Saturday, July 24, 2010

US Senate happy to support Greentech - but not in an election year

It is no secret that China’s leaders are keen on making their country into a world leader in green technology. The subsidies being provided by both central and local governments for purchase of hybrid and electric vehicles and support to companies pursuing R&D in this area have been widely reported over the past year.

Now it seems the US government is beginning to wake up to the importance of this new industry and its potential to provide, not only a cleaner environment, but jobs and tax revenue in the US. This past week, a Senate committee approved a couple of bills to support greentech, bills that, if approved, would begin to devote a serious amount of government money to support of the industry.

The first devotes $3.6 billion to promotion of plug-in hybrid technology. The bill includes, among other things, $1.5 billion to go directly to plug-in research, and a $10 million prize would go to the first person or company who demonstrates improved battery technology that will carry a vehicle 500 miles without recharging. This bill enjoys bipartisan support, including an endorsement from Lisa Murkowski, a Senator from Alaska, a state that earns a large portion of its revenue from oil extraction.

Another bill would expand a $25 billion Department of Energy program that has already lent $8.6 billion to makers of battery powered cars, and also make the funds available to makers of commercial vehicles while lifting the $25 billion cap.

While some may question the wisdom of the US government’s involvement in “picking winners”, it seems that we may no longer question whether the government sees the need to help US business gain a competitive foothold in this industry against other countries (particularly China), whose governments are heavily involved.

(And, yes, the phrase “picking winners” is still deemed by many in America to be the only words necessary to put an end to all argument as to whether the state should be involved in business – despite the lack of evidence to support the assertion that “picking winners” is, in all contexts, a bad thing. I'll have to save that idea for a future post.)

But not so fast. In the same article that informs us of these bills, we also see the concerns that Senate Leader Harry Reid may not allow these bills to come to a vote in the Senate – despite their bipartisan support – because he sees energy issues as a potentially hazardous issue to touch during an election year.

Yes, once again, politics in the US stands in the way of our elected leaders doing what they believe to be in the best interest of the country. Just once, it would be refreshing to hear our leaders say, “to hell with my re-election. I just want to do what’s right for the country.”

But perhaps that’s too much to hope for. Fortunately for China, they don’t have anything like re-election to to draw energy and money away from the more pressing matters of delivering prosperity to the people.

Well, except for all those tens of thousands of people employed to police the internet. That’s a massive waste of money. But other than that…

Well, yes, there’s also that whole parallel party structure that mirrors and oversees the entire government. But really, how much can that cost?

Ok, yes, there’s also that bureaucracy that oversees all media and censors films and books. But, other than that…

Well, yes, ok, there is the People’s Armed Police and Chengguan who are employed to keep citizens in line since the Army and the regular police, and the secret police, and the plainclothes police aren’t enough to do that.

Oh yeah, there are also all those locally-hired thugs to keep petitioners from going to Beijing, and the thugs hired in Beijing to send the petitioners home.

Oh, and I almost forgot, there’s that whole bureaucracy that oversees religions (and picks their leaders for them), making sure they don’t get out of hand.

But, honestly, aside from those few things, China really has it much better than the US. They don’t have to waste all those resources on elections.

Too bad for the US.