Las Vegas, perhaps the ultimate symbol of capitalism, ironically is bookended by two huge examples of business/government partnership. The first one, as we all know from Rachel Maddow‘s MSNBC “Lean Forward” videos, is the Hoover Dam, located about 30 miles from Las Vegas. Hoover Dam is an example of government working with business to create a huge public project that business could not accomplish by itself. In the case of Hoover Dam (the creating legislation for which was signed by conservative Republican President Calvin Coolidge), the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a division of the Department of the Interior, partnered with a consortium of large corporations known as Six Companies, including familiar capitalist faces Henry J. Kaiser Co. and Bechtel Corporation.
The result was a quintuple win-win. Hoover Dam (1) has helped managed Colorado River flooding; (2) provided thousands of construction and service jobs during the Great Depression; (3) has helped supply water to many Western states and communities; (4) has provided hydro-electric power to many Western states and communities; and even (5) has given many people recreation opportunities on Lake Mead, which was created by the Dam. Furthermore, the government’s deficit-reducing business sense at Hoover Dam continues today, where parking is $10, tour prices range from $10 to $30, food and gifts are sold, and photos of you are hawked by the staffers.
On the other side of Las Vegas, about 40 miles from the Strip in the Mojave Desert in California, is a much newer project that shares some similarities with Hoover Dam. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is a massive solar thermal power project consisting of hundreds of thousands of mirrors that reflect solar energy onto boilers located on three giant solar towers. Ivanpah is once again a public-private effort. The Department of the Interior approved the project in 2010, on over 3,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management public land. The federal government provided over $1 billion in loan guarantees to a business consortium consisting of BrightSource Energy, Bechtel (again), NRG and Google to construct the solar facility. In addition to providing enough power to serve over 140,000 homes on a constant basis, Ivanpah also created some 1,000 construction jobs. (Note: this type of solar thermal technology differs from the more familiar photovotaic solar generation, and we are by no means trying to promote one over the other here).
Obviously, both the Hoover Dam and the Ivanpah solar facility benefit from other government involvement as well, such as the proximity to state and interstate highways, etc. In short, the rigid conservative ideology which holds that business and government are somehow incompatible is proven wrong every day on either side of the capitalism capital of Las Vegas.
Photo by Pacific Southwest Region, used under Creative Commons license. http://is.gd/FFzVRp