- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

There has been a lot of debate about Gov. Rick Perry’s economic development funds. The criticism centers on the idea that the Texan’s funds create a “Solyndra problem” for him, that by investing in businesses that bring jobs to the state, Mr. Perry has the same job-creation approach President Obama displayed in backing federal loans to a solar-energy firm.

Equating the two men in this way provides a convenient symmetry, but it’s also a false comparison that misses why many free marketers are comfortable with Gov. Perry even while critical of Solyndra.

The real reason Solyndra poses a political problem for the president isn’t simply that his Energy Department doled out federal loans to a company that has since gone bust. Solyndra is a political problem for Mr. Obama because creating a green economy has been a central pillar of his jobs plan.

As he said in his 2011 State of the Union address, “We’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money. We’re issuing a challenge. We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.”

Solyndra represents the essence of Mr. Obama’s economic plan, and, consequently, its failure is an indication that his entire approach may fail to produce the jobs he has promised. So as the FBI sifts through the company’s records, Mr. Obama’s approach to fundamentally reorder the U.S. economy to serve green goals is also under review.

Illustration: Perry green by Greg Groesch for The Washington Times
Illustration: Perry green by Greg Groesch for The Washington Times more >

The president has a similar approach to reordering the national economy with health care. His signature legislation restructures the industry based on a centralized vision of how it should be modeled so that it can serve a larger social goal. In this case, the aim was to provide health insurance to every person. As it happens, there is a Republican in the presidential race who has an Obamacare problem: Mitt Romney.

Americans who favor free markets have remained suspicious of Mr. Romney precisely because his approach to health care reform in Massachusetts tracks the president’s approach. Mr. Obama has even said he modeled his efforts, in part, after Mr. Romney’s reforms. Indeed, a central feature of both men’s plans is a mandate to buy health insurance. This mandate isn’t a small feature. It was always meant to fundamentally remake the health-insurance market by forcing everyone into the system.

This fact puts Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama at odds with conservatives who favor a different approach, one that seeks to cover more people by allowing markets to make insurance more affordable through the removal of government regulations and mandates.

Mr. Perry’s Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund, by contrast, were not designed to remake specific industries. Instead, these funds were designed to create broad-based economic growth and development. A wide variety of industries have received funding, from biotechnology and advanced manufacturing to financial services and, yes, even green energy.

Texas’ green-energy funding proves Mr. Perry’s disinterest in central planning. Given his stated skepticism of man-made global warming, one might have suspected that he would have blocked green-energy firms from getting any state incentives. Instead, his funds allocate incentives based on which companies are most likely to create jobs in the Lone Star State. Perhaps ironically, Texas proudly boasts that it is the national leader in wind-power generation.

Mr. Perry’s aim has been to create an environment that enables all employers to thrive. He’s done that with his investment funds. He’s also done it by supporting tort reform, low taxes and fair regulation.

Did the Texas funds involve the state government in making economic development decisions? No question. Free-market purists might argue that no government entity should ever be involved in such activity.

Yet the reality is that if Texas doesn’t offer incentives to businesses, other states will, whether they’re governed by Republicans or Democrats. But rather than backroom promises of tax breaks, the Texas funds put this deal-making out in the open. And the media has scrutinized these deals for years.

A good amount of the criticism aimed at Mr. Perry, by the way, is rooted in the belief that the Texan should have followed a Romney or Obama model of governing That is to say, that he should have used tax dollars to expand, say, government-provided health care.

GOP primary voters seem to have two choices before them. They can back a candidate who has used his vaunted business acumen to remake his state’s health care system and then squeeze Massachusetts businesses to pay for it, but promises to do differently on the national stage. Or they can back a candidate who has sought to create an environment for markets to produce new jobs and better opportunities.

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