Get the feds out of venture capitalism

K.E. Campbell
What business is it of federal bureaucrats and politicians to risk or expend tax dollars to finance private enterprises? That's a question left unaddressed in much of the coverage and commentary about the widening half-a-billion dollar Solyndra scandal. A USA Today editorial touches on this larger issue:

"...government should be extremely wary about betting tax dollars on specific companies. If there's one thing the marketplace virtually always does better than government, it's picking individual successes in an uncertain and highly competitive business. In fact, government involvement can unfairly tilt the playing field toward one company and away from competitors.

What the government can do is create an environment that makes it possible for the best companies to emerge and thrive..."

Federal government involvement in financing private ventures is fraught with peril, even if the intentions are pure and not politically motivated (rare though that is). Among likely outcomes are waste, politicization, malinvestment, fraud, corruption, conflicts of interest, cronyism, and displacement (i.e., the effect on private capital sources and markets). While calls by President Obama and others for a "public-private partnership" may sound nice, they are usually a justification for bigger, more interventionist government.

Other Solyndra-like "deals" are coming to light. Your federal government, it seems, has been very busy being investment banker with your money. Yet even with the spotlight shown on Solyndra, I doubt most Americans know that Uncle Sam uses their tax dollars to play venture capitalist.

Were voters and taxpayers asked whether they approved of the Solyndra deal? No.  The massive, ill-advised Solyndra "investment" and others like it are more signs of a federal government unmoored from our Constitution and founding principles.

How much money is half a billion dollars? Envision a small business owner, say a landscaper in the Midwest, sitting at the family table, writing a $5,000 check to the U.S. Treasury for quarterly estimated taxes. It's a significant amount of money, especially to his family. But, by law, he can't keep it even though he earned it and his family could really use it. Nevertheless, he writes the check, thinking to himself that at least he's doing his part to fund valid, necessary federal government functions, like the Armed Forces or the federal court system. 

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the landscaper, his federal government granted, loaned or guaranteed a loan to a private company several states away in an amount not ten, not 100, not a 1,000, but over 100,000 times the size of his tax payment. The company goes belly up. The taxpayer learns that the largest stockholder of the defunct startup was a major contributor to the current Administration. His hard-earned tax money has gone up in smoke.

To make up for the funds lost in the Solyndra debacle alone, over 600 of our hypothetical small business owners will need to write those $5,000 checks four times per year--for all of their working lives.

What business is it of federal bureaucrats and politicians to risk or expend tax dollars to finance private enterprises? That's a question left unaddressed in much of the coverage and commentary about the widening half-a-billion dollar Solyndra scandal. A USA Today editorial touches on this larger issue:

"...government should be extremely wary about betting tax dollars on specific companies. If there's one thing the marketplace virtually always does better than government, it's picking individual successes in an uncertain and highly competitive business. In fact, government involvement can unfairly tilt the playing field toward one company and away from competitors.

What the government can do is create an environment that makes it possible for the best companies to emerge and thrive..."

Federal government involvement in financing private ventures is fraught with peril, even if the intentions are pure and not politically motivated (rare though that is). Among likely outcomes are waste, politicization, malinvestment, fraud, corruption, conflicts of interest, cronyism, and displacement (i.e., the effect on private capital sources and markets). While calls by President Obama and others for a "public-private partnership" may sound nice, they are usually a justification for bigger, more interventionist government.

Other Solyndra-like "deals" are coming to light. Your federal government, it seems, has been very busy being investment banker with your money. Yet even with the spotlight shown on Solyndra, I doubt most Americans know that Uncle Sam uses their tax dollars to play venture capitalist.

Were voters and taxpayers asked whether they approved of the Solyndra deal? No.  The massive, ill-advised Solyndra "investment" and others like it are more signs of a federal government unmoored from our Constitution and founding principles.

How much money is half a billion dollars? Envision a small business owner, say a landscaper in the Midwest, sitting at the family table, writing a $5,000 check to the U.S. Treasury for quarterly estimated taxes. It's a significant amount of money, especially to his family. But, by law, he can't keep it even though he earned it and his family could really use it. Nevertheless, he writes the check, thinking to himself that at least he's doing his part to fund valid, necessary federal government functions, like the Armed Forces or the federal court system. 

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the landscaper, his federal government granted, loaned or guaranteed a loan to a private company several states away in an amount not ten, not 100, not a 1,000, but over 100,000 times the size of his tax payment. The company goes belly up. The taxpayer learns that the largest stockholder of the defunct startup was a major contributor to the current Administration. His hard-earned tax money has gone up in smoke.

To make up for the funds lost in the Solyndra debacle alone, over 600 of our hypothetical small business owners will need to write those $5,000 checks four times per year--for all of their working lives.