DoE Picking winners and losers; here we go again

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Main Question or Discussion Point

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/06/28/colorado-based-solar-firm-that-got-doe-loan-to-file-for-bankruptcy/?test=latestnews

$400 million dollar loan guarantee from the Obama administration for yet anothor solar panel maker. Anyone else think the government doesn't make a very good entrepreneur. They had 180 full time employees.... that's 2.2 Million per job..... hmmm, just give me the money please. IMO, the government does a good job kickstarting technology. e.g. look at the things that came out of the space program. Seed money for startups shouldn't be the role of the government. IMO, that's what private venture capital is for, and they will probably watch their money better than the government watches our money.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
azdavesoul
How many billions were lost by our current government in solar and other private companies? I feel that grants for basic research may be appropriate but with our ballooning debt the federal government should be more responsible with our money.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-06-28/abound-solar-to-close-as-early-as-today-greentech-media-says

Abound Solar Inc., a U.S. solar manufacturer that was awarded a $400 million U.S. loan guarantee, will suspend operations and file for bankruptcy because its panels were too expensive to compete.
 
  • #3
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http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/06/28/colorado-based-solar-firm-that-got-doe-loan-to-file-for-bankruptcy/?test=latestnews

$400 million dollar loan guarantee from the Obama administration for yet anothor solar panel maker. Anyone else think the government doesn't make a very good entrepreneur. They had 180 full time employees.... that's 2.2 Million per job..... hmmm, just give me the money please. IMO, the government does a good job kickstarting technology. e.g. look at the things that came out of the space program. Seed money for startups shouldn't be the role of the government. IMO, that's what private venture capital is for, and they will probably watch their money better than the government watches our money.
Do you have any idea of the costs for a startup? It pays for more than just salaries. It also pays for equipment, overhead, etc. In a high tech startup, the costs for the equipment are quite steep. In the company I work for (a high tech startup), the cost for the raw materials alone is almost 3 million per unit (it's a combination MRI/teletherapy device)
 
  • #4
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No doubt about it. However, this wasn't to fund development of some new technology. It's just starting a business. That's what venture capital and banks are for. If you can't convince venture capital it's a good bet/investment, why is the government getting involved? Look at SpaceX, they are private and have government contracts to do real work. If memory services me, I think they get some NASA support for monitoring, etc., but it's otherwise private funds at risk and not tax dollars.
 
  • #5
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$400 million dollar loan guarantee from the Obama administration for yet anothor solar panel maker.

They had 180 full time employees.... that's 2.2 Million per job.....

> Implying that the costs of a company are solely due to employee's wages.
 
  • #6
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> Implying that the costs of a company are solely due to employee's wages.
No. Implying the cost per job created isn't worth it. i.e. not a cost efficient job creator. e.g. may as well give each person $2.2M and let them retire.
 
  • #7
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No. Implying the cost per job created isn't worth it. i.e. not a cost efficient job creator. e.g. may as well give each person $2.2M and let them retire.
But, in capitalistic societies, companies are not open to "create jobs". Companies are created to make profit by selling goods and services. The inputs in creating goods and services are Physical Capital (factories, machines, desks, computers, etc.), Raw Material (quarz, silicon), and Human Capital (physical and mental labor, the technical know-how of your employees).

As you can see, employees are one of the three main categories in the inputs that go into creating the good. The owner of the company treats their wages as costs of production when figuring out the price/quantity of goods produced. If the company works with net profit, it means that the salaries are already paid for by the employer, and then he/she earns the difference as a compensation for their entrepreneurial effort.

One of the costliest inputs is the Physical Capital. What is different than the other inputs, it is a fixed cost, i.e. you must make the factory, regardless of how many units of the good you produce. One usually borrows funds from investors to start-up a company. Then, one pays of the funds borrow plus an interest over a longer period of time. This also enters in the price of the goods sold. Thus, the investors, who lent the money to the company, will eventually get their investments repaid, plus some interest for the service they had provided.

So, in the long run, you had made a factory for solar panels which creates profit every year, the investors got their initial investment, plus some interest for their services, and many people got an opportunity to sell their labor for wages, a situation that would not have been possible, had it not been for the factory.
 
