Late last month, Smithsonian.com launched a “Department of Innovation” blog in hopes of reigniting President Barack Obama’s call for this generation’s “Sputnik moment”—in less glossy terms, that means taxpayer-funded corporate welfare to pursue the President’s pet projects.
Fittingly enough, the “Department of Innovation” logo featured a series of cogs that, if put in motion, would grind to a halt. (We did our best to illustrate the likely results, above.) It seems that even when it comes to something as simple as putting together a logo depicting the gears of industry, government-funded enterprises like the Smithsonian can’t get it right. After being mocked for its ironic error, the blog’s author posted a retooled version of the logo (though its mechanics still remain unclear).
Nevertheless, thanks are owed to the Smithsonian for helping to illustrate a fundamental truth: When it comes to innovation, government doesn’t know what it’s doing. And that’s because Uncle Sam is not the mother of invention. Individuals are. And when new ideas or new products are in demand and profitable, they find success in the free market.
What happens when government gets involved? Take a look at the U.S. educational system. Despite a tripling of federal per-pupil expenditures and $2 trillion of taxpayer money spent since 1965, academic achievement and graduation rates have remained flat.
How about the President’s green energy pet project? Obama’s plan to spend taxpayer dollars to create green jobs (and expand green energy) is already a loser. In testimony before Congress, Heritage’s David Kreutzer cited four examples of companies that received millions in federal loan guarantees for clean energy projects—three of which ultimately struggled to secure private financing. Why? They weren’t commercially viable.
Rather than trying to force innovation with bigger government and more federal spending, President Obama should take a step back and let the free market do what it does best. And if the Department of Innovation wants to see new ideas, it should look to individuals who make the wheels of innovation turn.