Yet despite all the public celebration, both Solyndra and Tesla stand as warnings of the dangers in deputizing bureaucrats to play bankers and venture capitalists. In both loans, the government walked away laughably undercompensated for the risk it accepted in the startup companies. In fact, the Tesla deal was arguably far more costly for America than the Solyndra fiasco.
Solyndra exposed the first way the taxpayer could lose out. The traditional advantage of making a loan (as opposed to buying stock in a company) is that lenders often get paid something even when the borrowing company fails, because they hold collateral. Solyndra’s bankruptcy revealed the ephemeral value of the government’s collateral. Taxpayers have yet to recover a penny from the company.