‘Innovation institute,’ your massively expensive, wasteful government substitute for a garage

WRAL’s headline announces that “NC State to lead Obama’s manufacturing innovation institute.”

Celebrate, ye people, for your government hath granted thee an innovation institute.

What the heck is that, exactly? I mean, it sounds really cool and jobsy. Well, it’s “a group of six universities and 18 private-sector companies” styled the “Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute” that will “help companies and universities invest in manufacturing technology and develop next-generation power electronics.”

“N.C. State couldn’t be more proud to have been selected to lead this new institute, which truly embodies everything our university stands for,” Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement. “The institute holds the potential to create high-paying domestic jobs, educate the next generation of technicians and engineers, reduce our nation’s energy needs and climate footprint and empower partners to remain at the forefront of this game-changing industry.”

You know, because game-changing industries always require publicly funded life support forever. Gosh, if it wasn’t for the government sector clearing the way, taking resources from the people and entrepreneurs and risk-takers and putting them in no-risk-to-politicians-and-cronies, y’all-will-fund-it-or-else, who-cares-if-there’s-waste ventures, there would be no game-changing technologies at all in America.

WRAL reports that the venture will receive $70 million from the Department of Energy in the next five years, “an amount that will be matched in non-federal commitments by the businesses and schools, along with the state of North Carolina.” Not calculated is the further consumption of taxpayer resources already ongoing at the six public universities used. Nor will media object to this use of funds ($10 million) by the State of North Carolina for industry cronyism under Gov. McCrory, since it’s (a) green cronyism that is (b) blessed by Pres. Obama.

Because that is the government’s idea of how to bring about innovation. Build huge public institutions. Target a political goal or two. Get large corporations on board. Perhaps they already have folks working on those innovations for the company, which would be of little political use to the government, unless we were to offer them public money to cut their costs and risks (research and development is expensive and risky, after all) and, of course, share the credit. Hold meetings and argue and discuss over who receives what public monies when and where. Time a political announcement. “Success” is reaped at the time of the announcement; there is almost no interest in whether the endeavor bears any actual fruit no matter the cost, but its existence always presupposes “the potential” to do so.

And, of course, completely ignore all those opportunity costs and roads not taken.

Here, on the other hand, is the private entrepreneur’s way of bringing about innovation. His “innovation institute”? His garage:

It could be argued, however unfairly, that the Wright brothers, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Disney, etc. were game-changers in their own right. And this commercial didn’t even include some of the other garage innovators, such as Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates …

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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