I too have spent my entire career in DoD work. My take on this subject is very simple.
When the government gets involved with industry to accomplish a legitimate government function, and national defense, as well as space exploration, are two examples, all is usually good. That's how we got GPS, the Internet, radar and sonar, and a host of other really useful technologies.
When government gets involved for political motives, and Solyndra is the iconic example, it fails miserably.
This is to be expected. People who work at tasks they legitimately are responsible for will gain a certain expertise at their job. People who dabble into areas unrelated to their functions, for ulterior motives (like getting more votes), can be expected to be totally incompetent.
There are certainly cases where government support of emerging technologies has resulted in wasted money, with Solyndra being a very large and visible case. I would even concede that with Solyndra it appears there may have been something worse than the simple fact that a certain percentage of technology bets, even good ones, can be expected to fail whether they are ones funded by government or ones funded by a VC.
However, a person with your background should realize that overall the amount of money our government has spent since WWII on science and technology has had a HUGE payoff. It is not only in industries that require moonshots. It's also in things like funding the development of VLSI design techniques or genome sequencing. In some cases, such as genome sequencing, an entrepreneur will find a better solution without government support, but even then I bet anyone in the field would still say the development of science and the talent pool created by earlier government funding deserves significant credit.
As for the "unworkable" status of alternate energy... even assuming you are not considering the external costs of carbon emissions, solar costs are at or very near parity with peak generation in sunny climates. Take a look at the cost reduction curve of solar PV (solarbuzz.com). Do you have some technological expertise that you would like to share as to why you believe this cost reduction will not continue or where you feel the limit will be reached, such that it should be deemed unworkable? This is a forum of engineers, so feel free to lay out some real technical arguments for your position.
The dependency of US on foreign-made chips is a threat no less than our dependency on foreign oil. Unlike oil fields, however, the chip factories can be built right here. This is an urgent job for the government. In a few years, the entire supply chain will slip outside the country, leaving behind skilled people to rot.
BTW, there is no difference in labor cost in fabs.
Well, PJames, I have spent 14 years as a contractor to NASA, to the Japanese National Space Agency, and some of that time to the FAA. I have spent 10 years in academics, as either assistant or associate professor. I have spent the balance of my 38 years in engineering in commercial firms either government contractors or in the commercial sector. I have a fair notion of what the government can do to assist industry, and what it fails at.
Let me mention one other thing: if you try to divorce politics from industry, it's like trying to talk about industry without mentioning marketing or economics. It can't be done. You have to consider whether Uncle is in or out, and if he's in, is he a part of the solution or part of the problem? In some cases, only the government land on the moon, or get a GPS satellite constellation up and going into a real industrial segment. In other cases, vast sums of money are whizzed down the drain and into the pockets of the creeps on unworkable "alternate" energy boondoggles, astronomically expensive "public" transit and similar thefts of public funds.
I am certainly biased against the government getting involved with industry, but admit that in some cases, the government is the only way to get something up and going.
It's been quite some time, but I seem to remember a time when people were hired not because they had all of the skills and background in a particular area, but because they had the basic skills and motivation to succeed and therefore invest in training to do a particular job. In other words, companies were willing to invest time and money to train new employees to excel at their jobs within their companies. It seems we have transformed into a culture where companies who cannot find people with all of the skills they desire would rather go outside of the country instead of hiring someone with maybe 60% of the capabilities and training them how to do the remaining 40%. I think @Toad is a good example of the positive long term success that can be achieved if someone is given the opportunity to succeed.
I've been a machine tool service engineer for about 20 years, most of which was associated with the auto industry. I do not possess an engineering degree. I just happen to luck out and was hired as an electrician for a machine tool manufacturer 30 some years ago.
I liked my job and my curiosity pushed me to ask questions and learn. Now some 30 years later I feel like one of the last of a dying breed.
I don't see anything of these kind of skills being taught to the next generation. These are not skills you can get out of a textbook.
I know this is a little off topic but the "Dumbing Down" of middle class americans is going to have us all paying dearly. Yes we need our manufacturing base back on our soil. Not somebody else's. But all parties must play into this. Government to provide a healthy atmosphere for manufacturing and R & D. Educational incentives and fixing the student loan program along with a few others.
And one of the big one's... Can we go back to people being held responsable for their own actions. A good sized serving of self-respect is needed for that. And for that to happen you need a good education, a challenging job and a decent income.
Guess I'm dreaming again. A long time ago it was called "The American Dream".
Also as a thought experiment, if remembering history counts as such as much as specious analogies, we might consider the fact that both Qualcomm and Broadcom, to name only two of scores of companies, got their first funding through the government.