John McCain's $300 Million Car Challenge

Innovation prizes are a free-market approach to achieving national goals.

By + More

So John McCain is proposing a $300 million government prize to anyone who can develop a next-generation automobile battery that's way beyond current technology. Certainly the free-market part of my psyche thinks $100-plus-a-barrel oil should be all the motivation any car company needs to develop breakthrough battery technologies. Plus, there are already billions in venture capital dough going into clean-energy technology.

Yet I really like the idea of such innovation prizes, like the privately funded Ansari X Prize for space tourism. If government is going to get involved, this is the ideal way: Set the goal, set the prize (though maybe it should be like $1 billion), and then get out of the way, and let business and entrepreneurs innovate.