Exploding the Myth that Government Can’t Innovate for Energy

Clint Wilder, Clean Edge
March 21, 2014

Government should not pick winners and losers. Public-sector bureaucracy strangles entrepreneurship and innovation. Government can establish broad policy framework, but then should get out of the way.

Sounds very familiar, right? I’ve never been much of a fan of these truisms, so often cited and accepted as gospel by businesspeople and politicians across the opinion spectrum, not just libertarians and those on the right. And rarely have I heard this conventional wisdom debunked as eloquently and passionately as by economist and professor Mariana Mazzucato, a keynote speaker at the fifth annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit outside Washington, D.C. in late February.

Mazzucato, a professor of economics and science and technology policy at the University of Sussex in the U.K., published a book last year called The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. Far from being an obstacle to innovation, government, Mazzucato argues, has been and continues to be a critical source of it throughout technology-based industries. Somehow, she says, we need to get past the pervasive political and cultural stereotypes that exalt the tinkerer-geniuses in Silicon Valley garages (or the Googleplex) while denigrating public-sector workers as clock-watching, paper-pushing dullards.

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