Posts Tagged ‘special interests’

Provincial Bureaucracy

An email soliciting an IT contractor came through my inbox the other day. The body of the message included this bit:

Category: Computer Systems Analysis Services

Location: 116 W. Jones Street, Room 5200, Raleigh, NC 27603-8005

Estimated Duration: From: 7/1/2011 To 6/30/2012

Please arrange to provide 1-2 local candidates with government experience preferably with Office of the Governor, NC with following skill-sets:

This rubs me the wrong way.

Any employer gets to specify the requirements to fill a position. One would expect, at least in the private sector, that the terms are set for the purpose of finding quality candidates. When the governor’s office specifies previous government experience, and preferably within that office, it’s easy to suspect this has more to do with finding a loyal partisan than with finding the best qualified professionals.

Any government employer should be obligated to maintain open hiring policies. There ought to be an inviolable fiduciary responsibility to get the best employees possible, and there ought never be any tolerance for policies that would enable rewarding of political patrons.

I’ll allow for the possibility that valid circumstances could exist for restrictions like those in the email. But those must be rare and transparent exceptions. Otherwise, the bureaucracy becomes another rent seeking special interest.

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Green Pipe Dreams I

An article yesterday morning in Mercury News’ SilconValley.com tells the story of a “rough patch” that “high-flying Solyndra” has hit. The company manufactures solar panels. Despite $1 billion venture capital funding and a $535 million loan guarantee from DOE, the company is struggling and analysts don’t see a way forward.

President Obama held the firm up as a “green” poster child during a visit less than a year ago.

Jumping to conclusions from one anecdotal data point, in one article, does not generally indicate reasoned understanding. Nonetheless, Mercury News is no right wing puppet and the story includes some damning facts.

The article also raises the obligatory China card (who can compete with their labor costs?), but contains its own refutation of that scaremongering.

Solyndra’s manufacturing costs are $3/watt, but the distractingly vague “many low-cost Chinese manufacturers” have costs in the $1.10-$1.20/watt range. There, that’s it. Those damn Chinese and their “massive government support.” Except Solyndra has received similar support (what is $535 million, if not massive?). Still more relevant is that another competitor, First Solar of Tempe, AZ, has manufacturing costs of $.75/watt, expected to be at $.53 by 2014.

Even if Solyndra could compete with the Chinese, they’d be beat by a company right here in the good ol’ US of A. So why raise China? Maybe to fill the story without having to ask the question: What in God’s green earth makes people believe the gubbermint can pick winners and losers?

I’m not even asking whether government should make such choices (the consequences of which — abuse of power for personal gain — should give liberals the heebie-jeebies, rather than the orgasms it seems to do).  No, the objection is to whether they can make such choices effectively. Government “investment” (a misnomer if there ever was one) will inevitably lead to misallocation of limited resources, making us all worse off.

Before I get the obligatory “ok government hater, don’t call 911 the next time you have an emergency” straw man objections, I’m not advocating no government, but a properly limited one. $535 million (even if “only” loan guarantees) to a company with a possibly fundamentally flawed business model, no matter how great a product, is $535 million down the toilet. It is unavailable (whether privately or publicly, capital is fungible and this capital is gone) for investment  in a viable enterprise that might create 1000 jobs rather than scuttle such plans as Solyndra has done.

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A company spokeswoman is quoted, “The company didn’t tell its story as well as it should have.” That sounds like some politicians, who can’t admit their schemes don’t work and aren’t wanted by the citizens. They delude themselves into believing they simply failed to effectively sell them to the ignorant masses.
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If those in public positions want to be hedge fund managers, or venture capitalists, then they should choose that route. Decisions like this, and mountains more just like them, prove why they don’t. They couldn’t succeed. But as a politician, or bureaucrat, they’re able to play assume a can opener all day long, with other people’s hard-earned money and without personal accountability. Don’t talk to me about the accountability of the ballot box. There are enough voters with short memories that we’re still electing politicians based on the same failed promises of the last 40 years. (Probably longer, but that’s all I remember.)

Stop already with “green jobs of the future” promoted by those who don’t even know the past. Enough with government “investment.” With apologies to the many teachers who don’t deserve it, consider this epigram: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Without apology I add the corollary: Those who can’t teach become politicians and bureaucrats.

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What is a “Special Interest?”

In a daily mailing from Silicon Valley Mercury News, the following blurb caught my attention:

The predicted flood of money behind Proposition 23 has yet to materialize. With barely more than two weeks to the election, opponents of the controversial ballot measure to suspend California’s landmark global warming legislation have far outpaced the proponents in fundraising. As of Thursday, the No on 23 campaign — a coalition that includes environmentalists, venture capitalists, social justice groups and some of Silicon Valley’s hottest cleantech companies — had raised $19.6 million while Yes on 23 had raised $9.1 million.

It was the innocuous description of those raising money to defeat the proposition that stood out.  They are a “coalition” not “special interests.”  It reminded me of something I once read (believed to be from George Will but couldn’t be found) that can be paraphrased: A special interest is a group that contributes to the other guy’s campaign. Those who contribute to mine are constituents.

To be fair, the full article includes this quote:

“It appears that the billionaire hedge fund manager and the venture capitalists — some from California, some from other states — who are bankrolling the No on 23 campaign have decided that defeating Proposition 23 is a good investment that will reap them huge returns,” [spokeswoman for Yes on 23] Mangels said. “Investing in No on 23 is the ultimate self-interested political ploy that will help the rich campaign contributors get richer and make it even harder for struggling California families to make ends meet.”

The article lists Thomas Steyer (hedge fund), John Doerr (and wife Ann) (venture capital), and Vinod Khosla (venture capital) as 3 of the top 4 contributors against prop 23, having given $8 million to the cause. There is no hand-wringing about the probable self-interest of the donors at the expense of regular California citizens.  There is no hue and cry over “special interests” buying our democracy.

There should be yet another layer concern.  Presumably the listing of John and Anna Doerr is because that money came from their foundation.  If so, those are tax advantaged funds paid, likely, to protect vested commercial interests. The probable “defense” of all this monied influence would be that the self-interest is incidental, that the intent is serving the “public interest.” Should that be blindly accepted?

I submit the reason for the blind eye is not simple hypocrisy, but willful ignorance.  If you think you can have a government that limits rent seeking only to those causes you approve, and that such monied influence can be kept benign, than you know nothing of human nature, nor the history of government.  Some would probably argue that lower carbon emissions are an unmitigated public good, the benefits to be enjoyed by all.  Tell that to the people who lose their jobs.

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