A Cloud No Bigger than a Man’s Hand
I’ve got this little worry. It occurred to me the other day that the government research that made the Internet and the various Apple products possible was actually conducted in the 60s and 70s. Much of the work that underlies green technology and biotech also dates back to that era. The lag time is not peculiar; scaling up and commercializing new ideas takes a lot of doing; and the transition from dream to product has probably been slowed down by the increasing reluctance of American business to invest in anything tangible. What bothers me is the suspicion that there isn’t a great deal left in the pipeline after 40 years of neoliberal hostility to government initiatives and tax changes that discourage corporate research—Bell Labs are a distant memory.
The off again on again support for photovoltaics and other renewables offered by the current administration is not encouraging. The real scandal of Solyndra was not that it got into difficulties, hardly a surprising vicissitude for a pioneering company, but that Obama allowed the company to collapse simply because the venture capitalists got cold feet and he wanted to avoid political unpleasantness. The Chinese government wouldn’t have allowed an outfit with similar problems to collapse. In fact, when the main Chinese PV firm did go bankrupt, its management lost out, but the enterprise was saved.