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Blueberries and Venture Capital

By   /   February 21, 2013  /   Comments

Sometimes, quite by accident, two columns written about two completely different topics have the ability to tie concepts together that begin to show a pattern of problems and/or opportunities within our political framework.  The commentary that follows these writings on our blog over at PeachPundit.com often helps to further develop issues, but also can help show where fissures or outright cognitive dissonance appears between groups that coalesce under the same banner.

On Monday, I wrote about those who are closest to making up their minds to enter the US Senate race for Senator Saxby Chambliss’ seat.  Congressman Jack Kinston made a semi-announcement at a Forsyth County GOP meeting last Saturday, putting him the closest publicly into the race with the already announced Congressman Paul Broun.

The records of Broun (R-Just vote no) and Kingston (R-Subcommittee Chairman of Appropriations) will be a study in contrast, and Congressman Kingston will receive little appreciation for his 20 years of service from Tea Party Groups because of it.  To the surprise of few, Tea Party Leader Debbie Dooley was already prepared with lists of Kingston’s quotes to declare him an establishment candidate while others were prepared with lists of individual earmarks.

The one most highlighted was listed as “My personal favorite is the $209,000 spent to improve Blueberry production. Sounds important.”   Well, blueberries are Georgia’s fastest growing agricultural product, with the state producing three times as much revenue from them as we do peaches.  It would seem that research (most likely spent in a local university) to figure out how to do that better would be a good thing for the state.

Much of the breakthroughs in science and technology come from grants issued to universities and other research organizations through a grant process funded by the federal government.  Entire programs such as NASA exist on the principle that expanding the envelope of knowledge has a greater social benefit than the cost, yet would likely not exist if left solely to the market forces of the private sector.

Which brings us to the column of Tuesday where I argued against the creation of another economic development fund to put the state in the venture capitalist business, competing with private sector funding initiatives and putting the state in the business of for-profit enterprise.  It seems that somewhere in between lies a slippery slope.

It would appear that being for grants to improve blueberry production but against the creation of a state venture capital fund would be contradictory.  To many this would be self-evident, and in the court of public opinion each person gets to be his own judge and jury.  Such is our system of free thought and free speech.

But it also calls for the need to look at underlying concepts and principles which are often overlooked in our political culture of gotcha sound bites and bullet points as treatises.

Though universities often retain intellectual property rights for their discoveries, the grant made for blueberry production is based on expanding knowledge for the common good.  It is not, like the venture capital slush fund, pushed on an public eager to see unemployment return to levels below historical levels as a panacea for jobs.

One of the longest lasting damages of the past five years of bailouts will be the codification of the concept that America privatizes its profits while sharing the losses of capitalism with the public.  For capitalism to succeed long term, this concept must not.

Those backing the idea of the fund will quickly cry that most profits will be returned to the state, yet they must first acknowledge that all losses will be as well.  They would then have to concede that the concept of “profit” is easily manipulated and could allow much of the profit created to escape this guarantee.  Anyone disputing this should have to account for the hundreds of billions sitting offshore because of America’s relatively high corporate tax rate.

Underlying concepts and principles are acceptable when approaching a slippery slope in a world that is rarely black and white.  We have established policy that science and technology is good, and can provide near term tangible benefits for all – even in south Georgia blueberry fields.

But when the state decides it too can mimic the private sector by creating and funding for profit enterprises, we have left the realm of public goods and are quite specifically picking individual winners and losers.  The concentration of potential winners under this scenario does not mitigate the risk to the much broader pool of potential losers to justify this action.

Charlie Harper is the Atlanta based Editor of PeachPundit.com, a conservative-leaning political website. He is also a columnist for Dublin Georgia based Courier Herald Publishing.

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