The National Journal wrote a nice piece this week on Solar Energy's Sunny Future. I really did enjoy it. Push back against the Solyndra hyperbole, an argument in favor of increased investment in solar and an acknowledgment of solar's current limitations. Well done.
One passage that did catch my eye underscores the great challenge in the United States today in terms of jobs, energy, health care, education and national security.
The United States joined Europe in pledging stiff tariffs against Chinese dumping, but not before dozens of Western solar-panel manufacturers went bankrupt. Beijing, because it can do this sort of thing, responded by buying up some of the excess and built lots of solar farms.In discussing the solar panel trade war between US, European and Chinese manufacturers, the US (and maybe soon Europe) has imposed import tariffs on Chinese government subsidized solar panels. I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not. But I will say that the attitude of "Beijing, because it can do this sort of thing" is an excellent description of why a theoretically advanced nation such as the United States can and does still struggle with the problems of underemployment, under-insurance and under-education. All problems that bleed into how we live, work and play every day.
What does it mean that "Beijing can do this sort of thing." In this case, "this sort of thing" means making investments in the present and future of the country - employee training, equipment, research and development - in an efficient way. Instead of political grandstanding, filibustering and inaction, the Chinese government identifies a goal - ensuring a minimum standard of life for almost 1.5 billion people - then takes action to achieve this goal. No moralizing, no BS. Just action.
Yes, this means spending money. Yes, this means "running the government like a business." Yes, "running the government like a business" means using debt and equity.
Why can't the United States do this? I don't read anything in the Declaration of Independence of the Constitution that indicates we can't invest in making the United States a great place to live, work and play. I don't read anything in these documents to suggest that we must exacerbate income inequality as a primary national aspiration. I certainly don't think the Founders intended the United States to have no underlying unifying principle at all - that they founded a new country simply to allow its citizens to go it alone.
Quite the opposite. Beijing can do these things because it sees a great future for itself. It understands that investment in the future requires investment in today. It knows its balance sheet can support this investment because it believes in the ability of its infrastructure - education, health care, national defense - to produce the results it needs to be great.
We have this here too. In abundance. Instead, we get "professional services" companies and their lobbyists arguing that private companies with only the federal government as a customer arguing that these private businesses can't stay in businesswithout federal legislation protecting six figure salaries for executives. This is an excellent business model to stay in business today. It does nothing for tomorrow.
But for some reason, too many people think "we can't do this sort of thing." I don't understand why we think we can't. Because we can.
So the big question is why our fellow Americans are uninterested in thinking about tomorrow.