  • #8
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The Chinese duplicated American thin film solar panel technology and the Chinese government had started manufacturing them while Americans were still trying to find investors.

China beat the us to the punch. They took what U.S. leaders knew, but hesitated in developing a market for, and ran with it all the way to the bank. And now that China has shown the way to these advanced possibilities
http://www.reepedia.com/archives/tag/solar [Broken]

Why is it that the far right seems to be thrilled that another enterprise has failed. What if we all did that? Do you want Obama to fail so badly that it is OK even if it takes the entire country down?

In the meantime the big boys on Wall Street who could have invested their money in American
Solar are either shorting solar or looking for new hedging oportunities.

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/04/17/betting-against-marriage-wedding-present-hedge-divorce/
 
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  • #9
mheslep
Gold Member
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  • #10
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But, in capitalistic societies, companies are not open to "create jobs". Companies are created to make profit by selling goods and services. The inputs in creating goods and services are Physical Capital (factories, machines, desks, computers, etc.), Raw Material (quarz, silicon), and Human Capital (physical and mental labor, the technical know-how of your employees).

As you can see, employees are one of the three main categories in the inputs that go into creating the good. The owner of the company treats their wages as costs of production when figuring out the price/quantity of goods produced. If the company works with net profit, it means that the salaries are already paid for by the employer, and then he/she earns the difference as a compensation for their entrepreneurial effort.

One of the costliest inputs is the Physical Capital. What is different than the other inputs, it is a fixed cost, i.e. you must make the factory, regardless of how many units of the good you produce. One usually borrows funds from investors to start-up a company. Then, one pays of the funds borrow plus an interest over a longer period of time. This also enters in the price of the goods sold. Thus, the investors, who lent the money to the company, will eventually get their investments repaid, plus some interest for the service they had provided.

So, in the long run, you had made a factory for solar panels which creates profit every year, the investors got their initial investment, plus some interest for their services, and many people got an opportunity to sell their labor for wages, a situation that would not have been possible, had it not been for the factory.
I don't disagree with your analysis. But, the company went under and US tax dollars with it. My beef is with the use of US tax dollars to plow into a business that, if sound, should have been able to get going without them.
 
  • #11
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*One* point to the DoE's credit on this topic: they laid out milestones for Abound and cut them off after $70 million into the total $400 million on the table.
Very true. However, they weren't investing hundreds of millions in some cutting edge technology development. It's manufacturing solar panels. So why did the US government feel the need to step in to fund it with our tax dollars? Did the banks and venture capital folks not see the prospects...... or perhaps they did...... lol
 
  • #12
39
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Why is it that the far right seems to be thrilled that another enterprise has failed. What if we all did that? Do you want Obama to fail so badly that it is OK even if it takes the entire country down?

In the meantime the big boys on Wall Street who could have invested their money in American Solar are either shorting solar or looking for new hedging oportunities.
That's way over the top. First, the free market system is at the heart of conservatives. When the government gets involved and starts picking winners (those that get cheap easy government money - our tax dollars) and losers (those that have to depend on selling their ideas, marketing strategy, technology to bankers and venture capital folks) it interferes with the survival of the fittest mentality behind capitalism. Companies fail all the time in that environment, and that's nothing new. http://www.fastcompany.com/1841038/the-startup-failure-boom-and-what-to-do-when-it-happens-to-you

Far from your assertion. Conservatives don't like companies to fail, but they make no bones about when the government gets involved in private enterprise and it fails. It is kind of an “I told you so”. Government involvement in something like fusion research is necessary, IMO, because the risk of failure is so high no venture investor would touch it. Things like that, yes, the government has a roll.
 
  • #13
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I don't disagree with your analysis. But, the company went under and US tax dollars with it. My beef is with the use of US tax dollars to plow into a business that, if sound, should have been able to get going without them.
The problem is that some enterprises do not show net (accounting) profit over the period of several years, provided that the enterpreneur borrows money from a private financial institution at the current situation of the economy.

