Solyndra: Obama’s theory of success debunked


For a former academic, President Obama doesn’t put much stock in his own case studies.

In his now-infamous Roanoke speech, Mr. Obama addressed the question of success. He started by making an accurate observation: There are a lot of smart people out there, and there are a lot of hard-working people out there. Yet they’re not all what we would consider successful, at least in terms of wealth. Indeed, while smarts and work ethic are often key ingredients of the successful person, they certainly are not determinative.

So what is the key to success? Mr. Obama gave us his theory: government help. His explanation for why only some intelligent, hard-working people are successful was that “someone along the line gave [them] some help.” He then proceeded to list exclusively government sources of that help — teachers, roads, bridges, and the sort.

Is his theory sound? Conveniently, it has already been tested — by Mr. Obama himself. And it has been completely debunked. The most notable case study: Solyndra.

In Solyndra, Mr. Obama found a company he wanted to succeed. It was a pioneer in the sustainable energy industry he favors. It was to create the type of jobs he envisions for the future of America — green jobs. It fit his political narrative perfectly.

So what did he do in an effort to make Solyndra successful? He gave it some help. Lots of help. Five hundred and twenty-seven million taxpayer dollars’ worth of help.

According to Mr. Obama’s Roanoke theory, Solyndra should be booming. It should be among those successful businesses that “somebody else made … happen,” and that are now indebted to the government for all the help they got.

Solyndra is indebted to the government, alright. But successful? Hardly. Bankrupt is more like it. It blew through $527 million in a little less than two years, with not nearly enough profits to replenish it.

Obviously, Solyndra didn’t fail for lack of government help. It failed because it lacked the real key to success. Simply put, it didn’t produce something people wanted or needed. It manufactured unusual cylindrical solar panels composed of Copper indium gallium selenide thin-film solar cells. Even in the relatively small solar-panel market, these products could not compete with their more conventional silicon counterparts. The result: People didn’t buy them.

Mr. Obama continues to hinder economic growth in America because he refuses to learn from his mistakes and recognize what really creates economic success. Success is a product of serving others’ wants and needs — not a product of government help. Countless successful businesses, from Apple to Chipotle, attained their success because they found a way to provide something consumers found valuable. No doubt it took a lot of intelligence and hard work. But the key was that those businesses channeled their intelligence, resources, and efforts toward serving others. They connected with consumers.

Government cannot make that connection between producers’ efforts and consumers’ desires. Only a free market can do that. Mr. Obama seems to think that government can dictate what people should want and need — that government can decide which businesses will best serve consumers. He continues to promise economic recovery built upon government investment. He promises government-created jobs for their own sake, with no regard as to whether those jobs serve any real market demand. Jobs that don’t serve market demand are destined to be short-lived. Just ask the former employees of Solyndra. Government could pay people to run on hamster wheels in the name of job creation, but it would do absolutely nothing to grow the economy.

Mr. Obama has been unable to spur substantial economic growth because he does not understand what an economy is. It’s free people doing things for each other — free people producing goods and services that others find valuable.

We need a president who will get out of the way and let this happen. We need a president who will provide an environment for economic relationships to flourish. We need a president who will not seek to divide America by chiding the most productive among us.

Joseph Petros is an associate at the law firm of Warren and Young PLL in Ashtabula, Ohio. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Notre Dame Law School, where he served as executive editor of the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy.

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