China is producing cheap solar panels and essentially subsidizing our green energy. Should we rejoice at the free panels or feel a Sputnik moment for fear of letting this future industry slip away?
But won’t they gain a permanent strategic advantage over us, I hear you cry?
Well, this does sometimes happen. But it’s actually really rare. Notice how all the electronics goods seem to be manufactured in China? Even though we invented many of them (and the Japanese are responsible for a lot of the rest?) Notice that all the jobs assembling sneakers and looming textiles seem to have moved along with them? Sure, we had know-how and strategic supplier networks. But these were no competition for enormously cheap labor.
Green energy will only be the next great industry for us if we are the ones to profit from it. Being the first mover in an industry does not guarantee the profits. Subsidies do, however, guarantee that we pay the R&D costs. Let China continue to subsidize our solar power consumption while we work on advancements in industries in which we have a comparative advantage.