Venture capital and the coming oil shock

The president and bipartisan congressional leadership should convene a White House venture capital and investment summit to mobilize capital formation to meet the energy challenge and build the next generation of prosperity.

Even during the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the price of oil approaches $60 per barrel, and the price of a gallon of gasoline is rising toward $3.

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The next oil shock has begun. The inevitable march to far higher prices is advancing. As the economy recovers, the price of old-world energy will skyrocket again, and Americans will realize, again, that our four-decade failure of energy policy continues to plague the nation.

The energy and environmental consequences of energy policy failure rise with every year of continuing neglect. Even the president has barely scratched the surface of the commitment that is called for, while the magnitude of the challenge is not even on the radar of the Congress.

Let’s not wait until oil rises above $100 a barrel and gasoline rises above $4 a gallon, which I predict will happen with even a modest economic recovery. Let’s not suddenly realize we are back in a crisis, with rising energy costs, restricted lending and a jobless recovery dragging the nation into a double-dip recession.

If the energy crisis has begun, the next great jobs wave is equally in view. When these two lines intersect, real change arrives, the American spirit revives and the American engine of progress and prosperity will lift the global economy, as it must for global prosperity to be achieved.

As the recession comes to an end, a bipartisan presidential summit of venture capital and investment leaders promoting capital formation for advanced technology progress will be a major inflection point for our economy and market psychology.

America’s next great economic mission is clear. We must attract enormous amounts of “risk capital” and long-term investments into sectors, companies and products that will decisively win the moral equivalent of war that is our four-decade energy crisis, and which promote environmental progress, energy conservation, economic sustainability, fuel-efficient cars, hyper-powerful batteries, advanced medical and health technology and civilian space science with applications to lift the national economy as the early triumphs of NASA did.

Our challenge is: The lag between investment in new energy and growth companies and the realization of bringing products to market is measured in years, while the timeframe for speculative bubble-like prices in commodities such as oil is measured in weeks and months.

If we begin a crash program today for solar and wind energy, or clean coal, or fuel-efficient cars, for example, it would take at best a couple of years to bring next-generation products — many of which are technologically feasible today — to market.

We must not wait until oil reaches $100 per barrel to seriously begin the investment transformation that is four decades overdue, especially when many venture firms are now forced to reduce investment in key sectors due to constricted capital in a slow economy.

There are both bipartisan and partisan opportunities. For growth companies in future industries, especially those in technological reach of marketable products, there are innovative policies that could win bipartisan support.

In sectors such as alternative energy, healthcare, energy savings and breakthrough cars, why not consider lower capital gains taxes for investors with longer-term horizons, expanded tax credits for advanced research, accelerated depreciation and limited access to special Fed lending windows for capital firms in key sectors?

A presidential investment summit would generate excitement and enthusiasm and advance the post-recession economy.

As a Democrat, I would propose my party bring together Democratic and progressive venture capitalists and investors not only for campaign contributions, but to design and create innovative, market-friendly and future-building policies.

As an avid reader who believes newspapers are essential to our democratic life, but who also fears their days may be numbered, I would suggest this, in light of the important debate and recent hearings chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.):

Democratic and progressive venture capitalists and investors, and their Republican and conservative colleagues, should create “venture caucuses” to generate investment and policy ideas. Why not consider a British model to save the daily newspaper?

The Guardian and Daily Telegraph are British papers of very high quality and national and international reach. Progressive investors might consider investments and help create business plans for Guardian-like papers for communities such as Boston, San Francisco and Austin, Texas, while conservatives do the same in their spheres.

Crisis breeds opportunity. Whether the problem is the next oil shock, the collapse of the daily newspaper or the environmental danger to the planet, these problems are solvable. Let’s bring together the people with the money, the entrepreneurs with the ideas and the products that consumers are waiting to buy, if given the chance.



Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.