Incentives work. Because people are self-interested.
Even the seemingly altruistic protagonist played by Kevin Costner in the movie Field of Dreams exclaims, “I haven’t once asked what’s in it for me,” only to then ask, “What’s in it for me?”
That line comes to mind when I hear politicians and business folks talk about private-public partnerships, from subsidies for ethanol to billions in government loans to supposedly spur “green” technology.
The bankruptcy of the solar panel maker Solyndra cost taxpayers more than half a billion dollars. But it’s not merely that government is less than stellar at picking investment winners; it’s that the interests of politicians and businesspeople aren’t “the public interest.”
Never will be.
Sure, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress yesterday, “I did not make any decision based on political considerations.” But internal company emails feature complaints about pressure from the Obama Administration to delay announcing layoffs until after the 2010 elections.
Whose interest did that serve?
Documents also uncover Solyndra executives hiding bad news the better to win additional federal funds and, alternatively, threatening that the company was about to go under hoping the potential bad press for Obama might shake down additional bucks.
Companies have an interest in the big money the federal government dangles before them. Politicians have an interest in appearing to be economic wizards creating jobs and spurring a new world with bright green hues.
Neither incentive promotes sound business behavior nor equates with the public interest.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.