The Corner

John McCain, Meet T. J. Rodgers

Mike Malone, one of the two or three sweetest writers in Silicon Valley, has an article up today that’s hugely entertaining—and important.

The subject: the free market approach to global warming. Which is to say, the several billion dollars a year that is now being deployed out here in Northern California each year to develop new sources of energy—and the spectacular successes in the past couple of years of one technology in particular, solar energy. The protagonist: T. J. Rodgers, the libertarian buccanneer. (When I myself once asked T.J. if he’d gone green, he pulled a fistful of bills out of his wallet, slammed them on the table, and said, “That’s the only green I believe in, baby.”)

I hereby suggest that Senator John McCain and his entire staff knock off whatever they’re doing to read Mike’s article—and that somebody then get on the telephone to schedule an event with T. J. Rodgers. There is a right way and a wrong way to address the environment, Senator. Rodgers’s way is the right way.

To whet the appetite:

SunPower is majority owned by Cypress Semiconductor. And, of course, Cypress is run by one of my favorite people, T.J. Rodgers….

T.J. is an unapologetic capitalist and an absolutely ferocious competitor. During the early 1990s, when the tech world, and especially chip companies, was suing everyone in sight over intellectual property, T.J. alone refused to cave in to the blackmail and sign licensing deals. He fought every single suit, bar none, and then wallpapered his office with copies of the complaints….

Then there was the nun, Sister Doris Gormley of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, who, acting as a social activist, wrote to Rodgers asking him to put more women and minorities on Cypress’s board. T.J., a pure meritocrat who happens to be one of the great supporters of allowing more trained immigrants into the U.S., politely told the Sister to go to hell….

[M]ost recently, T.J. was back in the news battling the closed membership of the Dartmouth College Board of Trustees. His efforts in the last fight, along with Hoover Institution fellow Peter Robinson, set off a national debate about academic oversight that continues to this day.

So, it goes without saying that when the word “green” comes to mind, T.J. Rodgers, the ultimate free market libertarian, is probably the last person you’d ever think of. And yet, here he is, at the absolute epicenter of the Green Revolution, helping lead the charge that will likely very soon make solar power as inexpensive as other sources of electricity. And SunPower is rapidly becoming a more important business to Cypress than semiconductors themselves.

The story of how T.J. got to this point is one of the great untold business stories of the new century. And it should serve as an object lesson to those who wish to change the world by fiat, rather than by market forces.

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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