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5/13/2010
10:56 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Apple's iPad, Electric Cars, And Runaway CEOs

We're all paying for electric cars—even if we don't buy one. So why shouldn't Steve Jobs demand tax breaks for the tree-saving iPad?

Watching some of the goings-on in the automobile industry, it's extraordinary to recall that not so long ago American car companies were delivering cutting-edge designs, bold new concepts, lifestyle-changing products, and innovations in marketing, packaging, pricing, and financing.

But today, with the exception of Ford, they've become financially emasculated hulks, pathetically dependent on the federal government for life-lengthening cash infusions, regulatory and tariff protection, and now—most ominous of all—strategic direction by environmental fiat.

There's a huge cautionary tale in here for the technology business, and we would be profoundly foolish to ignore it. Just as it would have been impossible only a few decades ago for U.S. auto companies to imagine the breathtaking decline in their creativity and innovation and dynamism, so too is it unfathomable for us in the IT business to even consider such a descent into mediocrity, mismanagement, and failure.

To get a sense for how low the formerly magnificent automobile industry has fallen, take a look at a provocative column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal by Holman Jenkins analyzing the wheeling and dealing among car companies and various governmental bodies all bound and determined to crank out electric cars that are too expensive and too limited to succeed. That is, without some big-time help from the government.

As you read this excerpt from Jenkins' column, ask yourself why in the world tech companies shouldn't be lining up for the same type of largesse—after all, aren't the computer and software businesses indispensable? Don't they employ millions of Americans in an industry that's vital to our long-term economic interests? Aren't they saving the planet by reducing the number of trees that are cut down, and the lowering the number of miles driven by shoppers who can now handle those chores online?

Or, as I believe, does that way madness lie? Here's Jenkins on Nissan's electric-car funding strategy:

But understand something else: By pricing low and going for volume, Nissan's CEO Carlos Ghosn is making a calculated grab for the lion's share of the available tax dollars—and also pressuring Washington to extend the program when the money runs out.

Mr. Ghosn has made no secret of his expectations—"We are negotiating with the U.S. government to make sure we have a reasonable return on our investments and continue to develop the technology," he said last year.

And so a boondoggle is born.

Maybe Google should begin "negotiating with the U.S. government to make sure we have a reasonable return on our investments and continue to develop the technology" behind Android—after all, Apple's iPhone was becoming awfully popular out there among consumers and was gaining market share at a rate that might have monopolized the world.

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And speaking of Apple—remember a few months ago when the CEOs of big book-publishing companies were prostrating themselves in front of Steve Jobs as they pleaded with him to spare them from pulp-based extinction by taking them on as content partners for the iPad? Anybody do the math on how many trees that will save? Since nobody wants to defoliate the planet, which the book publishers have clearly been trying to do for centuries, then why shouldn't Jobs begin "negotiating with the U.S. government to make sure we have a reasonable return on our investment and continue to develop the technology" to keep Arbor Day more than just a memory?

Then there's the temptation of using tax dollars for data-center technology:

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