By this, I mean that the current interest rate for borrowing is sufficiently high, and the price of substitute goods (in this case, electricity generated by fossil fuels or nuclear reactions) is sufficiently low that it is unfavorable for any enterpreneur to go to the private market for opening a business with renewable energy.

Here comes the view of the current government. Spurred by non-market derived motives, they might decide that it would be preferrable to develop renewable energy industry for the long-run welfare of the society. It is a gamble, but so is every other enterprise. Since they are currently in power, it is ultimately their decision and they take the gamble. They rely on the assumption that in the future, the relative cost of fossil fuel energy compared to the renewable energy would be much higher than it is today, so that the business would start being profitable. Furthermore, since it was a pioneer in the field, it would exert some kind of market power on the world market, and the U.S. would be a world leader in the field (similar to Boeing in the aeroplane manufacturing business).

Furthermore, the dwvelopment of this industry will exert a possitive externality on the problem of reduction of greenhouse gases.

Under such a speculative cost-benefit analysis, the government decides to enter as a no-interest financeer for the private enterprise (in the lack of private financial institutions willing to invest at the current market conditions), by essentially giving a subsidy.

Notice that distributing the money of the investment between the populace would not count towards the chunk known as government spending in the GDP, since it is a form of an in-kind transfer. In the way we described above, however, it would count as a public investment. And any investment, no matter if public or private, would ultimately accelerate the long-term growth of the economy.
 
  • #14
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This isn't the DoE picking winners and losers- its the DoE giving out business loans. Its not government taking control of business. As the expression is usually used 'picking winners' is just direct subsidy of an enterprise- enough to keep it afloat regardless of economic conditions.

If the government wants to encourage development of green energy it can directly subsidize the industry, or create these sorts of loan programs- which is the more free market approach?

Now, maybe you think the government shouldn't be encouraging the development of green energy- but thats a different conversation.
 
  • #15
BobG
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
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Nothing new under the Sun? (pun intended)

One could say our solar energy subsidies work no better than our nuclear energy subsidies. (After 50 Years, Nuclear Power is Still Not Viable without Subsidies, New Report Finds).

So, yeah, it is a "here we go again" situation that's no different than the things we've been doing for at least 50 years.

On the other hand, we do need to eventually solve our energy problem before the oil starts running out.
 
  • #16
378
2
Nothing new under the Sun? (pun intended)

One could say our solar energy subsidies work no better than our nuclear energy subsidies. (After 50 Years, Nuclear Power is Still Not Viable without Subsidies, New Report Finds).
I have yet to read the article carefully. Few concerns just looking at it:
1) Economic analysis is coming from Environmental group.
2) They don't seem to compare nuclear to other energy sources
3) "Carbon price" is kind of full of BS
All this makes me really weary to give any serious consideration to this article.
 
  • #17
2,967
5
Nothing new under the Sun? (pun intended)

One could say our solar energy subsidies work no better than our nuclear energy subsidies. (After 50 Years, Nuclear Power is Still Not Viable without Subsidies, New Report Finds).

So, yeah, it is a "here we go again" situation that's no different than the things we've been doing for at least 50 years.

On the other hand, we do need to eventually solve our energy problem before the oil starts running out.
From the article you had linked:
The report, “Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable Without Subsidies,” found that more than 30 subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. Added together, these subsidies often have exceeded the average market price of the power produced.
I wonder, since they add up the subsidies from all the stages, if there is some other use of these cycles beyond energy production? Did they account for this added benefit as well?

Also, please explain how nuclear energy is renewable.
 
  • #18
OmCheeto
Gold Member
2,114
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The Chinese duplicated American thin film solar panel technology and the Chinese government had started manufacturing them while Americans were still trying to find investors.



http://www.reepedia.com/archives/tag/solar [Broken]

Why is it that the far right seems to be thrilled that another enterprise has failed. What if we all did that? Do you want Obama to fail so badly that it is OK even if it takes the entire country down?

In the meantime the big boys on Wall Street who could have invested their money in American
Solar are either shorting solar or looking for new hedging oportunities.

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2012/04/17/betting-against-marriage-wedding-present-hedge-divorce/
I would tell you why I agree with you 100%, but that would be redundant.

