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Did the Wright Brothers Need the Government to Make Man Fly?

Posted By Mike Brownfield On August 31, 2011 @ 6:19 pm In Featured | Comments Disabled

Forget entrepreneurs, captains of industry, inventors, and scientists. According to Obama Energy Secretary Steven Chu, we have the U.S. government to thank for all the wonders of technology.

In a speech yesterday at Senator Harry Reid’s National Clean Energy Summit [1], Chu showed America his true colors–and the philosophical bent of the Department of Energy under the Obama Administration–when he delivered a speech praising government’s involvement in the growth of technologies (even helping airplanes get off the ground). In Chu’s words (which you can watch at the 30:50 mark, above):

So the government played an incredibly intimate role in all the technologies that led to prosperity in the United States, and we must not lose sight of that fact.

Chu traced a history of government involvement in helping to create markets for airplanes (in his view, the Wright brothers would have been nothing without the U.S. government and the postal service), the U.S. semiconductor industry, the Internet, and productivity of American agriculture. Victor Joecks at the Nevada Policy Research Institute blog writes about Chu’s view of history [2]:

Of course, the Wright brothers invented [powered flight], Chu says, but if it weren’t for military spending or allowing private companies to deliver the U.S. mail (amazing how he considers deregulation to be “intimate” government involvement, but I digress), no doubt airplanes would have faded away.

There’s a curious fact of history that Chu leaves out. Harry P. Wolfe and John Semmens explain [3] that before the Wright brothers’ famous flight (which they funded without government help), Dr. Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian Institution used a $70,000 U.S. government grant to create an airplane. What happened? It crashed into the Potomac River, the Wright brothers succeeded in their flight nine days later, and Langley laid much of the blame on “inadequate” Federal funding. So much for government’s “intimate role” in technology.

That story didn’t make it into Chu’s lecture, and with good reason. Chu is advocating for greater government spending in alternative energy–a ”sunshot program,” the Obama Administration’s modern day answer to Kennedy’s Moonshot Program. Obama’s plan is designed to spur the growth of alternative energy, while also creating jobs. The trouble is, neither of which are being accomplished.

The Nevada Journal reports [1] that, according to the state’s Department of Energy, $47.2 million in federal grants through the Stimulus program have only created or saved 35.86 jobs in the state. And nationally, the green jobs myth is a bust, as well. The New York Times printed a harsh assessment [4] of the state of the “green” economy—including a conclusion that the President’s promise to create five million green jobs over 10 years has proven to be nothing more than “a pipe dream.” And today, a California-based solar panel manufacturer that received $535 million in taxpayer money from the U.S. Department of Energy and $1.1 billion in private venture capital funding shut down [5], leaving 1,100 people out of work. The reason? It couldn’t compete in the marketplace.

There are some things the government can do, and there are some things it can’t. When it comes to inventing new technologies and bringing them to market, at the end of the day, those that succeed are those that are commercially viable. No matter what Chu may think about the power of the federal government, there are some things it just can’t do.


Article printed from The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation: http://blog.heritage.org

URL to article: http://blog.heritage.org/2011/08/31/energy-sec-chu-government-played-intimate-role-in-u-s-technologies/

URLs in this post:

[1] Senator Harry Reid’s National Clean Energy Summit: http://nevadajournal.com/2011/08/30/secretary-chu-when-you-swing-heels-you-expect-few-strike-outs/

[2] Chu’s view of history: http://www.writeonnevada.com/2011/08/video-energy-sec-chu-claims-government.html

[3] explain: http://www.economicthinking.org/technology/noballoonattached.html

[4] printed a harsh assessment: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/19/us/19bcgreen.html?_r=2

[5] shut down: http://www.mercurynews.com/bay-area-news/ci_18795739?nclick_check=1

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