Presidential candidate John McCain has proposed that a $300 million prize be offered to whomever develops a car battery to make electrically powered cars more feasible.
It’s not a half-bad notion.
Like the profits that serve as “prizes” for succeeding in markets, such a huge incentive would foster innovation a lot more effectively than flinging subsidies and regulations at people. For one thing, you only pay if somebody solves the problem.
Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle suggests that if the government had simply offered a huge prize for a moon landing in the 1960s, “we might not have built an enormous standing army of development scientists who conceived the Shuttle as full employment insurance.”
But why is John McCain talking about this? We don’t need taxpayer dollars to fund exciting advances. The first prize offered by the X Prize Foundation, the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private space flight, was underwritten by an insurance company. The company didn’t think there would be a winner. So the foundation got a great deal on the premium.
Next thing you know, Burt Rutan’s team, financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, flew 100 kilometers above the earth’s surface, twice in two weeks.
More than $100 million had been invested on new technology by the competitors. Not government money, private money. And even the non-winners learned new things in the process.
Now that’s outta sight.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.