The new Manhattan Project

Andrew Leonard on Al Gore joining Kleiner Perkins:

So Al Gore is now a partner at Kleiner-Perkins, the legendary venture-capital firm. And according to Fortune Magazine, he’s thinking big!

“What we are going to have to put in place is a combination of the Manhattan Project, the Apollo project, and the Marshall Plan, and scale it globally.”

But at another point in the same article, Gore says “We all believe that markets must play a central role.”

O.K. What do the Manhattan Project, Apollo project and the Marshall Plan all have in common?

The “market” was not the prime mover in their success. The federal government of the United States conceived these projects, funded them, and changed the world by executing them successfully.

Incidentally, in my work people fling about the Manhattan Project with considerable abandon. I’m increasingly of the view that it is one of those extraordinary occurrences that is unique. There was only one Manhattan Project and all attempts to recreate that scale and achievement in such a compressed period of time are doomed to failure. I’m not against all grand projects, but the work of Leslie Groves, Robert Oppenheimer and others is sui generis.

One thought on “The new Manhattan Project

  1. Doug

    I used to see that a lot, too; I would see it more often if I were still in the same line of work. Basically, I think it’s an attempt to assume that My Pet Project should suddenly become the Most Important Thing Evah, without actually arguing much of the case, and crucially without actually arguing why it should outpace all the other potential Most Important Things.

    Also interestingly, although the good of the Marshall Plan looks self-evident in hindsight, the people pushing it actually had the usual political arguments (Republicans hated it, for instance), and didn’t just try to assume the opposition away. I don’t know the politics of the Manhattan Project well enough to say (couldn’t stay awake through the Rhodes book all those years ago), but I suspect there were at least some people in FDR’s circle who said the resources could be better used for something else. On the other hand, when it’s Albert F. Einstein who says something is the Most Important Thing Evah, listening is probably a good idea. And Apollo of course had the full Presidential imprimatur. If the President really and truly wants one or two specific things done, he will probably get them. (See huge tax cuts and Iraq for what GWB really wanted.)

    Anyway, that’s a lot of words just to say I agree, but I do.


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