the Economist arguing with the Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle about the Solyndra scandal, and the anonymous Economist writer provides this chart showing administration officials’ calculation of the “stimulus” value of these allegedly innovative policies:
Details of the Economist/McArdle dispute are irrelevant to the point I wish to make: Once you begin assigning Keynesian “output multiplier” values to federal spending proposals — and making such arbitrary speculations the basis of decision-making — you have in fact ventured into the kind of planned-economy error that sank the Soviet empire.
A free-market economy may be wasteful in some sense, and the outcomes resulting from unsupervised human action may be harmful in some sense, but when a government’s planned-economy policy tries to pick winners and losers — and gosh, Solyndra was a world-class loser, wasn’t it? — the waste and harm are inevitably more painful, simply because they are the result of a conscious decision made by responsible agents acting in the name of the nation.
The Ukrainian terror famine and the Chernobyl disaster were outcomes of Soviet policy (the first deliberate, the second accidental) undertaken on behalf of the workers’ socialist state, so that those who suffered were in effect chosen victims of “The People,” unwilling martyrs for the struggle of the worldwide proletariat. In America, by contrast, we are accustomed to muckraking journalists and liberal crusaders who chastise the nation on behalf of victims of government neglect:
- Here, say the liberals, is the family bankrupted by medical expenses. If only government would provide universal health insurance, the mother of these children might not have died of cancer, their father would not have wiped out his savings, and they would not have lost their home.
- Here, say the liberals, are the Gulf Coast residents who lost their jobs because of an oil spill. If only government would enact stricter regulation on off-shore drilling, commercial fishermen and other businesses and employees dependent on the fishing industry would not have lost their livelihoods.
- Here, say the liberals, is the teenage transvestite murdered by hateful schoolmates. If only government would pass civil-rights protections for gays and implement “tolerence” policies in schools, such horrific tragedies could be averted.
Grant that all of these liberal arguments have some merit. Stipulate that U.S. policies vis-à-vis health care, environmental protection, and gay rights fall short of an optimum ideal. But those who are skeptical of greater government intervention see the choices involved in terms of trade-offs, so that a policy aimed toward achieving an ideal or alleviating a specific harm might — by the law of unintended consequences — create other harms. My libertarian friends are wont to think of unintended consequences strictly in terms of economic interventionism, but I could cite innumerable harms resulting from trying to pick winners and losers in the pursuit of non-economic social goals.
Years ago as a journalist in small-town Georgia, I became aware that some white teenagers were succumbing to a frighteningly merciless sort of racist mentality because school policies intended to suppress racial conflict were actually fomenting black-on-white gang violence. There is no need to relate the specifics of that situation here, but if anti-racist policies could beget racism — which is exactly what happened — I consider it entirely possible that “tolerance” policies aimed at protecting homosexuals could beget a new kind of homophobia, especially merciless because the young do not remember the bygone wrongs that these policies were intended to remedy. And, lest liberals think they can cure such a problem through politically-correct history lessons, I assure you on the basis of many years of direct observation that nothing so inspires contempt in the heart of a bully than pious lectures about the helpless victimhood of the despised Other.
Have we wandered far afield from a discussion of Solyndra? No. The relevance is quite direct: Intending to pave the way for “innovative” new sources of alternative energy, the Obama administration has almost certainly guaranteed that there will be no future “investments” of taxpayer dollars in projects like Solyndra.
In one of those predictable pendulum swings of Newtonian politics, a powerful backlash against “green energy” is now underway and gathering an irresistible momentum. The American people will not (and should not) be satisfied until some high government official is indicted on criminal charges and prosecuted to the full extent of the law in the Solyndra scandal. If Eric Holder tries to protect the guilty, Holder will be destroyed by public outrage when his complicity is discovered.
Were I in a position to advise Obama, I’d tell him to pick a scapegoat or two to throw under his bus, so as to spare himself a Watergate-sized obstruction-of-justice snowball. Better a couple of deputy undersecretaries or minor White House functionaires go to federal prison than to get yourself into one of those “what did he know and when did he know it” traps.
All the woes now descending on the Obama administration could have been averted, if any of them had been familiar with the works of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Thomas Sowell.
Hell, I bet Barry Manilow could tell them how and why they went wrong. But it’s too late now, and the unintended consequences are piling up into a Himalyan mountain of failure we haven’t seen since Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Barry Manilow topped the charts with that song about the hottest spot north of Havana: