George Kaiser 2009: "There's never been more money shoved out of the government's door."
The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Barack Obama fundraiser and bundler whose investment fund holds a 39-percent stake in the bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra stars in a popular new video explaining the logic behind capturing government handouts.
George Kaiser, who visited the White House repeatedly during the period when the Obama Department of Energy decided to grant Solyndra a half-billion-dollar taxpayer-guaranteed loan, spoke to the Rotary Club of Tulsa on July 8, 2009, highlighting his efforts to bring federal money to local beneficiaries.
The speech is getting a lot of publicity through headlines like "It's Time to Cash in on the Mother of All Government Handouts" and "We're Trying to Get as Much Stimulus Money as We Possibly Can." In fairness to Kaiser, here is the relevant text – which actually doesn't sound much better:
The last major initiative is the federal Stimulus package. [Names unclear] are working with us full-time for a while to reflect the fact that there's never been more money shoved out of the government's door in world history and probably never will be again than in the last few months and the next 18 months. And our selfish parochial goal is to get as much of it for Tulsa and Oklahoma as we possibly can.
So we've helped a number of entities try to make effective grant requests for this funding. We've secured more than $40 million extra for Tulsa so far. We've made multiple trips to Washington to tell the story in education and health care and energy to the respective cabinet secretaries in each of those areas and almost all the key players in the west wing of the White House. So that will be a strong effort going forward.
We're trying to get Tulsa selected as a pilot project in various programs like Promise Neighborhoods, Race To the Top, innovation initiatives, challenge grants for early childhood education and so forth. And we have the almost unique advantage in that we can say, "Whatever you do we'll match with private funding and we'll watch over it, because we don't want to be embarrassed with the way our money is spent and so we won't make you be embarrassed with the way your money is spent either."
Doing a bang-up job on that last part, George!
Note that this speech appears to have been a crowd-pleaser. That's the real problem. Another reason I objected yesterday to the criminal investigations of Solyndra is that this is a political issue to its marrow. It's filled with important lessons about ideology, public choice, and the way that parochial self-interest disguises itself as public interest. Kaiser did the country a favor by describing it so bluntly.
As Princess Amygdala or Princess Amakihi taught us all, liberty dies with thunderous applause. The crime here (in a moral sense, not a legal sense) is not just that politically connected operators do lap dances for bureaucrats and that bureaucrats reward their efforts. It's that this is presented to the public as the system working for all of us.
In other Solyndra news:
* Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), that great Lebanese-American who in 2003 wrote the check Arnold Schwarzenegger cashed, has opened a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation into the practice of making government loans to big political donors, telling C-SPAN, "I want to see when the president and his cronies are picking winners and losers."
* Speaking of the former Gubernator, Solyndra has turned out to be a gift that keeps on giving for California as well as the nation:
Last November, an obscure state board agreed to give the Fremont-based company a $34.5 million tax break, the largest one handed out under an alternative-energy subsidy law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger attended Solyndra's groundbreaking in September 2009 and declared it a cause for "great celebration."
Schwarzenegger used the event to push for the tax breaks to help clean technology companies buy equipment for "design, manufacture, production, or assembly" operations in California. He said the subsidies would create new jobs for laid-off auto workers at the shuttered NUMMI plant a few miles away.
"This is why we give these tax incentives," Schwarzenegger said, because "Solyndra will be eligible for these tax incentives for this facility right here."
* Forbes draws the…um…obvious(?) conclusion from this sad tale of government involvement in the free market and misallocation of resources: "Unless private sector and government work closely together in the USA, the manufacture of solar panels will be the next sector to leave the country, probably forever." Which raises the question: What would happen if a door hit a solar panel in the ass on the way out?
* You may also have seen this chart comparing Solyndra with military "boondoggles."
The sight gag is that Solyndra is barely a lump compared to the mountains of defense waste, so click here to see the whole chart. We can concede that the F-35 counts as busy work because the era of manned warplanes has ended. Ditto the aircraft carrier and some others. Another advantage of treating Solyndra as a political issue is that it invites a hard look at all manner of public spending, with its attendant waste and corruption.
But beyond that, the comparison does not hold. Nobody pretends defense spending is about creating jobs, reviving the economy, or creating free-market products. Mayors of towns near military bases may come to believe the first and third items, and idiots like Paul Krugman may delude themselves into believing the second. But defense spending is about building the capacity to destroy the warfighting capacity of real or potential enemies. Mission creep doesn't change the fact that establishing a military is a specifically constitutional and widely recognized role of government. The Constitution is silent on solar panels.