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Should the Government be Picking Technology Winners?

Last year, I had a chance to meet Larry Irving (click for an interview by Ben from BenCredible), the Co-Chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance and former member of the Clinton administration, at a conference about broadband internet access to the home. The hot topic at the time was providing fiber connections to every home as a way to dramatically increase broadband Internet speeds.

One thing Mr. Irving did a great job explaining was that government should not be in the game of picking which technology is the best technology to solve a problem. For example, at the start of the Clinton administration, he said people lobbied at the time for providing an ISDN line to every home in America. Clearly, that would have been a wasteful program for the government to subsidize, which is why it’s wasteful today for McCain to pick winners by subsidizing today’s technology as offered by campaign donors AT&T or Comcast.

It’s not just in Internet technology where picking winners can have bad results. Look at our current energy policies where we subsidize ethanol rather than providing incentives that let the best innovation and technology win. For example, a carbon tax that accounts for the environmental and health consequences of belching carbon into our atmosphere and air we breathe would foster innovation in technologies that are able to avoid the tax by being cleaner forms of energy.

Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve (reduced carbon emissions, increase broadband penetration, etc). Then provide incentives for the market to solve that problem.

John McCain is no technology Nostradamus. Stop trying to pick winners based on campaign donations and start letting the market work.

3 thoughts on “Should the Government be Picking Technology Winners?”

  1. Intersting, but government will always have to pick winners if they are going to advance technologically.

    I work on a project where we will pick which tech companies and products to use for a Statewide EDMS, a statewide call center, and a statewide eligibility system for a certain large Department. Just by chosing who we will use, we are picking a winner because we are one of the largest employers in the state, and if you add in our affiliated county workers, we are probably the biggest.

  2. Good point, Kassie. Winners are definitely picked each time a government contract is rewarded. When it comes to government contracts, I’d like to see more openness in how they’re rewarded, of course. I’d also like to see technology decisions reflect the clear reality that no technology solution should be built to last forever. That’s the sort of thinking that leads to antiquated hardware and software sitting in government offices.

  3. Actually, in times of yore, didn’t the government subsidy of business technology take place by funding education programs?

    Isn’t that as efficient as government contracts to special companies, plus it actually promotes educating people?

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