Columbus, the Solyndra of the late 15th century

First, I want to say that Mike Brenan gave a great speech at Rotary today, and I pretty much agreed with everything he said, from observations about education reform to the upcoming Richland County sales tax referendum.

But I had to kid him a little afterwards about one thing he said. In the middle of a passage praising Adam Smith, free markets, individual initiative, personal responsibility and enterprise, he paused, this being the official Columbus Day, to extol Columbus as the original entrepreneur, a guy who had a great idea and went out and raised the funds to courageously pursue it.

Yeah, I said… but he did it entirely on a government grant. And he failed to do what he told his investors he would do — find a short sea route to China and the East Indies.

Christopher Columbus transformed the entire planet in ways that boggle the mind. To explore some of them, I recommend you read 1493, by Charles C. Mann. But as an entrepreneur, you might say he was sort of the Solyndra of his day.

12 thoughts on “Columbus, the Solyndra of the late 15th century

  1. Norm Ivey

    Wasn’t his journey partially funded by private investors? Sounds like a joint government-private enterprise venture we would do well to emulate.

  2. Scout

    And if you like Science Fiction, you could read Pastwatch: the redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card. Its an odd premise that definitely explores all the implications of Christopher Columbus’ discovery.

  3. tired old man

    great book about the impact of Columbus on the world — but he also wrote an equally staggering book (1492) about what Columbus changed in the new world.

  4. Steven Davis II

    Kathryn – Maybe next time they’ll invite the guy who hands out free cell phones and internet connections to Section 8 housing residents.

  5. bud

    Rotary sounds like a gathering of Republican partisans. Not sure I’d fit in. Kathryn is far braver than I.

  6. Bryan Caskey

    “But as an entrepreneur, you might say he was sort of the Solyndra of his day.”

    Did Solyndra (accidentally or otherwise) contribute to (or change) our understanding of the world in any way?

    Otherwise, this metaphor makes no sense.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    Bud, there are Dems and public service people there, but the powerful are GOP businessmen now. That, combined with the relatively expensive Seawell’s “food” I couldn’t make myself eat led me to move on to other activities. When I couldn’t stomach the food or the programs, and many of the health and happiness jokesters, it seemed to the better course of action.

  8. susanincola


    Do you know, are there any similar organizations that are not like this (maybe even made up of people for whom politics isn’t the most important thing, but community service is)? I was thinking a service and networking organization made up of public service folks, environmental activists and such might be really refreshing and make a positive impact on the community. Not the Democrat version of Rotary — more of the moderate version.

  9. Silence

    @ Susanincola – What about Kiwanis, Lions, BPoE, Woodsmen of the World, Shriners, Freemasons, etc?

  10. Andrew

    A better analogy would be Columbus as a 15th century version of Werner von Braun.

    And yeah, project Apollo was a massive government / public / private sector initiative. I think it was taking up like 8% of the budget at its height in 1967 or so.

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