January 15, 2009
All Things to (Almost) All People
Posted by Gordon Smith

71%.

That's the percentage of Americans who approve of how Barack Obama is handling the transition. People have plenty of reasons to be excited for a change, but I wonder how long it will take before the discontent of unmet expectations begins to take hold. My guess is that we will measure that in months, not years.

These are the thoughts that occurred to me as I read about the aspirations of clean techies in Silicon Valley:

[T]here is ... considerable optimism in Silicon Valley that the Obama inauguration will represent a turning point. That rests both on campaign promises to tackle environmental issues as well as a belief that key members of the administration, from Mr Obama down, will bring a technocratic approach to policy that should favour the new green business movement.

Much of the immediate hope rests on the promised economic stimulus package. The buzz in the Valley is that as much as $100bn ... could be used to support green technologies. High on the wish list is a piece of infrastructure that would boost the competitiveness of many producers of alternative energy: a new electricity transmission network across the country. That backbone would be the sort of grand project seen as a focus of the Obama stimulus plan. However, the planning and approval process could delay it for 18 months or more, making its value during the current economic slump questionable.

We have blogged about clean tech before, and I am bullish on this sector. Nevertheless, I wonder if one of the opportunity costs of the bailout will be the derailing of big government subsidies of clean technologies.

One proposal that seems to be gaining momentum -- despite sometimes incoherent arguments of proponents -- is the idea of ramping up the taxes on gasoline to encourage the development and use of alternative energy sources. This issue encapsulates the problem Obama faces on many issues: if he embraces this idea, he alienates the UAW (and lots of other people, including me), but if he rejects the idea, he undermines one of the core policy proposals coming from Silicon Valley.

Either way, let the grumbling begin ... next week.

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