The philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand has gained new currency among conservatives, libertarians and tea party believers for her unshakable belief in laissez-faire capitalism.
"Government 'help' to business," she wrote, "is just as disastrous as government persecution. The only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off."
Rand, who died in 1982, would have been slapping her forehead in disbelief last week as two of the most tea party-like governors in the country threw taxpayer-funded incentives at a private business.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker conducted an expensive bidding war for the Kestrel Aircraft Corp.
The American kestrel, by the way, is a small falcon known for its ability to hover 30 to 60 feet off the ground before swooping down on its prey.
After spending months hovering over Maine, Kestrel Aircraft wrapped its talons around a more generous package of taxpayer-financed incentives in the distant state of Wisconsin.
The decision is disappointing to the entire mid-coast region, which had been anticipating up to 600 new jobs at the decommissioned Brunswick Naval Air Station.
While it's hard to know whether Maine did all it could to land these highly prized manufacturing jobs, our gut feeling is that Gov. Paul LePage's administration handled the difficult situation correctly.
Kestrel CEO Alan Klapmeier has said his inability to obtain additional tax credits from Maine forced him to consider other locations.
Klapmeier had hoped to receive $39 million in credits, but said he only received a fifth of that.
Maine had offered a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant, a lease write-down worth $250,000, a local property tax exemption worth $105,000 per year, $750,000 in building improvements and a commitment from the Mid-Coast Regional Redevelopment authority to issue $10 million in tax revenue bonds.
The governor's office was apparently willing to further sweeten the pot with gap financing but asked for "updated and thorough financial information from Kestrel," according to a statement from the governor's office.
Peter Rogers, LePage's communications director, said the financial data from Kestrel never arrived.
"As governor," LePage said last week, "it is my responsibility to ensure prudent use of Maine's business development programs."
While the promise of new jobs is nearly irresistible in this economic climate, development officials also have a responsibility to adequately understand the risks and rewards of any project.
After all, the taxpayers of Maine were about to become investors in a highly speculative start-up business in a down economy.
Any commitment of taxpayer money or tax credits must be balanced not only against the likelihood of success, but the potential for long-term job creation.
While these deals often look good on the surface, they don't always fulfill the original promise.
Witness the contentious relationship between Oxford Aviation and local officials over the years. The company has repeatedly received public grants and loans, but its track record for fulfilling its hiring obligations has frequently been questioned.
It is a shame that business development depends so heavily on government support, but that is the nature of the game.
We are sure nobody wanted these jobs more than Gov. LePage. But taxpayer support must be balanced by meaningful assurances that taxpayers are getting the most for their money.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.