Monday, June 23, 2008

Drop in the bucket

While it's nice to see a Republican candidate at least acknowledging that global warming is not a communist conspiracy theory, John McCain's most recent proposal to help wean the country from our addiction to fossil fuels must be seen for what it is: a thoroughly inadequate case of too little, too late and completely lacking in vision or ambition.

PHOENIX (AP) — John McCain hopes to solve the country's energy crisis with cold hard cash.

The presumed Republican nominee is proposing a $300 million government prize to whoever can develop an automobile battery that far surpasses existing technology. The bounty would equate to $1 for every man, woman and child in the country, "a small price to pay for helping to break the back of our oil dependency," McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery Monday at Fresno State University in California.

Indeed, it is "a small price to pay." It is a very small price. Consider that while this project equates to "$1 dollar for every man woman and child in this country," we have already spent about $15,000 for every man woman and child in this country fighting a disastrous and misguided oil war in Iraq that McCain supported and voted for.

True vision is going to require that we do a whole lot more than that. Indeed, one wonders what the point is of the prize McCain is offering, given that the market impact of such an invention would likely far overshadow the prize money in question. Such batteries would quickly make their way not just into hybrid cars, but also notebook computers, portable electronics, backup power supplies, toys... you name it. $300 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the profits one would earn from marketing such an invention. Indeed, government money would be far better spent correcting instances of market failure (providing seed money for projects that investors find too risky, or subsidizing building and operating costs for a hydrogen infrastructure that private investors are not willing to build until there are enough hydrogen powered cars to support it.)

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