I do find these conversations interesting, as the opposing team seems to be totally insane. And yet, they seem to imply that we are insane.

I had a discussion with my boss a while back, trying to determine the origin of our differences, and we discovered that we had totally different thought processes. He thinks in terms of black and white, and I think in terms of infinite shades of gray.

His process of thinking was very efficient I decided, for certain things. But I don't think in the global scenario, that it makes any sense, whatsoever.
 
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  • #19
chiro
Science Advisor
4,790
131
I'm not sure about the relativity of the money with respect to the industry and business itself (including start-up capital requirements and so forth), but one thing is certain: most people waste things they don't value.

Four hundred million dollars seems like a lot and when you give people that much (or even 70 million), it just encourages the situations synonymous with waste and devaluation of initial capital.

Lots of successful businesses are run mostly on thin margins and often to the sacrifice of the owners and operators where they are working below minimum wage since they are working all the time but pulling in just enough for ends to meet.

The thing about the government though is that they don't work like a business where they have to compete for customers: governments always get money no matter what. If it doesn't come from the taxpayer, they will just borrow it.

As a result of the above, it's not in the least bit surprising that they waste money: they don't have an incentive to stop wasting money because they know they can and as a result don't really value the income that they get, wherever it comes from.

Governments should stay out of things like this for at least the above reason, because they are just in a world of their own when it comes to knowing the value of resources and money unlike the new businessperson who is working seven days a week with no "benefits, company car, maternity or paternity leave, sick leave, long-term service leave or gauranteed pension", they don't have a clue what its like to have to effeciently make use of the minimum or near minimum to run their business and survive.

Again though, it's not that surprising.
 
  • #20
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Governments should stay out of things like this for at least the above reason, because they are just in a world of their own when it comes to knowing the value of resources and money unlike the new businessperson who is working seven days a week with no "benefits, company car, maternity or paternity leave, sick leave, long-term service leave or gauranteed pension", they don't have a clue what its like to have to effeciently make use of the minimum or near minimum to run their business and survive.
Granting your argument for the time being, you're laying out a case that the government is bad at certain calculations/activities. Although, I would argue that the reason businesses appear to be efficient is that inefficient businesses die- not that business men are magical planners. Its survivor bias.

However- you've failed to point out that there are areas where the government has an edge over private enterprise. The public sector is much better at sustained research investment, and is capable of planning on a much larger scale than any business (consider- central planning IS important- firms are essentially islands of central planning in the other-wise chaotic market). As innovator, the government actually has a pretty decent track record.

Its important to keep in mind that the government funded the research that became the internet, and when they realized what they had, the public sector turned the internet over the private sector. How much income do you think the government would make if instead of turning over public sector research, they insisted on raking in a return?
 
  • #21
chiro
Science Advisor
4,790
131
Granting your argument for the time being, you're laying out a case that the government is bad at certain calculations/activities. Although, I would argue that the reason businesses appear to be efficient is that inefficient businesses die- not that business men are magical planners. Its survivor bias.

However- you've failed to point out that there are areas where the government has an edge over private enterprise. The public sector is much better at sustained research investment, and is capable of planning on a much larger scale than any business (consider- central planning IS important- firms are essentially islands of central planning in the other-wise chaotic market). As innovator, the government actually has a pretty decent track record.

Its important to keep in mind that the government funded the research that became the internet, and when they realized what they had, the public sector turned the internet over the private sector. How much income do you think the government would make if instead of turning over public sector research, they insisted on raking in a return?
I'm not saying that they shouldn't fund research for academia as many people have pointed out (which I wholeheartedly agree with) is that there are areas that are not suitable for private enterprise in the sense that everything is done for a profit.

Such things include not only research in academia, but things like education and health-care. I am behind this kind of thing because even if these kinds of areas have some element of government involvement, it is good for a variety of reasons discussed already at length in these forums and many other places.

But I'm not talking about this: I'm talking about the tendency for government to waste money and resources, and this happens all the time in both defence spending and non-defence spending.

