This one’s for Andy.
I don’t know Al Giordano from Adam, and I don’t know why he calls his site the “Narcosphere” and I don’t think I care. But he gets this so exactly right I’d like to quote the whole thing. That wouldn’t be fair, so here’s a good quote:
Without an easy solution in sight, and with the knowledge sinking in of just how harmful this oil gusher will be to the Gulf of Mexico, its shores, its fishing and tourism and quality of life, a lot of people seem to be screaming that somebody should yell louder and point their fingers harder.
Okay, just this once, I will point fingers. You know who is to blame in addition to BP and the government that allowed this oil rig to be built?
Go follow this link to find the answer to that question, and lots more about how you can help.
Update: My gripe is with people demanding that the mess be undone by Obama. As a commenter on Giordano’s site said, “I worked to elect a president, not a glorious magic dictator.”
Calling this Obama’s Katrina is ridiculous. Nobody expected Bush to reverse the hurricane. They just wanted water, food, medical support on the scene. In this case, everything feasible is being done after the disaster.
It is true that in both cases the disaster was caused by laziness in government administration tracing back to misallocation of resources by government policy. In both cases it was neglect of consequences of foreseeable events.
Update: Brad Johnson has a much sounder case here, when he argues that everything except capping the well should be taken over by the government, regardless of whether the capping operation works. There is a case to be made that BP’s problems aren’t just a matter of bad luck, but of bad process, and that it should therefore be ineligible for government contracts.
Brad’s focus on the “foreignness” of BP rubs me the wrong way, though. It’s not as if Americans expect or want US companies to be treated badly overseas, is it? If Exxon/Mobil had this record, should we treat them differently?
It’s clear that the incentive structure wasn’t sufficient to seriously get a safety-minded culture at BP, or at least at BP America. How best to handle that is interesting.
My view is that large corporations, which should not be considered “persons” for purpose of rights, should for comparable reasons not be considered “persons” for purposes of ethical responsibilities.
That is not to say that BP isn’t liable for damages or penalties. It is to say it is meaningless to get mad at BP; it is not a morally responsible entity. The incentive structure has to somehow go beyond the corporation and to the people who run it.
How? Social pressures and transparency where possible, and well-thought-out regulations and incentives.
It would not be impossible for a concerted effort to succeed in destroying or greatly diminishing BP as an organized entity over this. Would it be a good idea? I don’t know. I think it would depend a lot on how and why this was done.