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The Plow and the iPhone: The Conservative Delusion About Government's Role in Innovation

Conservatives deny that government has any role at all in sparking technology innovation. Here's why they're wrong.

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We’re in real Wizard of Oz territory here -- pay no attention to the scientists working behind the curtain, who are being paid with your tax dollars. Just step up to the counter and pay the corporate wizards for their products and services, without asking about the tax-funded research on which they rely.

There are serious questions to be debated about how public money should be spent on which kinds of R&D, especially when so much of that money comes through the U.S. military, whose budget many of us think is bloated. More transparency is needed in that process.

But anyone who cares about honest argumentation should be offended on principled grounds by Neeley’s sleight of hand. His distortion of history is especially egregious given the context of his op/ed, which argues against public support for solar energy in favor of the expansion of oil and gas drilling. Neeley focuses on the failure of Solyndra -- the solar panel manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy after getting a $535 million federal loan guarantee -- in trying to make a case against government support for alternative energy development. When public subsidies fail, there should be a vigorous investigation. But the failure of one company, hitched to a highly distorted story about the history of technological innovation, doesn’t make for a strong argument against any public support for solutions to the energy crisis, nor does it cover up the fact that the increasing use of fossil fuels accelerates climate change/disruption.

The larger context for this assertion of market fundamentalism is the ongoing political project to de-legitimize any collective action by ordinary people through government. Given the degree to which corporations and the wealthy dominate contemporary government, from the local to the national level, it’s not clear why elites are so flustered; they are the ones who benefit most from government spending. But politicians and pundits who serve those elites keep hammering away on a simple theme -- business good, government bad -- hoping to make sure that the formal mechanisms of democracy won’t be used to question the concentration of wealth and power.

Throughout history, the political projects of the wealthy have been driven by propaganda. There is no reason to expect that to change anytime soon, which means popular movements for economic justice and ecological sustainability not only have to struggle to change the future but also to tell the truth about the past.

This article was published at NationofChange at:  http://www.nationofchange.org/plow-and-iphone-conservative-fantasies-about-miracles-market-1327419546. All rights are reserved.

 

 

 

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. His latest book is 'All My Bones Shake: Radical Politics in the Prophetic Voice' (Soft Skull Press). He is also the author of 'Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity' (South End Press).

 
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