Again, the point I'm trying to make has to do with the tendency of the government to waste resources. This is why I brought up the examples of business owners who scrape through with minimum or near-minimum resources end up being very good at using their resources to the fullest potential.

If the government stopped this practice of throwing money around willy nilly and started to value the resources at its disposal, I would drop my argument.

Also with regards to innovation, I really think you're giving the government more credit than it deserves in innovation.

Most innovation does not come from government: it comes from innovators. Innovators are usually the entrepreneurial types who are not usually motivated by profit, have a lot of persistence, and tend to work around any situation they encounter in order to reach their end goal.

They are absolutely not like governments having near endless amounts of resources to do what they want: they are the complete opposite to this. Governments are really pathetic in any kind of activity involving innovation. If they were any good and genuinely had the ability to fix things they would have done it long ago, but they haven't.

There was a TED talk by a guy who spent the majority of his talk emphasizing that the innovators and creative potential of people declines when money comes into the equation. The thing that makes this flourish has more to do with things that are in contrast to money like helping people for the sake of helping them, not for gain. This is what true innovators are like: they work around problems and this characteristic helps them deal with situations that any government could never deal with.

Finally again with the government funding, the people that created things like the internet where physicists not beaurocrats, and this is one of the key things I am trying to emphasize (along with the wastage).

These beaurocrats don't have a damn clue in many circumstances what its like to have work on a tight-rope because again it's a lot easier to gain access to resource to the point where irresponsible behaviour happens (getting into debt that most ordinary people can't comprehend).

In short, governments waste money, resources, and time and because of this create a dangerous situation when they try and get into these kinds of things. It's not that it doesn't have its place for things like research that is risky (like academia), but moreso that because of its unfortunate privilege with resources, it has a great history of unwise allocation and waste.
 
  • #22
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By this, I mean that the current interest rate for borrowing is sufficiently high, and the price of substitute goods (in this case, electricity generated by fossil fuels or nuclear reactions) is sufficiently low that it is unfavorable for any enterpreneur to go to the private market for opening a business with renewable energy.
Money is historically cheap. Borrowing is tight. You must not be old enough to remember the Carter years.

Under such a speculative cost-benefit analysis, the government decides to enter as a no-interest financeer for the private enterprise (in the lack of private financial institutions willing to invest at the current market conditions), by essentially giving a subsidy.
Basically, the business sector says no because they think is a bad investment. The government steps in and funds a bad investment with tax dollars. Looking at this example, score one for the business community. There is a reason the US makes almost no TVs, radios, microwaves, clothing, etc. anymore. Other countries do it cheaper. Why would anyone think solar panel production would be any different, unless there was a "new" technological edge to a US maker?

And any investment, no matter if public or private, would ultimately accelerate the long-term growth of the economy.
Not "And any investment", any sound investment. Ultimately, who will be the wiser investor, the government that just goes back to well (our tax dollars) when investments go bad, or the venture capital/banking community? I'm betting the people that have their assets at-risk will make the better choice. e.g. I wasn't a Romney supporter, but the more I read about all the companies they saved (not just the ones that went under), they were actually pretty good. At his best Tiger Woods didn't win every tournament.
 
  • #23
2,967
5
Money is historically cheap. Borrowing is tight. You must not be old enough to remember the Carter years.
I am afraid the nouns and adjectives you coined up here don't make much sense for me. And my age has nothing to do with the invalidity of your argument

Basically, the business sector says no because they think is a bad investment. The government steps in and funds a bad investment with tax dollars. Looking at this example, score one for the business community. There is a reason the US makes almost no TVs, radios, microwaves, clothing, etc. anymore. Other countries do it cheaper. Why would anyone think solar panel production would be any different, unless there was a "new" technological edge to a US maker?
You are invoking your personal opinions here. I cannot argue with you wether you think renewable energy is a bad investment. I can only criticize your arguments against it, which are null.

Besides, there are instances where the market does not find an optimal solution. This is when externalities are present, such as is the case.

Even if the market finds an optimal solution at the current level, this is only a local optimum. There may as well be a different global optimum (and I'm not talking about local and global as geographic terms) that cannot be reached.

Let me give you an example. When Columbus wanted to discover an alternate route to India, he had to go for financing to the Spanish Crown (Queen Isabela) to fund his enterprise. His original goal failed, but don't you think Spain benefitted from his discovery?

Not "And any investment", any sound investment. Ultimately, who will be the wiser investor, the government that just goes back to well (our tax dollars) when investments go bad, or the venture capital/banking community? I'm betting the people that have their assets at-risk will make the better choice. e.g. I wasn't a Romney supporter, but the more I read about all the companies they saved (not just the ones that went under), they were actually pretty good. At his best Tiger Woods didn't win every tournament.
I was using a division in public and private. It is not the case that public cannot be sound, as is not the case that private is necessarily so.

And, finally, you show why you started this thread. It's simple Republican propaganda.

Good luck to you, Good Sir.
 
  • #24
OmCheeto
Gold Member
2,114
2,483
...finite shades of gray.
Don't have time for infinity today.

(fox news)
In a preliminary ruling, the Commerce Department said in May that Chinese companies were improperly flooding the U.S. market with [Chinese] government-subsidized products.
Capitalism in a mixed economy world.
Chinese: Let's see, if we we put the Americans out of business, then we will make all the pie, and they will have to buy it. We will be rich.
Americans: If American companies can't compete without government help, then so be it.
Chinese: Cha-Ching!
Om: Shakes head.

(useconomy.about.com)
America's dependence on foreign oil drives the trade deficit.
Trade deficit.
Germans: Ver are allen our marks goings? hmmm... [skratches zee heades]
Americans: Let the world economy be free!
Germans: Zee veld ekonomees ist nicht fry, und it's nicht fair, und it's not nice eezer. Let's do zumzing

(pv-magazine.com)
While political debate and uncertainty still swirls around the photovoltaic industry in Germany, the installations in place have fed a world record amount of electricity into the country's electricity grid. The head of Germany’s renewable energy agency (the IWR), Norbert Allnoch said that the 22 GW of production, recorded on Saturday May 27 [2012], is the equivalent of production from 20 nuclear power plants.
Om: skratchez hiz kopf

(Jeff Immelt, CEO, GE, June 26, 2009)
FIRST: We need to significantly increase investment in
research and development from an all-time low of two
percent of the GDP. The only way to sustain a real competitive
advantage is to invest in the needs of tomorrow.
GE has never forgotten the importance of R&D. Each year, we
put six percent of our industrial revenue back into technology
– so much that more than half of the products we sell today
didn’t even exist a decade ago. As a consequence, we are a
huge exporter.
The federal government has always been an important
contributor to innovation. But federally supported R&D, as a
percentage of GDP, has been declining since 1985.
....
FOURTH: We should welcome the government as a catalyst
for leadership and change.
I’m a free-market guy – I believe in the endless possibilities of
individual choice and private initiative. But this isn’t the first
time that business and government have had to work
together for national ends.
We should work together again
today, setting goals for productivity, job creation and exports.
Om: skratchez hiz kopf ein zekund time

$439,342,000,000.00 <-- Cost of US imported petroleum products last year(page -->bea.gov xls zip file)
$____641,000,000.00 <-- Cost to US taxpayers for the 3 bankrupt solar companies
(fox news)

OPEC: Cha-Ching!

439.342/0.641 = 685

So we export 685 times as much money for oil than we spend on defunct solar companies.
Seems like that could be a bit "taxing" on our economy if that keeps up.
Oh wait, it has been.

[Expletives directed at ***** ******* ******** deleted]
 
  • #25
OmCheeto
Gold Member
2,114
2,483
... that's 2.2 Million per job..... hmmm, just give me the money please. ...
Me too!

Fun with numbers:

Lockheed Martin
2011 U.S. government contracts: $39,980,000,000.00
employees: 123,000
$/employee: $325,040.65
times 30 years: $9,751,219.51

that's $9.75 Million per job..... :rolleyes:

ps. I have nothing against Lockheed Martin and its employees. They just happen to be the #1 government funded contractor. I'm sure they do lots of wonderful things with that $9.75 million per each employee's career.
 

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